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Book awards a welcome wake up

Tuesday, January 16, 2001

By Karen MacPherson, Post-Gazette National Bureau

WASHINGTON -- When the telephone rang early yesterday morning, David Small was in his pajamas, making coffee and feeling grumpy about yet another overcast day.

What a difference a phone call can make.

Connie Rockman, head of the selection committee for the Randolph Caldecott Medal, told him he had won the medal awarded annually for the best illustrations in a children's book. Small won for his watercolor, ink and pastel chalk illustrations for "So You Want to Be President?" (Philomel, $17.99).

"The sun came out all of a sudden," Small said jokingly later in an interview.

Three years ago, Small came close to winning the top award when he received a Caldecott Honor, or runner-up award, for his illustrations for "The Gardener," a book written by his wife, Sarah Stewart.

Richard Peck also received some good news yesterday. His came from Caroline S. Parr, head of the John Newbery Medal selection committee. The Newbery Medal is awarded annually to the best novel for children.

Peck, who lives in Manhattan and has written 30 books mostly aimed at young adults, won for his novel "A Year Down Yonder" (Dial, $16.99). The book is a sequel to "A Long Way From Chicago," which was a Newbery Honor, or runner-up, book in 1999.

"I was lying in bed at 7:55 a.m., waiting for the alarm clock to go off. It was the phone that rang instead, with the wake-up call of the year," Peck said.

Both awards were announced in Washington, D.C., at the annual midwinter meeting of the American Library Association (ALA). The ALA administers the awards, which are selected by committees of librarians.

Also announced were the winners of the Coretta Scott King award, given by the association each year, honoring African-American illustrators and authors. This year's winners were writer Jacqueline Woodson for her novel "Miracle's Boys" (Penguin Putnam, $15.99), and illustrator Bryan Collier for "Uptown" (Henry Holt, $15.95).

Marc Aronson, author of "Sir Walter Raleigh and the Quest for El Dorado" (Clarion, $20), was the first winner in the newly minted Robert Sibert Award, given for the most distinguished "informational," or nonfiction, book for children.

David Almond, author of "Kit's Wilderness," won the Michael Printz Award for the best young adult novel. And Milton Meltzer, author of numerous historical nonfiction books, won the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award, which honors an author or illustrator whose books "have made, over a period of years, a substantial and lasting contribution to literature for children."

But it's the Caldecott and Newbery medal winners who grab the lion's share of attention each year. Books that win the two awards, often called the Academy Awards of children's books, are virtually assured of being best sellers and generally become classics, printed year after year.

The winning books sport gold foil stickers, making them easy to spot in book stores. The "honor" or runners-up for the medals have silver stickers on their book covers.

The Caldecott winner, "So You Want to be President?," was written by Judith S. George.

"Small's illustrations liberate the presidents from years of bulletin-board duty," said Rockman, the selection committee head. "He humanizes these oh-so-familiar icons with art that captures the spirit of the individual and collectively provides a genuinely enlightening overview of this unique American institution."

Three Caldecott Honor books were chosen: "Casey At the Bat: A Ballad of the Republic Sung in the Year 1888" (Handprint Books, $17.95), illustrated by Christopher Bing and written by Ernest Lawrence; "Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type" (Simon & Schuster, $15), illustrated by Betsy Lewin and written by Doreen Cronin; and "Olivia" (Atheneum, $16), written and illustrated by Ian Falconer.

In choosing "A Year Down Yonder" for the Newbery Medal, Parr said the committee found that "Peck's characters are fully realized, from the quiet widow nursing her war-injured son, to Maxine Patch, running out of Grandma's house draped only in the biggest snake outside the Brookfield Zoo.

"These stories will, like Maxine, streak 'straight into the annals of undying fame,'" she added.

Four books were chosen as Newbery Honor books: "Hope Was Here" (Penguin Putnam, $16.99) by Joan Bauer; "The Wanderer" (HarperCollins, $15.95) by Sharon Creech; "Because of Winn-Dixie" (Candelwick Press, $15.99) by Kate DeCamillo; and "Joey Pigza Loses Control" (Farrar Strauss Giroux, $16).

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