awards let librarians make a little noise in s.a.

web posted: 01/24/2006 12:00 am cst

steve bennett
express-news book editor

when do librarians break their own shush-imposed code of silence?

when the "academy awards" of children's books are announced.

more than 1,000 noisy librarians from around the country, most of them women in jeans, whooped it up monday morning for the winners of the american library association's children's literature awards, one of which went to a south texas woman.

"people think librarians are stodgy," said pam spencer holley, president of the young adult library services association. "but you saw how they reacted as the winners were announced. these people are all book lovers."

the awards program, in a packed convention center ballroom, included the presentation of the prestigious caldecott and newbery medals as part of the library association's annual midwinter meeting, which drew 12,000 librarians, exhibitors and publishers.

it was the first time since january 2000 that the meeting had been held in san antonio.

during the day participants strolled the aisles of a book publishers' trade show and attended seminars with titles such as "teens and technology."

after hours, the river walk was abuzz with partying librarians.

in an age of media hype, six-figure book deals and celebrity authors, the conference offered not only a window on the little-contemplated world of librarians, but also on the quiet culture of children's literature, whose practitioners, with the rare exception of a j.k. rowling, rarely achieve fame and fortune in their lifetimes.

though the awards announced monday seldom make for front-page news, they annually bestow hero status in america's quiet war on illiteracy.

and they are as prized as an oscar by those who win them.

"that's how we think of them, as the academy awards of books," spencer holley explained as the rowdy crowd filed out of the ballroom.

michigan author lynne rae perkins, who won the john newbery medal for outstanding contribution to children's literature for her novel "criss cross" (greenwillow press), said by phone: "it makes me feel pretty fabulous, to tell you the truth. it's thrilling."

one of monday's notable awards, the pura belpri? 1/2 award honoring a latino writer whose books best portray the latino cultural experience, went to south texas writer viola canales for "the tequila worm," published by wendy lamb books.

canales was unavailable for comment because the mcallen native was otherwise occupied by that most adult of obligations, jury duty.

but fader, who presented the award, said of "the tequila worm": "in her debut novel, canales shows how a latina child maintains her cultural integrity while living in another culture. without sentimentality, canales develops fascinating characters who provide wonderful insights into the latino cultural experience."

more than 12,000 librarians, publishers and exhibitors attended the conference, which kicked off friday and ended tuesday.

perkins, who got a call at 7 a.m. monday notifying her of her win, is the mother of a 12-year-old son and a 14-year-old daughter. it's a time when family bonds are being tested, she said.

"i have a daughter who doesn't always follow my advice," she said, "so in my writing i can talk to other kids, and maybe they'll listen."

"criss cross" is a lyrical coming-of-age story about debbie and hector, two 14-year-olds, illustrated with perkins' whimsical drawings and with poems, prose, haiku and question-and-answer formats.

the school library journal said of the book: "there is a great deal of humor in this gentle story about a group of childhood friends facing the crossroads of life and how they wish to live it. young teens will certainly relate to the self-consciousnesses and uncertainty of all of the characters, each of whom is straining toward clarity and awareness."

"as an adolescent, a lot of things were confusing to me, so in a way i write to what i was," perkins said.

the randolph caldecott medal for the most distinguished picture book for children went to illustrator chris raschka for "the hello, goodbye window," published by michael di capua books, an imprint of hyperion.

"in this sunny portrait of familial love, a little girl tells us about her everyday experiences visiting her grandmother's house," said ellen fader, president of the association of library services to children, who presented the award. "raschka's style resembles the spontaneous drawings of children, perfectly mirroring the guileless young narrator's exuberant voice."

john green's "looking for alaska," published by dutton, won the michael l. printz award for excellence in literature for young adults. the award was created as a memorial to michael l. printz, a high school librarian in topeka, kan., who was committed to "finding the right book for the right student."

"first-time author john green writes with intimacy, humor and insight about a world where intense friendship can lead to devastating loss," said spencer holley from the dais, her image looming large on big video screens behind her.

the final award in what spencer holley referred to as "the big four," the coretta scott king book award, went to julius lester for "day of tears: a novel in dialogue," published by jump at the sun, an imprint of hyperion, for writing, and to bryan collier, for "rosa," published by henry holt, for illustration.

"'day of tears' is julius lester's master fictionalized account of the largest slave auction in u.s. history, held in 1859 in savannah, ga.," said fran ware, chairwoman of the coretta scott king committee. "in a powerfully dramatic format, the voices of enslaved africans and their masters move between monologues and conversations.

"in 'rosa,' bryan collier uses uniquely bold illustrations depicting rosa parks as an inspirational and unwavering force," ware added.

one of the association's missions is to encourage parents to read to their children, she said.

"it sets a role model, of course," said spencer holley, "but it also gives parents a good idea of what books are out there for kids. and i think reading leads to family discussions and family trips. plus, it's just fun. i'm a great believer in reading to kids."

for a complete list of award winners and honorees, visit the american library association web site at

as originally published this story contained an error.

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