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A Fuse #8 Production
Inside A Fuse #8 Production

. . . And Nothing Did Not Happen. A 2009 Newbery/Caldecott Wrap-Up.

The champagne has been served.  The celebratory parties thrown.  The winners plunged into great joy/great despair while the losers sip their tea and gurgle.  And with the full knowledge that my #1 Newbery pick and my #1 Caldecott choice didn’t even get any frickin’ HONORS this year, I plunge into a recap of our favorite award winners in a cleansing ritual of sorts.


The winner of the full-on golden award was The Graveyard Book, thereby answering the question of whether or not it was even eligible.  Oh, not because author Neil Gaiman is British.  No no, Mr. Gaiman lives in Minnesota, thereby making him eligible as an American resident (take notes, Cornelia Funke and Oliver Jeffers). Actually, a chapter of The Graveyard Book appeared previously in a short story selection.  That meant that it was up to this year’s Newbery chair to decide if it was eligible or not.  And clearly, they gave it a big old smackeroo on the lips.  This bodes well for other fantasies.  After all, a straight up fantasy hasn’t won the Newbery Award since . . .  since the 2004 winner The Tale of Despereaux.  Damn.  There goes my non-fantasy winning theory.  Interestingly, my husband informs me that the comic blogs have not lit up with the information that Gaiman just won the Newbery.  Crossover, it would seem, isn’t as common as I would like it to be.  By the way, Gaiman is (I believe) the very first author to win the award while remaining a regular blogger.  You want to know how the phone call went?  Hear it from the horse’s mouth then.

Honors went to:

The Underneath by Kathi Appelt – I said it couldn’t win the award, and I was right.  I suspect it split the vote in some way.  However, I am pleased to see it get an honor.  Mighty deserving it is, and beautifully written.  However, I cannot help but notice that the Texan twang puts it in mighty similar company to . . .

Savvy by Ingrid Law – I mean think about it.  Both Savvy and The Underneath sound mighty similar on the page.  They both sport a Southwestern drawl.  Savvy was one of the most surprising inclusions on the Honors.  I didn’t think it had a chance, but clearly I misjudged it.  Even more surprising was the inclusion of . . .

The Surrender Tree by Margarita Engle – I reviewed her The Poet Slave of Cuba years ago.  It was a meticulous, thoughtful novel but so clearly teen that I pooh-poohed a thorough reading of her follow-up.  When Henry Holt sent it to me I assumed it was YA yet again.  My mistake.  The Newbery says that it is appropriate, at the very least, for 14-year-olds.  And since I removed it from my To Be Read shelf at the end of the year, I will need to determine if this is true or not.  Thank goodness the YA departments of my library system bought multiple copies early on.

After Tupac and D Foster by Jacqueline Woodson – Problematic.  Not the book, I like the book.  But we have a problem here.  In 2006 Woodson wins an Honor for Show Way.  In 2008 she wins an Honor for Feathers.  In 2009 she wins an Honor for After Tupac and D Foster.  And have any of you read her Peace, Locomotion?  Either Woodson is going to win the record for Most Honors Recorded in a Five Year Period, or she’s finally going to get the Newbery gold with her 2009 book.  And since my predictions fared so poorly this year, I cannot say.  Speaking of which . . .

Biggest Disappointment?  Clearly I am biased, but no Honor for Chains?  Was I correct when I wrote that the committee would focus on a single factual "error" (heaven only knows what it would be) and would keep it from winning as a result?  Was it the narrator’s voice, which some found difficult to sympathize with?  Dunno, but at last night’s Kidlit Drink Night a continual confusion surrounded the lack of Chains in the running.  Mind you, Anderson won herself a lifetime achievement award yesterday and also has a mighty attractive Scott O’Dell Award and National Book Award finalist listing to the book’s name.  But I am still sad that it didn’t get that final honor.  This was a pity, to be believed.


The House in the Night, written by Susan Marie Swanson and illustrated by Beth Krommes got itself the final gold in the long run.  I was pleased, if a little surprised.  I had certainly thought it was a stunning book, though almost more a tribute to Wanda Gag than anything else.  With its black and white imagery and sole use of a single color, the book reminds one of nothing so much as Kitten’s First Full Moon.  B&W moon-based literature is a popular Caldecott topic, I see.

Honors went to:

A Couple of Boys Have the Best Week Ever by Marla Frazee – Sure.  That’s it Caldecott committee.  Make me kick myself a couple more times for not reviewing this book when I had the chance.  Heck, I even have a friggin’ signed copy on my shelf.  What is wrong with me?  The fact of the matter is, Frazee’s book made for no easy review.  It’s smart and complicated and so incredibly realistic that I couldn’t wrap my brain about it.  Clearly the Caldecott committee had no such problem.  Beautiful.

How I Learned Geography by Uri Shulevitz – I wouldn’t have been surprised if this had gotten the award proper.  New York Public Library made this book the cover illustration for this year’s 100 Books for Reading and Sharing list, and with good reason.  Shulevitz is a legend and this book a gorgeous autobiographical testament to great storytelling.  I was very pleased with the selection.

A River of Words: The Story of William Carlos Williams
by Jen Bryant, illustrated by Melissa Sweet – I sent an email off to Anita Eerdmans congratulating her on this win.  I am always inordinately pleased when a small publisher wins a major award.  I do believe I featured this book very briefly at the last ALA meeting in Anaheim in a v-blog post, you know.  Yep.  There it is

Biggest Disappointment?
  I correctly called the fact that We Are the Ship would not get a Caldecott.  And I was happy to see it get a Siebert and a Coretta Scott King (though no Newbery Honor, which I’d sorta been hoping might happen on the off-chance).  But for me, it was far more disappointing not to see Wabi Sabi on the list.  One cannot imagine the reasons the Caldecott committee might have come up with to exclude such a book.  Last night I’d try to bring up a reason, and then would be shot down by my fellow enthusiasts, leaving us all uniformly baffled.  A real pity too.

Tomorrow:  The other award winners.  Tonight, me sleepy.

About Elizabeth Bird

Elizabeth Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.


  1. I have the same two big disappointments — Chains and Wabi Sabi. Still baffled. But am ecstatic over Marla’s win!!

  2. teacherninja says:

    You came pretty frickin close on Gaiman: “I think the man has a chance. The committee will put aside considerations that take into account his massive fame in other spheres. They will examine the book based on its own merits and find it a rather clever and touching novel.”

    AND The house in the Night: ” I almost made this my out-and-out Gold winner… I’ve heard people argue against this one, but their arguments never quite stick. It’s a beaut.”

    Pretty frickin close indeed.

  3. I also cannot believe that Wabi Sabi, so rich, expressive, and original got completely ignored. What WERE they thinking?

  4. Gurgle, gurgle ๐Ÿ˜‰ I am happy for those that won. I plan to create more art regardless. As a Golden Kite Judge, some book art I saw was just fantastic but the book design and art fell on the grownup side of the fence. While some adults here might adore a book and explore fully it’s design and style, my experiences are that a child is going for simplicity, a good story and fun art.

  5. Neil Gaiman says:

    No, no, dear Fusie. Living in Minnesota makes me an American resident, not necessarily an American citizen. I’m eligible in either case, though.

  6. Anamaria Anderson (bookstogether) says:

    Maybe that was “[as] eligible as an American citizen.” In any case, more congratulations to you, Neil! I don’t know about ten thousand years from now, but Graveyard Book is a treasure today, and I think it will be far into the future as well.

  7. Note to self: Do not screw up sentences regarding Mr. Gaiman when the man reads your blog. Bad, Fuse #8, naughty bad! *sigh* It hath been corrected.

  8. I know it is slightly off topic, but when do the ALA notable get announced? I thought they’d come out with the awards…

  9. That is an excellent question! I shall ask somebody somewhere and hopefully post the answer tomorrow.

  10. When I was on Notables, we had to have the lists done by the announcements, but they always took a couple days to make it up on the website, on account of all the extra proofreading, being longer lists and all.

    And don’t feel bad, Fuse. I told my coworkers that I would eat my shirt if <

  11. Ack! The software cut my comment in half! I swear it was under 7000 characters!

    Anyway, the shirt-eating book was The Adoration of Jenna Fox, which I said would win a Printz. Today my coworkers are all asking me how my shirt tasted or if I was planning a public shirt-eating. They love me here. ๐Ÿ˜‰


    Hi, Betsy.

    I have a question-figured you would know. A Washgington Post article stated:
    “In the United Kingdom, Gaiman pointed out, there are separate editions of “The Graveyard Book” aimed at adults and children, and he likes to think of it as an “all ages” book. That said — in part because of that “amazingly scary opening” — he said he would not recommend it to most children younger than 9″. I checked Amazon UK, and there is a different British edition illustrated by Chris Riddell. I assume that the UK edition illustrated by Riddell and the US edition illustrated by McKean were simultaneous publications?

  13. Yes, I do believe that that was the case. Interestingly, I’ve heard a lot of people prefer the Riddell version. McKean’s great, but there were some mistakes in his portrayal of Bod (most notably the clothing) which Riddell got correct. There may have been a month or two different in publication dates, but nothing significant. Certainly it didn’t appear in Britain first or it would have been ineligible for the Newbery. Simultaneous publication always fascinates me too.

  14. The Notables sometimes are still being discussed a day or two after the Award Announcements. I remember sitting in on the discussion the afternoon after the announcements, if not the next day. The list is usually up by Wednesday. Or Thursday. A friend said that the committee waits until the publishers leave Monday night. on Tuesday, with no publishers looking over their shoulder, the committee says what they really think about the books and slashes the list down. -wendieO

  15. The brilliance of Ed Young aside, I found Wabi Sabi to be an uneven effort. Some pages were lovely, and some just seemed muddled. And the overall dark tones of the illustrations created what was for me an unpleasant dissonance with the idea of “unexpected beauty”. Just my two cents. And River of Words? Fabulousness rewarded!

  16. Library Lady says:

    I’d say I was disappointed. But after last year’s “hip” picks, it’s a slight improvement. Besides, I gave up on the Newbery/Caldecott awards years ago–too little focus on books kids will read and love for the next 100 years and too much on being “hip”.

    At least Gaiman’s book will be a popular read. And the fact that “The House in the Night” is pretty much a Wanda Gag imitation (fine, you can call it a homage) might draw people to read “Millions of Cats” and Gag’s other books.

    I shed no tears for Wabi Sabi,which I find to have little kid appeal, Chains, which I find both less than believable in stretches AND derivative, and After Tupac, which I think is one of the slightest books Woodson has ever written.

  17. Ah, Library Lady. Whenever I see that you have written in I know that you will give only your most honest opinion on such matters. You do not disappoint.