Make room on your bookshelf! The best children’s books of 2014 have been named. The American Library Association (ALA) announced its top kids’ book picks on February 2 at the Youth Media Awards, in Chicago, Illinois. The ALA awards the nation’s top prizes for children’s and young adult literature, including the John Newbery and Randolph Caldecott Medals. Committees made up of librarians and other experts select the winning books.
Winning one of the ALA awards—there are about 20 total, plus additional honor medals—is a big deal for authors and illustrators. Books with these well-known medals stand out on a bookstore or library shelf. “ALA awards guide parents, educators, librarians, and others in selecting the best materials for youth,” the ALA says.
Scroll down to check out TFK’s interviews with three of the award-winning authors: Kwame Alexander, Dan Santat, and Jacqueline Woodson.
The John Newbery Medal for the most outstanding contribution to children’s literature went to The Crossover, by Kwame Alexander. TFK talked to Alexander on the day of the announcement.
How did it feel to learn you had won the Newbery Medal?
I couldn’t sleep! I was up all night. At 7:15 am, the phone rings and my wife starts screaming. The Committee Chair says I won the Newbery Medal. I said, “Are you sure?” It was so surreal! I’ve written 18 books over the course of 20 years, but you’re always working to be better. When you’re in the same conversations as Lois Lowry and Virginia Hamilton, you have to just be thankful.
What is The Crossover about?
Two brothers who are stars on and off the basketball court. They love their dad, who is a former basketball player. But then something happens and the bond in the family begins to break down. How can they rebound? It’s about love, family, friendship, and realizing that on the court of life, your family is the most important thing.
Why did you decide to write this book?
I often hear that boys don’t read. Having been a boy who didn’t want to read, I know there is some truth to that. But, I also know if you give them something interesting and relatable, then they will read it. This Newbery is amazing but there’s another award that I’ve gotten time and time again. Boys tell me they have never been interested in reading until they read my book, and that’s the greatest reward.
Can you talk about your 5-year journey of writing this book and getting published?
There were quite a few rejections. On the page it looks like poetry, but it’s actually verse. A lot of people couldn’t get past that. I got told no a lot. I realized, after the doubting and sobbing, that I can’t let the no’s define me. All it takes is one yes.
Why is the Newbery Medal important to you?
Because it means that librarians, teachers, and kids think that this book is meaningful. Now it will be in the hands of more kids. I want kids to know there is power and coolness in poetry. I tried to put that magic in The Crossover. Hopefully kids will see that.
Sometimes all it takes to get noticed is an imaginary friend. No one knows this better than Author Dan Santat. His unique picture book, The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend won this year’s Randolph Caldecott Medal. It is given each year to the best American picture book for kids. This story begins on an island far away for imaginary friends. The main character, Beekle, waits his turn to be imagined by a real child. After being overlooked time and again, he sets off on a journey to the real world to find his match.
Where did you get the idea for this book?
The story is a metaphor for the birth of my son. As a father-to-be you have these thoughts in your mind like what is my child going to be like when he grows up? Will he be a happy kid? That goes hand-in-hand with an imaginary friend. When he was born, he became real to me. Here was this person I loved before I even met or imagined him.
Did you have an imaginary friend growing up?
I did not. But, I had read enough stories. Most imaginary friend stories are from the perspective of the child wanting an imaginary friend. I always found it interesting that the imaginary friend really doesn’t have any control about who their child friend will be. Whether they like it or not, there’s this unconditional love.
Where does the name Beekle come from?
Beekle is the first word my son ever said! It was his word for bicycle. My wife said that would be a great name for a book character.
How did your son like the book?
He understands that it’s a love letter to him. I know we can’t be together forever. He’ll grow up and maybe have his own kids. I wanted something that would show my great-grandchildren how much I love my son. Now this book is going to be everywhere and it’s a lasting letter to my son and every kid who reads it.
What do think kids will like about this book?
It’s almost an instruction book for shy kids who don’t have the confidence to go out and meet someone for the first time. My son had that anxiety. I remember saying to him, all you need to do is start with one friend. If children need to to have an imaginary friend to get through the day, that’s ok and they should embrace it.
Author Jacqueline Woodson set out to tell her family’s story in the memoir Brown Girl Dreaming. Woodson won the 2015 Coretta Scott King Award—given to the author of the best kids’ book about African Americans. Written in vivid poetry, it tells the story of her brave mother’s move from South Carolina to New York to raise her children in a world without segregation.
In 2014, TFK’s Brenda Iasevoli interviewed Woodson about her memoir. She reveals why she wrote Brown Girl Dreaming in poems, her favorite memories of her mother, and the authors who inspired her. Read the full interview here.