It's one of my favorite—and most fascinating—times of year: The days and weeks following the American Library Association's announcement of the winners of the Youth Media Awards, including the Caldecott, Coretta Scott King, Newbery and Printz awards, are filled with as much joy as debate. We all have our favorite children's and YA books of the year (you can view the BookPage Best Children's and YA Books of 2014 here). Sometimes your favorites don't get the recognition you hoped for, and sometimes they do. And sometimes it seems like the award committee likes to test our understanding of the awards just because they can.
But putting all that aside, we love catching up with the winners of these awards, so we spoke with Caldecott winner Dan Santat, Newbery winner Kwame Alexander and Printz winner Jandy Nelson about what it's like to be recognized as the best in children's and young adult literature.
"It was a dream come true. A dream I never thought I would ever achieve."
"Am I delirious? Dreaming? Did he just really say 'Medal'? And then, like the clouds shifting to reveal the golden sun, my life changed, a new normal ablaze."
"I love being inside the minds/hearts of my teen narrators, love the urgency of the teen experience, that period of time when everything is so new, so dramatic, so emotional, so confusing, so funny, so raw, so honest, so everything."
It's Oscar Season, and if you have Hollywood on the brain, it's the perfect time to dive into Kate Alcott's new novel. In A Touch of Stardust, the author of The Dressmaker turns back the clock to the 1930s and puts readers on the tension-filled set of Gone With the Wind.
We see through the eyes of Julie Crawford, a would-be screenwriter who's still somewhat starstruck by the personalities she encouters during her work at the studio's publicity offices. But when Carole Lombard—who is currently involved with Clark Gable—hires Julie as her PA, the Midwestern girl starts seeing celebrities in a whole new light. But the magic of the movies persists.
Each morning, she pulled herself from bed and joined the cleaning ladies and the plumbers and other sleepy travelers on the 5:00 a.m. bus to get to the studio early. That way, she could step onto the back lot alone and be in the old South and feel the magical world of Gone with the Wind come to life. In front of Tara, the trees that had been fashioned over telephone poles looked real, and if she hadn't known the dogwood blossoms were made of white paper, the illusion would have been complete. It just took believing. She loved watching it grow—over fifty building façades now, and two miles of streets. It didn't matter that she walked in a landscape of glued plasterboard, a place of fake structures held together by little more than Selznick's frenzied dreams. It was vividly real.
What are you reading this week?
In her third memoir, Leaving Before the Rains Come, Alexandra Fuller reflects on her African childhood and the dissolution of her marriage after moving to America. Our reviewer writes, "Fuller’s blend of wry honesty and heartfelt environmental consciousness will resonate with both new readers and longtime admirers of her distinctive style." (Read the review here.)
We asked Fuller to tell us about three books she's been reading lately, and she graciously agreed to share.
I’ve read and re-read this spellbinding memoir of growing up with all the privilege and unconsciousness of a doomed elite in pre-war Liberia. Now, with West Africa and Ebola in the headlines, I found myself drawn back to Cooper’s lyrical, clear-eyed work. Anyone who wants to understand the political dynamics that have led to the current state of paranoia and suspicion in Liberia could do worse than start here. Anyone who loves beautiful, honest writing—or tales about families or coming-of-age stories—will find themselves smitten by Cooper’s descriptions of an exotic other time and the price we have to pay for paying too little attention to those less fortunate than ourselves.
I was completely smitten by this nonfiction novel (read it, you’ll see what I mean). It started life as four lectures delivered in Oxford in 2012 and appears in these pages more or less as given. An absolutely hypnotic, fiercely erudite meditation on art and literature, but also a reimagined love story (what if your lover could come back after her death? What if your connection to her was the ways in which you spoke about art and literature to one another? What if you missed your dead lover back to life?). Artful is not only about what art can do, but also about why we cannot do without it. Smith’s ambition is to break open the musty parchment of the way we typically think about literature and blow the reader’s heart open in the process.
I think Olivia Laing could write about the inside of a brown paper bag for 300 pages, and I would still be enthralled. Her prose is so gorgeous, so evocative, so sumptuous, I had to keep stopping to catch my breath and to ask myself, “How did she just do that?” In this work, Laing follows the drinking lives of six of the most brilliant writers—and tragically heavy drinkers —in modern U.S. history. What the reader learns—or doesn’t—about Hemingway, Fitzgerald et al from these pages is, in my view, completely beside the point. It’s more of an adventure story into the internal lives of familiar writers, their struggles and demons—perhaps somewhat partly familiar to many of us—and Laing’s own attempts to glimpse what early trauma can do, or undo, in a person.
Thank you, Alexandra! See anything you'd like to pick up, readers?
Author photo by Wendell Locke Field
Actor, writer and onetime Oscar host James Franco has been tapped to star in TV streaming service Hulu's adaptation of 11/22/63 by Stephen King. Franco will play Jake Epping, an unassuming high school teacher who travels back in time to kill Lee Harvey Oswald.
King has an executive producer credit for the adaptation, which was optioned by J.J. Abrams' production company and will air as a nine-part "limited series." This is the highest profile original program to date for Hulu, which has yet to have a breakout hit like Netflix's "House of Cards" or "Orange Is the New Black." Though previous adaptations of King's work are definitely hit or miss, they're always high profile, and the hook of 11/22/63 is an attention-grabber. Will you watch it?
You may know celebrated actor Stanley Tucci from his roles in The Lovely Bones and Road to Perdition, but he is also quite a formidable and knowledgable home cook! Co-authored with his wife Felicity Blunt, his second cookbook, The Tucci Table, is a "comfortable, easy-to-approach" guide to an array of Italian, American and British dishes.
Serves 4 to 6
This is a combination of my mother's eggplant Parmigiana and a French tian. With the addition of the potato, this makes a great vegetarian main course or a single side dish that combines a starch and a vegetable.
1. Preheat the broiler to medium-high.
2. Spread the eggplant, potato (if using), and zucchini slices on individual baking sheets, one for each ingredient, coat with 2 tablespoons of the olive oil and season with salt. Then place them under the broiler until they start to color, 3 to 5 minutes. This will evaporate some of their water so that they don’t go soggy in the final dish.
3. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
4. Combine the bread crumbs, half of the chopped herbs, half of the grated cheese and a dash of salt and pepper in a bowl and set aside.
5. Combine the remaining herb mixture, grated cheese, all of the garlic and a dash of salt and pepper in another bowl.
6. Coat the bottom and sides of a rectangular baking dish with 2 tablespoons of the olive oil.
7. From one short side of the dish, stack the eggplant, zucchini, potato (if using), and tomatoes so that they stand upright on edge against one another. Sprinkle a little of the chopped herb, garlic and cheese mixture in between some of the layers as you work your way across the baking dish.
8. When completed, drizzle the remaining olive oil over the top and sprinkle with the bread-crumb mixture.
9. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes. Check it just before the end of the baking time. If it looks a little dry, drizzle with a little extra olive oil. Serve warm or at room temperature, not hot.
Valentine's Day is coming up this weekend, and regardless of how you're celebrating (wine and Netflix, natch) it's a great time to read a romantic book. If traditional Romance isn't your cup of tea, then check out Roger Rosenblatt's short and playful look at love through a series of fictional vignettes in The Book of Love. The best-selling author (Making Toast and Unless It Moves the Human Heart) offers an often poetic and captivating exploration of the subject without running into cliché or sappy territory. This just might be the book on love for the cynics and romantics alike.
I thought of you tonight, as the moon was turning its face, the way you turn away at one of my contrived displays of wit. Embarrassed for me, who lacks the wite to be embarrased for myself. What is that? Why are you prepared to bear my slightest burden? I, the tropical ceiling fan, wheeling in my faux aristocratic self-confidence. You, with the serene sense to look beyond the slats of the casa shutters to the mango trees, the bougainvillea, and beyond those, to the sea. So steady, you eyesight. But tonight was different. The past had changed, as it does sometimes, and instead of the self-regard I have worn like a white linen suit, I saw only you, and the strawberries, and the windfall of light on your hair.
What are you reading today?
Every month, we review the hottest new romance releases in our Romance column. But why let the print books have all the fun? In Digital Dalliances, we highlight digital-only releases guaranteed to heat up your eReader.
In Elizabeth Harmon's Pairing Off, the first in her Red Hot Russians series, two figure skaters unexpectedly join forces to bring home wins against the odds. (A plot that appeals to me because, despite having never strapped on a pair of skates, my life goal is to be a figure-skating ballerina.)
After being disqualified from the World Figure Skating Championships after her ridiculous partner sleeps with a judge, it appears that Carrie Parker's figure skating dreams are over. With no where else to turn, she goes to Moscow and is paired with World silver-medalist Anton Belikov, whom she spent one heated night with long ago. Carrie is determined not to let this fact get in the way, and because of her dyed hair and the darkened rooms seven years ago, Anton doesn't realize that they've met before. But as Carrie trains with him in the foreign landscape of Moscow, she finds it harder and harder to deny their attraction.
For the final spin, she faced him, back arched, one leg extended behind. Clinging to him, she wrapped her leg around his waist, molding her body to his so they appeared to be a single form. The shimmering red, yellow and gold bands on their clothes coiled into a continuous line. As they spun faster, her flowing hair and the fire-colored bands suggested flames burning at center ice. Four times, Peggy Lee purred the song’s closing stanza. “What a lovely way to burn.”
At the last note, they stood cheek to cheek, her heart pounding in time with his. Applause shook the arena and she wrapped her arms around his neck. She turned her head just as he turned his.
Lightly, their lips brushed together. Then she and Anton stepped apart, and turned to face the audience.
She wobbled on her skates, like a child taking her first lesson. Her heart, already pounding from the strenuous program, hitched into overdrive. Once again, Anton had almost kissed her, only this time they weren’t alone in a deserted practice rink. They were performing for thousands, with millions more watching on TV. Was it accidental? There was no way to know, no time to think. Surrounded by cheers and applause, they took their bows in the spotlight.
Do you think you'll be picking up this romance novel for your eReader?
While music is the highlight of the Grammy Awards, audiobooks got their fair share of play during last night’s ceremony as well. Two audiobooks won awards during the 57th Grammys: The Young Reader’s Edition of I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai won for Best Children’s Album, and the late Joan Rivers, who died last September at 81, received the award for Best Spoken Word Album for her narration of her memoir Diary of a Mad Diva.
Yousafazai’s award was accepted by narrator Neela Vaswani, while Rivers’ award was accepted by her daughter, Melissa Rivers. Melissa Rivers told E!, “It’s a difficult moment, it’s a little bittersweet.” This is the second Grammy nomination for Rivers, who was nominated for a Best Comedy Album Grammy in 1984.
It's February, and everyone has their favorite literary couples: Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy, Jane Eyre and Mr. Rochester. Sometimes the best duos are the ones you'd never think had anything in common . . . like, who would've thought that Ron and Hermione would stop fighting long enough to fall in love?
Oh, it's just so difficult when everyone loves you. Where will the two medals go, anyway? Here's an attempt to pile them on via Mariko Tamaki's website.
With the recent announcement that This One Summer by Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki had won both a Printz Honor and a Caldecott Honor—the first graphic novel to win the latter—these two supposedly irreconcilable seals now sit side by side on the book's cover. The young adult (YA) world is buzzing with debate over this pairing, but I'd like to suggest that it's a terrific chance to challenge assumptions about these awards, and to think about what happens when they come together. Here are three ideas worth considering.
The Caldecott has pushed boundaries before.
The Caldecott medal is awarded annually to the artist of the most distinguished American picture book for children, with Honor books considered to be similarly distinguished runners-up.
Most Caldecott winners and Honor books have looked like picture books—they've been 32 pages or so, and generally taller than they are long—and many are appropriate for preschool audiences. But in 2008, the Caldecott medal went to The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick, a book most likely to be enjoyed by late elementary school and early middle-school readers. Clocking in at a hefty 534 pages (and longer and almost wider than it is tall), Hugo Cabret was an unusual choice. And yet its detailed black and white drawings, and its mix of verbal and pictorial storytelling, could certainly be argued to be distinguished.
The two medals' criteria overlap in interesting ways.
In December, I'd predicted that This One Summer would walk away with the Printz award as the best book written for teens this year, based entirely on literary merit. Although "literary" seems at first to refer only to words, books that include both words and pictures have been recognized in the past. Consider American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang, the medal winner in 2007.
Similarly, while the Caldecott's "for children" designation seems at first to exclude teens, a deeper dig through its terms and criteria reveals that "children" is actually defined as "persons of ages up to and including fourteen" (possibly a holdover from before the Printz and other YA awards were established, or before YA lit as it's currently understood existed at all). While the Caldecott is usually thought of as a children's illustration-based award and the Printz as a YA word-based one, there's no definitional reason why an illustrated book aimed at 12- to 14-year-olds can't qualify for—and win—medals in both categories.
This One Summer is all about in-between-ness and liminality.
And if any book was the one to show how this overlap might work, it's Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki's monochromatic, intensely reflective graphic novel. As discussed on this blog series all the way back in November, narrator Rose's age is never actually specified. We know that her younger friend Windy is still very much a child and her aspirational "like eighteen"-year-old crush is too old for her, making Rose probably around 12.
But by writing (and drawing) Rose as an in-between character, the Tamaki cousins actively invite readers to think about liminality, or what it means to be part one thing and part another. Suspended between childhood and young adulthood, Rose is the perfect protagonist of a book that's the first ever to be recognized by both the Caldecott and the Printz committees.
Sure, there've already been calls to redefine the Caldecott criteria to include only books aimed at children 12 and under—and already questions of whether collections that're determined to buy every Caldecott book will wind up with a title that doesn't quite belong. But I think the dual recognition of This One Summer is great for the book, great for children's and YA lit, great for graphic novels and great for ongoing discussions about what these awards are . . . or should be. Like Ron and Hermione, these two opposites might have more in common than they first appear.
What do you think of This One Summer's dual win? Do you think young-leaning YA graphic novels should be eligible for the Caldecott? Tell us in the comments!
Locker Combinations is a Book Case feature by BookPage contributor and young adult (YA) literature expert Jill Ratzan. Using a variety of literary, cultural and educational perspectives, Jill guest blogs about the latest in YA lit and the general direction, trends and changes of the field. Read more BookPage reviews, interviews and posts by Jill here.