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Honorable Mentions, part 1

By Adrienne Ehlert Bashista
Posted Monday, February 9, 2004

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a column about books for kids

The Newbery, Caldecott, Coretta Scott King, and Prinz awards are the most prestigious awards in the field of children’s literature. The various committees announced the winners for 2003 earlier this month. The Newbery, which is awarded to middle grade fiction, was given to Kate de Camillo for The Tale of Despereaux: Being the Story of a Mouse, a Princess, Some Soup, and A Spool of Thread, the Caldecott, which is for illustration, was given to Mordicai Gerstein, for The Man Who Walked Between Towers, and the Coretta Scott King award, which is given to an author or illustrator of African descent and whose work epitomizes the American dream, was given to Angela Johnson for The First Part Last, as did the Printz award, which is given to a book that epitomizes excellence in young adult literature.

All these people will go down in history as award winners.

All these people will go down in history as award winners, their books will sell hundreds of thousands of copies, and bright shiny stickers will be affixed to the covers. But there’s a whole host of other worthy books and authors that have been given honorable mentions for those awards, and although they will get some publicity and their books will sell more copies than otherwise, they will not get quite the amount of attention as the grand prize winners. It’s those books – the honorable mentions – that I want to write about. In this column I’ll focus on the Newbery and Caldecott medals, and in the next column I’ll tell you about the Printz and the Coretta Scott King awards.

First, the Newbery. Two books got honorable mentions for the Newbery award: Olive’s Ocean (Greenwillow, 0-06-0535431), by Kevin Henkes, and An American Plague: The True and Terifying Story of the Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1793 (Clarion, 0-395-776082), by Jim Murphy. Henkes, who is best known for picture books like Lily’s Purple Plastic Purse, has created a beautifully written, character-driven novel for middle grade students in Olive’s Ocean. The book is the story of twelve-year-old Martha Boyle and her experiences during her family’s annual summer visit to her grandmother’s house on Cape Cod. The Olive in the title refers to a classmate of Martha’s, killed a month earlier by a car. Olive and Martha weren’t friends, but they might have been as Olive’s diary, given to Martha by Olive’s mother, reveals that the two girls had many things in common. Olive wanted to be a writer; Martha wants to be a writer. Olive wanted to see the ocean; Martha is on her way to see the ocean when given the diary. The dead girl’s diary forces Martha to reflect on how things can change in an instant, and how they often do.

An American Plague is an interesting choice for a Newbery honorable mention as it is non-fiction. But if you’re thinking that makes it dry and boring, you’re wrong. This historical narrative chronicles the yellow fever epidemic that hit Philadelphia, then the nation’s capitol, more than 200 years ago. The author, Jim Murphy, uses first-hand accounts to re-create the fear that swept the city, and documents the heroes of the epidemic, most notably the city’s Free African Society (Philadelphia’s free blacks) who were mistakenly labeled as immune to the disease and who cared for many of the city’s sick and dying. He also reveals the social conditions and medical practices that caused the disease to spread through the populace. Paired with Fever, 1793, a novel by Laurie Halse Anderson, about the same subject, this book could spark the fire of a budding history buff.

Mo Willems’ Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! (Hyperion Press, 0-78-681988X) is one of the books given an honorable mention for greatness in illustration. In all honesty, although the retro sixties-style line drawings are charming, it’s the text that’s the true winner. This book tells the simple story of a very naughty pigeon who tries to convince the reader that he should be allowed to drive the bus. It’s pigeon as preschooler, with the predictable ending to any negotiation where the child is told ‘no’ – a tantrum. Very funny, and perfect for read-alouds, whether on a parent’s lap or as part of storytime.

What Do You Do With A Tail Like This? (Houghton Mifflin, 0-618-256288) by Robin Page and illustrated by Steve Jenkins, is another Caldecott honor book. In striking cut-paper illustrations, Jenkins shows the young reader what various animals do with their body parts. Tails, mouths, ears, eyes, and noses are all covered. Some of the animals, like crickets, elephants, and chimpanzees, are familiar, while others, like four-eyed fish and the four-footed booby, are not. The glossary of pictures and species notes is a special feature that elaborates on each animal’s adaptation and answers questions that may have come up in the reading.

Finally, the last Caldecott honorable mention is Ella Sarah Gets Dressed (Harcourt Children’s Books, 0-15-2164138), written and illustrated by Margaret Chodos-Irvine, is a book for the pre-k set about a little girl with a big sense of style. It follows Ella Sarah as she tries to assemble the perfect ensemble, despite her mother’s, father’s, and big sister’s advice to the contrary. Vibrant illustrations done in a “variety of printmaking techniques” echo Ella Sarah’s own tastes and emotions. It’s a fun, sparkling book about a little girl’s struggle for her first taste of independence.


Adrienne Ehlert Bashista is a writer, librarian, and mother of two small children who lives near Silk Hope, NC. Her website is

Copyright 2004. Adrienne Ehlert Bashista. All rights reserved.

Related info:
Book Talker
e-mail E-mail this page
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Honorable Mentions, part 1

Related info:
Book Talker