Writing Good Books for Kids

Now that the Oscars and the NAACP Image Awards have cycled through, I have been thinking again about praise and its importance. We have awards for all manner of accomplishments in this country, helping to draw our attention to something and (perhaps more importantly) to trust in it.

At its best, when good work is not resting upon its own laurels, this is the tenure of praise - holding something up for all to see and saying, “It is good and worthy. Notice it, partake of it, encourage it.”

The ALA Youth Media Awards, which were announced at the end of January, are one of children’s literature’s such praisings. Quite simply, they are meant to honor high quality children’s literature and “encourage original and creative work” in this field - an open-ended mission that leaves room for the changing of the times and the wide and varied creative expressions of literature.

Most are familiar with the Caldecott Medal, but there are many others. In fact, scanning the list of awards, it can seem daunting to keep track of them all (there are almost twenty of them, each one delivering both medals and honors).

But I would encourage you to pay attention to them. They are not exhaustive, nor are they meant to be. And though awards can only tell us so much about a book, these recognitions are really and truly a magnificent filter for parents, educators, and young readers. With tens of thousands of new children’s books published every year, we can use a good filter. I like to think of these awards as recommendations from voracious readers who are also advocates for kids.

Also, and I think more importantly, these works are invaluable to a multicultural experience in a democracy such as ours, with our rich and varied histories that are (perhaps paradoxically) all shared. In addition to the Caldecott Medal and the Newbery Medal - honors that take a more sweeping view of the land - there are also the Coretta Scott King Awards, the Pura Belpré Awards, and as of this year the Stonewall Awards. These recognize authors and illustrators that best portray the African-American, the Latino, and the GLBT experiences (respectively). In short, they are magnificent books with important things to tell us.

Of course, there is the reading pleasure factor to consider in all this. Sure, you won’t find entertainment-driven stories on these lists, no movie or tv tie-ins. But that does not mean they aren’t a pleasure to read. In my own experience, I have thoroughly enjoyed every ALA Youth Media Award-winning book I’ve ever read.

They aren’t always lighthearted - Bridge to Terabithia was the first book that broke my heart. But many gems, like my all-time favorite From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, are quite celebratory and fun. And they do what literature is supposed to do - they put us in touch with life.

So here is a quick scan of some of the ALA Youth Media Award winners for 2011. Check them out. They are good and worthy.

Newbery Medal
(honors the author of the year's most outstanding contribution to children's literature)
Moon Over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool

Caldecott Medal
(honors the illustrator of the year's most distinguished picture book)
A Sick Day for Amos McGee illustrated by Erin E. Stead

Printz Award
(honors excellence in literature written for young adults)
Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi

Coretta Scott King Awards
(honor African American authors and illustrators of outstanding books for children and young adults that communicate the African American experience)
One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia
Dave the Potter: Artist, Poet, Slave illustrated by Bryan Collier

Erin Quick, Books Blogger for SmartParenting

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