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* For authors and illustrators, it's not the glittering medals that make Newbery and Caldecott awards so appealing: It's what these awards stand for.

``The Newbery award is the Pulitzer Prize of the children's literature world,'' says Patricia MacLachlan, 1986 Newbery Medal-winner for ``Sarah, Plain and Tall.''

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The Newbery Medal goes to the author of the most distinguished contribution to children's literature. The Caldecott Medal goes to the illustrator of the best picture book. Both awards are given only to books published in the United States during the preceding year.

Although medal recipients are required to be US citizens or residents, the awards are named after two Englishmen.

The Newbery Medal honors London publisher and bookseller John Newbery (1713-67). Credited with being the first to print and sell children's books, he published more than 400 titles. His most well-known book, ``Mother Goose's Melody,'' contains nursery rhymes still popular today.

The Caldecott Medal recognizes British illustrator Randolph Caldecott (1846-86). Maurice Sendak, 1964 medal-winner for ``Where the Wild Things Are,'' considers Caldecott the inventor of the modern picture book.

The Newbery Medal was first awarded in 1922. The Caldecott followed in 1938. These medals were suggested by Frederic G. Melcher, former co-editor of Publishers Weekly and founder of Children's Book Week. Originally, Melcher contributed the medals; now his family does.

The awards are administered by the Association for Library Services to Children, a division of the American Library Association (ALA). Every year, two 15-member committees of appointed and elected participants are created: one for the Newbery and one for the Caldecott. In addition to choosing two medal-winners, these committees may also cite an unspecified number of Honor-award books.

Awards are announced at ALA's midwinter meeting, next year on February 7. After the announcement, the two medal-winning books are republished with a reproduction of the Newbery or Caldecott Medal on their covers.

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Ms. MacLachlan says her young fans have no trouble recognizing the awards. They eagerly tell her, ``You have a sticker book.''

Lists of Newbery and Caldecott winners are available in most public libraries.

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