Newbery, Caldecott winners: Jack Gantos, Chris Raschka take the top prizes(Read article summary)
Award-winners Jack Gantos and Chris Raschka both wrote stories based on real-life incidents.
If thereâ€™s one thing this yearâ€™s Newbery and Caldecott winners taught us, itâ€™s a confirmation of the old adage, â€śwrite what you know.â€ť This yearâ€™s winners scored accolades putting mundane personal experiences to paper, from growing up in a town created by the Depression to witnessing a dog lose a favorite ball.Â
Jack Gantos won the Newbery Medal, awarded for best childrenâ€™s literature, for his semi-autobiographical novel, â€śDead End in Norvelt.â€ť The story hits very close to home for Gantos, to say the least. Set in 1962, it follows the hilariously improbable adventures of a boy named Jack Gantos growing up in Gantosâ€™ former hometown, Norvelt, Penn., created by the federal government during the Great Depression.
The ALA described it as â€śan achingly funny romp through a dingy New Deal town.â€ť
Chris Raschka, who won the Caldecott Medal, awarded for best picture book, also stayed close to home with his picture book, â€śA Ball for Daisy.â€ť The wordless book for ages 3 and up deals with a dogâ€™s loss of her favorite ball. It was inspired by an everyday incident in an elevator a decade ago involving Raschkaâ€™s four-year-old son, his favorite ball, and a dog named Daisy. The dog eventually destroyed the ball, but it also sparked the idea behind the award-winning book.
â€śMy son eventually got over it,â€ť Raschka told USA Today, â€śbut I thought itâ€™d make a good picture book.â€ť The challenging part he said, was â€śachieving the right balance between empathetic response without making it too upsetting for kids.â€ť
â€śDead End Norveltâ€ť also drew directly from Gantosâ€™ experience. He was at a funeral eulogizing his aunt in the real Norvelt, Penn., when he discovered how little Norveltâ€™s residents knew about the townâ€™s roots as a federal project created by President Franklin D. Roosevelt and named after a combination of the last syllableâ€™s of Eleanor Rooseveltâ€™s name: EleaNOR RooseVELT. Gantos said he was shocked at how little the town knew about its history and determined to share his hometownâ€™s history through a childrenâ€™s book.
If thereâ€™s one more thing this yearâ€™s awards taught us, itâ€™s that there are second acts in life. At 20, Gantos spent 18 months in prison for drug running. â€śWhen I got out,â€ť he said, â€śI had a lot of focus. I never wanted to do that again.â€ť His 2002 memoir for teens, â€śHole in my Head,â€ť describes what he calls the â€śbleakest year of my life.â€ť Today Gantos has 45 books under his belt, including a Newbery Honor, a Printz Honor, and a National Book Award finalist designation.
Raschkaâ€™s first act was as a violist and member of the orchestras in Ann Arbor and Flint, Michigan, who turned to art and illustration full-time only after tendinitis ended his musical career. Today, Raschka has written or illustrated about 50 books, including the 2006 Caldecott winner, â€śThe Hello, Good-bye Window.â€ť
With this yearâ€™s awards, Gantos and Raschka proved that success can be as attainable as second acts writing what they know.
Husna Haq is a Monitor correspondent.