With Golden Globes bestowed and the Oscars on the way, awards season is here. Children’s literature nerds have the morning of January 28th marked on their calendars to gather round their screens for the closest thing librarians have to the red carpet: the live webcast of the ALA Youth Media Awards.
I love awards and best-of-year lists, but I always feel bad for those children's books which carve out their own little niches of greatness, yet remain long shots for big prizes like the Newbery or Caldecott. So this year, let’s give out a few awards of our own.
And the Elpy (from LPL, get it?) goes to . . .
Best Book about a Funeral That’s Not Really Sad
The Funeral, by Matt James.
There are so many good heartbreaking and therapeutic children’s books about loved ones dying, but this is the first I’ve seen written from the point of view of a kid experiencing another common phenomenon: the funeral of someone (her great uncle, in this case) whom she didn’t know very well. Mom is crying a bit, to be sure, but her daughter gets to see a cousin she doesn’t see very often, and, well, the whole experience is kind of fun. And that’s okay! Brilliant. An overdue award for James, who also illustrated two of my favorite picture books about a kid moving house, I Know Here and From There to Here, by Laurel Croza.
Best Book about a Vegetable Wearing Clothes
Potato Pants!, by Laurie Keller.
Former Hallmark illustrator Laurie Keller, the patron saint of inanimate objects herself, is back with a book about a potato and an eggplant duking it out over some coveted pants. Turns out there are life lessons to be learned from angry vegetables. Keller’s Scrambled States of America books are modern day classics, and she has left her comfort zone recently to draw some actual people (guess what, they’re also hilarious!) for Janet Tashjian’s early chapter book series, Marty Frye, Private Eye, volume three of which is due out in March.
Best Book about a Chicken Circumnavigating the Globe
The Hen Who Sailed Around the World, by Guirec Soudee. Frenchman Guirec Soudee and his hen Monique sail through the fabled Northwest Passage in this almost unbelievable photographic travelogue. Along the way, Monique lays 1,040 eggs, Guirec makes her a sweater out of his glove, the two share a noodle or two together a la Lady and the Tramp, and their boat gets frozen in for 130 (unassisted) days. “And yet,” Guirec writes, “it is impossible to be afraid: The unknown is so beautiful.” Oddly enough, so is this book. If it whets your appetite for chicken stories, or if Guirec and Monique just make you want to play around with a chicken puppet, check out our chicken-themed Story Time at Home kit.
Best Funny Book with No Reference to Underwear in Its Title about a Kid Who Doesn't Identify as Wimpy, Dorky, or Not-so
Okay, maybe she is a total grouch with a pet alien who poops rainbow-colored. But it’s refreshing to see an illustrated novel with a funny protagonist who manages to be an underdog without celebrating mediocrity. Olga is unapologetically smart, loves science, and idolizes Jane Goodall. Don’t get me wrong, I still love Nate, Greg, Nikki, George, and Harold. But Olga’s just as funny and doesn’t call herself names. Her creator, Elise Gravel, is an author/illustrator who can do it all: her 2016 picture book, The Cranky Ballerina, is a welcome alternative take on children’s dance culture, her Disgusting Critters series sets the bar for entertaining juvenile non-fiction, and If Found, her manual on how to keep a sketchbook, makes even a non-drawer like me want to pick up a pen.
Best Book about Libraries
Since the award itself is named after a library, we get to have this as a category, right? Dreamers might just win the Caldecott, and for many reasons, it should. It’s a beautifully illustrated story about parental love and the immigrant experience in America. But at its core is a representation of the library as a safe haven and source of knowledge for all. And for bibliophiles, Morales sprinkles tiny covers of the books she enjoyed with her young son throughout like a trail of gems. These are the books that influenced her to become one of our greatest living illustrators, always bringing to the page a hypnotic mix of drawing, painting, sculpture, and whatever else she can use to create wonderful books like Mi Abuelita, Viva Frida, and Just a Minute: A Trickster Tale and Counting Book.
That’s a wrap on this little awards ceremony. No stars or long speeches here, and as for after parties, they’re not exclusive: just an open lap, maybe a sleepy kid or two, and a fresh stack of books. It’s not glamorous, but the Beautiful People don’t know what they’re missing.
—Dan Coleman is a Collection Development Librarian at Lawrence Public Library.