This year, books inspired by memories of two very different real-life journeys were chosen for America’s most prestigious children’s literature awards. The first story travels down through generations and across continents; the second is just a childhood bus ride away.
2016 Randolph Caldecott Medal Winner
“Finding Winnie: The True Story of the World’s Most Famous Bear,” written by Lindsay Mattick and illustrated by Sophie Blackall, is the winner of the 2016 Randolph Caldecott Medal for best picture book.
A mother readies her small son and his beloved stuffed bear for bed. “Could you tell me a story?” he asks. “You know. A true story. One about a bear.”
She tells him about a young Canadian veterinarian, on his way to care for the war horses of World War I, who buys an orphaned bear cub, names her Winnie, then takes her by train and by ship all the way to England. A very special bear, Winnie is the regimental mascot. To keep her safe when they go to France, he gives her to the London Zoo, where she lives out her life, beloved by all.
But this is far from the end of the road for Dr. Colebourn or for Winnie, even though their paths separate. What happens next, and then after that, is amazing. This story is both truly magical—and magically true.
Sophie Blackall’s award-winning drawings were done in Chinese ink and watercolor on hot-press paper and are skillful and charming. They are evocative of a bygone age and remind me of the late Barbara Cooney’s wonderful artwork for “Miss Rumpus” and “Roxaboxen.”
2016 John Newbery Medal Winner
This year’s John Newbery Medal winner for best children’s book is “Last Stop on Market Street,” written by Matt de la Peña and illustrated by Christian Robinson. This is one for the record books: It’s a picture book (highly unusual for Newbery winners) and it also won Caldecott and Coretta Scott King (Illustrator) Book awards.
“Last Stop on Market Street” is a fine example of collaboration between author and artist. Peña’s agent showed him a sketch drawn by Robinson of a boy on a bus with his nana, or grandmother. The boy, CJ, had been raised in poverty by his nana. Peña, also disadvantaged in childhood, also had a strong abuela in his life. He wanted to show how these principled, loving women were shapers of young children growing up poor in American inner cities.
Peña’s words capture the call-and-response rhythm of CJ’s and Nana’s conversations and the shabbiness and occasional piercing beauty of an impoverished neighborhood, while Robinson’s vibrant, colorful acrylics and collages make the city and its inhabitants come alive. His simple, energetic style is reminiscent of the work of the late much-honored writer and artist Ezra Jack Keats.
The story is simplicity itself. CJ, a young boy of color, and his grandmother take a city bus through town after church. CJ complains about the rain, the trip, no car, no iPod. Nana doesn’t push back; she nudges CJ with her generous spirit. “He wondered how Nana always found beautiful where he never even thought to look.” With her encouragement, he begins to engage his world with hope, kindness and positive action.