Rebecca Stead's "When You Reach Me" and Jerry Pinkney's "The Lion and the Mouse," two highly praised books for young people that draw upon famous stories, have received the top prizes in children's literature.
Stead's intricate, time-traveling narrative set in 1970s Manhattan, which was inspired in part by Madeleine L'Engle's "A Wrinkle in Time," won the John Newbery Medal for best children's book. The Randolph Caldecott prize for picture books was given to Pinkney's wordless telling of the classic Aesop fable.
The awards were announced Monday in Boston at the American Library Association's annual midwinter meeting.
The Newbery and Caldecott, both founded decades ago, bring prestige and the hope of higher sales to children's authors. Previous winners such as "A Wrinkle in Time" and Louis Sachar's "Holes" have become standards, but more recent picks have been criticized by librarians as being too difficult ("Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! Voices From a Medieval Village," by Laura Amy Schlitz) or for having inappropriate content (Susan Patron's "The Higher Power of Lucky").
This year's winners were considered leading contenders.
Stead's book, the adventures of a sixth-grader named Miranda, was praised by The New York Times as a "taut novel," in which "every word, every sentence, has meaning and substance." Elizabeth Bird of the School Library Journal called "When You Reach Me" among "the best children's books I have ever read" and cited Pinkney, a five-time runner-up for the Caldecott, for creating "wordless picture gold."
Each is among the top 100 sellers on Amazon.com.
Pinkney, in a telephone interview from his home in Croton-On-Hudson, N.Y., said he had long been moved by the fable about the mouse who helps the lion, a story of how the underdog can prove as mighty as a king.
"There's the majestic lion; we all connect and respond to the king of the jungle. And yet the mouse sort of finds himself within that narrative," said Pinkney, who has illustrated Julius Lester's "The Tales of Uncle Remus," Mildred Taylor's "Song of the Trees" and several others. "I notice that the books I work on tend to have underdogs."
Stead, a resident of New York City, said the writing of her book was a kind of journey, begun by a newspaper article about a man with amnesia, broadened by her own childhood on Manhattan's Upper West Side and rounded by "A Wrinkle in Time," which at first was simply a book in Miranda's hand.
"That was a novel I loved as a kid and I gave it to Miranda because it was assigned to me when I was little," she said during a phone interview. "I didn't expect to leave the references in there, but people who read the draft felt it was important to have the book there and maybe strengthen the connections. So I went back and re-read `A Wrinkle in Time' and the book took on a bigger role."
Julia Alvarez, known to adults for the best-selling "How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents," won the Pura Belpre Author Award, for best book by a Latino or Latina, for "Return to Sender." The Belpre prize for illustration was given to Rafael Lopez for "Book Fiesta!," written by Pat Mora.
Vauna Micheaux Nelson's "Bad News for Outlaws: The Remarkable Life of Bass Reeves, Deputy U.S. Marshal," won the Coretta Scott King award for best book by an African-American author. The King award for best illustrator went to Charles R. Smith Jr. for "My People," with text written by poet Langston Hughes.
Libba Bray's "Going Bovine" won the Michael L. Printz Award for young adult literature. Jim Murphy, whose tales of American history include "The Long Road to Gettysburg" and "A Young Patriot," received the Margaret A. Edwards Award for lifetime achievement in young adult books.