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Top Children's Books of 2005 to Be Named


On Monday, hundreds of librarians from across the country will crowd into a smallish auditorium in San Antonio to hear who wins this years Caldecott and Newbery Medals. The American Library Association awards the Newbery for outstanding children's literature. The Caldecott goes to the best picture book.

Eden Ross Lipson is the former children's books editor of the New York Times and she joins us now for a look at the awards. Hello, there.

Ms. EDEN ROSS LIPSON (Former Children's Books Editor, New York Times): Hello.

ELLIOT: This is very secretive, the way they award these medals. It's not like the Academy Awards, where at least you know who the nominees are before hand. How does this work?

Ms. LIPSON: The American Library Association is one of those noble institutions that follows elaborately democratic procedures. And it's committees, committees, committees, committees. Each prize, and there are a number of prizes, has a committee of librarians and the committees have marathon meetings which end sooner or later with a telephone call, a mysterious telephone call to the winners and then the prizes are announced on Monday morning.

ELLIOT: So what are your picks for possible winners this year?

Ms. LIPSON: Some years there are odds-on popular favorites. Last year, for example, Kevin Henkes' very popular book, Kitten's First Full Moon, was the odds-on favorite and greeted with cheers when it was announced. There is no odds-on favorite this year. There are curious trends. There's been a proliferation of prizes in addition to the Newbery and Caldecott because as all of us who've raised children know, what works for a child of three, doesn't work for a child of five, and an 8-year-old is going to sneer, and a 12-year-old has different standards entirely. So there are now all these specialized subset awards.

ELLIOT: And I understand there's actually a brand new category that they're unveiling this year.

Ms. LIPSON: The newest category in addition to and informational book, in addition to excellence in young adult literature, this year will be the first announcement of the Theodore Seuss Geisel Award, which will be for the most distinguished contribution to the body of American children's literature known as beginning reader books published in the United States during the preceding year.

Did that sound like...

ELLIOT: It's a mouthful.

Ms. LIPSON: These don't come trippingly off the tongue.

ELLIOT: So they're looking for somebody who has an impact like Dr. Seuss did on children's literature.

Ms. LIPSON: Yes, and actually, the question of early readers and beginning books is a very interesting and important one at a time when children are surrounded by so many distractions from reading.

ELLIOT: I'm guessing Harry Potter must cast a long shadow in the world of children's books. What kind of influence do think he's having?

Ms. LIPSON: Well, Harry Potter has cast a long shadow in the world of books around the world. We've seen an awful lot of copycat fantasy series and a lot of elaborately mordent parallel series. At the same time, we've seen some very well known American adult writers turn their hand to children's books without breaking stride and succeeding very well.

ELLIOT: For example?

Ms. LIPSON: Carl Hiaasen, whose new book is Flush. Very engaging Carl Hiaasen type environmental adventure stories set in Florida. Francine Prose wrote a chilling young adult novel after 9/11 called After. There are a great many adult writers who think that they should be able to pull it off and are surprised by how very difficult it is.

ELLIOT: Why is it more difficult to write for children, say, than it is for adults?

Ms. LIPSON: The writing always has to be perfectly clear. I've been reading The Little House in the Big Woods to a third grade class at a public school in New York and I'm struck that these children who come from all over the world are as taken with the clarity of the prose as I was as a child. The prose has to perfect, it has to ring true. And today it has to go through a gauntlet of publishing.

ELLIOT: So what does winning, say a Caldecott or a Newbery mean in this complicated marketing system?

Ms. LIPSON: A lot. Winning a Newberry or a Caldecott means a lot because people going through the bookstores look at the gold and silver stickers. The traditional formula was that a Caldecott or a Newbery means 100,000 copies in hardcover in the first year because librarians trust each other and they will all immediately buy whatever the prize-winning books are and it also mans a fast bump on the best-seller list because people who are paying attention willing go out and buy them because people trust librarians. They're among the few groups that have honor in this divisive society.

ELLIOT: The Caldecott and Newbery Awards will be webcast live on Monday morning. To find out more, go to our website, npr.org. Eden Ross Lipson is the author of The New York Times Parent's Guide to the Best Books for Children. Thanks for being with us.

Ms. LIPSON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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