With the start of a new year comes the exciting time of big award winners for the previous year’s literary offerings in a wide array of categories.
In early January, the winner of the Scott O’Dell Award for Historical Fiction for a meritorious book for children or young adults went to Lauren Wolk for her second middle grade novel, “Beyond the Bright Sea,” (2017, Dutton, ages 10+).
Set in the early 1920s in the remote and beautifully austere Elizabeth Islands off the coast of Massachusetts, it is a time when mainlanders seeking fortune were still convinced that pirate treasure from long-lost shipwrecks could be found if one searched hard enough. The islanders, though, don’t believe in hidden treasure, especially the now 12-year-old girl Crow, who was washed up on the shore of Cuttyhunk Island as a newborn and found by the gruff and solitary foreigner, yet fatherly Osh. Although Crow loves their simple island life, because of how other islanders shun her, refusing to allow her to play with their children, she begins asking questions about nearby Penikese Island that once held a leper colony. She also asks of the rumors that she was born there.
Part mystery and part coming-of-age novel, both literary paths merge as Crow digs deep to uncover the questions from her past. Middle grade readers who enjoy mysteries, as well as treasure tales involving both jewels and the even greater riches of true family will enjoy “Beyond the Bright Sea.”
The American Library Association announced its 2018 award winners for outstanding children’s literature on Feb. 12. The category honoring Latino writers and illustrators whose children’s books best portray, affirm and celebrate the Latino cultural experience, the Pura Belpre Awards, selected Ruth Behar for the Author Award winner for her debut novel for children, “Lucky Broken Girl,” (2017, Nancy Paulsen Books, $16.99, ages 10 and up).
In this sometimes-funny, sometimes-heartbreaking middle grade novel, we fall in love with fifth-grader Ruthie, whose family fled Cuba in the 1960s to live in a Queens high-rise among other immigrant families all trying to make a better life in America. Along with her beautiful mother, her hardworking father, and her little brother, Izzie, Ruthie misses Cuba desperately, but begins to make friends with other international children in her building.
Just when things start to go well for Ruthie, her life alters in an instant, changing her from a Lucky girl to a Broken girl. When her family is in a car accident that breaks one of Ruthie’s legs, forcing her to endure a full-body cast for nearly a year. Thanks to a colorful cast of characters who help her through her darkness and fears, Ruthie finds her way back to being Lucky again.
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In her biographical novel, Ruth Behar explains her trauma when she first came to America and writes of it beautifully in her Author’s Note, giving honest encouragement to young readers by saying, “ … if I feel weak and defenseless because the world feels too big for me, I become small again, and I crawl into my bed ... I become the girl in the cast ... I lie there quietly listening to her fears, her sorrows. Then I tell her goodbye, muster my strength, rise and open the door and let the sunshine in.”
This book is a lively and loving tribute to those seeking refuge in America reminding all of us of what makes up the beauty of our country in the many colors, styles, and beliefs of its people.
Lastly, two very special congratulations go out to two celebrated Iowa authors whose books I reviewed in June of 2017.
Jacqueline Briggs Martin won an Honor Award for ALA’s Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Award for her biographical picture book co-authored by June Jo Lee entitled, “Chef Roy Choi and the Street Food Remix” (2017, Readers to Eaters, $18.95, ages 6 to 10), the third biography in the publisher’s Food Heroes Series.
And, American Library Association’s Theodor Seuss Geisel Award for the most distinguished book for beginning readers was awarded former longtime Iowan Dori Hillestad Butler with an Honor Award for “King & Kayla and the Case of the Missing Dog Treats” (2017, Peachtree Publishers, ages 4 to 8). Butler was also awarded a Cybils Award, the Children’s and Young Adult Blogger’s Literary Awards for her “King & Kayla and the Case of the Secret Code” (2017, Peachtree Publishers, ages 4 to 8).
l Wendy Henrichs is a children’s author living in Iowa City.