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Westmoreland County native John Gantos' 'Dead End in Norvelt' wins Newbery Medal

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By Hillel Italie
Monday, Jan. 23, 2012
 

NEW YORK — This year's winners of the top prizes in children's literature were honored for stories of resilience over the most everyday troubles: a boy grounded by his parents, a dog that loses its favorite toy.

Jack Gantos' "Dead End in Norvelt" won the John Newbery Medal for the best children's book of 2011, and Chris Raschka's "A Ball for Daisy" won the Randolph Caldecott award for best illustration. The prizes were announced today by the American Library Association during its midwinter meeting in Dallas.

No cash prizes are given, but the awards are watched closely by booksellers and librarians and often lead to increased sales and a lasting place on a school or store bookshelf. Previous winners include such favorites as Louis Sachar's "Holes" and Brian Selznick's "The Invention of Hugo Cabret," the basis for Martin Scorsese's film "Hugo."

Within hours of the prizes' announcement, "Dead End in Norvelt" and "A Ball for Daisy" were both in the top 50 on Amazon.com and both out of stock.

Gantos and Raschla are well established in children's publishing. Gantos, 60, has been a finalist for the Newbery and the National Book Award. Raschka, 52, won the Caldecott in 2006 for "The Hello, Goodbye Window."

Gantos' novel follows the humorous adventures of a boy named Jack Gantos, grounded "for life" by his parents and prone to the most gushing nosebleeds. But he is restored by the stories he learns about his hometown, Norvelt, a planned community in Pennsylvania founded during the Great Depression. Gantos is a native of Mt. Pleasant and Norvelt.

The author is more than a little like the Jack Gantos of his book. He spent part of his childhood in Norvelt and shares his character's sensitive nose. Gantos said he thought of "Dead End" after giving a eulogy for his aunt that looked back on Norvelt's special past.

"I talked about the spirit of people helping people, and how people really banded together," Gantos said during a telephone interview from his home in Boston. "And at the end of my eulogy, a lot of people came up to me and said they didn't know about the history of Norvelt. I love history, and I love humor, so I thought history could use a little humor."

Raschka's wordless picture book, told through watercolor, ink and gouache, recounts the saga of a white and gray terrier whose beloved red ball is stolen by a bigger, brown poodle. The ball bursts and Daisy's spirit seems to break with it, until the poodle returns with a blue ball that leaves the pets and their owners equally content.

Raschka said "Daisy" was inspired by his son, who at age 4 was devastated when his yellow ball broke during a scrape with a neighbor. The author said he began thinking of "those first feelings of losing something beloved" and knowing you can't get it back. For the story, he changed the main character from a boy to a dog.

"When you're a picture book illustrator, your readers are often 3 or 4 years old, and you don't want the drawing to be upsetting in itself," Raschka said during a phone interview from the offices of Schwartz & Wade Books, an imprint of Random House Inc. "By having an animal, there's some distance, and yet there is still a connection."

Other winners were announced today, including John Corey Whaley's "Where Things Come Back," which received the Michael L. Printz Award for best young adult literature; and Kadir Nelson's "Heart and Soul," winner of the Coretta Scott King Book Award for best African-American story. The King prize for best illustrated book was given to Shane W. Evans' "Underground: Finding the Light to Freedom."

Jesmyn Ward's "Salvage the Bones," winner last fall of the National Book Award for fiction, was among 10 recipients of the Alex Award for adult books that appeal to teens. Others cited included Erin Morgenstern's acclaimed debut "The Night Circus" and David Levithan's "The Lover's Dictionary." Bill Wright's "Putting Makeup on the Fat Boy" received the Stonewall award for "exceptional merit relating to the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender experience."

The Pura Belpre award for best Latino author went to Guadalupe Garcia McCall for "Under the Mesquite," while the Belpre illustration prize was given to Duncan Tonatiuh for "Diego Rivera: His World and Ours." Translator Laura Wilkerson's work on Bibi Dumon Tak's "Soldier Bear," originally published in Dutch in 2008, won her the Mildred L. Batchelder Award for best book translated from a foreign language.

Susan Cooper, known for her fantasy series "The Dark is Rising," won the Margaret A. Edwards award for lifetime achievement in young adult literature.

 

 
 


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