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Neil Gaiman, winner of this year’s John Newberry Medal for the year’s most outstanding contribution to children’s literature, was stunned. His work, titled “The Graveyard Book,” had been on the New York Times’s best-seller list for children’s chapter books for 15 weeks and had already found a popular audience. He says
I had thought, there are books that are best sellers and books that are winners. Very often the world of award judges, and I think rightly, use their magical judging powers to try to bring books to the attention of the world that might not have otherwise been noticed.
The selection of Gaiman’s book reverses a trend of the past few years, when critics accused the Newberry committee of selecting books that had a tough time finding an audience among children, writes Motoko Rich in the New York Times.
“The Graveyard Book” is a story about a boy who is raised in a cemetery by ghosts after his family is killed in the opening pages of the novel. The Association for Library Service to Children, announcing the award, cited Mr Gaiman’s work for its “delicious mix of murder, fantasy, humor and human longing,” and its “magical, haunting prose.”
Neil Gaiman was born in Britain. He is a renowned author of science fiction, fantasy, graphic novels and comics aimed at adults. But he writes books for children as well: “Coraline” ( which has just been made into a film), “The Wolves in the Walls” and “The Day I Swapped My Dad for Two Goldfish.”
He says “The Graveyard Book” was gestating for nearly two decades, since his son Michael, now 25, was very young. The family was living in Sussex, without a yard, and father and son would venture across the street to a graveyard to ride a tricycle.
“I remember thinking once how incredibly at home he looked there,” says Gaiman. “I thought you could write something a lot like ‘The Jungle Book’ and set it in a graveyard.”
He wrote a page or two at the time, but decided he didn’t feel quite up to the task yet. After repeated tries over the years, he began in earnest three years ago.
You always have this Platonic beautiful ideal of a book in your head, and then you write something which isn’t as good as that. “The Graveyard Book” is the first time I’ve had a Platonic ideal of a book and written the thing and looked at the book and said, “You know, I think you’re better than the thing I set out to write.”
At the midwinter meeting of the Association of Library Service to Children, the association also awarded the Randolph Caldecott Medal for the most distinguished American picture book for children to Beth Krommes, who illustrated “The House in the Night,” which was written by Susan Marie Swanson.
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