Kelly Barnhill Awarded 2017 Newbery Medal

At the American Library Association’s (ALA) midwinter conference yesterday in Atlanta, Minnesota native Kelly Barnhil was awarded the 2017 John Newbery Medal for The Girl Who Drank the Moon (Algonquin Young Readers). Like her 2014 debut The Witch’s Boy, this fantasy coming-of-age fairy tale will no doubt secure itself as a modern classic.

I had the great privilege of speaking with Barnhill back in 2014 about The Witch’s Boy and the importance of magic and danger in children’s literature, which ran here in January 2015. That interview also served as a resource for a story I wrote for the Spring 2015 issue of The Sewanee Review that traces the origins of danger imagery in children’s stories, starting with fairy tales by the Grimm Brothers and moving into the present day. I am grateful  to Gregory Maguire, Mac Barnett, and Kelly Barnhill for their powerful and nuanced thoughts on the importance of their craft for shaping the minds of young readers.

Congratulations to all of yesterday’s winners–check out my Friday column on the Fine Books Blog for a full run-down of the ALA awards.

A Guide to Self-Published Books, Part 2 of 3

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Our tour of self-published children’s picture books continues this week with Mama Loved to Worry, by Maryann Weidt and illustrated by Rachel Balsaitis.

Mama Loved to Worry, by Maryann Weidt, illustrated by Rachel Balsaitis;
Minnesota Historical Society, $16.95, 32 pages, ages 4-8.

Who’s the publisher?
* The Minnesota Historical Society (MNHS) is a non-profit organization based in St. Paul devoted to preserving and promoting the history and culture of Minnesota. The MNHS was incorporated in 1849 and is one of the largest and most prestigious historical societies in the U.S.

* The MNHS is a member of the American Association of University Presses, a non-profit that provides marketing assistance to over 130 member presses.

Layout:
* The book is 10 x 10, fully illustrated, and 32 pages long—all industry standards for children’s picture books.

* The book has been properly formatted with title pages, front and rear flyleaves, and ISBN information.

* The author and illustrator are properly cited for their contributions.

How’s the book?
* Mama Loved to Worry is a tall tale that takes place on a Midwestern farm—Mama is a “world-class worrywart” and there’s plenty to ruffle her feathers on Daisy Dell Farm. When she’s not knitting, sewing, or cooking, Mama saves Baby Eli from loose pigs, popping corn, and even a twister. Mama’s something of a homespun Wonder Woman—even though she’s clad in blue overalls, there’s something decidedly other-worldly about her ability to hold down the fort. Rich in local colloquialism, the book offers a fanciful glimpse of rural life on a farm.

* Author Maryann Weidt is a Minnesota librarian and won the Minnesota Book Award for her previous children’s book, Daddy Played Music for the Cows. (Unlike the Mom’s Choice Awards, which are pay-to-play awards, the Minnesota Book Awards are presented by the Friends of the St. Paul Library System.) Weidt conducted research about Minnesota farms by visiting the Gale Family Library, part of the Minnesota History Center and the MNHS. 

* Illustrator Rachael Balsaitis is also a Minnesota native and has illustrated other state-themed books like Annie’s Plaid Shirt and Love is Forever. The artwork appears to be rendered in watercolor, though a quick note explaining the medium would be helpful.

* This charming book offers a look at how one woman deals with life’s worries while also offering a glimpse of family farms, a way of life that’s all but disappeared from the American landscape.

Final Thoughts:
* The author and illustrator conducted research at the MNHS to create this book, and their knowledge is demonstrated throughout.

* This book will appeal to Midwesterners proud of their heritage as well as travelers to the state in search of a sweet memento for their children.

* Mama Loved to Worry is one in a series of picture books celebrating the state of Minnesota that have been recently published by MNHS Press, meeting the Society’s overriding mission of educational initiatives geared towards children.

As a side note, many institutions in Minnesota are dedicated to enriching the lives of children through storytelling—the Minnesota Center for Book Arts is another vibrant nonprofit advancing the book as a form of contemporary art and expression, while also teaching and preserving the craft of bookmaking. (See my article “The Young Illuminators” in the Winter 2015 issue of Fine Books & Collections Magazine where I discuss the MCBA and other institutions fighting back against the decline of arts funding for children.)

The final installment of this series will examine a book written by a former model-turned animal activist.

Tweet me your experiences with self-published children’s books @B_Basbanes