Caldecott and Newbery By Judy Belanger

Each January, the Chicago-based American Library Association presents two highly coveted awards for children’s books. The Newbery Medal is awarded for outstanding writing, while the Caldecott Medal is awarded for outstanding illustrations. I want to share a few thoughts about the 2003 winners, Crispin: The Cross of Lead and My Friend Rabbit, along with a couple of new ABC books and Easter choices.

CRISPIN: THE CROSS OF LEAD, by Avi, Hyperion, $15.99; ages 9-12. It is not surprising that this talented author was honored with the 2003 Newbery Medal for Crispin: The Cross of Lead. The story takes place in 14th Century medieval England. After the death of his mother, 13-year-old Crispin becomes an orphan. His father died before he was born and he has no real knowledge of his background. The village of Stromford, where he lives, is governed by a lord. In the lord’s absence, the steward is in charge of the village, the manor, the laws and the peasants. The steward immediately burns the small hut where Crispin and his mother live. Crispin then is accused of breaking into the manor house to steal money and is declared a “wolf’s head,” meaning anyone who kills him will receive a reward. Left with nothing, Crispin turns to the local priest, who is killed before he can help.

Crispin escapes to a deserted neighboring village. While passing the church, he hears singing and encounters a very large man with a full red beard who’s wearing a hat that is split in two. The man, named Bear, wears a sleeved tunic with ankle-length hose, one leg blue and the other red. He is a juggler who makes his living traveling from village to village entertaining the people. Crispin tags along, learning to juggle and finding answers to many of his questions about his family. The ending leaves room for Avi to continue Crispin’s journeys in a sequel, which I am sure would make his readers happy.

Many schools include a 6th grade Social Studies unit on medieval times. This would make a good classroom read-a-loud to accompany the unit. Avi has added another great story to his long list of terrific books, including two Newbery honor books, his historical fiction books and his Dinwood Forest series about Poppy.

MY FRIEND RABBIT, by Eric Rohmann, Roaring Book Press, $15.95; ages 4-8. Mouse and Rabbit are friends, but whenever Rabbit is around things seem to go wrong. In this almost-wordless book we discover how Rabbit hopes to make things better. Rohmann, who grew up in Downers Grove and lives in west suburban LaGrange, earned the 2003 Caldecott Medal with this fun picture book.

All children learn that sometimes things go wrong when they are playing. In this book, they get to help tell the story. When Mouse shares his brand-new toy airplane with Rabbit, the results are hilarious. The airplane lands in a tree and the chaos builds as Rabbit drags, pushes and carries the whole neighborhood, including Elephant, Hippo and Crocodile, to the rescue.

I had the opportunity to talk with Rohmann recently. One of his books, Time Flies, was rejected 12 times before it was accepted by a publisher. When it finally was published, it received a Caldecott honorable mention. It is a wordless book with dinosaurs in a natural history museum. He is working on a new book, Pumpkin Man, due out in August.

SILENT MOVIE, by Avi, Simon & Schuster, $16; ages 4-8. This is another fine effort from Newbery winner Avi. It hasn’t won an ALA honor yet, but it deserves to. Like his other works, this is a terrific book. But unlike his other books, Silent Movie is written for younger children.

It is all written and illustrated in black and white, just like a silent movie. In it, Papa Hans sails from Sweden to America, but it’s six months before his wife and son, Gustave, can join him—a typical experience for immigrants in the early 1900s. When Mama and Gustave arrive, the crowd at the dock is so large that Papa can’t find them.

Lost and alone, Mama and Gustave wander the streets looking for Papa and begging for food. Gustave is discovered by a movie producer who casts him in a silent picture. Papa goes to the nickelodeon and sees his son on the screen—which leads to a family reunion.

At the end of the story Avi explains that he used to watch silent movies when he was a child and wanted to recreate that experience for his young readers to enjoy. This is a great book to share before going to the Museum of Science and Industry to watch the silent movie at the Cinema on Yesterday’s Main Street.

EASTER DAY ALPHABET, by Beverly Barras Vidrine, Pelican, $7.95; ages 3-6. For Christians, Easter is a holy holiday, but it’s also a fun time of year filled with egg hunts, bunnies, candy and new clothes. This book uses the alphabet to explore the religious as well as the fun Easter holiday customs and traditions. J is for Jesus and S is for spring, just two of the letters that present an all-around approach to the holiday that helps children learn about the traditions as they learn to recognize the letters of the alphabet. As an added treat, the illustrator has hidden a golden egg on each page for children to find. Although not an award winner, the book is filled with colorful and appealing pictures.

G IS FOR GOAT, by Patricia Polacco, Philomel Books, $16.99; ages 3-6. Patricia Polacco writes her books from a background of many personal experiences and a wealth of storytelling from family members. She lived in California for years before moving back to Michigan, where she spent her childhood. This rhyming alphabet book about goats comes from her farm life in Union City, Mich., where she now lives. Polacco makes it look like it would be so much fun to be around these animals. She incorporates many facts about goats as she goes through the alphabet.

Like many other children’s authors and illustrators, Polacco has a Web site,, that offers information about her background, pictures to color, puzzles, bookmarks and other fun pages. What fun to be able to color the delightful pages from her many books.

Another Polacco book, Rechenka’s Eggs, makes a great Easter read. In this story, Babushka (grandmother) decorates eggs. While outside one day feeding the animals, a flock of geese fly overhead and a wounded bird falls to the ground. Babushka takes the bird into her home and nurses it back to health. One day, the goose tests her healed wing, flies through the house and knocks over the basket of eggs decorated for the annual contest. They all break. To replace these eggs, the goose starts laying beautifully decorated eggs, one each day. This story was featured on Reading Rainbow with Polacco demonstrating the technique of decorating Pysanky eggs, which is a Ukrainian tradition.


Judy Belanger is a retired elementary Learning Resource Center teacher who lives with her husband in Addison. They have two grown children and four grandchildren. She continues to substitute in grades K-6 in the school where she taught.


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