Another “First”: A Batchelder Honor Book!
For authors, illustrators, and publishers, the American Library Association’s January meeting — formerly known as Midwinter and now LibLearnX — is a time of excitement and trepidation. It’s the time that the Youth Media Awards are announced with much fanfare, on the Monday morning at the end of the conference. The award ceremony is divided into three parts. First come the awards centering on specific communities and themes with winners and honor books that range in category from picture books to young adult. These include awards for Native American, Asian Pacific American, Jewish, and LGBTQ+ books as well as those highlighting the disability experience. Next come the awards given by the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA). Finally, the awards given by the Association of Library Services to Children (ALSC) are announced. The ALSC awards include the prestigious Newbery and Caldecott Medals, as well as the Coretta Scott King Awards for books about the African American experience, the Pura Belpre Awards for Latinx books, and the Mildred L. Batchelder Award for books first published outside the United States in languages other than English and translated into English.
Authors, illustrators, and translators who have eligible books — those published in the previous year — wait by the phone all weekend for “the call” from award committee members or publishers. Sometimes those calls are expected: The book has many starred reviews and spots on other “best books” lists, as well as buzz from librarians around the country. Sometimes those calls are unexpected, as the book hasn’t been reviewed or gotten much notice elsewhere (especially the case for books from smaller publishers). And sometimes, the creators of well-received books wait for the call that never comes. (Hello, Moonwalking…?)
I must admit that after last year, I didn’t wait by the phone. I’d heard stories about “the call.” The one that’s stuck with me is from A.M. Jenkin’s commencement speech one year at VCFA, when she talked about how, at the lowest point in her career, when she was considering giving up writing for teens to take a full-time job to support her family, she picked up an unfamiliar number that turned out to be the Printz award committee telling her that her novel Repossessed was named an Honor Book for outstanding YA literature.
Fortunately, when a New York area number popped up on my phone last Saturday afternoon around 4:30, I did pick up. The number and person were familiar, as we’d been in touch to coordinate events around a signing of Ways to Play at NCTE in November. It was Levine Querido marketing director António González Cerna, along with all-around genius Irene Vázquez, telling me that Pardalita, written and illustrated by Joana Estrela, been chosen as a Batchelder Honor Book for outstanding publications in translation!
This is my first ALA Youth Media Award, and I was thrilled! Was I surprised? I knew Pardalita was in the running. I would say it was in that first category of books that had already gained a lot of notice before the ALA conference. And even though Levine Querido is a smaller publisher, eight of its books won Youth Media Awards this year, exceeding several of the Big Five in this respect.
At the same time, Pardalita is my seventh translated book, and only the first time one of my translations has won a Batchelder. And with eight books of my own and one on the way (check out its new page!), I have yet to win a Youth Media Award for my writing. (I am eternally grateful, however, to the Los Angeles Times award committee for their recognition of Torch.)
I know what it’s like for the awards weekend to come and go, and a strong effort not to be among the winners. Ultimately, the only thing we can control as writers, illustrators, and translators is our own work and the challenges we take on. I’m proud of my translation of Pardalita, and I’m equally proud of the books that were in the running and didn’t win. I think of how I’ve grown with each of them: The World in a Second, my first translation from Portuguese to English. Lines, Squiggles, Letters, Words, my first translation of Brazilian Portuguese. Three Balls of Wool (Can Change the World), the research for which spawned two of my YA novels Torch and Eyes Open.
It’s great to know what “the call” is like first hand, and I’m also glad that it didn’t come at a desperate point in my writing life as it did for my former VCFA teacher. It’s also great that two translated works, Cross My Heart and Never Lie by Nora Dåsnes, translated from Norwegian by Matt Bagguley, and Fire From the Sky by Noa Backe Àstot, translated from Swedish by Eva Apelqvist, were recognized as a Stonewall Winner and Printz Honor respectively, because it depicts translated books as part of the mainstream of youth literature. My congratulations as well to the Batchelder winner, Houses with a Story: A Dragon’s Den, a Ghostly Mansion, a Library of Lost Books, and 30 More Amazing Places to Explore by Seiji Yoshida, translated from Japanese by Jan Mitsuko Cash, and honor books The House of the Lost on the Cape written by Sachiko Kashiwaba, illustrated by Yukiko Saito, translated from Japanese by Avery Fischer Udagawa and Later, When I’m Big, written by Bette Westera, illustrated by Mattias De Leeuw, translated from Dutch by Laura Watkinson.
On to next year and more new books!