Children's Book Awards Announced

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The story of an orphaned 13-year-old boy in search of his identity in 14th-century England has won the top honor in children's literature from the American Library Association.

Avi's "Crispin: The Cross of Lead" was awarded the 2003 Newbery Medal on Monday. Eric Rohmann's "My Friend Rabbit" won the Caldecott Medal for children's book illustration.

"Crispin" is a coming-of-age adventure layered with historical detail. Avi, who goes by one name, consulted more than 200 historical texts while writing "Crispin," his 50th book.

"It really is an affirmation of a coming together to secure individual freedoms for the greater good of society," said Star LeTronica, the chair of the Newbery award committee.

Avi, whose previous best-known work was "The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle," said he doesn't write to provide a message. "I just want kids to read it and get excited and be thrilled with the story," he said.

"The kids who loved this book, they bought into the world of the peasant revolt," said Lisa Von Drasek, a Newbery committee member and children's librarian.

"Crispin" is aimed at junior high school readers.

"My Friend Rabbit" is an illustrated story about a good-intentioned but trouble-causing rabbit. After getting a toy airplane stuck in a tree, the rabbit drags a handful of animals, including a purple hippo and a pale blue ox, to help retrieve the plane.

In the end, the column of creatures crashes down, providing a comic climax to "Rabbit," a story aimed at preschoolers.

"The colors are just so vibrant," said Caldecott award chairwoman Pat Scales. "There is not a single spot in this book that children will not find fascinating."

Nikki Grimes' "Bronx Masquerade" won the Coretta Scott King award for best children's literature by a black author. E.B. Lewis' "Talkin' About Bessie: The Story of Aviator Elizabeth Coleman" won the illustration prize.

The awards were started in 1922. Previous winners include Madeleine L'Engle for "A Wrinkle in Time" and Hugh Lofting for "The Adventures of Dr. Dolittle."
By Jason Straziuso