"A Sick Day for Amos McGee," the gentle story of an elderly zookeeper and the animals who visit him at home when he's too unwell to work, received the Randolph Caldecott Medal for best children's picture book. "A Sick Day" was illustrated by Erin E. Stead and written by her husband Philip C. Stead, also the author of "Creamed Tuna Fish & Peas On Toast."
The awards, the highest honors in children's literature, were announced midday Monday by the American Library Association. The books are the debuts of both Vanderpool and Erin Stead and had entered the top 100 on Amazon.com's best-seller list by later Monday afternoon.
"I was aware of the Newbery enough that when I taught some creative writing classes at my children's elementary school, I used to tell the kids, 'Look for this gold medal on the front of the book,'" said Vanderpool, 46, a native of Wichita, Kan.
Vanderpool began the book in 2001, needed five to six years to finish and an additional three to four years to find a publisher, the Random House Inc. imprint Delacorte Press. A mother of four, she still lives in Wichita and had long been curious about the role of place in people's lives. The story is set in Kansas and the narrator, Abilene Tucker, has been sent off by her father to Manifest, a fictionalized version of Frontenac, where Vanderpool's maternal grandparents lived.
"I've spent much of my life in one neighborhood in Wichita and I wondered what it would be like for a girl during the Depression who had never been in one place very long," she said.
Stead, 28, was a design assistant at HarperCollins and an employee at Books of Wonder, a popular children's store in New York. Now living with her husband in Ann Arbor, Mich., she says Philip Stead had told her he wrote "Amos McGee" with her in mind.
"I knew it was a story for me from the moment I read it and so I had a healthy amount of intimidation," she said. "I love drawing animals and I love drawing people and I love drawing the emotional connection between animals and people."
Tomie dePaolo, whose many books include such favorites as "Strega Nona" and "26 Fairmont Avenue," received the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award for his "substantial and lasting contribution to literature for children." Another lifetime achievement prize, the Margaret A. Edwards Award, was given to British fantasy novelist Terry Pratchett.
"The Dreamer," by Pam Munoz Ryan, won the Pura Belpre Author Award for the writer "whose children's books best portray, affirm and celebrate the Latino cultural experience." The Belpre prize for illustration went to Eric Velasquez for "Grandma's Gift," which he also wrote.
Paolo Bacigalup's "Ship Breaker" won the Michael L. Printz Award for "excellence in literature written for young adults." The Coretta Scott King award, given to an African American author of "outstanding books for children and young adults," went to Rita Williams-Garcia's "One Crazy Summer "Dave the Potter: Artist, Poet, Slave," illustrated by Bryan Collier and written by Laban Carrick Hill, won the King prize for best illustrated work.
"Almost Perfect," written by Brian Katcher, received the Stonewall Children's and Young Adult Literature Award for "exceptional merit relating to the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered experience."