NEW YORK – Clare Vanderpool’s “Moon Over Manifest,” a young girl’s magical and mysterious adventures in a small town in 1936, won the John Newbery Medal for the “most distinguished contribution to American literature for children.”
“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 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. 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.”