This week, the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, a worldwide organization for children's book creators, announced the winners of its annual Golden Kite awards. Two picture books were selected as the best of 2012.
The winner of the best picture book text was "Me and Momma and Big John" (2012, Candlewick Press, written by Mara Rockliff and illustrated by William Low, ages 5-9).
In this large, richly painted book, a boy tells about his Momma's new job as an apprentice stonecutter, helping to complete the construction of the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine in New York City, nicknamed Big John.
"Momma's first day on the job, she comes home late, trudging up the stairs as if they laid that heavy stone right on her shoulders. She is gray as ashes, from her headscarf to her boots."
Through little John's telling, readers get to know this mother and her three children and share the warmth and love in this struggling family. Little John is concerned when he learns that his Momma has only built one stone for the cathedral.
"I don't get it," he says. "How can Momma stand to work so long and hard on just one stone? She lays her hand on mine, warm and rough and strong.
"'Building a cathedral isn't just a job,' she tells me. 'It's an art.'"
When they visit the cathedral, however, little John sees that his Momma's name isn't signed on her stone like an artist's name. How will people know that it's her work? When he sees the many people who come together in this cathedral to sing and learn and pray, though, he concludes it's "Not for an art to look at. For an art to be Maybe they won't know whose stone it is, but that's OK. We'll know — me and Momma and Big John."
This book, based on real events, has a beautiful, timeless feel in its story, language and art.
The winner in the nonfiction category was the picture book, "Noah Webster and his Words" (2012, Houghton Mifflin, written by Jeri Chase Ferris and illustrated by Vincent X. Kirsch, ages 4-9). In this lighthearted biography, readers get to know a man who, even as a child, was "full of CON-FI-DENCE (noun: belief that one is right)."
Webster knew he didn't want to follow in the footsteps of a long line of Webster farmers. Instead, he went to college to become a "SCHOL-AR (noun: one who goes to school; a person who knows a lot)."
The lively and concise text will hold a child's attention, as it takes us through Webster's life as a teacher and author, hoping to unite Americans after the Revolutionary War by composing a dictionary of American words. The cartoon-like pencil and watercolor illustrations work perfectly with the text in capturing the essence of a great man and making his life story accessible to young children.
Alice B. McGinty (http://www.alicebmcginty.com) is the award-winning author of more than 40 books for children, as well as a writing teacher, manuscript coach and the co-regional adviser for the Illinois Chapter of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators. She directs a summer writing camp called Words on Fire for teen girls.