On Monday afternoon, Lynne Rae Perkins, the newly minted Newbery Medalist, boarded a plane in northern Michigan to fly to New York City for the winners' now-customary appearance on the Today show the day after the announcement. On Tuesday morning, this year's Caldecott Medalist, Upper West Side resident Chris Raschka, rode down to NBC on his bicycle, locked it up on the street, and headed into the studio.
But no matter how they got there, both have just begun the ride of their lives.
Perkins says she was in her kitchen when the phone call came on Monday, just before 7:30 a.m. "My kids were having breakfast and getting ready to go to school," she says. "The Newbery committee was on speakerphone—I'd say something and I could hear 15 people shouting things back."
That moment was the culmination of a book career that goes back to 1993. Perkins, who has a background in art, says she had a portfolio review with Ava Weiss, Greenwillow's longtime art director. "Ava asked me if I wrote as well—I learned later that she said that to everyone—but I thought she saw things in me, so I went home and tried to write a story," Perkins recalls. "My first published book, in fact, was a picture book that I wrote and illustrated myself, called Home Lovely."
She has now published four picture books, and Criss Cross, which was edited by Virginia Duncan, is her second novel. "My first editor at Greenwillow, Robin Roy, had told me to try writing six consecutive chapters, but my chapters weren't consecutive. They were little pieces from here and there, which is kind of how I work, so I kept sending them to Virginia. She read what I sent, and asked me questions to get me to think about certain things. What I like about working with Greenwillow is that they point out what's not working, but they leave it up to me to figure out how to make it work."
Perkins says that being awarded the Newbery feels a bit similar to winning the lottery. "It's the most you can hope for," she says. "When I was in art school, in my 20s, I remember thinking to myself that I don't want to peak until I'm 50. And I'm going to be 50 this summer. I'm hoping that I can plateau for a while now, and don't start sliding downhill!"
A Momentous Phone Message
When the Caldecott committee called Chris Raschka bright and early on Monday morning, he wasn't home. "I was putting my son on a school bus for a three-day trip," he says, "and wondering if he had enough sweaters. In fact, I'm still worried about that."
Happily the committee left a message on his phone machine with the good news, which he picked up when he got back. "There was a lot of cheering in the background," he says.
Raschka is extremely prolific, having published "around 40 books" since his first, Charlie Parker Played Be Bop, came out in 1992. Along the way he has worked with several editors, but The Hello, Goodbye Window [by author Norton Juster] was his first book with Michael di Capua, who was then at Hyperion (and is now at Scholastic). "I was curious to work with Michael," Raschka says, "and it proved to be wonderful."
He began work on Hello, Goodbye Window in the spring of 2002, and recalls that "at that time it was a much longer manuscript. I made a very loose dummy of it, and tried to get a loose, childlike feel to the book, to give the feeling of its being a child's journal. Based on that dummy Norton pared his manuscript down."
Raschka's loose style was inspired in part by art drawn by kids, which he has posted on the walls of his studio. He believes that his illustrations for Hello, Goodbye Window "embody the emotionalism of that beautiful art. I went for the emotion rather than a more solid, concrete rendition of a space. Michael and Norton were both very supportive—it's not everyone's cup of tea. I was very happy that they both responded so positively."
Raschka says he was also inspired by a Philip Gustin show he'd seen at the Metropolitan Museum several years ago: "piles and piles of color. I thought, maybe I can pile up some colors and see what happens." And so he did.
Raschka delivered the finished art in summer 2004, but that didn't end his involvement, by a long shot. "We worked for six months getting color separations to the point we wanted them," he says, "and Michael and I went to the printer together—even on the final day we were adjusting colors."
Raschka is not an awards novice, having won a 1994 Caldecott Honor for Yo! Yes? He says, "Back then I was blissfully ignorant of the whole world of awards. It came right out of the blue. This one is a profound thrill over a long part of my life. I also realize the responsibility that comes with it." He also sees the Caldecott as somewhat of an energy force. "Once you enter the world of illustrating children's books," he says, "it pulls you along, this force. Now I hope it will push me, to do new things."
For a complete list of the awards given out on Monday, click here.