Back in 2002, Brian Selznick, who has some 20 books to his credit, won a Caldecott Honor (for The Dinosaurs of Waterhouse Hawkins), so he’d had “a small taste” of how it felt. But he says nothing could have prepared him for when the phone rang in his San Diego home on Monday at 3:38 a.m.
Photo: David Serlin
“I was aware that the [Newbery and Caldecott] decisions were being made,” he says. “and I was aware it would be happening in the morning. Since I was in California, I was aware that it would be even earlier than if I was on the East Coast. And who knew if either committee was even going to consider [his book, The Invention of Hugo Cabret] for either award?” He had told himself he’d already had such a great year with Hugo, which was a national bestseller, without the phone ringing. And then it rang.
“It was the most incredible sound ever,” Selznick recalls. On the other end of the line was Karen Breen, chair of the Caldecott committee, with the other committee members on speakerphone. Alluding to the fact that they were calling Selznick in the middle of the night, Breen said, “I’ll make this worth your while.” And then she told him he’d won the Caldecott Medal. “It was incredible,” he says. “I was exhilarated, delirious. I think I invited everyone to dinner.”
Just a few hours later, Selznick arrived at the airport, to catch a flight to New York for his Today Show appearance. “Part of me was pleased that I’d be shut off from the world for six hours,” he says. “I thought it would be nice to have this quiet time. But I got on the plane, and I was so hyped up. I was exhausted but couldn’t sleep. I was starving but I couldn’t eat.”
Unable to concentrate, Selznick watched his seatmate pull a few folded sheets of paper out of her bag. He recognized the ASLC seal, and realized she was reading the press release for that morning’s awards. Compelled to remark on the coincidence, Selznick asked her, “Excuse me, are you a librarian?” “No," she replied, “I work for PBS.” She then explained that these big children’s awards had been announced earlier in the day. Selznick’s response: “I know—I won one!”
They both laughed at the unlikelihood of having been seated together. “I couldn’t believe that of all the things in the world she could be reading, she was reading that press release,” he says. “I got a seat next to the only person on the plane who even knew what the awards were!”
Throughout the fall and winter, some posters on listservs and blogs had been predicting that Hugo Cabret might win something, but given the book’s unusual format (533 pages, with more than 300 pages of illustrations), it was mentioned as a possibility for both medals. Selznick said he had heard about the speculation, and was hugely flattered. Was there one or the other he was hoping for? “I did have a hope that if it was going to be one, I hoped it would be the Caldecott,” he admits, “because I’m an illustrator first. Even when I thought it would be a 100-page novel, my thought process always starts visually.” Selznick also observes how both of this year’s picks are untraditional for their category in terms of format. “On the Today Show I had this 550-page book with a Caldecott sticker on my lap, and Laura had this thin book, fully illustrated in color, with the Newbery sticker. We were joking that they’d mixed up the stickers!”
After the dust settles a bit, Selznick will do the last few drawings for the third Doll People book, written by Ann M. Martin and Laura Godwin. Then he’ll begin writing and illustrating his next project—a book of his own, like Hugo. “I have a couple of ideas for it,” he says, but nothing firm. “It will again involve the interplay of text and pictures, but it won’t be about the cinema."
Even winning the Caldecott Medal, Selznick says, doesn’t mean a thing to him, in terms of beginning the next book. “It’s equally terrifying. I’m very lucky to work with an incredible team—Tracy Mack, Leslie Budnick and David Saylor—and we’re going to be working together as closely as we did on Hugo. I have this award today because of the incredible group of people I’ve been lucky enough to work with and be friendly with.”
One of his biggest thrills since Monday morning has been “getting calls and emails from people I’ve known since the beginning of my career. I went out to dinner last night with my first boss, Steve Geck. Steve is the reason I know anything about children’s literature.” Geck, who was once manager of Eeyore’s Books for Children, hired Selznick as a bookseller, where among other things he gave puppet shows and painted window displays. “And I’ve been hearing from the far-flung Eeyore’s group,” Selznick says, “so I’m getting to share this with them. It’s been wonderful.”
To see PW’s profile with Brian Selznick, in which he spoke about the publication of The Invention of Hugo Cabret, click here.
Laura Amy Schlitz
Laura Amy Schlitz, a school librarian in Baltimore and author of Good Masters! Sweet Ladies!: Voices from a Medieval Village, was wide awake when the Newbery call came. But not exactly because she had been expecting it. “I had woken up at 5 and had a stomachache,” she says, “and couldn’t go back to sleep. Finally it was 6:30, when I would have woken up anyway. I told myself, ‘OK, it’s time to be brave, the phone hasn’t rung, you have a good life, it’s time to get up and fix lunch.’ Then the phone rang.”
Schlitz recalls being “thunderstruck” by the news. “I had been trying not to want one of the honors,” she says, “because I knew the chances were very slim. I don’t remember the call very well. It was some time before I remembered to stammer out ‘thank you.’ On the one hand I don’t remember the call but on the other hand I’ll remember it the rest of my life.”
When she got to school that day, some of her students ran up and hugged her. “People were crying. I wore a plastic tiara all day. My school gave me a special ceremony in the gymnasium, the kids had cards, paper flowers and cards. It was overwhelming. I’m completely silly about the whole thing.”
This is the fourth book Schlitz has done with Mary Lee Donovan, executive editor at Candlewick Press, though Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! was the first book of hers Donovan accepted, back in 2000. “Finding the right illustrator for the book was a long journey,” she says. Originally Trina Schart Hyman had been under contract for it, but she fell ill and passed away in 2004, without having turned in the artwork. In the meantime Schlitz’s book The Hero Schliemann had been illustrated by Robert Byrd; since their collaboration had been a happy one, Schlitz suggested Byrd for Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! The book finally came out last July.
In the works for Schlitz is a story for younger children, due out from Candlewick in 2009 or 2010. She’s also working on a chapter book. But right now she’s not really focusing on the future. “I’m still back with the phone call,” she says. “I can’t stop running my fingers over the embossed medal. When I was in New York for the Today Show, my editor gave me a copy of the book with the medal on it, and I wouldn’t part with that for anything.”