In perhaps the most anticipated announcement of the year (in the world of children's books, at any rate), the Caldecott and Newbery Medals were awarded on Monday, January 27. This year's winners: Eric Rohmann for his picture book My Friend Rabbit (Roaring Brook Press), and Avi, for his novel Crispin: The Cross of Lead (Hyperion). In interviews just after the awards, both winners told of their reactions to the news.
"An Abundance of Pleasure"
It was 6 a.m. in suburban Chicago when The Call came. A sleepy Eric Rohmann answered the phone. No one was on the line, so he hung up, and then it rang again. "I picked it up and heard, 'This is Pat Scales of the American Library Association.' "
Back in 1995, Rohmann had won a Caldecott Honor for Time Flies, so "part of me," he says, "was saying to myself, 'Hold on, this could be something.' Another part was thinking, 'I know I have some overdue books....' " Rohmann then told Scales, "If this is my friend Bob, it's not funny."
When he realized that the call was for real, Rohmann wasn't sure if he'd heard her correctly, and thought she was calling to give him another Honor. "So I asked, 'Did you say Honor or Medal?' When she said 'Medal,' it was shocking, and in some ways, I'm still shocked."
"It doesn't cross your mind that it might happen to you," Rohmann says. "You might daydream about winning the lottery or marrying a supermodel. But you never expect that it will happen. It's causing me an abundance of pleasure."
For My Friend Rabbit, Rohmann changed his art style dramatically, from the more painterly look of Time Flies and The Cinder-Eyed Cats and his jackets for Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy, to a simpler, bolder, more childlike style. Such a stylistic departure was a bit of a risk, he admits, but he finds it thrilling that "when you take a risk, there's this kind of payoff."
The artist is working on another book for Roaring Brook, which he had planned to finish this spring. "I've never had an editor say this to me before, but Simon [Boughton, Rohmann's longtime editor] just told me, 'We may have to put that book on hold.' " A book already in the pipeline, called Pumpkinhead, is due out from Random House in August.
Rohmann is not too worried about the award going to his head, pointing out that "nothing keeps you more humble as an artist, no matter what you've won, than when you cross that threshold to your studio, look at a blank piece of paper, and have to do it all over again."
And he admits that the prize couldn't have come at a better time. "Every 10 years or so in my life," he says, "when things start going bad, something occurs that lifts me. I had pretty much decided that if the new books didn't do well, I might start looking for something else to do. Now I feel I can keep doing books, and I don't have to go out and get a job!"
"As Good As It Gets"
When the official phone call came, at 5:30 a.m., to notify Avi that he had won the Newbery, he was already sitting at his computer. "I'm an early riser," he says. "And I have a lot of kids, and calls come at the most ridiculous hours." But this call wasn't from one of his children; it was from Starr LaTronica, chair of the Newbery committee.
Avi was thrilled to receive the award, and points out that it and his two Newbery Honors (for Nothing but the Truth and The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle) have brought attention to the diversity of his work. "The way I feel about an award like this," he says, "is that I don't win it, it's a gift. Nobody sits down and writes a 'Newbery book.' I don't confuse the award with me as a person.
"But it's very gratifying," he continues. "Writing is hard. The rewards can be extremely meager and astonishingly generous. I was very moved."
He comments on one unexpected delight of winning the Newbery. "I've been around publishing for many years," he says, "and what's taken me most by surprise is the number of people who have been calling and sharing their pleasure with me. We often talk about how big publishing is, and this has restored for me the sense of a publishing community."
Avi, who has a picture book, Silent Movie, illustrated by C.B. Mordan, coming out next month from Anne Schwartz Books at Atheneum, and is working on a novel called Never Mind for HarperCollins, with co-author Rachel Vail, says he has never lost his love for writing or for the publishing process. And he values its importance in the world at large. "We in the world of publishing underestimate what we do. We do good. That's a huge thing, and we don't acknowledge it often enough. There's something wonderful about the fact that we wish to entertain and move people and make stories."
He recalls how he once tried to explain to someone why authors go into bookstores to see if their books are on the shelves. "Yeah, you want to know that they're there," he says. "But you also want to see them across the room from Dickens, Gertrude Stein, Hemingway. You're there with your idols, on the shelves with these immortals, part of this great enterprise. That's as good as it gets."