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Silver Medal Winners

    The gold medals get all the attention at the Olympics, but winners of the silver and bronze medals are proud, too.  So it goes with children’s book awards as well.  Anyone would be thrilled to win the Newbery or Caldecott Medals, but earning an Honor (as the runners-up are called) is nothing to sneeze at.

    This year’s honor books – and yes, they earn a silver medal – include one of those fascinating true stories that makes readers say, “how come I never knew that?”


    Chris Barton’s “The Day-Glo Brothers, the True Story of Bob and Joe Switzer’s Bright Ideas and Brand-New Colors” was named a Sibert Honor book this year.  (The Sibert Medal, which recognizes outstanding nonfiction books for young readers, went to Tanya Lee Stone’s “Almost Astronauts.”)  Joe and Bob, born in 1914 and 1915 in Billings, Montana, were always coming up with crazy inventions.  After reading in Popular Science about fluorescent paints, they started fooling around with chemicals from their father’s drugstore.  Using their mother’s kitchen mixer, they created paints that glowed under black lights, jazzing up Joe’s magic acts. But it was a happy accident when Bob created a bright orange dye that glowed even in sunshine, and day-glo paints were born.   

    Barton tells the story in a breezy style that evokes the era when a couple of guys tinkering in their garage could come up with something revolutionary.  Back matter explains how regular and day-glo fluorescent paints work, and an author’s note chronicles Barton’s growing fascination with the Switzers’ story.  Tony Persiani’s retro black and white illustrations highlighted with splashes of day-glo colors make each page pop. 

    The 2010 Caldecott committee named Liz Garton Scanlon’s “All the World” as an honor book this year (Jerry Pinkney’s “The Lion and the Mouse” was the winner).  The text quietly lists beloved elements of the natural world:  “Hive, bee, wings, hum, Husk, cob, corn, yum!”  From seashore to garden, sunshine to rain, morning to evening, Scanlon’s hypnotic text leads young readers from the close, familiar elements of their world to a larger view: “Hope and peace and love and trust, All the world is all of us.”

    Marla Frazee’s illustrations are both intimate and expansive, and she does just what the best picture book illustrators do:  she builds on the text without overwhelming it.  Though Scanlon never mentions specific people, alert readers will notice that the cast of characters at the beach, visiting the farmer’s market, and cooking dinner, appear over and over, turning out to be “Nanas, papas, cousins, kin.”

    At first reading, I wondered whether the book was too abstract for young readers, despite Frazee’s tender illustrations.  However, many parents report that children ask for this book to be read again and again. 

    Grace Lin’s “Where the Mountains Meet the Moon,” a Newbery Honor book, elicits similar reports from families.  The story of Minli, a brave girl from a poor village who follows a dragon on a quest to find the Old Man of the Moon, is interspersed with fairy tales told by Minli’s father.   In true fairy tale fashion, Minli befriends an assortment of creatures along her journey, and they help her to find her heart’s desire.  Readers and listeners from eight to ten will find Minli’s adventures compelling, and the beautifully crafted book makes a perfect gift for fairy tale fans.  


First published in the Free Lance-Star on February 23, 2010.