“The Girl Who Drank the Moon” by Kelly Barnhill on Monday won the 2017 Newbery Medal, the highest U.S. award in children’s literature. Barnhill’s book is the story of a girl who is accidentally given magical powers as a baby and must learn what to do with them before others destroy her.
At 5:15 a.m., Barnhill’s cellphone came to life with a “Wonder Woman” ringtone her children had chosen.
“It’s a very strange way to start the morning,” she said. On the other end of the line were members of the American Library Association, the group that awards the prize. Her husband and worried Labrador hound awoke, too, but she waited awhile before telling her three school-age kids.
“Leo, who’s 12, was the most excited,” Barnhill said of her youngest. But his initial reaction to hearing that Mom won the Newbery made her laugh.
“The real one?” he asked.
Barnhill, who has written four novels for kids, said the award was a complete surprise to her, too. A few friends and colleagues suggested that “A Girl Who Drank the Moon” might be an award winner. She dismissed the idea.
“When I wrote this book, I didn’t think anyone would like it at all. I thought it was so strange and odd,” Barnhill said. “I had made my peace with that.”
But kids told her the tale of young Luna and her adoptive family – a good witch, a swamp monster and a pocket-size dragon – appealed to them. She understood the dragon part.
“Who doesn’t like the idea of a dragon who can fit in your pocket?” she asked.
Barnhill said the kids also related to one of the themes: “Sometimes we make mistakes even if our feelings are genuine and true.”
“A Girl Who Drank the Moon” claimed the top prize, but several other books received Newbery Honors. This year’s choices were “Freedom Over Me” by Ashley Bryan, “The Inquisitor’s Tale” by Adam Gidwitz and “Wolf Hollow” by Lauren Wolk. The awards, named after 18th-century British bookseller John Newbery, have been handed out since 1922.
Monday’s announcement included several dozen other awards.
The Caldecott Medal, which honors the best picture book of the year, went to “Radiant Child: The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat,” with story and illustrations by Javaka Steptoe. The book is about collage artist Basquiat growing up in New York City with dreams of taking the art world by storm.
Honor books for that award were “Du Iz Tak?” by Carson Ellis, “Freedom in Congo Square” by Carole Boston Weatherford with illustrations by R. Gregory Christie, “Leave Me Alone!” by Vera Brosgol and “They All Saw a Cat” by Brendan Wenzel.
Outside of those two awards, Monday’s big winner was “March: Book Three,” a graphic novel about the later years of the civil rights movement by U.S. Representative John Lewis and political adviser Andrew Aydin with illustrations by Nate Powell. The book won best in nonfiction, young adult, informational and African-American literature. That book also won the 2016 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature, which was announced in November.
The Belpré Award for the best book by a Latino or Latina author went to “Juana & Lucas,” a story for young readers by Juana Medina.
The Theodor Seuss Geisel Award for beginning readers was given to “We Are Growing!” by Laurie Keller.
The American Library Association is a nonprofit organization that promotes libraries and library education around the world.