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2013 ALA Awards


By Kathy Pillatzki
Assistant Director
Henry County Library System

  The 2013 American Library Association Youth Media Awards have been announced, and I’m happy to say there are some Georgia connections among the winners!

  This year’s John Newbery Medal for most outstanding contribution to children’s literature went to The One and Only Ivan. Katherine Applegate’s novel for young readers tells the story of Ivan, a gorilla kept in dismal captivity in a suburban strip mall. His only friends are an aging elephant and a stray dog, but Ivan occupies himself by painting pictures and watching television. He barely remembers life in the wild, and only when a baby elephant named Ruby moves in does it occur to him that this is not a good life for any of them.

  Does Ivan’s story sound familiar? Though fictional, The One and Only Ivan is loosely based on the story of Zoo Atlanta’s famous silverback gorilla of the same name. Applegate was inspired after reading an account of the real Ivan, who was captured in the wild as an infant. He spent nearly 30 years as the main attraction at a department store in Tacoma, Washington before being moved to the Ford African Rainforest exhibit at Zoo Atlanta in 1994 – the first time he had been outdoors in 27 years.

  Zoo Atlanta currently houses the largest collection of endangered western lowland gorillas in North America. The success of its breeding program, and its track record of introducing previously isolated gorillas to social groups (including Ivan’s slightly better-known counterpart, Willie B.), is a point of pride for the city and the state. The success of The One and Only Ivan ensures that this important conservation story will reach the next generation.

  One of the newer ALA prizes is the Theodore Seuss Geisel Award, established in 2004. The award honors the author and illustrator of the most distinguished American book for young readers and is, of course, named for the man better known as Dr. Seuss. The 2013 winner is Up, Tall and High!, written and illustrated by Ethan Long. 

  Like most ALA awards, the committee that chooses the Geisel Award is allowed to name several honor books. These are essentially runners-up that were edged out by the winner but still considered to be of exceptional merit. This year one of the honor books is Pete the Cat and His Four Groovy Buttons, written by Eric Litwin and illustrated by James Dean.

  Eric Litwin is a longtime friend of Henry County libraries. He began his career as a special education teacher, but has spent recent years encouraging literacy by presenting original songs and stories in schools and libraries throughout the state, including frequent performances in conjunction with our summer reading program.

  James Dean is an Athens-based artist who first partnered with Eric in 2008 on a self-published project, Pete the Cat: I Love My White Shoes. They sold 7,000 copies in 10 months before being picked up for distribution by Harper-Collins. They followed up with three more tales of laid-back Pete’s adventures, and we’re thrilled that their newest tale of his four groovy buttons has garnered their first major award.

  For a complete list of the 2013 ALA awards, visit and visit the Youth Media Awards page. All of the winners and honor books are available at your nearest Henry County public library.



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