Monday, June 24, 2013

Digressions: The Longest Wait (for the Newbery)

So Rachael and I were talking the other day, and our conversation turned to when in a Newbery-winning author's career the award comes. Occasionally, a debut book wins -- I count seven of those, with Clare Vanderpool's Moon Over Manifest (2011 award) being the most recent. But what of those that have to wait...and wait, and wait some more? And whose wait has been the longest, of those who've finally claimed the medal? I decided to investigate further.

First off, since some Newbery-winning authors moved to children's books from the adult world, I figured it only made sense to start the clock from an author's first published Newbery-eligible book, rather than their first published book in general. With that in mind, here are the top five longest waits that eventually ended in victory.

5. Avi. His first children's book, a collection of "very short stories" called Things That Sometimes Happen, was published in 1970. 32 years later, he published Crispin: The Cross of Lead, which picked up the 2003 Newbery. He'd snagged Honors in the meantime for The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle (1991 honor) and Nothing But the Truth (1992 honor), but it wasn't until Crispin that he finally was the winner.

3 (tie). Carolyn Sherwin Bailey. This one requires a whole slew of caveats. Bailey's writing career spanned the time that the Newbery Medal was introduced, so it was only 23 years from the year the first Newbery was handed out to Bailey's 1947 win for Miss Hickory, a novel she'd published the previous year. Additionally, her first published book, The Peter Newell Mother Goose (1905), wouldn't have been eligible for the Newbery had the award existed, since it was largely a collection of already-existing poems. So, while it was technically 33 years from the for-all-ages The Children's Book of Games & Parties (1913) to Miss Hickory, you'll have to decide for yourself how much of that time she was actually waiting for the award.

3 (tie). Beverly Cleary. From the moment Henry Huggins was published in 1950, Cleary was a force to be reckoned with in children's literature. But, even though she picked up Honors for Ramona and Her Father (1978 honor) and Ramona Quimby, Age 8 (1982 honor), a 1981 National Book Award for Ramona and Her Mother, and enough other awards to fill up several trophy cases, it wasn't until Dear Mr. Henshaw (1983 publication, 1984 Newbery) that she finally took home the gold. The 1983 publication year was a noticeably weak one, and almost no one considers Henshaw Cleary's best book, but nonetheless, 33 years after her first book, she'd published a winner.

2. Elizabeth Borton de Treviño. Treviño started out her writing career as the person tasked with writing sequels to Eleanor Porter's Pollyanna series; her first published novel was 1931's Pollyanna in Hollywood. Although she eventually moved on to more original works, she received no notice from the Newbery committee until she won the 1966 award for 1965's I, Juan de Pareja. Even if the 34 years from her first book to her Newbery winner is only good for second place, she's easily the author who went the longest between her debut and receiving any ALA awards.

1. Jack Gantos. Admittedly, Rotten Ralph (1976) was a picture book, a format that's rarely honored by the Newbery committee. Nonetheless, it was eligible, and it kicked off Gantos' amazing career. He took an Honor in 2001 for Joey Pigza Loses Control, and received both a Printz Honor and a Sibert Honor two years later for Hole in My Life, but it wasn't until 2012 that he won a Newbery for the previous year's Dead End in Norvelt. As with Cleary's award, it came in a strange publication year -- several books that were seen as top contenders turned out to be far too divisive to win, place, or show (Okay For Now, Breadcrumbs, Junonia). Nonetheless, it ended Gantos' record-setting 35-year drought, and gave his remarkable oeuvre a fitting capstone.

The follow-up question, of course, is: are there any authors whose books we've covered this year who would make this list should they win the Newbery? The answer is yes. Should the committee decide that humorous poetry is worth a look after all, and Jack Prelutsky were to take the Newbery for Stardines Swim High Across the Sky and Other Poems, it would come for a book published a mind-boggling 46 years after his first book, 1967's A Gopher in the Garden, and Other Animal Poems. No one else is even close to that, but it's now 32 years and counting since Kevin Henkes' first book (All Alone, 1981), and 34 years since Patricia Reilly Giff debuted with Today Was a Terrible Day (1979). Will any of them break their winless streaks? We'll have to wait until January to find out!

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