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Originally published Friday, July 8, 2011 at 7:00 PM

Memorable moments from creators of kids' books

Kids' books: Inspiring moments from the winners of the Caldecott Medal, given to the best-illustrated children's book, and the Newbery Medal, given to the best-written children's book.

Scripps Howard News Service

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NEW ORLEANS — Gather together some top-notch children's book authors and illustrators, add more than 1,000 librarians and you've got the ingredients for the 2011 children's book awards banquet at the American Library Association's June conference.

The banquet honors the winners of the Caldecott Medal, given to the best-illustrated children's book, and the Newbery Medal, given to the best-written children's book. The awards are announced at a January news conference, so everyone already knows who won. But people come to the banquet to hear the Caldecott and Newbery winners' acceptance speeches, usually quite inspiring.

Here are some memorable moments from this year:

As Erin Stead recalled in her Caldecott speech, she stopped drawing several years ago. "I suffered from a severe and self-inflicted loss of confidence." After three drawing-less years, however, Stead discovered that "without drawing, a part of me was missing."

Still too terrified to work at her drawing table, Stead, 29, sat at her kitchen table. Her first drawing showed a seated elephant and a standing man, separated by a tree.

"When I draw honestly, I feel like I leave myself exposed a little on the page," Erin Stead told the banquet audience. "I try to draw who I am. Drawing is an act that makes me feel vulnerable, but also one that completes me."

Stead's husband, Philip Stead, showed the illustration to Neal Porter, children's book editor at Roaring Brook Press, who gently encouraged Erin to continue drawing. Philip Stead, meanwhile, provided his own kind of encouragement by writing a story for his wife to illustrate.

The result was "A Sick Day for Amos McGee" (Roaring Brook, $16.99, ages 3-6), which spotlights the loving bond between an elderly zookeeper and his animal friends.

Erin Stead said "the news of winning was overwhelming.

"It is a beautiful twist of fate that I am standing here because of a little book that is about having good and loyal friends,"she told the banquet audience. "If I did not have my own friends who continue to arrive at just the right time, I would not be here."

She added: "I am a little less fragile now and settling into my instincts with bookmaking. I am very young. I still have doubts. But they are outweighed by true friends (and maybe a heavy medal)."

Note: It's traditional for the Caldecott winner to design the evening's program, and it's always a special treat. Erin Stead's program was folded to look like a miniature book, complete with a Dewey Decimal number — 793.2 for parties and entertainments — on the spine. Inside the back cover, she placed an old-fashioned "date due" pocket, and filled it with "date due" cards on which the names of previous award winners were listed.

In her speech accepting the Newbery Medal, Clare Vanderpool, author of "Moon Over Manifest" (Delacorte, $16.99, ages 8-12), admitted that winning that award was "a bit shocking and overwhelming.

"I come from a family of optimists,"she said. "My parents ... raised my siblings and me with a can-do attitude. But even with that spirit, that optimism, that determination, I never set out to win a Newbery. I never even dreamed of it. And I have always dreamed big! Just not that big."

Vanderpool, the mother of four children, charmed the audience by noting that "someone asked me recently if winning the Newbery is as wonderful as having a baby. That analogy falls a bit short, but it is like having a baby if you didn't know you were pregnant."

In "Moon Over Manifest," Vanderpool details an intriguing Depression-era mystery about a girl trying to uncover her father's past. Vanderpool said she was inspired by a quote from "Moby Dick:" "It is not down in any map; true places never are."

"That's when the wheels began turning," Vanderpool said. "What is a true place? What would a true place be for someone who had never lived anywhere for more than a few weeks or months at a time? What if it was a young girl during the Depression? A young girl named Abilene Tucker."

While "Moon Over Manifest" is Vanderpool's first published book, "it is not my first attempt at putting pen to paper. I started writing, really writing, with intent and purpose, when my first child was born. He is now 17 years old.

"I try to approach my writing the same way I approach everything else in my life," Vanderpool said. "Work hard at it and have fun with it. Enjoy the experience."

Contact Karen MacPherson, children's/teen librarian at the Takoma Park, Md., Library, at Kam.Macpherson@gmail.com.

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