WASHINGTON - In 1999, Richard Peck's A Long Way from Chicago, a series of stories about a Depression-era girl who leaves the city to visit her feisty grandmother in rural Illinois, won a Newbery Honor award - the children's book equivalent of an Olympic silver medal.
When that happened, Mr. Peck said, "you can imagine what my editor told me to do."
On Monday, Mr. Peck learned that the sequel, published last year, won the gold.
A Year Down Yonder won the American Library Association's 2001 John Newbery Medal, the association's top honor for children's literature.
Also announced Monday, the winner of the Randolph Caldecott Medal for most distinguished picture book, the association's other top honor, went to David Small, illustrator of So You Want To Be President?
Mr. Small's illustrations, a mix of watercolor, ink and pastel chalk, suggest political cartoons, producing wry personal portraits of the presidents.
The book, called a "spiffy presidential history" by Booklist, is written by Judith St. George.
A Year Down Yonder tells the story of 15-year-old Mary Alice, who is sent from Chicago to live for a year in 1937 with her grandmother after her father loses his job. She soon finds herself involved in her grandmother's many oddball schemes.
The Horn Book, which reviews children's books, called the stories "wise, exuberant and slyly heartwarming."
Mr. Peck, 66, who lives in New York, has written more than 20 novels for teen-agers. His first book, Don't Look and It Won't Hurt, published in 1972, was adapted into the 1992 film Gas Food Lodging.
He also is the author of four novels for adults.
In an interview Monday, Mr. Peck said, "My cause and my joy is writing for younger teens - middle school is the age at which we lose most people to reading. ... I want to write to encourage reading through that time because neither parents nor schools are doing the job. This is the age at which parents stop attending PTA meetings, and I want to be there, to encourage reading."
Mr. Peck said he makes sure all of his books include older characters.
"This is a generation of young people who no longer have to write thank-you notes for gifts from grandparents, and so they rob themselves of their own roots. I give them elders - an eccentric cast of strong grandparental figures."
In other honors announced at the library association's midwinter meeting:
Four Newbery Honor Books also were named: Hope Was Here, by Joan Bauer; The Wanderer by Sharon Creech; Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo; and Joey Pigza Loses Control, by Jack Gantos.
Three Caldecott Honor Books also were named: Casey at the Bat: A Ballad of the Republic Sung in the Year 1888, illustrated by Christopher Bing and written by Ernest Lawrence Thayer; Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type, illustrated by Betsy Lewin and written by Doreen Cronin; and Olivia, written and illustrated by Ian Falconer.
Jacqueline Woodson, author of Miracle Boys, and Bryan Collier, illustrator for Uptown, were named the 2001 winners of the Coretta Scott King Awards honoring black authors and illustrators of outstanding books for children and young adults.
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