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'Last Stop On Market Street,' 'Finding Winnie,' Win U.S. Children's Book Prizes


We're going to hear now from the winners of the prestigious Caldecott and Newbery awards. These are the honors the American Library Association gives out each year for most distinguished picture book and most outstanding contribution to children's literature. NPR's Lynn Neary spoke with the winners after today's announcement.

LYNN NEARY, BYLINE: Matt de la Pena was up late last night putting the final touches on his new book. At 3 a.m., he went to bed hoping to catch a few hours' sleep. An hour later, the phone rang and he got the news that his book, "Last Stop On Market Street," had won the Newbery Medal.

MATT DE LA PENA: I thought this is probably an episode of "Punk'd." Like, I'm in 1998 right now. I just couldn't believe it.

NEARY: De la Pena says it's enormously gratifying to get this kind of recognition for your work. But the honor took on a new meaning when he realized he was the first Hispanic to win the Newbery.

DE LA PENA: The inclusion of diverse literature is so important to me. And I've been doing this for 10 years, writing diverse characters. And I just want to honor every Hispanic author who's come before me.

NEARY: De la Pena says the main characters in "Last Stop On Market Street" happen to be African-American, but the book is not about race. It's the story of a young boy who asks a lot of questions while riding on a bus with his grandmother.


UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Nana, how come we don't got a car? Boy, what do we need a car for? We got a bus that breathes fire.

NEARY: The book, says de la Pena, has a simple lesson.

DE LA PENA: You can feel like you've been slighted if you're growing up without, if you have less money, or you can see the beauty in that. And I feel like the most important thing that's ever happened to me is growing up without money. It's one of the things I'm the most proud of.

NEARY: The Caldecott award for most distinguished picture book went to Sophie Blackall for her illustrations in "Finding Winnie: The True Story Of The World's Most Famous Bear." 2015 was not an altogether easy year for Blackall, who came under criticism for her depiction of slaves in another book, "A Fine Dessert." But Blackall says winning the Caldecott is a thrilling honor.

SOPHIE BLACKALL: When you look at the Caldecott books of the past, they're around for a lifetime and beyond a lifetime. They're around for a lot longer than any of us are.

NEARY: "Finding Winnie" was written by Lindsay Mattick, the great-great granddaughter of the Canadian veterinarian who found a small bear cub at a train station and named him Winnie after his hometown of Winnipeg. Winnie became the inspiration for A. A. Milne's much-loved "Winnie The Pooh," which was one of Blackall's favorite books as a child.

BLACKALL: I was obsessed with it as a child. I lived "Winnie The Pooh" with my friends, we played Hundred Acre Woods. And Ernest Shepard, his illustrations were one of the very first things that made me think this might be something I wanted to do when I grew up.

NEARY: Now that she has won the Caldecott, Blackall says she would be thrilled if her book joined the ranks of beloved children's classics that will be read for many years to come. Lynn Neary, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Lynn Neary is an NPR arts correspondent covering books and publishing.