Street Awards for Children’s Books
did get to meet a lot of mammals in my life,” said Douglas Florian,
discussing the inspiration for his book Mammalabilia, recently
awarded the 2000 Claudia Lewis Poetry Award from the Children’s
Book Committee at Bank Street College of Education.
Standing among the authors, publishers and teachers who milled
around the Bank Street lobby before the awards presentation, Florian
told of his path from nonfiction occupational writing, to cartoonist
for the New Yorker and The New York Times op-ed page, to children’s
The tall and lanky, bearded native New Yorker rhymes and jokes
freely, but always with a twinkle in his eye, especially when
he has hit upon a particularly clever rhyme. His Mammalabilia
poems, with their rhyming and spelling puns, are reminiscent of
Ogden Nash, whom he says he discovered in junior high school.
Rivka Widerman is the chair of the poetry subcommittee that chose
Florian’s book. “It was so much fun to read,” she said about Mammalabilia,
many of whose poems are shape poems. Her favorite, The Ibex, is
not a shape poem, but she likes its word-play: The daring ibex
risk their necks / On scary airy mountain treks. / Each one must
climb with skill complex / Or else become an ex-ibex.
say form follows function—but in this book, it follows dysfunction,”
joked Florian in his acceptance speech. “I spelled words wrong;
and the very worst: I invented words!” Several such inventions
occur in the poem about aardvarks in which he takes liberties
with the letter “a”, doubling it wherever it occurs in the poem.
Two other books were recognized along with Florian’s: Because
of Winn-Dixie, by Kate DiCamillo was awarded the Josette Frank
Award for fiction, and Ida B. Wells: Mother of the Civil Rights
Movement, by Dennis and Judith Fradin won the Flora Stieglitz
Strauss Award for nonfiction.
literature provides the windows to the world present, past and
future,” said Bank Street president, Dr. Augusta Souza Kappner.
“It helps them to learn not only the what and the why, but to
imagine what could be and what should be.” The Children’s Book
Committee, an independent group, was founded in 1916 and joined
Bank Street 24 years ago.
lot of people are afraid of poetry,” said Widerman, who was on
the first poetry committee four years ago. She runs workshops
for her reviewers on how to approach poetry.
poem is supposed to be read many times. It has to have some sort
of emotional impact.” This impact can be as simple as making someone
laugh, which Florian’s book does again and again.
Poetry is important, especially for children because it allows
them to interact with words. “It’s a way to play with the music
of words,” she said. “Poetry is playing around with sense and
more information about the Best Children’s Books of the Year 2000
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