ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.
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And I'm Melissa Block.
The top honors in literature for children and young people were handed out today. The Caldecott Medal for best illustrated book went to "The Invention of Hugo Cabret." The book has been a hit with critics and young readers.
But as Joel Rose reports, it was still a surprising choice for the award.
JOEL ROSE: Author and illustrator Brian Selznick says the illustrations and images in "The Invention of Hugo Cabret" pick up where the prose leaves off. His reading at the National Book Awards last November was more like a multi-media presentation.
Mr. BRIAN SELZNICK (Author and Illustrator, "The Invention of Hugo Cabret"): How did you know about his apartment here in the station and the tunnels in the walls? Where is he?
Please, my fingers are broken, grab my other arm. It hurts too much.
The station inspector saw the bandages and loosened his grip, at which point, like a wild animal, Hugo escaped. And then you turn the page.
(Soundbite of laughter)
(Soundbite of music)
ROSE: Projected on a screen behind Selznick was a series of pencil drawings from the wordless scene that follows as young Hugo darts in and out of the crowds at a Paris train station. The book's 500-page length and hybrid form make "Hugo Cabret" an unusual choice for the Caldecott Medal, which is supposed to go to a, quote, unquote, "picture book."
Whatever you call it, "Hugo Cabret" is apparently very popular with librarians, who whooped and hollered when the selection was announced at the American Library Association meeting in Philadelphia.
Unidentified Woman #1: "The Invention of Hugo Cabret."
(Soundbite of cheers)
ROSE: The choice delighted Kate McClelland, a librarian from Old Greenwich, Connecticut.
Ms. KATE MCCLELLAND (Librarian, Old Greenwich, Connecticut): This is a book you don't have to assign because everybody has already taken it completely to their hearts.
ROSE: McClelland chaired the Caldecott selection committee in 2002 when Selznick was honored for an earlier book, "The Dinosaurs of Waterhouse Hawkins." She says "Hugo Cabret" was considered a long shot to win the Caldecott Medal this year because of its experimental nature.
Ms. MCCLELLAND: We were not expecting this joyous surprise, which the book we all love the best, and we all knew was the most important book of the year. We were told, well, it's wonderful, it's the most important, but it can't win. And you know what, it did win. And we're just…
Unidentified Woman #2: Yay.
Ms. MCCLELLAND: Yay. And we're…
ROSE: The chair of this year's Caldecott committee was Karen Breen, an editor at Kirkus Reviews.
Ms. KAREN BREEN (Chair, Caldecott Award Committee; Editor, Kirkus Reviews): You can't find anybody who didn't think it was a wonderful book. It really came to the issue of whether it was a picture book or not. And that's what this committee decided it was.
ROSE: The ALA also awarded its other top literary prizes today. Like the Caldecott, the prestigious Newbery Award for outstanding children's book went to a non-traditional narrative. In the book "Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! Voices from a Medieval Village," author Laura Amy Schlitz brings to life characters from the year 1255. Schlitz, who works at a school in Baltimore, is the second librarian in a row to win the Newbery Award.
For NPR News, I'm Joel Rose in Philadelphia.