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'Hot Dog' wins Caldecott, Newbery is awarded to 'Freewater'

Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Updated January 30, 2023 at 12:24 PM ET

The top children's book awards were handed out Monday morning, at the American Library Association's annual Youth Media Awards.

The Newbery Medal, which the American Library Association awards to the most distinguished American children's book published the previous year, went to Freewater by Amina Luqman-Dawson. The historical fiction novel revolves around two enslaved siblings' escape from a plantation to a free swamp community called Freewater.

The setting of Freewater was inspired by the real-life Great Dismal Swamp, where self-emancipated, formerly enslaved people found refuge. But Luqman-Dawson says she wanted to infuse that history with magic.

"I always felt that, especially in touching on African American history, that we have to have a space where we allow our feet to sort of lift off the ground and to fly," she tells Elizabeth Blair.

She says the magical realism elements of her book help transport her young readers: it "takes them to a new place where they can kind of hear the voices of ... these people that have found freedom in the middle of enslavement."

Luqman-Dawson, a debut children's author, says the idea for Freewater came to her nearly 20 years ago. "So that's a message to all those aspiring writers out there," she says. "Never let go of your dream of a story."

Freewater also won the Coretta Scott King Author award.

The Randolph Caldecott Medal for the most distinguished American picture book for children was awarded to Hot Dog, illustrated and written by Doug Salati.The book is about an overwhelmed pup who finds his calm on a trip to the beach.

/ Knopf Books for Young Readers
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Knopf Books for Young Readers

Salati grew up in upstate New York, and tells Elizabeth Blair that he never imagined living in New York City. But he's "come to love everything that the city is ... all the noise, all the bustle, all the commotion, all the intensity, all the people." But it's nice to escape, too.

/ Knopf Books for Young Readers
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Knopf Books for Young Readers

He remembers watching a dachshund romp on the beach one day: "Just really being a dog and just feeling relaxed and happy and free ... running and digging and finding rocks ... chasing the waves."

Hot Dog is about carrying that feeling of peace and contentment – whether it's a place, or the company of loved ones – with you. "It's a good thing if you can try and hold on to that feeling," Salati says. "And I think that's what I was trying to do through this dog."

The Newbery honor books were Iveliz Explains It All, The Last Mapmaker and Maizy Chen's Last Chance.

And the Caldecott honor books were Ain't Burned All the Bright, Berry Song, Choosing Brave: How Mamie Till-Mobley and Emmett Till Sparked the Civil Rights Movement and Knight Owl.

ALA's Youth Media Awards include many other honors as well, such as the Coretta Scott King Illustrator Book award, which was given to Standing in the Need of Prayer: A Modern Retelling of the Classic Spiritual, illustrated by Frank Morrison. Dr. Claudette McLinn, founder and executive director of the Center for the Study of Multicultural Children's Literature, was honored with the Coretta Scott King – Virginia Hamilton Award for Lifetime Achievement.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Corrected: January 29, 2023 at 9:00 PM PST
In an earlier version of this story, we repeated Luqman-Dawson's characterization of herself as a 'debut author.' As this is her second published book but her first children's book, she is a 'debut children's author.
Teresa Xie
Teresa Xie is a reporter who specializes in media and culture writing. She recently graduated from the University of Pennsylvania, where she studied political science and cinema. Outside of NPR, her work can be found in Pitchfork, Vox, Teen Vogue, Bloomberg, Stereogum and other outlets.
Elizabeth Blair is a Peabody Award-winning senior producer/reporter on the Arts Desk of NPR News.