Once upon a time, there was a thing called the Oscars, an awards show for movies that people used to care about. Your parents might remember it. But the American Library Association (A.L.A.) Awards for children’s literature are still a big deal, and this year’s were announced on Monday.
The A.L.A. honors books in all kinds of categories, but Air Mail Pilot is particularly attached to the Randolph Caldecott Medal, which is given each year to “the most distinguished American picture book for children.” Children? No offense, young readers, but Air Mail Pilot firmly believes that picture books are for everyone!
Randolph Caldecott was a wonderful British illustrator from the 19th century. Why an award for American picture books was named after him is a little perplexing. But anyway, the Caldecott has been around since 1938. Previous winners included recent classics you might know, like The Lion & the Mouse (2010), This Is Not My Hat (2013), and Hello Lighthouse (2019), along with classic classics like Make Way for Ducklings (1942), The Snowy Day (1963), Where the Wild Things Are (1964), and Sylvester and the Magic Pebble (1970).
This year’s winner is a terrific book called Watercress, written by Andrea Wang and illustrated by Jason Chin. It’s an autobiographical story about a Chinese-American family living in Ohio, and the way a humble leafy vegetable found growing wild along a roadside—the watercress of the title—unites the family across generations and very different, sometimes painful experiences of growing up.
It’s a simple story that in its broadest strokes—parents and kids often see the world very differently—anyone can relate to, no matter their cultural background. Or age. Chin’s illustrations are realistic but support the emotions of Wang’s story with delicate colors and subtle compositions—the way four people can be seated together at a table, for instance, but also divided.
Chin is well-known for his books about nature: Grand Canyon (2017), which he wrote and illustrated, won a Caldecott Honor—a sort of runner-up award. Watercress is Wang’s fourth picture book; she also published her first middle-grade book last year, The Many Meanings of Meilan, which explores themes similar to Watercress’s.
Officially, the Caldecott is given to a book’s illustrator, but Wang also won a Newbery Honor from the A.L.A. for her text. The two creators reacted in amusingly opposite ways. Chin wrote on Twitter that he was “speechless,” while Wang tweeted that she was “screaming with joy.” She also wrote of her collaborator, “His incredible, luminous, exquisite art not only brought the story to life but also brought lost family back to me.” Award or no, an illustrator probably couldn’t ask for higher praise. —Bruce Handy
Watercress, with text by Andrea Wang and illustrations by Jason Chin, is published by Neal Porter Books
When Jude Hill was nine years old, he beat out 300 other kids for a starring role in Belfast, the newest film from director Kenneth Branagh.
Although Belfast, a comedy-drama set in 1960s Northern Ireland, was Jude’s first professional role, the young actor, now 11, wasn’t new to performing. At just four years old, Jude performed the poem “Roger Was A Razor Fish” at school. He left the audience in awe. “He was actually unreal just in terms of the delivery and his expression,” Jude’s mother, Shauneen Hill, told the Hollywood Reporter.
This isn’t a case of a proud parent exaggerating. Even Sorcha Lyness, his former principal at St. John’s Primary School in Gilford, Northern Ireland, told the Irish News that Jude “always shone” and was “destined for stardom.” Recognizing their son’s talent, Jude’s parents enrolled him in the Shelley Lowry School to take speech and drama classes. That’s where Jude heard about the Belfast casting call.
To audition for the part of Buddy, a working-class boy living through the Troubles, a 30-year conflict between between Irish Protestants and Catholics, he sent in self-tapes. After nailing round one by crying on camera, he auditioned again over Zoom. Finally, after meeting with and impressing Branagh, Jude landed the part. “When the email came through I ran around my house screaming for about five minutes,” Jude told OK! Magazine.
Jude quickly adjusted to life on a movie set. Branagh has described the young actor as a “natural,” and Dame Judi Dench, who plays his grandmother in the film, said working with Jude was “like [being alongside] an actor who had had 25 years’ worth of experience.” Critics are praising his performance, too.
Meanwhile, Jude is already on to the next project. Alongside Lesley Manville, he’s filming Magpie Murders, a new BritBox TV series.
Jude’s adventures on the big screen are rubbing off on his family. His younger sister, nine-year-old Georgia, is “kind of a copycat,” Jude jokingly told the Hollywood Reporter. She’s busy shooting a show about preschool for Channel 5. —Bridget Arsenault
For the first and last time, two-year-old Christopher Whipple wasn’t asked to sit still while taking a day trip with his father. It wasn’t an average trip: Tom, Christopher’s dad, had taken the toddler to London’s Birkbeck University to participate in a science experiment.
Babies are naturally good at staying put, and children learn to obey their parents’ commands to sit still. However, toddlers are constantly on the move and not very good at listening to instructions. For a long time, researchers couldn’t understand why toddlers have such trouble following instructions to stay in one place. And since the brain-scanning machines used to analyze cognition tend to be large, heavy, and require participants to stay hooked up, scientists haven’t been able to do much research on toddlers.
But that’s all changing now, thanks to Birkbeck University’s ToddlerLab, the first institution in the world to study toddlers exclusively. This is where Christopher helped out Professor Natasha Kirkham, a member of Birkbeck’s Centre for Brain and Cognitive Development, with her research on toddlers’ listening skills.
For the study, Christopher wore a light helmet laden with wires and sensors that monitored his brain activity while he played games. The games were fun but also challenging. In one of them, Christopher had to free a Lego stuck in a box. To do that, he had to find a hidden button. In a different activity, he had to spot dogs and cats on a screen while researchers played confusing noises. While he performed these tasks, researchers looked at his brain waves to understand how toddlers tune out some noises but listen to others.
Kids between one and three years old do a lot of growing—in both the body and the brain. “This is when we have massive, massive learning and brain growth,” Kirkham told The Times of London. “Inhibitory control, working memory, language, motor skills and all sorts of executive functions… all this learning is happening. It’s an astonishing amount of change.”
The research is ongoing, and Christopher was the perfect kid to help out with the early studies. As his dad proudly put it to The Times, “True to form, it didn’t take Christopher long to master the empirical principles.” —Elena Clavarino