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'Little Rat Rides' wins 2005 Gryphon Award for children's literature

Andrea Lynn, Humanities Editor


CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — The winner of the 2005 Gryphon Award for Children’s Literature is Monika Bang-Campbell, for her easy-to-read book, “Little Rat Rides” (Harcourt, 2004). Molly Bang illustrated the book.

The award, which includes a $1,000 prize, is given by the Center for Children’s Books at the Graduate School of Library and Information Science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Established in May 2003, the award is given annually to the author of an outstanding English language work of fiction or nonfiction for which the primary audience is children in kindergarten through fourth grade.

Two Gryphon Award honor books also were named, “Down Girl and Sit: Smarter Than Squirrels,” by Lucy Nolan, illustrated by Mike Reed (Cavendish, 2004); and “You Read to Me, I’ll Read to You: Very Short Fairy Tales to Read Together,” by Mary Ann Hoberman, illustrated by Michael Emberley (Tingley/Little, 2004).

According to the selection committee, the winning title best exemplifies those qualities that successfully bridge the gap in difficulty between books for reading aloud to children and books for practiced readers.

Books that are considered for the award must be original works written for children; textbooks are not eligible for the competition. Books under consideration also must be “notable and contribute to the world of children’s literature,” said Betsy Hearne, director of the Center for Children’s Books and one of the Gryphon Award judges.

The Gryphon Award was conceived as a way to focus attention on “transitional reading,” an area of literature for youth that, despite being crucial to the successful transition of children from new readers to independent lifelong readers, does not receive the critical recognition it deserves, the selection committee said.

The new award is believed to be the first such of its kind.

The gryphon is a mythological symbol – part eagle, part lion – that represents the characteristics of loyalty, bravery, strength and penetrating vision.

Bang-Campbell’s winning book is the second in a series about the adventures of a tiny but determined barnyard rodent, Little Rat. Having conquered sailing, Little Rat decides to learn to ride a horse. The only trouble is that her horse, Pee Wee, is humungous. “This was not a horse,” Little Rat reports. “This was a mountain on four legs.”

The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books, published at the U. of I. and one of the nation’s leading children’s book-review journals, concluded its review of “Little Rat Rides”: “Barn rats of the human kind (who will appreciate the illustrative tip of the hunt cap to some classic equestrian titles in Little Rat’s library) will warm to the knowledgeable details, while Little Rat fans who share her unease about new experiences will heave a sigh of relief at her triumph.”

The Center for Children’s Books houses a non-circulating collection of more than 14,000 recent and historically significant trade books for youth – birth through high school – plus review copies of nearly all trade books published in the United States in the current year.

In addition, the collection includes more than 1,000 professional and reference books on the history and criticism of literature for youth, literature-based library and classroom programming and storytelling. Although the collection is non-circulating, it is available for examination by scholars, teachers, librarians, students and other educators.

The Gryphon Award is sponsored by the center and funded by the CCB’s Outreach Endowment Fund. Income from the fund supports center outreach activities and the Gryphon Award. Gifts may be made to the fund by contacting Susan Barrick, GSLIS Development Office, 501 E. Daniel St., Champaign, IL 61820; 217-244-9577;

More information about the Center for Children’s Books and the Gryphon Award can be found online.