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Center for Children's Books announces 2008 Gryphon winners

Andrea Lynn, Humanities Editor

Billy Tartle
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Rufus the Scrub
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Click photo to enlarge


CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — “Billy Tartle in Say Cheese!” has won the 2008 Gryphon Award for Children’s Literature. The book for readers ages 4 to 8 was written and illustrated by Michael Townsend, and is his debut as a children’s author.

The Gryphon Award, which includes a $1,000 prize, is given annually by the Center for Children’s Books at the University of Illinois. The center is a unit of the Graduate School of Library and Information Science.

The prize is awarded to the author of an outstanding English language work of fiction or non-fiction for which the primary audience is children in kindergarten through fourth grade. The title chosen best exemplifies “those qualities that successfully bridge the gap in difficulty between books for reading aloud to children and books for practiced readers,” said Christine Jenkins, director of the Center for Children’s Books and a GSLIS professor.

According to Jenkins, “Billy Tartle” (Knopf, July 2007) “is a compelling and humorous anti-boredom fantasy of the ultimate school picture day told in an exuberant graphic novel format.”

“School picture day is fast approaching,” Jenkins said, “and Billy Tartle is determined to liven up the otherwise tense-but-staid elementary school event. He and his mother visit the barber, but his dream haircut – ‘it should have 5 points … oh, and it must be pink’ – is nixed. As the undaunted Billy’s Plan B takes shape, young readers will keep turning the pages as they follow his energetic, subversive and ultimately successful plan to make his class picture really really special.”

Two Gryphon “Honors” winners also were named: “Rufus the Scrub Does Not Wear a Tutu,” by Jamie McEwan, illustrated by John Margeson; and “Spiders,” written and illustrated by Nic Bishop.

“Taken together, these books represent a diversity of genres, styles and formats that will appeal to a broad range of young readers,” Jenkins said.

According to Jenkins, “Rufus the Scrub” tells of a young would-be football player benched by his clumsiness until he makes a bold leap into ballet lessons. Rufus successfully defies his teasing teammates and his skills finally enable him to make the winning play.

“This is a familiar story,” Jenkins said, “the inept novice making good through skilled instruction and ‘practice, practice, practice’ – made fresh and funny in the telling.”

“Spiders” begins: “Spiders were hunting long before lions and tigers. They were hunting even before Tyrannosaurus rex.”

This book is “an absorbing account of 15 different varieties of spiders illustrated with Bishop’s arresting and colorful photos of spiders in action – crawling, jumping, spinning, capturing, devouring, molting and doing many other spidery activities.”

The Gryphon Award was established in 2004 as a way to focus attention on transitional reading – “an area of literature for youth that, despite its importance to the successful transition of children from new readers to independent lifelong readers – does not receive the critical recognition it deserves,” Jenkins said.

The award committee consists of members drawn from the youth services faculty of GSLIS, the editorial staff of the Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books, local public and school librarians, and the library and education community at large.

To learn more about the award and previous winners go to

The award is sponsored by the Center for Children’s Books and funded by the Center for Children’s Books Outreach Endowment Fund. Income from the endowed fund supports outreach activities for the CCB in general and the Gryphon Award for children’s literature.

Gifts may be made to the fund at or by contacting Diana Stroud at the GSLIS Office of Advancement, at 217-244-9577 or