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Balloons, Birmingham, and Elephants: Introducing the 2012 Sibert Award Winners

013012-1 It is award season. Every January the American entertainment and media industries award and nominate premier performances. The People’s Choice ceremony was held on January 11. The Golden Globes were bestowed on January 15, and the Oscar nominations were announced on January 24. January is also the month for the “Academy Award” of children’s literature, the American Library Association’s youth media awards.

On Monday, January 23, the ALA awards were announced. Read the press release for a complete list of awards and 2012 winning titles. These awards may not garner the attention of Hollywood’s glitzy Oscar ceremony; however, they are a still a big deal. Books that win ALA awards routinely rocket to the top of the best seller list, are added to countless classrooms and libraries, stay in print for generations, and often are adapted into movies. You may have heard of the Caldecott Award (for picture book) or the Newbery Award (for literature). They are the most famous ALA awards. No doubt you have read or seen books decorated with the gold or silver (honor) ALA seal. Once a book wins an ALA award, all future copies carry the seal that signifies that book won a prestigious ALA award. It is a message to buyers and readers: this book was selected as the best book of its genre the year it was published. Previous Caldecott winners include The Three Pigs (2002) by David Wiesner, The Polar Express (1986) by Chris Van Allsburg, Where the Wild Things Are (1964) by Maurice Sendak, and Make Way for Ducklings (1942) by Robert McCloskey. Past Newbery winners include The Tale of Despereaux (2004) by Kate DiCamillo, The Giver (1994) by Lois Lowry, and Johnny Tremain (1944) by Esther Forbes.

The Caldecott and Newbery awards may be the most recognized but they are not the only ALA awards. Among the family of ALA awards is the Sibert Award, which is given to an information book published in English during the preceding year. The 2012 Sibert winner is Balloons over Broadway: The True Story of the Puppeteer of Macy’s Parade by Melissa Sweet.This year, the Sibert committee also chose four honor books: Witches!:  The Absolutely True Tale of Disaster in Salem by Rosalyn Schanzerand; The Elephant Scientist, written by Caitlin O’Connell and Donna M. Jackson; Drawing from Memory, written and illustrated by Allen Say; and Black & White:  The Confrontation between Reverend Fred L. Shuttlesworth and Eugene ‘Bull’ Connor, written by Larry Dane Brimner. This week you will explore three of these five notable books.

Tony Sarg’s Ginormous Balloons

013012-2 The Macy’s Day Parade is famous for its huge, flying marionettes. What is the story behind those ginormous balloons? Who created them originally? What inspired their creation? How were they built? These gaps inspired Melissa Sweet’s book, Balloons over Broadway: The True Story of the Puppeteer of Macy’s Parade. Her book looks back at how an iconic feature of one of America’s most famous holiday celebrations began. Sheintroduces readers to Tony Sarg, the man who first imagined and created the Macy’s Day Parade puppets, and to how he worked. See a photograph and read a brief biography of Sarg. Why do you think his experience as an illustrator, puppeteer, and toy maker helped him conceive and create the Parade balloons?

The flying puppets debuted in the Macy’s Day Parade in 1927. Watch a video of the Macy’s Day Parade, circa 1930. How are the balloons controlled? What characters are featured?

Explore author Melissa Sweet’s website. Use the menu in the left margin to investigate various parts of the site. In Work & Play Sweet shares periodic entries related to her work. Scroll down to see photos of Tony Sarg and his parade balloons. What other auspicious attention has her book received? Click on Aboutto read biographical entries and to access links to interviews with or blogs about Sweet. For example, follow the links to read 5 Questions for Melissa Sweet and learn more about what inspired this book. Open the Books page to read a list of the books Sweet has written or illustrated (or both). Click on an image to see more pictures from that book. Open Make Stuff to download games or activity plans related to Sweet’s books, including an activity kit for Balloons over Broadway.


Have you ever heard that animals know when earthquakes are coming? How can this be? In The Elephant Scientist, author and elephant researcher Caitlin O’Connell (along with Donna M. Jackson) shares her groundbreaking insights into elephant communication and intelligence. 

013012-3 Younger students may learn more about elephants at the San Diego Zoo website. Begin by reading the elephant facts. Watch the short video of a baby elephant and view a few photos. Meet the elephants that live at the Zoo’s Elephant Odyssey. Watch three elephant videos: meet the elephants, an elephant pool party, and elephants arrive home. If you are lucky, there will be elephants visible via the elephant cam. Scroll down to read about the cam and the best times to view. Finally, if you were an online elephant, would you survive? Play the elephant odyssey game. Before you begin, it will be helpful to read Learn How to Play. (Hint: Use the space bar and arrow keys on your keyboard to move.)

Older students might find the Nature site hosted by PBS to be more informative. Visit The Elephants of Africa to learn more about elephants and the challenges they face in the wild. Did you know elephants are very social animals? Do you know how elephants’ size compares to other land animals? Read more about the lives of elephants, and how they use their trunks. What are the biggest threats to elephants in the wild and what is being done to combat them?

Fight for Birmingham

Martin Luther King, Jr. is undeniably the most prominent leader of the Civil Rights Movement. His dynamic, peaceful, and eloquent leadership was monumental in changing American race relationships. However, he was not the only leader. Others also championed the cause, including Fred Shuttlesworth.

013012-4 Reverend Shuttlesworth, Reverend King and others founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. The group dedicated themselves to peacefully ending Jim Crow segregation and attaining civil rights for African Americans. In doing so Shuttlesworth promised to "kill segregation or be killed by it." The odds were not in his favor, yet he survived several assassination attempts. Shuttlesworth led the movement to integrate Birmingham, his home town and one of the most segregated American cities. He organized sit-ins and Freedom Rides, integrated buses, and filed civil rights lawsuits.

On the opposite side of the struggle over civil rights in Birmingham stood those hoping to maintain the Jim Crow system of segregation and discrimination. Chief among them was Eugene “Bull” Connor. As Commissioner of Public Safety for the city of Birmingham, Alabama, Connor oversaw the fire and police departments.

Fred Shuttlesworth and Bull Connor represent two opposing forces in American history. It was Shuttlesworth who invited Reverend King to Birmingham to lead peaceful mass demonstrations for desegregation. In part, these demonstrations were meant to provoke Bull Connor and to highlight for business leaders the cost of segregation. Bull Connor was legally responsible for ensuring the safety of African Americans as they marched and boycotted for their civil rights. Instead, he turned the fire hoses and police dogs on demonstrators and came to represent the violence and hatred of Jim Crow.

The best way to delve into Birmingham’s disturbing and inspiring civil rights history is by visiting the Birmingham Civil Rights Museum. “Walk with me” invites the introduction. “Talk to me about justice and a vision of peace.” From the homepage, investigate four sections: Overview, Oral History, Timeline, or Resources.

In Overview watch a video introduction with original audio clips. You will see images from the Birmingham’s marches, including ones of the fire hoses turned on protestors, and Fred Shuttlesworth leading children in protest. Use the left margin in Oral Histories to select the theme you are most interested in: Barriers, Confrontation, Movement, Progress, and The Struggle Continues. Perhaps you are interested in listening to a few histories from each theme. (You will find Fred Shuttlesworth in the Movement section.) Open the Timeline and choose option 1: Birmingham. Advance through the timeline by first selecting a year and then opening each event (noted by a number) from that year. If it interests you, open option 2: Alabama/ National to examine a parallel timeline. Finally, explore Resources. Here you will find three categories: Newspaper articles (primary source documents you can zoom on and move to read), Fourth Avenue Birmingham (a video), and The Front Line (a video). Record the words to the song sung in the introduction and in the Front Line video. To what events and people do they lyrics refer?

Floating balloons, elephants, and Birmingham’s civil rights history may seem a motley collection of topics. This year they each inspire an award-winning book and rise above their competition. Check them—or another ALA winner—out.