Susan Marie Swanson’s first children’s book, published 12 years ago, is called “Getting Used to the Dark.” Today, Swanson finds herself getting used to the spotlight. Since Jan. 26, when the American Library Association announced its 2009 literary awards, Swanson has been basking in the attention that follows from having written the book that won this year’s Caldecott Medal.
This book is also associated with darkness. “The House in the Night,” published last spring, relates a nighttime journey that moves from a house to a bed to a book, then to the starlit heavens and back.
Swanson describes it as a bedtime book that’s about “comfort and adventure at the same time.”
The Caldecott is awarded to the year’s most distinguished American picture book for children. “The House in the Night” was illustrated by Beth Krommes, a New Hampshire resident.
Swanson, who lives in St. Anthony Park, met Krommes only recently, even though they were both graduate students at the University of Massachusetts Amherst in the 1980s.
“It’s not unusual if the author and illustrator of a children’s picture book never meet,” says Swanson. “The match is made by an editor or publisher, and most of the communication goes through the editor.”
For “A House in the Dark,” Swanson adapted a literary form that might be called “cumulative.” She was inspired by a nursery rhyme that begins, “This is the key of the kingdom: / In that kingdom is a city, / In that city is a town, / In that town is a street.”
Swanson was a poet before she was a children’s book writer, and she said she brings “a poet’s approach to the picture book.”
As a Caldecott winner, “The House in the Night” becomes part of a distinguished literary lineage that includes “Make Way for Ducklings,” “Where the Wild Things Are” and “The Polar Express.”
“So many of the Caldecott books have meant a great deal to many people,” said Swanson. “To be part of that is very meaningful and humbling.”
Hans Weyandt, co-owner of Micawber’s Bookstore in St. Anthony Park, said that as a Caldecott winner, Krommes and Swanson’s book will “get into just about every bookstore there is.” He added, “There are so many awards out there now, but the Caldecott and the Newbery are still the gold standard for children’s literature.”
Rose Ann Foreman, director of the St. Anthony Park Library, said she has used “A House in the Dark” for her weekly story time at the library.
“The children really paid attention,” she said. “People will be asking for this book for many years.”
Alice Neve is an area librarian for the St. Paul Public Library and a St. Anthony Park resident. She served on the committee that decided the 1999 Caldecott Medal.
“We looked at about 1,000 books that year,” she said.
Neve said that the Caldecott dramatically changes the lives of the author and illustrator.
Susan Marie Swanson would agree. “This is the same book now as it was last spring when it was published,” she said. “But now everything is different.”