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Minneapolis author receives top children's book award
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The Tale of Despereaux, by Minneapolis author Kate DiCamillo, has won the Newbery Medal for children's literature. (Image courtesy of Candlewick Press)

San Diego, Calif. — The story of a small mouse in love with a princess won the top honor in children's literature from the American Library Association on Monday.

Minneapolis author Kate DiCamillo received the 2004 Newbery Medal for the year's best writing for "The Tale of Despereaux."

DiCamillo, 39, wrote her third book after her best friend's 8-year-old son asked for a story about "an unlikely hero with exceptionally large ears," according to a note from the publisher, Candlewick Press.

"It's set in a fairytale time but it embodies all the universal truths that children need to understand - love, friendship, forgiveness, courage, redemption, perseverance," said Cynthia Richey, president of the Association of Library Service to Children.

DiCamillo's "Because of Winn-Dixie" was named a Newbery Honor Book in 2001. Despite that honorable mention, the Philadelphia native said she wasn't expecting the top prize this year.

"I haven't been making a lot of sense today," she said by phone from Minneapolis, her home for the last 10 years.

The Caldecott prize, given for the best illustration, went to Mordicai Gerstein for "The Man Who Walked Between the Towers," the story of a young Frenchman who in 1974 walked on a tightrope between the World Trade Center Twin Towers.

Gerstein, 68, said the downing of the Twin Towers more than two years ago reminded him of Frenchman Phillipe Petit's tightrope walk across the buildings in 1974.

"When the Towers went down I remembered it, then sat down and wrote," he said from his home in Northampton, Mass. Petit's act, he said, "defies reason, it defies gravity. It defies the law. It's an act of unbelievable courage, skill, art, optimism and just freedom."

Gerstein's book is published Roaring Brook Press, a division of Middlebrook Press.

Ursula K. Le Guin, whose many books include "The Left Hand of Darkness" and "The Beginning Place," received a lifetime achievement prize.

Other winners included author Angela Johnson ("The First Past Last") and illustrator Ashley Bryan ("Beautiful Blackbird"), recipients of the Coretta Scott King prizes for the best African American children's writer and children's illustrator.

Illustrator Yuyi Morales ("Just a Minute") and author Julia Alvarez ("Before We Were Free") were the respective winners of Pura Belpre award for the best Latino illustrator and best Latino writer. Alvarez is widely known among adult readers for the novel "How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents."

(Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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