Illustrator Sophie Blackall draws during a presentation to school groups at the 2015 Virginia Children’s Book Festival. Blackall won the 2016 Caldecott Medal for illustrations in the book Finding Winnie
Illustrator Sophie Blackall draws during a presentation to school groups at the 2015 Virginia Children’s Book Festival. Blackall won the 2016 Caldecott Medal for illustrations in the book Finding Winnie

At the top of the mountain for any children’s book author or illustrator is one of three awards: the National Book Award, the Caldecott Medal or the Newbery Medal.

This year, all three winners of the coveted honors, which were announced Monday, share a common denominator: They all will appear at the 2016 Virginia Children’s Book Festival at Longwood University.

The winners are a who’s who of children’s literature: Neal Shusterman, celebrated author of several series of young adult novels, won the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature for his novel Challenger Deep; illustrator Sophie Blackall, who appeared at the 2015 VCBF, won the Caldecott Medal for Finding Winnie; Matt de la Peña, a New York Times best-selling author of both young adult novels and children’s books, won the Newbery Medal for Last Stop on Market Street.

Additionally, Rita Williams-Garcia won the Coretta Scott King Award for her book Gone Crazy in Alabama. Williams-Garcia will also appear at the 2016 Virginia Children’s Book Festival.

"I am floored that authors who will appear at the upcoming festival swept these awards," said Juanita Giles, VCBF director. "Every year we strive to bring the very best authors and illustrators to Southside Virginia to work with kids and spark a love of reading in many of them, and this year will be no different."

The 2016 Virginia Children’s Book Festival will be held Thursday-Saturday, Oct. 13-15, 2016, at Longwood in Farmville, Va. This is the third year of the festival.

Neal Shusterman is a prolific author of young adult literature who has published more than 50 novels, fictional series, short story collections and nonfiction pieces, including the celebrated Unwind dystology and the Skinjacker trilogy. A book from his Antsy Bonano series, The Schwa Was Here, won the 2008 California Young Readers Medal.

Shusterman began writing early—famously at age 8 penning a letter to E.B. White suggesting a sequel to Charlotte’s Web and offering his own pen for the job—and never stopped. His interests are varied: Many of his young adult novels are thrillers and mysteries set in dystopian worlds, but he has also turned his attention to nonfiction, penning a sex education book for boys and a biography of Runaways lead singer Cherie Currie. Pushing the envelope of literature, Shusterman has also been heavily involved writing for the game series How to Host a Murder and is in talks to write the upcoming Goosebumps video game. He lives in Southern California with his wife and four children.

"Millions of children have lost themselves in the pages of Neal’s gripping books," said Giles, "and he’ll bring that same high-powered energy and style to his workshops at this year’s festival. I can’t wait to see the smiles on faces as the children meet one of their literary heroes."

Sophie Blackall’s whimsical illustrations have captured the imaginations of children around the globe. From her award-winning and best-selling series Ivy + Bean to The 9 Lives of Alexander Baddenfield, which she wrote with fellow VCBF author John Bemelmans Marciano, Blackall’s work has a style all her own.

At the 2015 Virginia Children’s Book Festival, Blackall entertained legions of schoolchildren with fun, quirky presentations with her studiomate Marciano and created special art with children at the Longwood Center for the Visual Arts. Born in Australia, Blackall is now based out of Brooklyn, N.Y.

Matt de la Peña is the author of six critically acclaimed young adult novels and was awarded the Newbery Medal for his picture book Last Stop on Market Street, which follows a poor grandmother and grandchild on a public bus trip around their city, where the young boy learns the beauty of—and sees the fun in—his part of town. The book also garnered a Caldecott Honor, rare praise for both de la Peña and the illustrator, Christian Robinson.

Rita Williams-Garcia is one of the most acclaimed African-American children’s book authors working today. The recipient of a 2011 Newbery Honor and the PEN/Norma Klein Award, Williams-Garcia is now a three-time winner of the Coretta Scott King Award, which is annually awarded for books about the African-American experience. She was first recognized in 2011 for her celebrated book One Crazy Summer and then again in 2014 for P.S. Be Eleven.

"We celebrate all of our authors, not only for their awards and achievements but for the places they hold in the hearts of the children who attend the Virginia Children’s Book Festival," said Giles. "Not every child can say they had a chance to listen to, learn from and interact with authors and illustrators of this caliber. All it takes is one spark to set off a lifetime of reading, and that’s what our authors give to these children."

The full 2016 VCBF lineup has not been released, but features additional award-winning and best-selling authors, including some fan favorites who will return to Farmville for a third straight year.

About the 2016 Virginia Children’s Book Festival

The Virginia Children’s Book Festival is a three-day event each fall that celebrates and encourages reading by youth of all ages by inviting children and teens from across Virginia to meet, learn and explore with some of the most popular and acclaimed authors in the country. The VCBF began in 2014 and drew hundreds of children and book lovers from across the state. The event is held on the picturesque campus of Longwood University, a liberal arts institution in Farmville, the heart of Virginia, and one of the hundred oldest colleges in the U.S. Already one of the premier literary events in the commonwealth, the VCBF continues to grow and inspire children of all ages.

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