NEW YORK — Kate DiCamillo's "Flora & Ulysses," a comic superhero tale featuring a deadly vacuum cleaner and a mighty squirrel, has won the John Newbery Medal for the year's best work of children's literature. Brian Floca won the Randolph Caldecott Medal for his illustrations in "Locomotive," a story of the early years of train travel that Floca also wrote.
The awards, the most prestigious in children's publishing, were announced Monday by the American Library Association. DiCamillo, a popular and acclaimed author, won the Newbery a decade ago for "The Tales of Despereaux." The Library of Congress recently named her National Ambassador for Young People's Literature.
"When they called this morning about the Newbery, I don't think I said anything that made any sense," DiCamillo said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press. "I mostly just wept."
A native of Philadelphia who now lives in Minneapolis, the 49-year-old DiCamillo said the book's origins date back a few years. Her mother was dying and worried what would happen to her vacuum cleaner, which the author ended up inheriting. Around the same time, she noticed an ailing squirrel on her property and was appalled when a friend suggested she whack the squirrel with a shovel and kill it.
"I started thinking about ways I could save the squirrel's life," DiCamillo said.
The Caldecott winner, "Locomotive," appeared on numerous lists for the best children's books of 2013. Floca's previous credits include illustrating the "Poppy" series by the Newbery-winning author Avi, the pen name for Edward Irving Wortis.
Floca, in a telephone interview, said he thought of a book on trains after he had completed a work in 2009 on the Apollo 11 space journey. One part of the research for "Locomotive" that surprised him: How colorful were the train engines of the 19th century.
"In early sketches, I had drawn these big, black locomotives," said Floca, 45, a resident of Brooklyn. "But in the 1860s they kept them polished. There was a Victorian aesthetic to it. They wanted the trains to be appealing to the public, and not frightening.
"So there are a lot of reds and blues and polished browns in the book."
Markus Zusak of "The Book Thief" fame received the Margaret A. Edwards Award for lifetime achievement. Brian Selznick, whose "The Invention of Hugo Cabret" won the Caldecott in 2008 and was later adapted into a film by Martin Scorsese, was chosen to give the May Hill Arbuthnot Honor Lecture, scheduled for 2015.
Marcus Sedgwick's "Midwinterblood" received the Michael L. Printz Award for best young adult book. Rita Williams-Garcia's "P.S. Be Eleven" won the Coretta Scott King Book Award for the best African-American book. The King award for illustration went to Bryan Collier and "Knock Knock: My Dad's Dream for Me."
Also Monday, the Pura Belpre Award for best Latino book was given to Meg Medina for "Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass," in which teenager Piddy Sanchez confronts bullying at her new school. The Belpre prize for illustration went to Yuyi Morales' "Nino Wrestles the World."
Kirstin Croon-Mills' "Beautiful Music for Ugly Children" won the Stonewall award for best children's book about the gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender experience. The Stonewall award for best young adult story was given to "Fat Angie," by e. E. Charlton-Trujillo.