Subscribe for 99¢
"Almost Perfect" by Brian Katcher

A small-town Missouri dad wins the second Stonewall children's book award with an edgy tale of transgender love, and what's the reaction? Cheerful "attaboys."

Where's the anger, the cries to ban "Almost Perfect"?

Brian Katcher, 35, a Fort Zumwalt South alum and a librarian in Moberly, jokes that a little national controversy — like last year's uproar in southern Missouri over several titles for teens — wouldn't hurt his reputation: "What's a guy got to do to get his book burned in this town?"

Moberly, about 30 miles north of Columbia, is a politically conservative area, he says. But folks are congratulating him on "Almost Perfect," which won the American Library Association's Stonewall Children's and Young Adult Literature Award. (The Stonewall awards, which have been renamed several times, began in 1971 as the Gay Book Award and until last year went only to adult books. This is the first year the Stonewall winner was announced at the same time as the other youth media awards.)

A librarian for two early childhood centers and the father of Sophie, who turns 4 this week, Katcher was at work Monday when the ALA announced its prestigious awards.

"I am absolutely blown away that I was announced at the same time and by the same people who announce the Caldecott and Newbery. I am so humbled," he said Tuesday from his home. "I was anxiously awaiting the award winners so I could place my last (book) order of the year."

He learned "Almost Perfect" won the Stonewall from e-mailed notes.

The Newbery Medal went to a Kansas author, Clare Vanderpool, for "Moon Over Manifest." The Caldecott Medal went to "A Sick Day for Amos McGee," illustrated by Erin E. Stead and written by Philip C. Stead.

On Monday, the Academy Awards of children's literature also honored two other Missourians.

Antony John won a Schneider Family Book Award for "Five Flavors of Dumb," and Jan Greenberg of Clayton and New York co-author Sandra Jordan were Sibert Honor Book winners for "Ballet for Martha: Making Appalachian Spring." The Sibert awards are given to informational books.

Greenberg and Jordan have been honored before by the ALA, for "Action Jackson," published in 2002 about artist Jackson Pollock, and "Heart to Heart," a collection of poems inspired by modern art.

But John, born and reared in Great Britain, is newer to this area — and writing. Like Katcher, he's published only two books and was excited that his second novel was honored.

"Five Flavors of Dumb" is about a deaf 17-year-old who manages a high school rock band. It was named best teen book in a category for work that "embodies an artistic expression of the disability experience for child and adolescent audiences."

John, 38, said he was thrilled with the award, while acknowledging that his humorous novel is meant to appeal to a wide audience.

"The point of the book is about the ability to communicate," not necessarily to discuss disabilities," he said. "It addresses the big teen issues."

John lives with his wife and two children, ages 5 and 3, and has no experience with deafness. Web research helped him learn how to make his character Piper resonate with readers.

Likewise, Katcher did Web research to understand the feelings of people who, like his teen character Sage, are biologically male but identify as female. He says he has never, to his knowledge, met a transgender person, nor is he gay.

"I supported gay rights, but before researching this book it was nothing that I gave a whole lot of thought about," he said.

Katcher decided to write his first novel, "Playing With Matches," about what he knew:

"I knew what it's like to be in high school and not be able to get a date. I had plenty of friends, but I definitely was not what you call cool."

Like "Almost Perfect," it's set in Missouri and received strong reviews.

Nevertheless, his wife told him: "Who would have thought my husband would win an award for gay literature?"

For all book award winners, go to ala.org.