Hilary Knight didn't expect "Eloise" to be a children's favorite.
"Never," the illustrator said Monday night at a reception before the Children's Choice Book Awards. "If ('Eloise' writer) Kay Thompson were alive, she'd be horrified. She hated when the stores started putting those books in the children's section. She would go to one store and put them back in the adult section."
The awards were a learning experience, but a nice one, for the 84-year-old Knight, who announced the winner of the best book for kindergarten-second grade and joked that he had "no idea what K-2 was until today." Knight, Rick Riordan, Jeff Kinney, Suzanne Collins and Walter Dean Myers were among the favorites who mingled happily with young fans at the Lighthouse event space on Chelsea Piers, overlooking the Hudson River.
With children serving as voters and stagehands, and no cash prizes, the children's book awards were as much excuse to have a good time as a chance for a given author to win.
"It's relaxing. There's not any pressure," said Kinney, author of the "Diary of a Wimpy Kid" series, which sold millions of copies. "It's just a lot of fun," he added as he cheerfully signed the autograph books handed out to attendees.
The stage was a childlike arrangement, with a castle cutout as a backdrop, and a reading chair on the side. There was musical entertainment, a Snooki impersonator and many tributes to books and reading.
The winners, by the way, included Johanna Kerby's "Little Pink Pup" for kindergarten to second grade, Jarrett J. Krosoczka's "Lunch Lady and the Summer Camp Shakedown" for third- to fourth-grade level, John Green's and David Levithan's "Will Grayson, Will Grayson" for favorite teen book and David Wiesner as best illustrator for "Art & Max."
Riordan won twice: "The Red Pyramid" was voted best fifth- to sixth-grade book and "The Lost Hero" brought Riordan honors for author of the year.
More than 500,000 kids nationwide, a record, voted for the prize, founded in 2008 by the nonprofit Children's Book Council.
One planned winner was uninvited. "Three Cups of Tea" co-author Greg Mortenson was supposed to receive an Impact prize for his work in getting schools built in Pakistan and Afghanistan. But after a "60 Minutes" investigation and a book by Jon Krakauer challenged the facts of "Three Cups of Tea" and the effectiveness of his school program, the council decided not to present the award "in the face of so many unanswered questions."
(This version CORRECTS title of award to "Children's Choice Book Awards" instead of "Children's Book Choice awards.")