The Oscars of Children’s Literature

Last year The Today Show noted that the Newbery and Caldecott children’s book awards are often called the “Oscars of children’s literature.” Certainly, the awards are highly regarded and, like the movie ones, result in significant increases in sales.  As of this writing, two weeks after the awards were announced, the Newbery winner, Moon Over Manifest, is number five and the Caldecott winner, A Sick Day for Amos McGee, number two on the New York Times best seller lists.  Yet despite the endless concern expressed about children (most recently by President Obama in his State of the Union address), the contrast between the media attention for this Monday’s announcement of the Oscar nominations versus that two weeks ago for the Newbery and Caldecott winners could not be more extreme.

This year, while the Today Show did enthusiastically cover the Oscar nominationsthey passed on those “Oscars of children’s books.” The result was a lot of discussion within the children’s book world as to whether it mattered or not.  Those who felt it did wrote letters and emails, started a Facebook campaign, and otherwise tried to get the show to reconsider.  Others argued that the brief and often awkward Today Show segments were no longer relevant and that there were plenty of other places to promote the books. Indeed the winners were celebrated in industry publications like PW, heavily blogged, enthusiastically twittered, celebrated on Facebook, and featured in other media outlets, old and new.

I’m one who feels the Today Show still matters. A lot. It matters because there are still many people who depend on it for their information. I’m thinking of parents, grandparents, teachers and other viewers who care about the children in their lives and pay attention when something related to them shows up on a major television show that they watch daily.  I am certain it meant something to them when the show took a few minutes to interview winners of awards they remembered from their own childhood.  I’m sure many of those busy folks getting ready for the day thought as they caught one of those brief segments: “Hmm…I need to check out those books for my kids/grandkids/class/friend’s kid” just as many of us thought this past Monday, “Hmm… I’ve got to check out True Grit/Social Network/The King’s Speech.”

Bottom line for me: giving children’s book awards even a smidgen of the attention the Oscars get sends a message that our children matter.

Cross posted at Huffington Post.

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11 Comments

Filed under awards, Huffington Post, Newbery

11 responses to “The Oscars of Children’s Literature

  1. No coverage for the children’s book awards on The Today Show: that is shocking. Have we become a nation of bullet heads?

  2. Mary Clark

    It bothered me that there was no coverage this year, but I realized it had something to do with the timing of the announcements. They were made after The Today Show was over that morning, and were stale news the next day, at least according to the news media. But this week it hit me that a once a year nod to the best children’s books isn’t what we need. We need you, or Lisa V., or Judy F., or another wonderfully eloquent and passionate proponent of children’s books to have a regular spot on The Today Show! Imagine even a monthly segment in which the audience hears about books their children or grandchildren would love to read! THAT is the Facebook campaign we need!

  3. Of course, I’d LOVE to do something like that! Last summer I did an NPR show on summer reading and had a blast. Would happily do it or more like it again. (In its defense, the Today Show does have Al Roker’s Book Club.)

  4. Yes, the Today show “matters” in the way you describe. It’s disappointing the winners didn’t get any attention there… or on ANY OTHER network morning show or network news show or any of the 24 hour cable news network shows that I know of. So, while I’m disappointed, I’m also trying to think about the “why” of it, since that seems like a pretty clear signal to me. Doesn’t that tell us something?

    I’m in the camp who thinks the segment was not good TV, as I’ve blogged about. But let’s simply look at is as cynics: if this WAS a successful segment for them, wouldn’t they keep doing it after 10 years of embracing it? Wouldn’t other shows want a piece of that pie? We can say it’s a self-fulfilling thang – they don’t cover it well so no one else cares – or we can set about figuring out how to give them something that meets their goals and ours, too.

    I think a trusted soucre like you or Al Roker on the show does more for children’s lit and getting the word out to adults (cuz kids aren’t the audience there) than interviews with winners folks have no relationship with. Kinda like how we usually see the actors interviewed after the Oscars and not a huge rush on the screenwriters…..

    My two cents, and glad to see the conversation ongoing.

  5. Greg, I get that they probably decided it wasn’t garnering the same sort of attention other interviews got and so decided to pass. But why couldn’t they have known this and STILL decided to continue the tradition? To recognize that doing so was taking the high road for just those three minutes. I mean, they promote all sorts of virtuous behavior on the show (even while also sending other sorts of messages a la Snooki:). Earnestly interview one person or another about their charity or something of that sort and tell viewers how they can help too. I just think that by having the winners on, by even mentioning them somewhere in the show and/or on their site (as they used to) they would have sent a message, a virtuous one, that they truly do think this matters. Are those three minutes so incredibly valuable that they couldn’t keep it going? If not the day after the announcement at some point that week? To me it wasn’t about ratings and commerce, but about something more intrinsic.

    And I think the Roker book club is something very different as it isn’t the sort of sound bite the three minute Newbery/Caldecott interviews were. (That said, as I wrote above, I’d LOVE to do something that would be more for the Today audience than the all-ready-won-over one we are part of already.)

  6. I think that is a very well written comparison, “The Oscars Of Children’s Literature.” I have thought of the Newbery medal like that before, but I never thought that anybody else would imagine it in that way. I really never did think of the Caldecott that way though. Now I do think of it, and it makes sense for the Caldecott to be named that.

  7. Monica, if it’s about something intrinsic, then I don’t understand why this conversation has been directed only at the Today Show. They became an easy target because they had been an ally and it appears they deserted us… but that seems to excuse everyone else. If it’s about betrayal, then it’s about the Today Show. If it’s about the fact that we wish that everyone would understand the impact WE see books have on children (who then become adults) or the fact that it would be a “virtuous” message to feature Newbery winners, then let’s focus on that. That issue is WAY beyond the Today Show only.

    You know, there’s probably some good parallel here with celebrity picture books and how so many in our industry seems to view them with umbrage. But hey, we should be on TV because it feels right to us. No, it’s not a perfect comparison, but I think it’s our disappointment about bigger issues that’s driving the anger here while keeping us from dealing with the TV business in the state it is AND how people react/interact with TV news and then seeing how we can work with it to get that positive message out there.

  8. This is certainly not about betrayal. Disappointment, yes. I see the Today Show as getting a particular audience that may otherwise not be in a place to hear about children’s books (and may not be seeking them out as such, but will listen if they are presented in something they watch anyway). And so I’m indeed disappointed that The Today Show (having a tradition that others did not have) did not see the good (in the charitable sense) that this segment provided. And my focus is on The Today Show because they let us down in this regard.

  9. I were the Today Show staff I’d hate the ALA awards section because we spring them on it every year, no time to read the book ahead of time, research the author, groom the author for a good interview, or do the kind of ground work that they know makes good journalism. They do care about kids and literacy, but they know those past segments were not their best work.

    So why put them in that spot. Why not have the ALA take over responsibility for taping 2, 3, 5, and 7 minute interviews with the authors the evening before. Then they can present the package to all the network and cable morning shows. A quality segment on an important topic and all they have to do is plug it into their program. Accompany it with text and jpegs of the author, the illustrator and the bookcovers, a video of the illustrator reading the book to children, an audio of the author reading her first chapter, all ready to plug into the show’s blog.

    That seems like a win for everyone involved.

  10. Pingback: The Oscars of Children's Literature « educating alice | The Oscars LIVE

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