Category Archives: awards

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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Today Show — No Newbery and Caldecott Award Winners?

Please, please don’t tell me Snookie bumped the Newbery and Caldecott winners from yesterday’s Today Show (as someone suggested to me on twitter when I wondered about the absence).  Hoping they might be on today I did a search, but there is nothing.  Not even something to inform those on the site about the winners.   As clumsy as some of those brief interviews from the past were they sure brought the award and children’s books to a much bigger audience than we ever could.

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The Quiet Before the Announcements

In less than 24 hours members of the 2011 Newbery and Caldecott Committees will be doing one of the coolest things ever — call their winners. And then shortly after that they will be at the press conference where the rest of us will learn of their decisions.  Today everyone involved will try to be nonchalant, try to go about their regular lives, and think of other things.  And tonight — I can only imagine how hard it must be to attempt to sleep with the knowledge that it just might be you that will get that call and then how hard to go on when you don’t.  My heart goes out to everyone involved this anxious day.  And my very best to all the writers, illustrators, editors, publishers, designers, marketers, publicists, agents and everyone else who work to create these wonderful books, these wonderful works of art, for children.

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Newbery Season

As we head into autumn, speculation about this year’s award winners is mounting (at least among those of us who are obsessed with such things).  The Cybils are getting underway, there’s a wonderful event attached to the Boston Globe-Horn Book awards this year at Simmons College, and the various ALA mock award groups are building steam.  One of my favorites is the Heavy Medal: A Mock Newbery Blog run by my pals Nina Lindsay and Jonathan Hunt.  Nina was chair of my 2008 Newbery Committee and Jonathan is one of my collaborators for the BoB.  Those that followed their blog last year know how smart and fun it was.  They’ve just opened it up for this year and I’m psyched!

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Thoughts on Newbery: Something Old or Something New?

2. Each book is to be considered as a contribution to American literature. The committee is to make its decision primarily on the text. Other components of a book, such as illustrations, overall design of the book, etc., may be considered when they make the book less effective.

That is the current criteria #2 for the Newbery award and I’ve written here before about my frustration with it. (Thoughts on Newbery: The Design Thorn.) As I complained in that post and Betsy Bird points out today, it keeps the committee from being able to recognize some of the most exciting books for children being created these days, those where art and design are intertwined with the text in original and innovative ways.

Betsy’s solution is a new award and while I’m absolutely fine with that something new, it doesn’t satisfy my problem with the something old — the Newbery.  After all, it is the most prestigious award for children’s books in this country.  It is the only one most people know. One Frederic G. Melcher proposed it to ALA and they approved it in 1922. This is from his formal agreement with the ALA board:

“To encourage original creative work in the field of books for children. To emphasize to the public that contributions to the literature for children deserve similar recognition to poetry, plays, or novels. To give those librarians, who make it their life work to serve children’s reading interests, an opportunity to encourage good writing in this field.”

“Original creative work for children.”   88 years ago Melcher and the others who created this award wanted books for children to be consider literature on the level of works for adults.  Can we agree that this is now moreso the case?  A few years back Anita Silvey wrote a provocative article asking if the Newbery had lost its way.  She felt it had because young people were not longer “rushing to read the latest Newbery winners.”  However, as many pointed out in response to the article, that wasn’t the original intent of the award at all.  Nor is it today.  If the books end up being popular, that is just grand. But the award isn’t about that; in fact, some of the least popular winners have been the most creative (say, ahem,  “my” winner).

But, to steal from Silvey, I do think the Newbery may be losing its way if it continues to leave art and design outside the circle of consideration.  Some of the most exciting and original books (and these are still very much books) for children being created today have these elements as integral parts. For those books not be recognized as the best because of this or for them to be recognized in spite of this frustrates me tremendously.

How to do it is a huge problem, I realize.  But I hope somehow it can be done so that the Newbery continues to truly recognize the most original and creative work for children of the year.

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Initials (with Apologies to the Creators of Hair)

MRE took the ACELA*
Down to DC USA
When she got there
What did she see?
The librarians of America at ALA

ALA ALSC
DC 95 DS**

ALA NCB***
DC 97 DS

ALA BBB****
ALA AAA*****

ALA CSK******
DC 99 DS

ALA PPP *******
ALA FFF ********

DC ACELA
NYC 62 DS

*poetic license
**degrees in the shade
*** Newbery Caldecott Banquet
**** books books books
***** authors authors authors
******Coretta Scott King Awards Breakfast
******* publishers publishers publishers
********friends friends friends

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Congratulations, Betsy Partridge!

Betsy’s Marching for Freedom, winner of SLJ’s 2010 Battle of the Kids’ Books, has won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize in the Young Adult Catagory.  Bravo!

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Thoughts on Newbery: Subjectivity

“Reading is subjective” is how Julius Lester begins his SLJ’s Battle of the Kids’ Books decision. It is, it is.  And this is why we have different books receiving different awards the same year.  It is why I might love this year’s Newbery winner yet you might not.  It is why the chances are good that two different groups of people might chose two different winners the same year (as happened with Heavy Medal here and here).

People have been surprised by some of the judges’ decisions at the Battle, but I’m not.  While I may not agree with their reasons I respect them.  Because they are doing what the Newbery Committee does every year.  Yes, unlike the Battle, there are criteria, but in the end each person has to figure out how their favorites work with that criteria.  And it isn’t just the Newbery.  It is true for all awards.  J.L. Bell wondered about The Storm in the Barn winning the Scott O’Dell because he didn’t think of it as historical fiction. However, the committee that gave it the award clearly thought it was.

When on the Newbery Committee you want to be able to listen, consider, and also be passionate about what you care about. Passion is all about subjectivity in the end, isn’t it?  So while you may not agree with Julius Lester today (and some clearly don’t) you have to acknowledge that he showed his cards in that very first sentence.  We are human. We care. We are subjective.

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The Children’s Book Committee Bank Street College of Education

This committee selects and awards a stellar collection of books.  Their annual awards breakfast is this coming Thursday, March 18th and you are invited! Sadly, I won’t be there (teaching, you know), but some day I hope I can make it as they’ve an excellent list (and the college is literally around the corner from my home).

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Behind the Scenes at the Awards

Thanks to ALA for this one (and Stacy Dillon for alerting me to it and pointing out that you can see the two of us very briefly at the end as we waited to get into the ballroom for the press conference).

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