Daily Archives: October 22, 2009

Thoughts on Newbery: Picture Books

Over at Heavy Medal, Jonathan has raised the issue of picture books and the Newbery.  It is a challenging one because the award criteria state, “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.”   At first Jonathan seemed to be suggesting that “primarily” meant that the art could be considered, but he has now conceded in the comments  that it cannot.  For those unfamiliar with the award, this is important to understand. Being on the Newbery is like being on a jury — the criteria, the process, and such are sacrosanct.  It is an extraordinary experience while being also at times frustrating as in this situation.  This situation being that you can only consider the text of a picture book, not the art, not the text and art as a whole entity.

Jonathan is a force to be reckoned with and has not allowed that pesky criteria to stop him from making a case for one picture book from this year, Ed Young’s Hook. In a second post Jonathan works hard on his arguments and ends by writing, “… if literature strives to explore what it means to be human, I don’t know of any story from this past year that does it as powerfully as this simple one.” So far he has yet to convince me. Hook is a remarkable and powerful book; text and art together create a moving and gorgeous aesthetic experience. I’ve been a longtime fan of Young’s art and admire tremendously this book and other recent ones.  But I’m not convinced that the text alone is as distinguished as other books I’ve read this year.

Jonathan was on the committee that gave a Newbery Honor to Jacqueline Woodson’s Show Way.  Now that one I can see, the text is gorgeous poetry and completely stands alone (lovely as the art is).  Young’s text for Hook, spare and elegant as it is, does not for me.  While Woodson’s text doesn’t need the art to soar, Young’s, to my mind, does. And that is as it should be — the aesthetic experience is both.

Is there another picture book from this year that can be considered?  I’ve been wondering about Brian Floca’s Moon Shot, but have yet to look at it carefully without the art.  The difficulty in finding such a book is, as Nina points out in a comment, that while some of the criteria may be covered in the text others (she notes characterization) are exclusively in the art.

It is a quandary.

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