Our Shifting Standards
This is big.
This is very big.
Credit Jennifer Schultz for applying a hot branding iron to my lethargic lardish tookus in terms of a relatively recent Newbery/Caldecott announcement.
According to the March issue of School Library Journal, and I quote:
Currently, only books first published in the U.S. by American citizens or residents qualify for the Newbery and Caldecott—but that could change if the task force recommends expanding who's eligible for the prestigious awards. “It's up for discussion,” says Horning. “And it's possible that the task force will recommend we open up the Newbery and Caldecott." The ultimate decision, however, will be made by ALSC's board.This will apply to the Robert F. Sibert, the Theodor Seuss Geisel, the Laura Ingalls Wilder, and the Mildred L. Batchelder awards (not the Printz since YALSA controls that area) as well.
Ladies and gentlemen, what we are dealing with here is an issue of massive importance. The justification surrounding such a potential move (as stated in the February 2007 issue) is that initially the awards were created so as to give American children's books a chance on the marketplace. To prove that we were just as good as the Brits, so to speak. "Now that the Newbery and Caldecott awards have accomplished their missions, 'the time has come for us to discuss [making changes],' explains [ALSC President K.T.] Horning." Mission accomplished? I see. Fantasies aside, I suppose America has done rather well for itself. And apparently the publishing world is flat to boot. "With the growing globalization of publishing, it became increasingly difficult to define a U.S. publisher, Horning says. It was unclear, for example, whether companies such as The Chicken House, based in England and a partner of the U.S. firm Scholastic would qualify for eligibility, she explains."
So what is the purpose of the ALA Awards anyway? If you say it's to promote good children's books, then why limit it solely to American titles?
It seems to me that just from a practical standpoint, there are some very good reasons for limiting these awards to the home team. I served only half a year on the Newbery committee, but by the end of my term I was swimming a light backstroke through a sea of books. Committees have a hard enough time considering all the American books they're sent. Throw in publishers from Canada, Britain, and Australia and watch the committee members die from a case of slow suffocation in a manner of days. How on earth would anyone be able to seriously consider books from more than one country in the course of a year? Perhaps if ALSC was willing to pay a salary to its committee members, thereby allowing them a chance to give up their jobs for a year so as to live and breathe the books, only then would this be a possibility.
Then there's the question of the major children's awards in other countries. Canada has the Governor General's Literary Award. England the Carnegie Medal (and one of the judges even has a blog). Australia the Children's Book of the Year Awards. Do any of these awards allow for judges to consider books from other countries? They do not. Which makes me wonder whether they too are considering revising their standards in the wake of this quote unquote "global economy".
So who wins here? Certainly if you asked me I'd agree that The Golden Compass deserved to win a big beautiful award all on its own. Sure. But in retrospect it didn't need the help. And certainly we could create an award for English-language titles from other countries (since the Mildred L. Batchelder Award only covers translated foreign titles) but we're getting to the point where more and more awards are being added every year. I mean, we're desperately in need of a good Graphic Novel Award (which I predict will arrive in approximately 10 years). Then again, I doubt anyone, aside from Weston Woods, would cry too hard if the Andrew Carnegie Medal was pulled. Since 2000 they've won six out of seven times. We may as well rename it The Weston Woods Award at this point and get it over with.
I hate to be all U.S.A.! U.S.A.! but I see no reason to change our standards at this point in the game. ALSC has been lovely about dealing with committee bloggers. And something will have to be written in terms of ebooks and whether or not they qualify for major awards. Still, for all that it may be difficult to determine the eligibility of those authors and illustrators who live in multiple countries. If someone happens to have Italian citizenship but resides half the year in America, where is their book eligible for an award? Perhaps we should reconsider our standards regarding our authors/illustrators but maintain that a given book should be published in America on its first printing so as to remain eligible.
Here's my real beef. The Newbery Award SHOULD be changed to apply to books between the ages of 0-12. At this point in time it goes until the age 14, which was fine and all in 1922 but since the birth of The Printz Award is a bit of a moot point. It leads to Kira-Kira and Criss Cross winners. Yet when I once suggested to a friend that the age range be changed, I was told that this could never happen because it would mean the the past winners would end up looking bad. So imagine the complications involved in changing the bloody eligibility of foreign titles!!! It's immense. If the ALSC committee wishes to make a significant change, consider mucking with the age levels first. Then if you want to make it so that Philip Reeve and such n' so can compete for a shiny gold sticker, all power to you. First things first, after all.