Fuse #8

Monday, March 19, 2007

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.

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At 6:40 AM , Blogger Mikalroy said...

Opening the awards to books first published elsewhere, or published by non-US citizens doesn't mean that the committees would now have to read every English-language book published in the world. The titles would still have to appear from a US publisher. (Or am I misunderstanding this?)

And how many imported titles are published in the US in a given year, anyway? Not that many outside the categories of fantasy, thriller, and horror. The Printz committee hasn't gone down screaming because of all the books under consideration; the same will hold true of the other award committees.

This would allow committees consideration of, say, FLY BY NIGHT, or of titles published by multi-national imprints such as The Chicken House. Seems to me the sort of change that would make for a stronger award, one more representative of the best books published for children in the US each year.

At 9:17 AM , Blogger Chris Barton said...

"Canada has the Governor General's Literary Award. England the Carnegie Medal ... Australia the Children's Book of the Year Awards."

I guess I should have assumed all this, but it was still news to me. Instead of ALA making its awards more global (which, as you point out, would mean a lot more work for the unpaid committee), why doesn't it just do more to promote the winners of the Canadian, U.K., and Australian awards to the U.S. market?

At 9:26 AM , Blogger MotherReader said...

I second Chris Barton in his suggestion.

I also feel that if it were opened up to other countries there would be even more of a chance that no one would have ever heard of the book.

Personally, I'd love to see the Newbery deliberations later in the year so that more people would have had a chance to even know about the books being discussed. It seems like far too often the book comes out of left field, and I'm guessing that is because the book hasn't hit the libraries yet. Hello, it's American Library Association award. Maybe there should be a fighting chance that the librarians in the trenches have read the book.

The Oscars are in March, no one complains that they're too late in the year. Only that they are too long.

At 9:40 AM , Blogger Liz B said...

I just posted about this over at my blog.

I think it should be opened up beyond US authors & residents; the Printz is, so why not the Newbery & Caldecott?

As for the changing ages, I agree with you 90 percent, with a 10 percent concern that recent trends with Printz winners are about the older YA readership and that some darn fine middle school novels would get neglected.

I hope they take a second look at the Newbery is for words, Caldecott is for pictures divide, so that graphic novels aren't shut out of consideration.

At 9:51 AM , Blogger Jennifer Schultz said...

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At 9:57 AM , Blogger Jennifer Schultz said...

Michael, the article is quite brief and vague (it's not even a full page article-it's in a boxed section in the news section). The article reminds us of the requirements-that the book must be published in the US by a citizen or resident-and then quotes Kathleen Horning (ALSC president) as saying that changing the requirements is "up for discussion." An ALSC task force is studying the issue and will make its recommendations to the ALSC board, which will have the final say. It does not say one way or the other about the publisher requirements, just that the task force is reconsidering the requirements.

If only the requirement about residency was changed, would the charge to committee members change all that drastically? I'm not asking a rhetorical question, because I honestly don't know. If the requirements about residency and publisher were changed, I think that would be very problematic.

The award was created to encourage US publishers to seek out and publish quality children's literature written by authors in the United States. If the charge is still placed on US publishers (minus the author residency requirement), then I think that will keep in line with the orginial mission and recognize that US publishing is more global than it was in the 1920s.

But maybe this is just a tempest in a teapot, and the task force will not recommend changing the requirements. I'm trying not to read too much into Kathleen Horning's comments.

At 10:14 AM , Blogger fusenumber8 said...

Thank you, Jennifer. That was my point as well. The article is so very vague that we've no sense of how big a change we might be facing. Ms. Horning does, on occasion, read this blog so I was kind of hoping she might clarify the situation. Are we talking about residency or where a book is originally published? Because of the mention of "Chicken House", it sounds to me as if they're considering both, which would carry all kinds of implications.

At 10:42 AM , Blogger fusenumber8 said...

I just wrote this on Tea Cozy, but I figure it fits in here as well. Argue with me at will, peeps.

A co-worker of mine had a really good point about the Printz today. Consider, if you will, the fact that there are far fewer halfway decent YA novels out there when compared to children's younger and middle grade titles. The Printz committee has a MUCH easier time of it when you take that into account. The sheer volume of children's books vs. teen titles shows that there really is no comparison. So bringing up the Printz, while valid, isn't entirely fair.

Your point about whether middle grade novels might be overlooked by the Printz is incredibly valid. Maybe they would be. I'm just tired of books for teens winning the biggest children's award we have. Then again, we don't want to create some kind of Middle Grade Award, so there's probably no easy solution.

At 11:32 AM , Blogger Matt Holm said...

"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."

Unclear? Maybe on the surface. But the second you look at the actual book contracts, it's generally quite clear whether a book is being published in the U.S., the UK, Germany,... Ask any author, publisher, or agent, and they'll be able to tell you whether their book is a U.S. book or not; large amounts of money hinge on such distinctions.

And I'm sure the Federal Government could tell you whether a publisher is U.S.-based or not. There's too much paperwork involved for people not to know.

At 11:49 AM , Blogger adrienne said...

One thought is that the Notable Books Committee members are already considering the, for want of a better term, foreign titles in question, and those committee members serve two-year terms. Granted, they don't have the pressure of picking the *one* best, but, still, they need to carefully consider a whole lotta stuff to come up with their list every year. So it seems to me that there is a precendent and people we could talk to about how this would change the volume of material under consideration for the Newbery Committee.

I agree with Fuse that I'd rather see the age level changed than the birthplace of the title in question. At this point, you don't see too many really excellent titles not being recognized. Still, it gives me a little bit of a wobbly feeling in my stomach to think of changing the criteria for such a well-established, historic award. I'm usually all about changing stuff, but this idea gives me pause.

Re: MoReader's spot-on comment about the timeframe, most of the committees face the issue that fall is a HUGE publishing season, which means that after months of work, the committees find themselves swimming in boxes of new material at the end of the year when they, themselves, only have weeks to finish reading and deliberating. When I was on Notable Recordings, I kept wondering why they don't go ahead and think about shifting mid-winter to the end of January or very beginning of February. On the one hand, this is something that would matter vastly more to ALSC and YALSA than it would to the other sections, but, honestly, what activities at mid-winter get the most attention outside the library community? It would give librarians not serving on committees more of a chance to try to keep up with what committees are considering, and it would also give committee members more space in which to give things careful consideration, which would make a change like Horning's talking about more reasonable.

At 11:50 AM , Blogger adrienne said...

"Precendent"? I almost sounded half-way intelligent. Curse the lack of an automatic spell-checker on my machine at work. (I have this on my laptop at home now, and it is brilliant.)

At 7:18 PM , Blogger Abby said...

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...

Wouldn't that be a fabulous job?

At 7:28 PM , Blogger Roger Sutton said...

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At 7:34 PM , Blogger Roger Sutton said...

I'm not even sure which piece of this news to tackle, as it is, as pointed out above, awfully vague. But here are two points to think about. I want to preface them with the prediction that the criteria for the ALSC Awards will not change. It's so much easier just to add a new award. ;-)

What does "published in the United States" mean? Right now, it means that books, even those by U.S. citizens, published by Canadian publishers such as Groundwood, are not eligible because although the company is incorporated in the U.S. and its books are sold in the U.S., its editorial offices are in Canada. So much for NAFTA! (And if you really want to light a fire under the dragons, why not question the fact that contenders must be in English?) Note, too, that the Carnegie Medal may go to a non-U.K. writer (Sharon Creech and Margaret Mahy, for example) and it can go to a book first published abroad so long as U.K. publication follows within three months.

Second, I would have a hard time accepting a change from "up through 14" to "up through twelve" because it would put the award at odds with ALSC's designated service range of birth through fourteen (overlapping YALSA for the 12-14-year-olds). Past attempts to give over, or take back, this middle-school audience by either ALSC or YALSA have always failed--mostly because such a variety of age-level specialists serve this group, and the kids themselves are at an in-between phase, so why not acknowledge that in our professional association?

Okay, a third point and slightly off-topic, but . . . I'm not sure about MotherReader's implication that if more librarians had a chance to read more of the year's books, the Newbery choice might not come as such a surprise. I suppose mathematically that's true, but is it surprise or disagreement that's really at issue here? Nobody ever intended the Newbery to reflect a professional consensus, and will a later decision date really change the hearts and minds of the fifteen committee members?

At 10:06 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Okay, what about a separate Newbury for picture book texts? Since aside from Nancy Willard's win, picture books seem to be largely ignored by the Newbury commitee.
As for the international aspect of opening up the Newbury award - what about the availability of books from other countries? Strictly from a librarian viewpoint, books might be difficult to obtain for patrons, etc. And really - what is intrinsically wrong with having an award for American writers only? Can we never celebrate anything in without guilt?

At 10:07 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Did I seriously just spell Newbery wrong about a million times. Forgive. Wine with dinner.

At 10:39 PM , Blogger J. L. Bell said...

I'm tickled by the historical fact that the Newbery and Caldecott were created to bring attention to and reward American children's books since--alone among national book awards, as far as I can tell--they're named for people from another country.

How about this? The ALA grants the Newbery and Caldecott names to IBBY or another international group, which then gives those awards to the best children's books published in English anywhere in the world two years ago; and the ALA creates new awards for US titles named after American notables.

At 9:24 AM , Blogger MotherReader said...

To address Roger's thought about whether it was surprise or disagreement, let me say "surprise."

(Disagreement is another issue altogether.)

I realize that the Newbery isn't suppose to reflect professional consensus or that the later date wouldn't change the minds of the members. My point is less about how it would effect the selection of the award, and more about how to keep the award feeling relevant to the librarians that the committee is supposed to represent.

I think that its notable that with all the kid lit bloggers and Mock Newbery awards going on, that no one guessed the winner. I only saw it reviewed on one blog. (I do know it was in Horn Book.) I don't remember seeing it on any Best of 2006 lists either. The only librarians likely to have seen the book were the ones who received review copies.

At least with the Oscars, you can complain that you didn't see the movies, but you've usually known it exists.

At 10:45 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

What about Britain's Carnegie Award? Although Andrew Carnegie was born in Scotland, he emigrated to the U.S. as a boy, and is most widely known as an American industrialist and philanthropist.

The names of the American awards were chosen by bookseller Frederic Melcher who created both awards. He had his reasons for both names -- he saw them as representing high standards for American publishers, authors, and illustrators to strive for. At that time, there really wasn't an established body of American children's literature, so it's not surprising that names were borrowed from the English.

In 1937, the Children's Library Section wanted to call the new award for illustration the L. Leslie Brook Award (another British illustrator who these librarians apparently admired more) but Melcher insisted it be named for Caldecott. (It's actually refreshing to see a donor come up with a name other than his own.)

As for the ALSC Awards Eligibility Task Force, a small part of their charge is to consider the existing eligibility requirements for Newbery and Caldecott, and that's certainly the part of their charge that caught the imagination of the SLJ web reporter. For the Newbery/Caldecott/Sibert/Geisel, they are just looking at the residency/citizenship part, and the "first published in the U.S." part. They have not been charged to look at the age limits part, for the reasons Roger Sutton so clearly laid out. To give you an example of some of the issues that have come up: for Sibert and Geisel, which goes to both author and illustrator, we have had situations where the author is American and the illustrator is British, rendering the entire book ineligible.

They are also looking at the eligibility of eBooks, not as sexy a subject, but just as necessary for the smooth running of the committees.

And a big portion of their charge is to take a look at elibility requirements for the Batchelder Award, which are by far the trickiest due to changes in global publishing. For example, as the requirements now stand, the book must be first published in English in the United States. Some publishers today are co-publishing English translations with companies in other English-speaking nations and these books are, technically, ineligible for the Batchelder. In addition, the book must first be published in a foreign language in a foreign country, which makes a book such as last year's "Emil and Karl" ineligible since it was first published in the U.S. in Yiddish in 1942. The terms for Batchelder eligibility were written int he late 1960s, and, with the changes, in the publishing world since then, it's certainly time to revisit them.

I hope this will give you a sense of the sorts of issues we've been addressing in ALSC, and which the Task Force is looking at in more depth. They are now in the process of surveying former award committee chairs and ALSC leaders, and will have a report ready for the ALSC Board at Annual. At this point, I have no idea what they'll recommend, but do know that they'll be the best-informed five people on these issues in ALA.

At 11:22 AM , Blogger fusenumber8 said...

Very informative stuff through and through. I liked the points about why switching the ages might be a bit difficult these days. I'm still of the opinion that something should be done, but I understand that tweens are forever lost in the shuffle and we probably don't want to go about creating a Tween Award ("And the Lindsay Lohan Medal of 2008 goes to...).

What I would like to see at this point is a prediction of what will happen if the floor is opened up. Is this something that will significantly change the award playing field or just something inevitable that will merely make the process fairer for all?

Jane Yolen also pointed out to me that Britain's Carnegie can go to an American and, indeed, has. I got thrown by the requirement that the books be published in Britain in tandem with other countries. I wonder if the new standards adopted by ALSC would mimic this.


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