04 February 2015

Library awards and graphic novels


Although it may seem strange to some folks the Superbowl was not the only big event in the world this week. No, in libraryland and in the publishing world ALA Midwinter occurred. And why is this a big event that people should care about? Because it's where the winners and honors of some of the major book awards, such as the Caldecott, Newbery, Printz, and many others are announced. And this year...this year some fantastic graphic novels won some of these awards. And yes...yes this is important and I'll explain why in a minute.

Some of the winners include:

  • This One Summer by Jillian Tamaki and Mariko Tamaki and published by First Second which won the Caldecott honor, which is awarded "to the artist of the most distinguished American picture book for children." It is the first graphic novel to ever win such an award (although The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick did win the award in 2008, it does not typically get classified as a true graphic novel, since it mixes written chapters with illustrated chapters.) Not only that, but the book also won a Printz honor, which is given for excellence in writing in young adult literature. It is only the second ever graphic novel to be given this award, the first being Gene Yang's American Born Chinese. This One Summer is a beautifully written and illustrated work by the Tamaki cousins and you can find my review of it here.
  • An award that I don't hear much about, but is important none the less, is the Batchelder award, which is given to the best book published in another language and then translated into English. And one of this year's honor winners was Hidden: A Child’s Story of the Holocaust by Loïc Dauvillier, Marc Lizano (Illustrations), Greg Salsedo (Ink), Alexis Siegel (Translator) and published by First Second. As far as I can find (and I maybe wrong on this) this is the first time that a graphic novel has ever been honored with this award. This is a moving and powerful book on what it's like to experience the Holocaust from the a child's perspective, something that I don't see much of.  You can find my review of it here.
  • The last major award is the Newbery award, which is given to the author of the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children.  Think about that for a second...distinguished contribution to American literature for children.  And for the first time ever a graphic novel won a Newbery Honor.  El Deafo by Cece Bell, which is written and illustrated based upon her experiences growing up with hearing problems and getting a hearing aid for the very first time and discovering it is like a superpower!  One that can be used for good, or for evil.
OK so graphic novels won awards, yay! Happens all the time right?  True, they do....but not generally from the library awards committees!  And why is that important?  Here are some of the previous winners of the Newbery awards:  The Giver by Louis Lowry, Holes by Louis Sachar, The Whipping Boy by Sid Fleischman, and Sarah, Plain and Tall by Patricia MacLachlan among countless others.   Caldecot winners? The Lion & the Mouse by Jerry Pinkney, The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg, Jumanji by Chris Van Allsburg, and Ox-Cart Man, illustrated by Barbara Cooney; text: Donald Hall, among many others.  How many of these titles do you recognize?  How many have you read or your kids read?  Probably close to all of them.  And why is that?  Oversimplifying a bit, but its because libraries typically buy and promote award winning books.  They know they've been vetted, have name recognition, and an award that a lot of folks will recognize.  And now graphic novels have cracked into the Newbery and Caldecott award winners.  This not only gives them instant recognition and status among libraries, but also allows them to start finding their way onto more shelves into more libraries.

These awards are like Hollywood status among books.  Rock stars, movie stars, famous athletes, etc. It gives them an instant cache among many people and a front of the line pass of "Oh you won that award! Well sure we can let you have a table now."  Should it take graphic novels winning awards to make their way onto library shelves? No...they shouldn't.  But it's a start to make inroads.  It's a start to get people to realize that graphic novels and comics aren't just superheroes or Archie comics.  That they are so much, much more.  And that even superheroes and Archie comics have changed drastically in the last 10 years! But that's a post for a different day.  

One day it will be common place for graphic novels to win awards like the Newbery, Caldecott, and Nobel Prizes.  But today is not that day.  Today we celebrate the books that are not only great works of literature, but have started breaking the barriers of awards.  That are proving that illustrated works are just as important as straight prose books.  That are finally allowing many authors, illustrators, educators, librarians, publishers to shout "Booyah! See we told you graphic novels were fantastic!" and then get back to work to continue the fight.

Congrats to the winners and may we see many, many more graphic novels in the years to come.  

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