Surprises, Relief, and Some Questions on Awards Morning

Elizabeth Bluemle - February 13, 2018

The big awards for the ALA Youth Media were announced on Monday morning, and like many of you, I was glued to the awards webcast. I did pretty well with some of my predictions, and completely missed others.
Award morning is a heart-in-your-throat time for children’s book lovers. Will your favorites get the recognition they deserve? Some books you know absolutely must win awards because, for one good reason or another, they stand head and shoulders above the crowd. The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill was one of those books last year; The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas was one this year. Then there are books you have a deep and special love for but think might slide under the radar; Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut by Derrick Barnes and Gordon C. James was one of these for me. I had loved the bright, alive, fresh language and the gorgeous art; this book was unlike any other picture book of the year, a real standout, but since many of my colleagues hadn’t read it yet, I worried it might be similarly under-noticed by librarians. Not to worry. What a joy to see Crown sweep four awards: Coretta Scott King Author Honor, King Illustrator Honor, Caldecott Honor, and Newbery Honor!
Then there are books that get big buzz early in the year. This early buzz can be tricky; will a whiz-bang January or February book seem like old news by award time the following winter? This was my worry for Jason Chin’s spectacular Grand Canyon, which came out a full year ago. I was ready to picket the ALA if this book got overlooked by the Caldecott committee. With its incredible, beautiful detail and a gatefold spread that actually manages to convey the scope and grandeur of the Grand Canyon (in a book! no small feat, my friends), this picture book was absolute Caldecott material: distinguished, indeed. I am so relieved the committee kept it foremost in their minds through months of deliberations. We are delighted that Jason is a Vermonter, because now we get to bask in the reflected glory of that shiny medal. When I called Josie to tell her Jason had won the award, she reminded me that we had first met him years ago when he was a young bookseller at Books of Wonder in NYC. We’d loaded up on autographed books to send home to Vermont, and felt bad that this really nice guy had to search all over the back office for shipping forms. Little did we know then that the guy would turn out to be Jason Chin, and that he and his family would move to Vermont and bring illustrator glory to our little state. Congratulations, Jason!
I also worried about Deborah Heiligman’s fabulous Vincent and Theo, which came out last April. Happily, the librarians also had long memories for this book, and it took home both the YALSA Excellence in Nonfiction Award and a Printz Honor.
Congratulations to the full slate of award winners, who can all be found here. It’s a great list of books!
Surprises: Dan Santat’s awards-buzz picture book After the Fall was absent from the lists, which was a bit of a surprise since it won several Mock Caldecott awards. I completely missed reading Hello, Universe, so the Newbery gold took me by surprise. I’m very much looking forward to reading it! There were some surprising omissions from the awards. American Street by Ibi Zoboi was nowhere to be seen, to my chagrin, and I was sad not to see  the excellent Purloining of Prince Oleomargarine by Mark Twain, Phillip C. Stead, and Erin Stead recognized anywhere. I also love Why Am I Me? by Paige Britt, Selina Alko, and Sean Qualls, and had hoped it would land somewhere in the lists so that kids, parents, and teachers all over the country would discover it.
Were there books you were surprised to see overlooked for the awards?
There will be some continued lively discussions, I suspect, about men and Caldecott medals. Back in 2010, I wrote a ShelfTalker post breaking down some of the award winners (Newbery, Caldecott, and Printz) by gender. I will revisit that breakdown and bring it up to date. The Caldecott medals in particular seem to favor male artists, and this year, Caldecott Honor medalist Thi Bui is the sole woman in the mix. It’s not that the male winners of the awards year after year don’t deserve those awards; there is glorious art being made. But the balance is so lopsided it begs the question: why do so few women win awards for their children’s book illustration? In the spirit of celebrating our best and brightest, here are a few female illustrators I think are overdue for some Calde-love: Barbara McClintock is on my list, as is Grace Lin. And how has Maira Kalman never sported a Caldecott gold or silver on her dust jackets?
What female illustrators would you like to see win the Caldecott?

7 thoughts on “Surprises, Relief, and Some Questions on Awards Morning

  1. Timothy Tocher

    I was disappointed not to see Wishtree and After the Fall recognized. The winners are worthy, though, which shows the depth of quality to choose from. Congratulations to all the professionals who keep the bar high in children’s literature.

  2. Jennifer Sauter-Price

    I too was pulling for Why Am I Me? and also Little Fox in the Forest, which I discover something new everytime I read it.

  3. Melissa Posten

    I was disappointed to not see Patina or Orphan Island on lists, in addition to Wishtree. With all the middle grade that was published this year, not one title was deemed worthy for a Newbery Honor?

  4. Ellen Mager

    I loved Jerry Spinelli’s THE WARDEN’S DAUGHTER which, again was from the beginning of the year.
    As for female illustrators I have a true fan of anything that Jane Dyer and Eliza Klevan has painted. Patricia Polacco is another favorite for stories she has written as well as painted.


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