The Eyes Behind the Prize

Alison Morris - January 15, 2008

I’m still reeling a bit from the surprises that came with yesterday’s announcement of the ALA’s biggest book awards. After months of speculating about the likelihood of The Invention of Hugo Cabret being awarded a Caldecott Honor at least, I was nevertheless shocked to see a Caldecott committee bold or forward-thinking enough to give it top billing. WOW!!

And THEN to have the Newbery committee make such an unusual and creative choice too?? I found it rather thrilling, to be honest with you. And I also found it quite satisfying for a different reason too. The editor of Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! at Candlewick Press is Mary Lee Donovan, who happens to be brilliant and long-overdue for accolades at exactly this level. While it’s true that Mary Lee is my editor and I therefore have some very personal insight into her talents, my editorial relationship with her has really only just begun. No, my knowledge of Mary Lee’s abilities comes primarily from the work I’ve done as a buyer and the conversations I’ve had with other people about Mary Lee’s editing skills. I see the types of books she chooses, I read the books she edits, and I’ve spoken with a lot of authors she’s worked with — all of whom seem to think she’s brilliant. Seeing the work Mary Lee gets out of them suggests that that is indeed the case. And now there are going to be a lot of shiny gold seals in the world acting as proof!

I rarely hear much discussion, at least among booksellers, about which editors are behind the books at the top of the annual heap, but the longer I’m in this business, the more I appreciate the part they’ve played in getting these books to that position. It’s in large part their eyes for talent and editorial instincts that make each year’s pool of potential award-winners such a deep one. So, authors, illustrators AND editors of the year’s best books (both those applauded today and those not) I tip my hat to you. Thanks for another great year of reading.

4 thoughts on “The Eyes Behind the Prize

  1. Tasha

    I was also shocked that The Invention of Hugo Cabret won, but for different reasons. For one, I thought the award was for picture books. This is clearly a novel that happens to have lots of pictures. Although I admire people who take chances and experiment with book forms, many of the drawing didn’t enhance or advance the storyline at all. Perhaps if it was a picture book instead of a “graphic” novel, it would have been a memorable, exceptional book. The story idea was certainly interesting, although I think the story could have been edited drastically. But kudos to Brian for thinking outside the box, and for Scholastic for putting money behind it to push a new book concept. Now hopefully other authors can work in this medium and improve upon it to create even more enticing stories. And how fun is it for readers to have pictures in novels?

  2. Bina

    I would not agree with Tasha’s remarks. The narrative weaves seamlessly between text and image throughout and ties in beautifully with the filmmaker’s theme and magic of the book. It does meet the following criteria found in Caldecott manual: A “picture book for children” as distinguished from other books with illustrations, is one that essentially provides the child with a visual experience. A picture book has a collective unity of story-line, theme, or concept, developed through the series of pictures of which the book is comprised.

  3. ShelfTalker

    Tasha AND Bina, What amazes me most is that an ENTIRE committee of people ultimately all agreed that the book not only fit the picture book criteria but fit it well enough to be considered “the most distinguished American picture book for children.” I figured that SOME committee members would think both those things were the case, but to have all of them finally reach that conclusion? I was surprised. And impressed.


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