On Monday, February 2, the ALA Youth Media Awards will be announced. I’ll be watching the live webcast and chatting with my nerdy friends on Twitter as the announcements are made. I’m interested in all of the awards, for different reasons.
The Printz is important to my work in Adolescent Literature. When I look through the recent Printz medal and honor books, I find very few books that I really love, though many that I admire. Even though I rarely love a book that wins the Printz, I do adore the committees that select the Printz. Surely no committee works harder to find books that no one has ever heard of to honor. They leave no stone unturned! The Printz is often so far out there that I never bother even speculating about what might win or having favorites. There are sometimes even books on the list that I’ve never read so much as a single review of (hello, White Bicycle!), which is surprising given how much my nerdy PLN reads and reviews.
The Newbery is usually much less of a surprise, and sometimes I’ve even read the medal winner, as I read widely in the middle-grade fiction that Newbery so loves. It’s strangely delightful to have already read the book that wins. I don’t quite understand that particular pleasure, but it is a pleasure.
And then there is the Caldecott. Along with the Sibert, it is the only award where I will most likely have already read the winner and all of the Honor books. (Or they will already be sitting on my shelf, ready to be read.) It is also the only award that I have very strong opinions about every year.
The Caldecott has a much better track record when it comes to honoring nonfiction than either the Printz or the Newbery. Most Caldecott committees honor one nonfiction book even if nonfiction rarely wins gold. Out of 71 winners and honor books since 2000, the Printz has only managed to honor 4 nonfiction books, 5 if you count Heart to Heart: New Poems Inspired by Twentieth-Century American Art. Nonfiction doesn’t fare much better with Newbery, which is especially disappointing given how much very fine nonfiction is published for the under-14 set.
I wonder why the major awards tend to discount nonfiction. I wonder if we assume that nonfiction cannot provide the kind of absorbing reading experience that we know fiction provides or if we believe that literary fiction is more prestigious. Do we overlook the ways that nonfiction must also incorporate the qualities discussed in the awards criteria? With the Caldecott, in particular, do we focus too much on the information in an informational book at the expense of noticing what the art is doing?
Genre diversity isn’t the only kind of diversity I’ll be thinking about on Monday. The Printz, Newbery, and Caldecott all have a dismal track record when it comes to honoring books by authors and illustrators of color. It’s so bad, in fact, that I often wonder why that’s not the only thing people notice about these awards.
When we talk about how #weneeddiversebooks, we also need to talk about how we need librarians to “bless” diverse books with major awards. We need the almost all-white committees that select the winners of the Printz, Newbery, and Caldecott medals to reflect more deeply about white privilege, reading preferences, and prejudices. It’s all well and good to say that these awards aren’t about race, that readers are colorblind when they read. But considering ourselves colorblind while enjoying all the privileges of being white–being able to find thousands of books every year written by people who look like us and featuring characters who look like us, for example–is the very definition of white privilege. And if these awards were truly color-blind, could the lists of awards winners really be so blindingly white year after year after year?
Talking about the whiteness of the major ALA awards makes people uncomfortable–but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be talking about it.
Here are five picture books that I hope to see honored on Monday: