I spent two hours on Monday morning watching the announcements of the ALA Youth Media Awards (plus the PreGame and PostGame shows with Betsy Bird and Lori Prince). It was so much fun. For once, I was glad Aaron did not have to be to school until 9:00.
The awards surprised and delighted and irritated me. I haven't read enough to be an authority on any of the awards, but I have still have opinions about the Geisel, Caldecott, and Newbery, so I'll share my thoughts on those.
First, the Theodore Seuss Geisel award.
You are (Not) Small won the medal and Waiting is Not Easy and Mr. Putter and Tabby Turn the Page won honors. We've read (and loved) all three of them.
You are (Not) Small is clever and funny, and I love it when a picture book gets the easy reader award. Let this be a lesson (once again) that the easy reader section of the library is not always the best place to find easy readers.
I bought Waiting is Not Easy after getting fed up with waiting for my turn at the library (the irony did not escape me . . . ), and I'm glad we own it.
Since we are loyal Elephant & Piggie and Mr. Putter & Tabby fans, I was thrilled to see both of these books honored but also a little disappointed too. Year after year we see Mo Willems take away Geisel awards, and Cynthia Rylant is also a household name in the easy reader department (although I believe this is only her second Geisel). They deserve all the praise and attention they get, but there's a part of me that wonders, Where's the competition?
The beginning reader stage is such a critical point in a reader's development. We need strong books that will be both engaging and simple. I would love to see some other authors step it up for future years.
Next up, the Randolph Caldecott award.
The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend won the medal, and six books (six! SIX!) came away with honors: Nana in the City, The Noisy Paint Box, Sam & Dave Dig a Hole, Viva Frida, The Right Word, and This One Summer.
Out of all these, we'd read a whopping two (The Adventures of Beekle and The Noisy Paint Box). I'm feeling extremely annoyed and frustrated with our library right now. I wouldn't have expected to have read This One Summer (it's a teen graphic novel), but yes, the others I would have hoped I could have read earlier in the year. I'd definitely heard about all the others (except for Nana in the City, which our library doesn't even have in their system), but my turn just hasn't come up for them (I have literally been waiting for Sam & Dave for over three months (since October 25th), and I'm still #15 on the list). I know I shouldn't be annoyed since the library is free and all, but seriously? I really would have loved to have read these books before they won.
Out of the 2014 picture books that I did get to read, Beekle was not my favorite, but I have no real complaints about it. It was cute, and I'm looking forward to reading it again.
And as far as a teen graphic novel winning a Caldecott Honor? I have no doubt the illustrations probably are splendid, but I am still not okay with that.
Finally, the John Newbery award:
The Crossover won the medal and Brown Girl Dreaming and El Deafo won honors.
I'm a little scared to talk about this one since my irritation has only been mounting in the days since the awards were announced.
But before I get to that, let me say that I am ecstatic about Jacqueline Woodson's Honor for Brown Girl Dreaming (it also won the Coretta Scott King award, a Sibert Honor and, earlier, the National Book Award). It was one of my very favorite reads from last year, and I even bought my own copy soon after finishing it (and when it comes to buying books, I am rather stingy, so that's saying something). It was a gorgeous memoir, and I highly, highly recommend it.
In fact, my irritation actually has almost nothing to do with the winners themselves. Even though I haven't read The Crossover or El Deafo, I've heard high praise for both of them, and I'm anxious and excited to read them just as soon as I can. (I do have my doubts about a graphic novel (El Deafo) being able to stand on its own without the pictures, but I'll reserve any opinions on that until after I've read it.)
No, my irritation stems from two other areas.
First, that only two books received honors. For the record, I thought the Caldecott's six honors was a little over the top, but only two honors? With so many amazing books published last year, it just seemed rather skimpy. And, you may have noticed, the awards went to one graphic novel and two verse novels with nary a traditional novel in sight.
Which brings me to my second point of irritation:
Since Monday, I've read various opinions about the awards, and people have been throwing around words like, "game changing!" "groundbreaking!" "diverse!" They've been saying things like, "Wow, that committee really made a statement."
Seriously?! Is that what these awards have come down to? Making a statement?
Have we now gone from honoring the "most outstanding contributions in children's literature" to "making a statement"?
Don't get me wrong--I am happy to see authors of all races, religions, and opinions being recognized. I am happy to see books featuring diverse people and situations receiving medals. I am happy to see many different genres earning notice. But . . .
But . . .
I would sincerely hope that the award isn't purposely being jammed and twisted and forced onto a certain book that it doesn't fit simply in order to make it "groundbreaking."
Like I said before, I'm not saying that the books that were chosen weren't the most distinguished. I'm just scared by the words I'm hearing. It seems like everyone is focusing more on how much the envelope can be pushed and less about the actual literary merits of a particular work. I get that a committee is made up of individuals with their own personalities and interests, so it makes sense that some books are going to be favored more one year than another. But I'm scared because, since the committee went with one winner and only two honors, even I'm inclined to think they were trying to make a statement--to make it glaringly obvious that they were trying to create a nontraditional year.
I want to wish my heartiest congratulations to all the winners. They deserve all the praise and attention they're receiving.
But I also want to go on record as saying that I still believe a traditional novel can be distinguished.
I would absolutely love to hear your thoughts about the 2015 ALA Youth Media Awards. Mike cares very little about these awards, and I'm dying to talk to someone else about them!