This is a perennially thorny subject, one that’s been aired before. But. Seeing the gender disparity amongst Caldecott winners this starkly expressed is kind of hard to ignore.
Do we want to take this on again? Has anything changed since Roger’s 2007 blog post? Thom Barthelmess, past president of ALSC and currently curator of the Butler Children’s Literature Center at Dominican University, looked at 75 years of Caldecott winning books and made this slide for a 2012 power point presentation on “Caldecott Culture” (delivered at the Center for Children’s Literature at Carthage College in Kenosha, Wisconsin).
I asked him recently what might account for such a significant disparity:
THOM: “It’s such a curious phenomenon to me, Martha, and a real puzzlement. When I gave the talk I invited the audience to think with me about what was going on. We came up with a bunch of possible factors, most of them questions: What is gender breakdown of picture book illustrators in general? What is the gender breakdown of art school illustration students? Are these groups predominantly male, too? What do we make of the predominantly female makeup of the Caldecott committee? What role does that play? Are there trends in illustrative style or approach that follow gender lines? Might those trends line up with what the committee is looking for? Might men have an easier time getting a ‘distinctive’ manuscript published? One thing that seems sure is that there are probably lots of things at play at once. What I found especially surprising is that the gender gap is actually increasing over time. Men have always predominated, but the difference is especially marked over the last few decades.”
I agree, that last point surprises me as well. What is going on?
(Just to be clear that this is not solely a Caldecott phenomenon, but a more pervasive picture-book phenom, I examined the 2013 picture books we starred at The Horn Book through this illustrator-gender-disparate lens, and the tally is: men, 15; women, 6.)