Earlier this season, Robin tackled the definition of a picture book (as contrasted with an illustrated book) and then went on to consider the proliferation of graphic novel elements in picture books. I’d like to revisit these issues, but this time in light of the fact that this year has produced the most amazing crop of graphic novels in recent memory. And for my money the best of the bunch are Boxers & Saints by Gene Luen Yang and March: Book One by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell. Why shouldn’t these books contend for the Caldecott Medal? Because they’re not picture books?!? Pshaw!
Here’s the problem with that line of thinking: it’s a game of semantics. You don’t get to glom on to your favorite definition of what a picture book is, whether it’s what That Great Scholar said or This Great Illustrator said; Common Sense; Thirty-two Pages; or even what Most Picture Books Look Like. Rather, you have to go by the very broad definition listed in the Caldecott terms and criteria. It’s like an algebra equation: x + 5, let x = 13. It doesn’t matter if x in the previous ten equations was always 10. It doesn’t matter if 7 is your favorite number. It doesn’t matter if 0 makes it easier for you to solve. X=13. Period. End of discussion.
1. 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.
I don’t think anybody would seriously argue that the books I mentioned above do not “essentially provide children with a visual experience” or that they don’t “have a collective unity developed through the pictures.” So, instead people opt for circular reasoning by arguing that they are not “picture books.” Doesn’t work, folks. Onward.
- Excellence of execution in the artistic technique employed;
- Excellence of pictorial interpretation of story, theme, or concept;
- Appropriateness of style of illustration to the story, theme or concept;
- Delineation of plot, theme, characters, setting, mood or information through the pictures;
- Excellence of presentation in recognition of a child audience.
I don’t think we need to spend very much time discussing whether or not Boxers & Saints and March are distinguished in terms of these criteria. Their excellence is pretty self-evident. Some people will quibble with the audience for these books being middle school and junior high, but the Caldecott Medal, like the Newbery Medal, goes up to and includes the age of 14.
It’s true that it’s a strong year for conventional picture books, and I couldn’t fault the committee if it should recognize nothing but conventional picture books, but I do hope they will at least look outside the box. Because surely the artwork in Boxers & Saints and March is among the most distinguished of the year, and since there is no limitation as to the character of the book, it makes no sense to consider, say, Mr. Wuffles!, Bluebird, and Odd Duck but not Boxers & Saints and March.