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>Prizing Graphic Novels

>With award season upon us, I’m beginning to think about just how graphic novels might fare in January’s ALA Awards.

While I’m sure we’ll see them on various Notable and Best lists, the odds are against them when it comes to the Newbery, Caldecott, and Printz.

Here’s the problem: the Newbery Medal is for text; the Caldecott is for illustrations. In neither case is the award for the whole book. (Each award goes to the author or illustrator who created the text or pictures for a book, not to the book itself, and is not shared with the author of a picture book or the illustrator of a Newbery winner.) This situation is of course thought goofy by all right-minded people, and while discussion of changing the award criteria comes up periodically, easier–far, far easier–said than done.

You can see how graphic novels are excluded from the Newbery, since the text without the pictures and placement would be unreadable. The Caldecott, though . . . . That, I’m guessing is going to depend upon any given committee’s reading of ALSC’s definition of “picture book.” ALSC defines it as a book “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,” and adds that picture books appropriate for older children (through age 14) are eligible. Sounds like graphic-novel territory to me.

The Printz throws a different hurdle in the graphic novel’s path. Although the criteria hang considerably looser (and I wish somebody would finally get around to copyediting that page) than those for the ALSC awards, there is that sticky designation of eligibility: “To be eligible, a title must have been designated by its publisher as being either a young adult book or one published for the age range that YALSA defines as “young adult,” i.e., 12 through 18. Adult books are not eligible.” To my mind, this excludes the National Book Award finalist American Born Chinese, whose publisher, First Second, does not give age or grade ranges to its titles. (And good for them.) While some graphic novels are firmly established as being for children (such as the wonderful Babymouse series), most of those read by older kids and teens are published without regard to age. If the Printz award wants to be meaningful in a fluid publishing era, it has to get rid of its “published for teens” clause, ill-considered when its rules were made and bound to become ever more increasingly out of touch.

Roger Sutton About Roger Sutton

Roger Sutton has been the editor in chief of The Horn Book, Inc, since 1996. He was previously editor of The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books and a children's and young adult librarian. He received his M.A. in library science from the University of Chicago in 1982 and a B.A. from Pitzer College in 1978. Follow him on Twitter: @RogerReads.



  1. Monica Edinger says:

    >I saw something wonderful recently that will be out next year which does involve text and images. The manual states, “… The committee is to make its decision primarily on the text. Other aspects of a book are to be considered only if they distract from the text. Such other aspects might include illustrations, overall design of the book, etc.” Sigh, does that really mean we have to rule out something which integrates drawing and text? What a shame.

  2. >There is The Cybils (
    They are currently working away on a pile of nominated YA and Children’s graphic novels trying to pare the list down for the judges by January 1st.

  3. >A bit late chiming in here, but must comment that the Caldecott criteria drive me nuts, and I simply don’t understand why they can’t be changed, even though I hear from ALSC people that they can’t. Just as a graphic novel is a collaboration between writer and artist (or the creation of one person), a true picture book cannot exist without either writing or art, and it’s utterly insane that the most significant award in children’s books ignores this fact.

  4. Roger Sutton says:

    >Those rules can be changed, but it’s a lot of work.

  5. >I have great faith that this will be a landmark year for graphic novels, at least for teens. While admittedly, very few graphic novels are marketed specifically to teens, those that are certainly can be considered for the Printz. And those that are not can be considered for the Alex, so I’ve got my fingers crossed that we will see some winners. But even if they are not specifically picked out for awards, this is the first year that YALSA is recognizing the best graphic novels of the year, which is very exciting. Right now Great Graphic Novels for Teens is considering 140 titles, and will be voting at Midwinter to decide on the best. Personally, I’m hoping that ALSC will follow suit and create their own list, and that we will see youth awards for graphic novels within the next few years.

    Dawn Rutherford
    Teen Services Librarian – KCLS
    Committee Chair – YALSA
    Great Graphic Novels for Teens

  6. Terry Beck says:

    >I’ll echo Dawn’s comments. ALEX has recognized graphic novels in the past (One Hundred Demons in 2003 and Persepolis in 2004). While I cannot discuss what’s been nominated for this year, I will agree that it’s been a fantastic year for graphic novels. I think that as award committees look at graphics as potential award winners, we must learn to look for that wonderful combination of text and image that makes a good graphic novel great.

    Terry Beck
    Adult/Teen Services Manager
    Sno-Isle Libraries
    Chair, ALEX Awards 2006

  7. a. fortis says:

    >Excellent post! Thanks. I’ll be posting a link on Finding Wonderland.

    I’ve been really happy to see YALSA’s work on Great Graphic Novels. As part of the Graphic Novels Nominations Committee for the Cybils (which someone mentioned above), I’m so pleased to read an array of excellent work and hope this spreads a bit more understanding of the genre.

  8. Anonymous says:

    >Well, this is years after your post, but American Born Chinese did end up winning the Printz! So that’s that!

  9. Roger Sutton says:

    >Yes it did–because the committee asked the publisher if it was eligible. For what that’s worth. I once had a publisher try to convince me a book was published in a different year just to be eligible for a prize.

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