Subscribe to The Horn Book

>More than words can say

>Prompted by the announcement that The Storm in the Barn had won the Scott O’Dell Award, there’s been a question asked over at Twitter about the eligibility of a graphic novel for a prize for historical fiction. I can’t speak for the other judges but it never occurred to me to think otherwise. As far as I’m concerned, historical fiction is an invented tale which not only takes place in the past but proposes to shed some kind of light on an actual event or situation of historical import. The Storm in the Barn has all the ingredients of great fiction–astute characterization, evocative atmosphere, a compelling story, a theme rewarding consideration–and gives us a unique vision of the Dirty Thirties. How is it not historical fiction? Yes, it mostly tells its story through pictures, but it’s still a book, still a narrative, still fiction. While the criteria for the O’Dell Award do require that a winning book be published and set in the Americas, they say nothing about judging an entrant on the basis of words alone. (This is different from the Newbery Medal, which is specific about being solely for text. Unfortunately.)

Book awards are always comparing apples to oranges, even in a genre-specific award like the O’Dell or the Edgar or the numerous prizes for science fiction and romance. You are always comparing different stories told in different ways to different ends, thank goodness. And why shouldn’t we look at the pictures?

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. >Is the STORM IN THE BARN eligible for the Caldecott?

  2. Anonymous says:

    >Does it have to be a book to win? And will changing definitions of "book" affect the prize? If it is an electronically produced picture book available only on some new platform like a kindle, for example, is it still a book? If you read it on a device with animated illustrations, hyperlinks and a music background what is it?

    Kirkus refused to give a star to Hunger Games because of sloppy editing/production (I'm not exactly sure what). I know that the Newbery Committe has discussed with disapproval good books with inexcusable typos. Do you think some day that a book will be passed over for the Newbery because it couldn't be downloaded with the appropriate format on all available browsers?

  3. Roger Sutton says:

    >Jeanie, I don't see why not. And Anon., all good questions. I wonder if ALSC is going to take up the question of the eligibility of e-books. Right now, the Newbery criteria state that "the book must be a self-contained entity, not dependent on other media (i.e. sound or film equipment) for its enjoyment" that I'm guessing allows them to ignore e-books for now. I'm also guessing that ALSC is far more likely to require print-on-paper than it is digital versatility!

  4. Anonymous says:

    >Currently e-books are not eligible for Newbery or Caldecott, so, yes, it has to be a book to win. I can't speak for the Scott O'Dell Award.

  5. KT Horning says:

    >ALSC has taken up the question of e-Books, Roger, at least three times that I know of.

    The first time was 1996 when Dutton published an e-Book-only edition of a Bjarne Reuter book, which in traditional book form, would have been eligible for Batchelder. I was Chair of Batchelder Committee at the time, and I brought the issue to the ALSC Board's attention, who in turn had to defer to the big ALA Awards Committee for a ruling. (Contrary to popular belief, ALA awards do not belong to the Divisions, but to ALA overall, who delegates their administration to its Divisions.)

    When I was on the ALSC Board in 2000, the President appointed me as a Board representative to a Task Force charged with considering the eligibility of e-Books for ALSC Awards and Notables list. After a lot of background research, discussion and consideration, our Task Force recommended inclusion of e-Books in the definition of book. At the time, we thought they would develop faster than they did in the children's book world, and we wanted to be ready. (Remember picture phones and flying cars?)
    The Board accepted this, and Big ALA must have, too, because for a few years, they were, indeed eligible for consideration.

    A few years ago, yet another ALSC Task Force considered the question as part of its charge to clarify eligibility definitions and terms. (Actually, it's the Batchelder books that most often inspire thorny questions, due to the every-changing global publishing world.) This task force, which included two people from the publishing world, recommended removing e-Books from consideration for the time being because of the lack of a stable platform, easily accessible to all libraries and children, regardless of geography or economics.

    With children's literature and e-Books, I think picture books present a special problem and I would guess that, until someone invents an electronic picture book that rivals our current technology, and perhaps even improves on it, ALSC will keep e-Books on the back burner.

  6. >Thanks for bringing this book to my attention. Might be a way to get my "Wimpy Kid" loving boy to try a new genre.

  7. >Interesting — I would think that the main reason Storm in the Barn might be ineligible for a historical fiction prize is not that it is a graphic novel but that it contains a significant element of fantasy. I suppose the fantasy element does not detract from its historical evocation, but still, I'm curious to know how that issue was ironed out in the considerations.

    Claire, phoning it in from the Midwest

  8. Roger Sutton says:

    >Fantasy? Metaphor? Magical realism? "Dust dementia"? Who knows, which is something I, anyway, liked.

    Are you there yet? I heard from Betsy Hearne this morning that it is very cold today.

  9. >Negative-degree windchill, and snow buildup that puts Boston — and even my native Maine — to shame. I ventured out today in search of a can-opener and quickly decided that it was not worth it.

    I have a feeling that for Urbana natives, though, this is all within normal parameters.

    Perhaps I'll find an abandoned barn with a summer monster soon, and steal its bag of sunshine to vanquish winter… but where would be the fun in that?

  10. Anonymous says:


    Finding a summer monster would be lots of fun. But it wouldn't build CHARACTER, now would it?

  11. >Anonymous,

    That's true… but fess up. You're only anonymous cause you don't want us to know you live in the tropics, am I right?

  12. >Past winners of this award have also contained fantastical elements. Who can forget the ghosts and psychic sister in Richard Peck's The River Between Us?

  13. J. L. Bell says:

    >Are there other examples of O'Dell Award winners that depend on fantastic elements as much as The Storm in the Barn?

    I get the impression that one reason for the two-narrator structure of The River Between Us was to allow for a level of unreality. We're not seeing the ghost; we're hearing about it from a particular character.

  14. >Oh, there are lots of historical fiction books, especially from the mid-century, that are every bit as much "fantasy" as The Storm in the Barn–they just don't admit it.

  15. Anonymous says:

    >Ouch! Touché Wendy.

    Claire, I am in San Diego now but I built up lots of character at the University of Chicago I assure you. Enough for a whole lifetime in the tropics.

  16. Roger Sutton says:

    >Yup, us U of C types remain forever stalwart, stoic, sturdy . . . stuffy?

  17. >Hyde Park is buried in snow today, all y'all alumni. Only the midway and Lake Park are plowed. Some things never change (except for the skating rink replacing the flooded and frozen midway for winter sport). So far, it's not too cold for playing in the powdery whiteness, though.


  18. Anonymous says:

    >Stuffy? Dude . . . speak for yourself.

  19. J. L. Bell says:

    >Ba-dum-bump, Wendy! But of course books from the mid-1900s didn't win the Scott O'Dell Book Award, and that award was set up in part to recognize and encourage better historical fiction. Plus, "fantastic elements" is not a synonym for "inadequate research and the prejudices of the time."

    Again, are there other examples of O'Dell Award winners that depend on fantastic elements as much as The Storm in the Barn?

  20. >Not an Urbana native, but I spent 4 years there as an undergrad, and even comparing their winters to winters at home in western IL 3 hrs away, they had some doozies. It's the wind–it's so flat there that it goes right through you. Happened near home, too, but I wasn't walking to class so far as a kid!

Comment Policy:
  1. Be respectful, and do not attack the author, people mentioned in the article, or other commenters. Take on the idea, not the messenger.
  2. Don't use obscene, profane, or vulgar language.
  3. Stay on point. Comments that stray from the topic at hand may be deleted.

We are not able to monitor every comment that comes through (though some comments with links to multiple URLs are held for spam-check moderation by the system). If you see something objectionable, please let us know. Once a comment has been flagged, a staff member will investigate.

We accept clean XHTML in comments, but don't overdo it and please limit the number of links submitted in your comment. For more info, see the full Terms of Use.

Speak Your Mind