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Sequels, schmequels

So, as I cast my eyes across my shelf,  I wonder: what in the world is the committee going to do with all the picture-book sequels that have been pouring in?! Now, picture books usually do not have sequels, and some of these are not officially sequels but are simply very similar in style or tone to earlier books…but they feel like sequels. I had to search through the Caldecott Manual to find the part that deals with this situation, at least a little bit.

The term, “only the books eligible for the award,” specifies that the committee is not to consider the entire body of the work by an artist or whether the artist has previously won the award. The committee’s decision is to be made following deliberation about books of the specified calendar year.

This is the sentence that many people think the committee skips over. I mean, it seems impossible — how do the very knowledgeable members of the committee manage to NOT talk about books that were honor winners just last year? And yet they do NOT talk about older books or who won or did not win in the past. They discuss JUST the books published during the current year. That’s why I get cranky when people talk about an illustrator being “due” or “it’s about time for so-and-so.” In the actual committee, it’s just the books on the table.

Another phrase from the criteria is “individually distinct.” How does that come into play when a book might look and read so much like its predecessor?

We may talk more in depth here about some of these books in the coming weeks and months, but I wanted to bring a few titles to your attention. Surely this has to be a particularly high number of books that will remind readers and committee members of other books that have either won stickers recently … or garnered a great deal of attention when they did not.

What do YOU think the committee will do? Which of these are strong enough to stand on their own? Are any stronger than its predecessor? Any remarkably weaker?

(To remind you: Quest/Journey…Blizzard/Blackout…Flashlight/Inside Outside…Flora and the Penguin/Flora and the Flamingo…Circle Square Moose/Z Is for Moose)

journey    becker_quest

Blackout    61pgUD6uNBL._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_

inside outside    Flashlight

Flora and the Flamingo by Molly Idle    flora_thepenguin_9781452128917_350

z is for moose    bingham_circle square moose

Robin Smith About Robin Smith

Robin Smith is a second-grade teacher at the Ensworth School in Nashville, Tennessee. She is a reviewer for Kirkus and The Horn Book Magazine and has served on multiple award committees.

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  1. Sam Bloom says:

    I’ve only seen two of these – Flashlight and Quest – and they certainly stand on their own two proverbial feet. Whether they are really individually distinct? I don’t know… I have issues with both of them, but not necessarily about this particular topic. I found both to be a little hard to follow, and for wordless picture books any incoherence in the storyline would be the kiss of death, in my opinion. Both are good books for sure, but I personally wouldn’t put them up in the top tier of books from this year. I have a copy of Circle Square Moose back at my desk, and I can’t wait to give that a close look!

  2. Lolly Robinson Lolly Robinson says:

    Martha and I disagree about Circle Square Moose. I think it’s every bit as good as Z is for Moose and she thinks it’s not. I like how it ups the ante and gets meta in a new way, e.g. having the book speak to the characters via a new typeface. So cool. And I love that the characterization has developed. Moose and Zebra are 100% allies now.

    I did NOT love Quest anywhere near as much as Journey. I had promised to write a post about that for tomorrow but things are getting super busy with finishing up the November issue AND the awards coming up Friday. I might need to wait and get the Quest post up sometime Friday.

  3. Robin Smith Robin Smith says:

    It’s the “individually distinct” question for me. I was just amazed at how many there were this year–and these are only the ones that look like former winners or books that got a ton of buzz in their respective years.

  4. Lolly Robinson Lolly Robinson says:

    One more thing. Until I set up the images of the old and new books side by side in Robin’s post, I had no idea to what extent the covers would match. Clearly the publishers (and cover designers) are thinking of these as sequels. Even the Boyd books line up exactly, with the title the same size and in the same horizontal plane or line. Whodathunk?

  5. Robin Smith Robin Smith says:

    I do not love Quest either. Should be a good discussion…

  6. Sam Bloom says:

    The “individually distinct” point trips me up more with Caldecott than with Newbery or any other ALSC awards. Just to play devil’s advocate, if you’re coming at it from the standpoint “Is this year’s work distinct from an artist’s previous work,” wouldn’t that (a) bring up the problem of looking at more than “just the books on the table,” as you put it, and (b) is a book like Knuffle Bunny Too REALLY distinct from Knuffle Bunny? Or (even though it isn’t a sequel) how about Locomotive and Moonshot? The Lion and the Mouse vs. The Little Red Hen? It seems like it would be harder to judge it based on that particular aspect, whereas with Newbery it is harder to judge whether a sequel “stands alone” from the predecessor.

    PLEASE NOTE I am not calling into question whether any of the above books were deserving of the Caldecott love they received… I adore them all! But I’m just sayin’…

  7. I was underwhelmed by Circle Square Moose, and I enjoyed Quest but it didn’t stand out compared to other books this year. I think Flora and the Penguin is fantastic and individually distinct (while also being a great companion/contrast to Flora and the Flamingo). I hadn’t read Inside Outside very closely, but I found Flashlight marvelous – I had to keep rereading it to pick up on details, and noticed more and more each time – and more of a story.

  8. Lynn Van Auken says:

    Hi Robin ~ Another great question to consider! And one that makes me wonder: does the individually distinct criteria pertain to all picture books, ever, or just those books published in a given year? Sequel or not, it’s my understanding that a picture book must be able to stand on it’s own and be individually distinct among its “year peers” whether it’s the second or the fifth or the tenth in a series, and regardless of the medium and/or its execution.

  9. Robin Smith Robin Smith says:

    Sam–
    I don’t really know WHAT I am saying. 🙂
    I totally agree with you when you said, “The “individually distinct” point trips me up more with Caldecott than with Newbery or any other ALSC awards.”
    I mean, you can only compare this year’s books to each other. So, it all depends on what else is on the table, doesn’t it? But, I think humans (subconsciously) are drawn to the New, the Different, the Exciting and might turn away from things they have seen before. I am NOT saying that artists should come up with some new and fantabulous art style for each book, for that would be crazy. I am NOT even saying that it’s right that people are drawn to new things. I am saying that’s the nature of the human brain. (NEW! NEW! NEW!)
    It’s funny that you used Knuffle Bunny and KB too as your example–those are the exact books I think of when I think of surprising Caldecott sequels. (not because it was not worthy, just because the two books are so similar) It speaks to what else was on the table.
    I remember when THE LION AND THE MOUSE was getting buzz. Longtime ALSC people worried that it might not win, simply because it looked like things the committee had seen before…and that the buzz would tire out the committee. (And the effect of “buzz” is for another post, perhaps)
    It takes a secure committee to block everything out and look at just the books in front of them and find the most distinguished.

  10. Robin Smith Robin Smith says:

    It has to be just those from the current year, Lynn. And your last sentence is miles clearer than anything I am saying tonight.

    Let me copy it: “Sequel or not, it’s my understanding that a picture book must be able to stand on it’s own and be individually distinct among its “year peers” whether it’s the second or the fifth or the tenth in a series, and regardless of the medium and/or its execution.”

    Everything has to be excellent, no matter if it’s the illustrator’s first or hundred and first book.

    Thanks, And welcome back!

  11. Sam Bloom says:

    Yes, I absolutely agree with you; as much as you try to live in a vacuum as a committee member, there’s no way to turn off your brain (or human nature). If I’m on the committee and I look at QUEST, I’m automatically going to think back to JOURNEY and compare the two. I’d remind myself not to think too much about it in that way, but there’s no way to turn that part of your brain off as someone who loves children’s literature. And you’re right, we’re looking for something new and amazing, and I personally would argue that it isn’t really either… don’t get me wrong, it is a strong picture book, but it does not compare favorably to JOURNEY imho… though I doubly agree with your point that artists really shouldn’t have to do something completely new and ground-breaking every time they start on a project. Anyway, all that being said, I would think QUEST would be a really, really tough sell at the Caldecott table come January…

  12. lisa passen says:

    An example: Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale (Honor 2005) and Knuffle Bunny Too: A Case of Mistaken Identity (Honor 2008).

  13. I agree with you about Quest, which I thought was quite disappointing. It seemed like it was half-thought and strangely (literally) sketchy compared to Journey. Like it was almost unfinished or a rough draft.
    As for Circle Square Moose, I agree with Martha. Something about it felt increasingly random, which isn’t always a bad thing, but I was constantly hoping for better payoffs, which for me never quite happened. I did smile and chuckle, and I still think it’s a Good book, though not as strong as the first title with Zebra & Moose.

  14. Eric Carpenter says:

    So if I’m understanding “individually distinct” correctly, that would mean if an illustrator released two titles in a very similar style in the same calendar year neither title would be a likely caldecott winner/honoree as the two titles would cancel each other out. For example last year Chris Raschka released both Daisy Gets Lost and Everyone Can Learn to Ride a Bicycle. Last year’s caldecott committee couldn’t discuss or even think about the stylistic similarities of Daisy Gets Lost and A Ball for Daisy but they could decide that Daisy Gets Lost is too similar to Ride a Bicycle to be considered individually distinct.
    Is this correct? Would that mean that illustrators who frequently publish multiple books a year (Dan Santat for example) are at a disadvantage?

  15. Robin Smith Robin Smith says:

    It COULD happen that way, Eric. Or not.
    We will never know. Maybe no one nominated both Raschka books (or all the Santat books.) I just don’t know how it’s handled.
    But, I do give you Exhibit C: Jon Klssen’s double win. And the medalist was a sequel.
    Go figure.

  16. Eric Carpenter says:

    Robin,
    I thought about the double Klasen but I think both books are visually distinct in both style and appearance. You mentioned nominated books. Does that mean that books only have to be individually distinct from the rest of the nominated titles? I know that these are the only titles that can be voted on but are they also the only titles that can be discussed at the table at all?

  17. Robin Smith Robin Smith says:

    Eric–
    I hate that these comments don’t nest.
    Anyway–people who have served on Caldecott: can you discuss only the nominated books or any book in the year? Some of those procedures have changed in the last 5-10 years and my mind is a leaky sieve about things like this.

  18. Here is where I stand as far as opinion goes. The only “sequel” that has matched its predecessor is QUEST. The art is just as sublime and the visual ideas are inventive and inspired. So, I am of the vi9ew that QUEST is the one sequel that legitimately belongs in Caldecott contention. I guess the only true sequel that ever struck Caldecott gold was MADELINE’S RESCUE many decades ago, although some will pose THE THREE PIGS, which ironically was the one book by the great David Weisner that did not deserve its medal. The book just does not work, and it finished ahead of MARTIN’S BIG WORDS, which is one of the greatest of all picture books. Aaron Becker has pulled off quite a feat as I see it with a masterpiece following a masterpiece. I can’t wait for the third in this trilogy. Sorry about the diversion there.

    The weakest, although certainly lovely to look at is FLORA AND THE PENGUIN, which basically transforms pink to blue, and brings nothing new to the table. I secured a copy, but not because I felt it was anything special. Yet there are big fans of the book on this thread, and I fully respect that.

    I have rather mixed feelings about Mr. Zelinsky’s new work, though I did buy it at the Books of Wonder panel discussion he had with the book’s author a few weeks ago. But then again the original was never a huge favorite of mine despite the fact that his oil paintings in his fairy tale books are simply spectacular, and among my favorite of picture books.

    Can’t help but love FLASHLIGHT, especially since I found INSIDE OUTSIDE just irresistible. A worthy Caldecott sequel contender, methinks.

  19. Steph Gibson says:

    I agree about Quest vs. Journey. Quest does not have the same narrative simplicity or the breath-taking page turns that Journey has. And I agree with TK – the difference in illustration style made it feel like they rushed it to print.

  20. Robin Smith Robin Smith says:

    Eric:
    The Manual came to my rescue again:
    Note regarding nominations: At Midwinter 2009, the ALSC Board voted to increase the number of rounds of nominations from 2 rounds of three books each, to 3 rounds, of 3, 2, and 2 numbers of books in October, November and December respectively, and to eliminate the practice of discussing books that had been suggested but not nominated with the exception of late suggestions that may be made for books published in December. This is to be done on a trial basis for the 2010 awards committees, and chairs are to respond to the ALSC Board at the conclusion of the process in order to inform a final decision about this procedure.

  21. Sam Bloom says:

    You know, I wasn’t a **HUGE** fan of QUEST or anything, but I feel like there’s a bit of a backlash going on here. Compared to JOURNEY it may pale slightly in comparison, but I’m really not seeing the rushed feeling other people are getting. Now I admittedly had trouble with some of the storytelling, but I thought some of those spreads were still pretty awe-inspiring. What are some specific instances where people are feeling like the illustrations are sketchy/rough draft-like? (Or should I wait on this last question until your post specifically about QUEST, Lolly?)

  22. Dean Schneider says:

    Great discussion! Robin raises a fascinating point and takes us to the actual Caldecott criteria, and seeing book jackets next to each other really demonstrates how publishers seem to want to build on (repeat?) prior successes. We readers love making comparison and contrasts with books: Is this book really just the same as a previous book? Is it as good as the illustrator’s best efforts? This is just as good as______, doesn’t it, too, deserve an Honor? But that’s not how a committee is supposed to be thinking. As Robin says, is it “individually distinct” book in a “specified calendar year.” What’s fascinating though is wondering HOW you can avoid comparisons. How do you NOT feel, even if you can’t say it during discussions, that QUEST isn’t as strong as JOURNEY, and how does your feeling this affect your private voting? But the discussion itself would center on the individual merits of QUEST and how it fares against other top books of the year. Is it individually distinct AND is it a work of distinction in the pool (swamp?) of books of its calendar year? I’m not sure I’ve said anything Robin didn’t already say, but it’s fun to sort through these ideas.

  23. Lolly Robinson Lolly Robinson says:

    Wow, so many comments. I was planning to put up a separate post about Quest, but it’s not looking as if can happen this week. (The November mag is a behemoth — so many reviews! — and is starting to feel like some kind of shaggy dog story. It never ends.) Maybe we will say it all in the comments here.

    My problem with Quest isn’t with the art itself but with the story and the pacing. It feels rushed and since Becker doesn’t have the space to luxuriate in this new world, the way he did in Journey, I find myself wishing the series could have been expanded. Of course this is not something one could say in a review or in Caldecott discussions. But blogs have fewer rules so here you go:

    As a reader, I would have loved to see more set-up in the city at the beginning. And I liked that Journey concentrated on one girl with one colored crayon, with hints at the boy with the purple crayon. Why not have six books with six different kids exploring six different worlds? Yes, if you have read Journey you know that the mysterious other-colored creature will lead to another kid and crayon, but I think the success of Journey was in its art and the surprises with each turning page. Those settings are spectacular and I can see each one inspiring kids to tell stories about that place. In Quest, there’s not enough time to get to know each new world and it was even a bit of a let-down for me to see that all the worlds were connected as easily as they seemed to be.

    So yes, I am being picky, but that’s how I am. As I get older, I get pickier and crankier. There’s no question Quest is a good book on its own, but after Journey I was hoping for something that felt more original and breath-taking.

  24. Just chiming in to say THANKS for the thoughtful discussion above and within the comment section here – even if no one agrees on anything in the end (which I tend to think is most of the fun) – it’s always nice to see that such thoughtful conversations are happening, in and out of the individual committees.

  25. Robin Smith Robin Smith says:

    Welcome, Greg! Great to see your name.

    Since you are an illustrator and writer (Congratulations on that Geisel Award! The Watermelon Seed is a classroom favorite here in second grade!), I hope you will hang around and give us any inside scoop on picture books. Someday I will understand how you come up with your amazing colors.

  26. Just looked again at QUEST, which I am using in class a few minutes from now. I just don’t see it as rushed at all – it just takes several go throughs to grow on you. Love the idea of rescuing the King, first encountered in the park. A dazzling unity of color with some real suspense and wonderful details. But obviously there is a degree of disagreement here and that’s certainly fair enough.

  27. Eric Carpenter’s comment above is certainly food for thought. We do have several illustrators this year who had multiple books of exceeding high quality. Not an easy decision at all to settle on one, though in the case of Christian Robinson, JOSEPHINE has the upper hand with most admittedly:

    Wendell Minor

    Galapagos George
    Edward Hopper Paints the World
    Sequoia

    Melissa Sweet

    Firefly July
    The Right Word

    Christian Robinson

    Gaston
    The Smallest Girl in the Second Grade
    Josephine

    Steve Jenkins

    Mama Built A Little Nest
    Eye to Eye

    Fran Lessac

    The Mayflower
    Midnight

    Lauren Castillo

    The Troublemaker
    Nana in the City

    If I were voting I would with great agony settle up on: Galapagos George, Josephine, Firefly July and The Mayflower. Josephine, Mama Built A Little Nest, The Mayflower, Nana and the City. In any event we can only speculate as to which of these illustrators will ultimately be considered. 🙂

  28. Sam Bloom says:

    Hi Greg – how fitting that Number One Sam has joined the thread populated by two other Sams. Ditto Robin’s comment on The Watermelon Seed being a favorite; I’ve used it in the public library with groups of Kindergarteners, 1st graders, 2nd graders, and 3rd graders, and it has been a huge hit with everyone. Gulp!

  29. Greg (Pizzoli) I met you at your table at the Princeton Book Festival. I was with my wife and 12 year-old son Jeremy. You might remember a fat guy (late 50’sish) who asked you to sign my copy of NUMBER ONE SAM. Both this book and THE WATERMELON SEED are wildly popular, and I can pretty much voch for what both Robin and Sam (Bloom) are saying about your work. The kids just can’t get enough of it!

    And I am honored to be on this thread with both Sam Bloom and Number One Sam!!! 🙂

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