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Border Crossing 101


Some of you know that I am not a librarian and have never worked in publishing. And if you didn’t know before, you do now. That’s why I have to depend on others to explain the history and traditions of the ALA book awards. I simply don’t get them.

There is nothing that makes me more frustrated than to settle in with a book for a committee, start taking notes, fall in love a little, and then realize — BANG — this book is not eligible because the creator is not an American. It’s especially frustrating this year, while I serve as chair of the Geisel committee. For that award both the writer and the illustrator must be an American citizen or an American resident. I have a rather substantial stack of really terrific books for new readers that I have entered on a spreadsheet called “ineligible books.”

So, why these restrictions? To find out, I consulted my Wisconsin Brain, Katy Horning. She knows everything about everything. Katy says, “Both the Newbery and Caldecott Medal were established to encourage high quality children’s books from American authors, illustrators, and publishers. At the time the Caldecott was established in 1938, there weren’t many home-grown picture books and it was widely thought picture books were the province of France and England. Books like Millions of Cats by Wanda Gag were the exception, not the rule. The two awards were very effective at helping to create a rich body of American children’s books. When I was ALSC President back in 2006, I appointed a task force to look into whether or not we should keep the U.S. citizenship/ residency requirement going into the 21st century. The task force surveyed a lot of former chairs and committee members, as well as colleagues in publishing, and came to the unanimous decision to keep it as it was.”

That decision was made nearly ten years ago. I look with longing at my stack of ineligible books and wonder what that stack is like in the houses of the Caldecott committee members. Do you think the time has come to reexamine this issue? Luckily for us, many of these talented folks, such as Sergio Ruzzier, Vladmir Radunsky, and Il Sung Na, are making it easier for us by moving to the States and satisfying the residency requirements. But still. Think of what we are all missing. I’m looking at you, Suzy Lee and JiHyeon Lee; Liniers and Sydney Smith.

And, while I am looking at people: here is a plea from me: If you are an artist who used to live outside the States but are now a resident, make that SUPER CLEAR ON THE INTERWEB. We lowly chairs of committees are the ones who toil in the vineyards of eligibility. If the only thing we can find out about you is that you lived in Belgium in 2008, but you in fact actually became a US citizen in 2014, we might assume you are still ineligible. We don’t have the Immigration Service at our disposal, guys. Throw us a bone and tell us where you live!

For now, please do not miss the excellent list chosen by USBBY last year.

Better yet, go to the library and check out a big stack of these important and fabulous international books. What books have you read and loved recently that are ineligible for ALSC awards? Myself, I love A Dog Wearing Shoes by Sangmi Ko. (She lives in Seoul, doggone it.)

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.



  1. Thank you for mentioning my name! May I add a few more immigrant illustrators? Sophie Blackall, Peter Sís, Boris Kulikov, Tomek Bogacki, Fiona Robinson… And I’m sure I’m forgetting many more.

  2. I think about this a lot too and have often wondered if expanding the criteria slightly to include “or was originally published in the United States” would remain within the original spirit of the awards.

    Though I’m sure that was taken into consideration by people smarter than me and decided against with good reason.

    Maybe we should just start a side award called the Caldenotts. 😉

  3. Or the Calde-oughts?

  4. Eric Carpenter says:

    I’m finding the sting of the residency/citizen rule particularly tough this year with my otherwise would be Newbery favorite Oppel’s THE NEST not able to be part of the discussion. On the Caldecott side of things SWAN is ineligible which is a shame since it’s so damn beautiful. Such a bummer….

  5. Thom Barthelmess says:

    Not for nothing, but I’ve run a Caldenott for a couple of years now. For many of the reasons noted here. There’s extraordinary stuff being published, and we’ve had a great time exploring and comparing international picture books.

  6. Robin Smith Robin Smith says:

    Sorry I am so late here.
    I wanted to mention your Calcenotts, which I have loved over the years. I have at least 40 books stacked up that I have looked at for my work. The Geisel and Caldecott rules are a little different…but many are so special.
    Eric–Swan. Yes. I think Martha cried some tears over that one .

  7. Susan Dailey says:

    I usually depend on the book jackets to determine eligibity. Please publishers, put the residency information there! If it isn’t there or if I’m reading reviews, I keep a database of illustrators not eligible for the Caldecott that I check. It has 655 entries! But as you mentioned, Robin, people do move so it’s a challenge to keep it up-to-date. If the book jacket lists dual residency, I figure the person is eligible since they don’t have to be U.S. citizens. Right?

  8. Susan Dailey says:

    As to changing the requirement, I did some research about the history of the Caldecott for a presentation. After reading about Frederic G. Melcher (founder of the Newbery and Caldecott medals), I felt that it would be unlikely that there would be fundamental changes to the criteria established in his lifetime. He was an amazing man!

  9. Susan Dailey says:

    Robin, thanks for attaching the cover of “Pool” to this entry. I didn’t realize that it wasn’t eligible.

  10. Robin Smith Robin Smith says:

    Susan–From your lips to the publisher’s ears.
    Also, authors and illustrators could help by mentioning their residency on their website. What I worry about is that someone will be marked ineligible and stay in that mental category for decision makers.I actually look up every single book as I process it because I don’t want anything to slip by me.

    I watch the South Korean illustrators each year. A number of them have moved to Brooklyn and Jersey City, making them eligible.

    Frankly, I hate this part of committee work–I would so much rather read the books with kids and talk about them with you!

    If the artist actually lives her, she/he is eligible. I think.

  11. Robin Smith Robin Smith says:

    I don’t want you guys to miss this:
    Julie Danielson of 7 Impossible Things lives 20 miles from me, but I promise we did not collaborate!

  12. Librarygarden says:

    Wishing for:
    Sidewalk Flowers
    (and some I’m not thinking of now, I’m sure)

    Also, do you know how I can locate Calling Caldecott on Feedly? I can’t seem to find it. It helps me keep up-to-date with my blogs!!

  13. Roger Sutton Roger Sutton says:

    Just a little self-congratulation for the Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards (bestowed this coming Friday, by the way). As long as the book is published in the United States, we don’t care where you live or what flag you salute. P L U S the award for picture book is bestowed equally on author and illustrator in cases where they are not the same person. AND PLUS this year’s award goes to Marla Frazee for THE FARMER AND THE CLOWN, a book unaccountably left off the Caldecott roster this year.

  14. In addition to the charming A DOG WEARING SHOES, Ciara Gavin’s ROOM FOR BEAR, Suzanne and Max Lang’s FAMILIES, FAMILIES, FAMILIES! and . Doreen Cronin’s BOOM SNOT TWITTY: THIS WAY THAT WAY are all excellent border-crossing titles. I adore the spread in FAMILIES, FAMILIES, FAMILIES! about parents who are married and parents who are not. And the adoption page. And the single mom page.

  15. Dear Robin Smith
    I am extremely excited and feel honored that my name was mentioned.
    I would like to let you know that my first name is “IL SUNG” and last name is “NA”.
    Also I have moved to the US in 2013 and now I live in NJ.

    With all good wishes

    il sung

  16. Robin Smith Robin Smith says:

    Thank you Il Sung.
    I will try to go back into the original post and change that mistake. I hate making mistakes with names. My name is the simplest of American names but I try not to mess anyone else’s up.

  17. Sam Bloom says:

    Bug in a Vacuum (by Melanie Watt) is kooky and hilarious, with some pretty ambitious visual storytelling… would be amazing for discussion using the Caldecott criteria. Watt lives in Montreal and the book is published by Tundra, so (if I’m not mistaken) it is doubly ineligible since Tundra is not an American publishing house.

    Also, that is HUGE news that you live in the U.S., Il Sung. Caldecott committees for the foreseeable future, take note!

  18. KT Horning says:

    Minh said: “I think about this a lot too and have often wondered if expanding the criteria slightly to include “or was originally published in the United States” would remain within the original spirit of the awards.”

    I think Minh has hit on something here (although it might make a different part of eligibility even trickier — the “first published in the U.S. part).

    If you look at the first few decades of Caldecott winners, it’s interesting to see how may were immigrants — many of them displaced during WWII.

    I was frankly surprised ten years ago when the Task Force came back with the decision they did but they made a persuasive case for keeping it the way it was (U.S. citizen/resident) so the Board voted unanimously not to change it.

    Another ALA award, the Printz, does not have the U.S. citizen or residency requirement and writers from Australia, Canada, and England regularly win. An American editor once pointed out to me, however, that Australia has government support for publishing (I think Canada does, too), so the authors and publishers can afford to be edgier — more literary and experimental — something that the Printz Committee seems to value above all else. I wonder how the award would have been different if it had been limited to U.S. citizens and residents. Would it have had more of an impact on U.S. publishing?

  19. I also love BUG IN A VACUUM -the kids adore it- (Sam Bloom’s recommendation) and am saddened it won’t quality. 2015 is really gearing up to be another great year for picture books after a slow start, and I must say some of the year’s most ravishing titles are from abroad. These include:

    Wangari Maathai: The Woman Who Planted Millions of Trees France
    Swan Canada
    The Blue Whale UK
    The Little Gardener UK
    Red Belgium
    A Dog Day UK
    Sidewalk Flowers UK/USA

    The last title may still possibly quality with the split nationalities involved by the others are out. Still, aside from the Caldecott contenders, we can still include these in our Top 10 or Top 20 picture books of the year. They are all pretty much as superlative as the best American books.

    Sergio Ruzzier’s move to the US is a boon to the picture book community, and his new TWO MICE is one I’d say certainly belongs in the Caldecott discussion, though I know the Horn Book brass has been saying as much. 🙂

  20. Hello, Robin Smith.
    I read your article with vivid interest.
    Reading your article today, made me feel so HAPPY.
    THANK you so much for loving my book.

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