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Do we need another hero?

The plan to create a new Oscar for “outstanding achievement in popular film,” meaning, it seems, superhero movies and action films, has me thinking about what that would look like in children’s books. Although the Academy doesn’t seem to have worked out just how the new award will work, it’s designed to reward excellence in the big crowd-pleasers, like Black Panther (loved it) and Mission Impossible–Fallout (fell asleep), which tend not to win awards. (Neither one of those films will be eligible as the new award debuts in 2020.) The best recent parallel I can think of in our field might be the Hunger Games series, super-popular, not that deep, but also very, very smart and effective. And, of course, the Harry Potter books have famously never won any Carnegies and would be perfect candidates for an award based more upon reader-love than literary distinction. (I am NOT having that fight again. It’s an example.)

A question I would have both for the actual movie award and my hypothetical book award is whether a book or movie can win both Best Picture/Book and Best Popular Movie/Book. In children’s and YA books there is definitely overlap–The Graveyard Book, When You Reach Me–just as there is in film–The Godfather, The Return of the King. But there are also Birdman and Moon Over Manifest. We do have audience awards for both movies and children’s books, of course (remember this scandal?) but I don’t think the Academy is thinking that way and neither am I. The success of Harry Potter brought a bigger interest in commercial fiction to juvenile publishing (and I’ve argued that the initial readers of Harry are the same kids who went on to read Hunger Games), and there’s something to be said for awarding those books which aim high even as they seek as wide an audience as possible.

Relatedly, I also think it’s funny that comic books, viewed negatively, were part of the motive for children’s trade publishing and children’s libraries in the first place and now, branded up the gazinga, they are welcomed into publishing and libraries with open arms.What would the Foremothers have thought?

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.

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  1. Thom Barthelmess says:

    I have a couple of friends in the industry and followed their discussion of the new popular film award with interest. The general feeling there was that the change has little to do with the awards themselves and the recognition they confer, and is really all about an attempt to increase ratings for the awards ceremony telecast (in a perfect example of the tail wagging the dog). But I do think that in practice it will mean that films that compete for both best film and best popular film will only ever win the popular category.
    And what about criteria? Will it be up to the producers to choose their category (Jennifer Hudson competing as best supporting actress?!) or will there be an attempt to codify popularity?

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