2018: The Year in Words and Pictures

Who are we? What kind of community are we going to be, do we want to be? These are the ever-more-urgent questions that were being asked — and answered — in 2018, not just by book award committees but also by professional organizations devoted to children’s books and reading, in discussions on social media, and on collaborative forums such as The Brown Bookshelf, Latinx in Kid Lit, Hijabi Librarians, and KidLitWomen* (trans- and nonbinary-inclusive). So it’s perhaps no coincidence that at the ALA Youth Media Awards (YMA) announcements, women* book creators dominated; that nearly every category included people of color; and that the announcements added recognition of three identity-based affiliate awards. The trend toward inclusiveness rather than exclusivity was everywhere, a persistent call to action that has been heard far and wide. And when award choices or publishing choices went against that call, the response was…loud.

Women as winners may be the most significant takeaway from this year’s awards. We know that the Caldecott is an award historically dominated by men, but this time four of the five honorees are women — medalist Sophie Blackall (herself a two-time Caldecott winner, a feat not accomplished by a [solo] woman since Marcia Brown, who won three), and honorees Grace Lin (a twenty-year picture-book veteran and, shockingly, first-time Caldecott honoree); Juana Martinez-Neal (last year’s Pura Belpré Illustrator Award winner, making her debut as author-illustrator here); and debut creator Oge Mora, who also won the John Steptoe New Talent Illustrator Award, the first time an illustrator has done both. (The only 2019 Caldecott Honor Book not illustrated by a woman was The Rough Patch by Brian Lies.)

 

 

Last year saw a powerful lineup of picture books by women creators — certainly the strongest-seeming in years, and perhaps the strongest ever. Along with the Caldecott winners and honorees, there were: Dreamers by Yuyi Morales (a 2019 Boston Globe–Horn Book honoree); Water Land by Christy Hale; They Say Blue by Jillian Tamaki (2018 BGHB winner); Julián Is a Mermaid by Jessica Love; The Field illustrated by Jacqueline Alcántara; and Blue by Laura Vaccaro Seeger, to name just a few favorites.

All three Newbery recipients are women — medalist Meg Medina and honorees Veera Hiranandani and Catherine Gilbert Murdock — and all are first-time recipients.

 

    

 

Women were recognized by the Coretta Scott King Book Awards Jury all across the board: Author Award (winner Claire Hartfield and two of the three honorees, Lesa Cline-Ransome and Kekla Magoon); Illustrator Award (winner Ekua Holmes and honoree Laura Freedman); Virginia Hamilton Award (Dr. Pauletta Brown Bracy); and both Steptoe Awards (Oge Mora, illustrator; Tiffany D. Jackson, author). Both Belpré winners (Elizabeth Acevedo, author; Yuyi Morales, illustrator). All the Printz authors (winner Acevedo; honorees Elana K. Arnold, Deb Caletti, and Mary McCoy). A majority of the Sibert recipients (winner Joyce Sidman; honorees Gail Jarrow, Catherine Thimmesh, Traci Sorell, and Frané Lessac). And it was a woman whose debut novel won the National Book Award, the 2018 Boston Globe–Horn Book Award for Fiction and Poetry, the Belpré, and the Printz. With The Poet X — a verse novel starring the indelible Xiomara, an Afro-Dominican young woman from Harlem who knows she’s a poet, whatever others may think — Elizabeth Acevedo won all the things, and deservedly so. 

So, not just women — women of color. And people of color; with much-deserved recognition going posthumously to Walter Dean Myers, winner of the Children’s Literature Legacy Award in Year Two of its new name. And stories featuring people of color (Drawn Together; When Angels Sing; Esquivel!; Front Desk; The Beloved World of Sonia Sotomayor; The Parker Inheritance, a 2018 BGHB honoree), including in genres whose protagonists have traditionally been mainly white, such as easy readers (King & Kayla) and fantasy (Children of Blood and Bone). And stories centering other underrepresented people (Jerome by Heart, What the Night Sings, Ivy Aberdeen’s Letter to the World, All-of-a-Kind Family Hanukkah). And those that recognize and celebrate intersectional identities (Hurricane Child, The Length of a String, BGHB honoree Darius the Great Is Not Okay). We have met the future, and it is all of us, together. 

At the January 2019 YMA announcements, three ALA affiliate groups’ awards were included for the first time: the Asian Pacific American Award for Literature (administered by the Asian Pacific American Librarians Association, or APALA), the Association of Jewish Libraries’ (AJL) Sydney Taylor Book Award (which celebrated its fiftieth anniversary in 2018), and the American Indian Library Association’s (AILA) American Indian Youth Literature Awards (which are presented every two years, next announced in 2020). Each group rewards literature on the merits of its identity representation, shining the spotlight on diverse books that should be known by everyone who values ALA’s award recommendations. Their inclusion in the YMA announcements was long overdue and cause for celebration, but it came with some dispute, as only the winners for each group were announced, omitting the honor books, which led to blowback on social media. APALA honoree Emily X. R. Pan (for The Astonishing Color of After): “To emphasize the importance of celebrating diversity and abolishing cultural invisibility — and then to decide that those awards could simply be truncated?…Was that 2018 announcement about the inclusion of these awards just another performance of allyship?” 

Social media (and social justice) has played a huge part in the evolution of our field, with debate and discussion that have, in many ways, led to tangible change. And, of course, social media is not afraid to speak up when someone “gets it wrong.” This year’s handful of canceled books speaks to that. So, too, does ALA’s post-Midwinter statement denouncing bullying and harassment following an encounter at ALA Council Forum, which was widely shared, followed, and amplified on social media. SCBWI has put in place a new anti-harassment policy following outcry from some of its members about alleged sexual misconduct, after School Library Journal’s January 2018 online article about #MeToo garnered hundreds of comments. The debate in virtual spaces is not always productive; it’s often misunderstood; and sometimes it’s downright scary. But the more voices in the conversation that are dedicated to equity and inclusion in children’s books, publishing, and librarianship, the better for our field and for our young people.

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With all this inclusivity noted, what was left out of ALA awards in 2018? Several creators whose names we often see on ALA lists and whose books were in contention this year were passed over: Kate DiCamillo for Louisiana’s Way Home, Christopher Paul Curtis for The Journey of Little Charlie, Kevin Henkes for A Parade of Elephants, Chris Raschka for Dear Substitute, Sharon Creech for Saving Winslow, Brian Floca for Hawk Rising, Kwame Alexander for Rebound, et al. 

There was not so much crossover (pun intended) among awards this year as in the previous year, which saw much overlap among the CSK, Newbery, and Caldecott, for example. What didn’t happen: the expected multiple ALA recognitions for Yuyi Morales, for the aforementioned Dreamers, which people speculated might be recognized by both the Pura Belpré and Caldecott committees (what did happen to Dreamers in the Caldecott room?!). On the other hand, Meg Medina, perennially awarded by the Belpré, won the Newbery for Merci Suárez Changes Gears but garnered no Belpré recognition (and in fact there was only one Belpré Author honoree: David Bowles for They Call Me Güero). Other puzzlers: Elizabeth Partridge’s remarkable Boots on the Ground was a YALSA Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults finalist but received no love from the Sibert committee; Jonathan Auxier’s Sweep garnered a Sydney Taylor Book Award but no Newbery recognition; Kekla Magoon’s BGHB Award winner The Season of Styx Malone was a CSK honoree but not a Newbery winner. 

Graphic novels, which seemed positioned to be permanent fixtures after wins in 2015 for El Deafo (Newbery Honor) and This One Summer (Caldecott and Printz Honors) and in 2016 for Roller Girl (Newbery Honor), were mostly left out this year. Nie Jun’s My Beijing was a Batchelder Honor Book, but Be Prepared by Vera Brosgol, The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang, and On a Sunbeam by Tillie Walden, among others, went award-less. Interestingly, comic-format nonfiction did better. Don Brown’s The Unwanted won the YALSA Excellence in Nonfiction Award and was a Sibert Honor Book; Hey, Kiddo by Jarrett J. Krosoczka and The Faithful Spy by John Hendrix were YALSA Excellence in Nonfiction finalists (and Hey, Kiddo was a National Book Award finalist and BGHB honoree).  

We cheered the release of Zetta Elliott’s Dragons in a Bag as much-needed middle-grade fantasy starring children of color (look for its sequel, The Dragon Thief, coming this fall, as well as for Lamar Giles’s Last Last-Day of Summer) and hoped for some ALA recognition. We also noticed that all the Newbery honorees were for upper-middle-grade — and that in a year of excellent fiction, especially, there were so few of them. Nonfiction champions will note the absence of nonfiction (again) from the Newbery list; Caldecott, too, for that matter. But perhaps they will be heartened by the variety of topics, age ranges, and formats recognized by Sibert, including women-in-STEAM-friendly winner The Girl Who Drew Butterflies; arts-focused honorees When Angels Sing and Spooked!; natural science/environmentalist honoree Camp Panda; recent-history honoree The Unwanted; and We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga, a beautifully illustrated, contemporary-set picture-book about Cherokee history and culture (also a BGHB honosoree). 

One of the disappointments of 2017 had been in knowing that Town Is by the Sea, with Sydney Smith’s spectacular illustrations, was ineligible for the Caldecott because of that award’s citizenship/residency requirements. In 2018, the continuing restriction again excluded some great books, including BGHB Award winner The Patchwork Bike, illustrated by Van Thanh Rudd; Blue Rider by Geraldo Valério; We Sang You Home / Ka Kîweh Nikamôstamâtinân, illustrated by Julie Flett; Holi Colors by Rina Singh. Calls to address this obsolete requirement have been coming for decades (see Martha’s article “‘Alive and Vigorous’: Questioning the Newbery” in the July/August 1999 Horn Book and Vicky Smith’s July/August 2011 “Newbery 2011”); perhaps — given the push toward inclusivity and the need for more diverse voices — ALSC will reconsider. 

In October 2018 YALSA released a statement regarding Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion

YALSA recognizes that all teens, and particularly teens from underserved and marginalized communities, need and deserve to see themselves reflected in the library staffing, policies, signage, web site content and much more. Therefore, YALSA seeks to address the cultural mismatch between today’s increasingly diverse teen population and the librarian workforce, which remains overwhelmingly white and female. 


“Equity, diversity, and inclusion” applies to books as well as policies. And in this cultural moment, as the demand for diverse books has been heard and is being answered by publishers (sneak peek: the CCBC’s upcoming diverse books numbers look promising), the pool of talent grows ever greater — a reflection of which we see in the book award winners. We seem poised, as a community, for lasting and meaningful change. It’s up to us, all of us, to keep that momentum going. It will take work to make it all stick, and it’s crucial that it does.

From the July/August 2019 issue of The Horn Book Magazine: Special Issue: ALA Awards. For more speeches, profiles, and articles, click the tag ALA 2019.

 

Elissa Gershowitz and Martha V. Parravano
Elissa Gershowitz is executive editor of The Horn Book, Inc. Martha V. Parravano is book review editor of The Horn Book Magazine.

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