Why the Hell Hasn’t a Book Won the Newbery AND the Caldecott?

Cover of Infinite HopeELISA GALL: The Newbery and Caldecott committees used to be one and the same. Before they were divided into two separate committees (this happened in the late 1970s), a book was either considered for one of the awards or the other: never both. Now a book can win both the Newbery and the Caldecott, but a Calde-bery has yet to happen. What gives?

The author-artists who have won both medals (but not for the same book) are: Kevin Henkes, William Steig, Holling C. Holling, Robert Lawson, Ludwig Bemelmans, James Daugherty, Alice Dalgliesh, and Arnold Lobel. 

Books that have won either an honor or a medal in both categories are: Last Stop on Market Street (Newbery Medal, Caldecott Honor) and Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut (Newbery Honor, Caldecott Honor). 

Am I missing any?

JONATHAN HUNT: A Visit to William Blake's Inn won the 1982 Newbery Medal and was also a Caldecott Honor.

Other interesting overlaps/ironies: the graphic novel This One Summer won Caldecott and Printz Honors, while the Newbery committee picked El Deafo in the same year. And, of course, The Invention of Hugo Cabret won the Caldecott, even as Good Master! Sweet Ladies! won the Newbery, leading many to remark that it was as if the committees had flip-flopped their choices.

But while we've had some medal/honor overlap, the same book has never won both medals in the forty-one years that the committees have been separated. To be sure, the odds of it ever happening are extremely remote, and while many would prefer the love to be spread around to as many different books as possible, it would also be a fun intellectual exercise to survey the landscape of eligible 2019 picture books to see if any of them could win both the Caldecott and Newbery Medals. What do you think?

ELISA: Right now I'm thinking of Martha Parravano's Horn Book article "Alive and Vigorous," in which she challenges readers' perceptions of an "ur-Newbery" norm and asks, "Can the Newbery stretch far enough to honor the whole of children's literature?" There is definitely a Caldecott mold that also needs to be challenged that typically includes a painterly 32-page picture book for kids on the younger end of the 0-14 age range. This mold has and will continue to be broken, though, as so many recent selections prove (including your 2015 Caldecott committee's recognition of This One Summer).  

Of course, each committee's job is to look at their criteria and commit to and trust the process, not to support books only because they break assumed norms. That said, it can be frustrating to see so many excellent works of comics, photography, board books, etc., published each year that go without recognition. Hopefully these books are given the same level of attention as all the others, but it's hard to know the degree to which these books are taken seriously by each committee unless you're in the room and know what was suggested and nominated. Is there a book that you would consider nominating if you were on this year's Caldecott committee? Perhaps one that might also be on the table for this year's Newbery committee (or other award committees, for that matter)?

JONATHAN: There are several possibilities, but only a couple of them stand out enough that I would expect them to be nominated for both awards and seriously considered by both committees. The first one is Ashley Bryan's Infinite Hope: A Black Artist's Journey from World War II to Peace. This book didn't come out until October, and I don't think advance copies were widely available, but it currently has starred reviews from Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, School Library Journal — and I think there's a good chance Booklist and the Horn Book will follow suit when those reviews do appear.

Infinite Hope is a long-form picture book (more than 100 pages), which, as the title suggests, is a memoir exploring what it means to be Black in America — both as a soldier and as an artist. It is also a significant threat to win the Sibert. The rich primary-source material includes original sketches and handwritten diary entries, but they have been reproduced and placed on the page for maximum artistic effect, alongside the text and additional art. Indeed, the entire book feels like a scrapbook of collages, and to such a high degree that I cannot even fault the inclusion of the occasional photograph or artifact that Bryan did not create any more than I might fault Lois Ehlert or Bryan Collier for working in the style. In collages, it is these very differences in medium, texture, and color which create the overall artistic effect. Make no mistake: this is a stunning visual experience for children. You can almost follow the narrative by the book design and illustrations alone, and I can easily envision the Caldecott Medal on its cover, come the end of January. 

The case for the Newbery Medal is a bit harder to make — but not impossible. In a year with several outstanding memoirs — Guts, Best Friends, This Promise of Change, Free Lunch, and Reaching for the Moon — I think Infinite Hope is the cream of the crop. Memoirs occupy an interesting space between fiction and nonfiction, and if committee members can come to appreciate this genre, on the one hand, and not be overly seduced by the middle-grade novels, on the other, then I think this one has a fighting chance. It had a greater emotional impact, for me, than Bryan's previous Newbery Honor book, Freedom Over Me, and it is arguably his best book in a long and storied career — not that the Newbery committee would take either argument into account.

ELISA: Yes! Infinite Hope is an essentially visual experience — and an excellent one at that. What particularly stands out to me is the tension (in both text and visuals) between the horrors Bryan experienced and the healing, inspiring qualities of an artistic life, such as the one that helped him to survive. For both the Newbery and Caldecott committees (among others), the hand-lettered diary entries and letters add a personal, honest, and emotive layer to both setting and character. And then there are the extraordinary double-page spreads (including one with a photograph of soldiers on D-Day with sketches of blimps superimposed on the cloudy gray sky), which pace readers and communicate the severity of each moment in Bryan’s life and in the course of history.

One theme that emerges is that of finding hope and beauty amid horror, and Bryan’s oversized, multi-layered collages successfully communicate this message. While the text explains how efforts were made to erase and silence Black soldiers’ participation and sacrifices in the war effort, the art takes up space, bearing witness and reinforcing the truth: This is a real story. This is an oft-ignored story. This is Bryan’s story.

I agree that the unique mix of photographs, letters, maps, posters, sketches, etc., offers a scrapbook-like feel, which packages the entire book up nicely and also scaffolds comprehension for readers; this is functional and appropriate for the 0-14 audience. Through the presentation of Bryan’s art in a variety of mediums, readers also see the evolution of Bryan’s oeuvre, as he grows as a visual artist over time and has even more experiences.

While this title's complexity makes it hard to “place” as a shoe-in for one book award or the other, I think the fact that it does so much — and does so much extremely well — is an argument for it being distinguished. It hits all the bullets in each committee’s running definition

  1. Marked by eminence and distinction; noted for significant achievement.
  2. Marked by excellence in quality.
  3. Marked by conspicuous excellence or eminence.
  4. Individually distinct.

There’s nothing quite like Infinite Hope, especially this year. I’m wondering if you could talk more about your thoughts about it being a stretch for Newbery. What questions do you think might bubble up around this title? In general, do you think that the Newbery and Caldecott terms and criteria have any elements that feel at odds with each other?

JONATHAN: Oh, there's nothing specifically about Infinite Hope that feels like a stretch for me, but when you look at the last several dozen years of Newbery Medals, only two of them — Good Master! Sweet Ladies! and Last Stop on Market Street — do not conform to the pattern of the almighty middle-grade novel. So my question about Inifinite Hope is really: how do you think it will fare in discussion against the likes of, say, Look Both Ways; Lalani of the Distant Sea; Other Words for Home; Pay Attention, Carter Jones; A Place to Belong; or Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky — all middle-grade fiction with at least five starred reviews?

As for conflict between the award criteria, I have long railed against a phrase in the Newbery criteria that says the award must be based primarily on the text. In my opinion, some people have erroneously misconstrued that to mean that the text needs to stand alone. Nina Lindsay coined a great phrase that I believe captures the spirit of the rule: we evaluate only the text, but the text need not stand alone. The Caldecott has similar wording as the Newbery, but it doesn't trip people up the same way. We can deal with words and pictures co-existing.

Cover of Queen of the SeaELISA: I love that phrase. It pushes evaluators toward a “yes, and” mindset (rather than an “either/or”) that embraces the ambiguity and complexities of real-life art (not to mention real life). This disposition is necessary when examining works that offer a mix of words, images, and the magic that happens in the open space between them. And you and I both are probably sick of arguing about whether comics are eligible for one award or the other!

I know there are a lot of graphic novels this year that folks are talking about for Newbery. (New Kid is definitely one I’d be nominating if I were on this year’s Newbery committee.) One graphic novel that I have on my Calde-bery watch list is Queen of the Sea by Dylan Meconis. It is layered, cinematic, and absolutely stunning. The mixed-media approach is so compelling. The muted watercolors are beautifully executed, and switches to cartoony styles (with vibrant hues and thick, bold lines) offer informative (and often humorous) backstories with clarity. When the pages start showcasing actual embroidery stitches, the results are textured, immersive, and enchanting. The physical book itself, hefty with a larger-than-expected trim size, feels like a perfect match for the story contained within. (Recognition for a child audience much?)

Both story and art are complex, even disorienting at times, but these shifts all appropriately match mood and plot. Repetition is used successfully, especially with the frequent double-page spreads containing the group of Elysian nuns who live with Margaret on the island. Even functional elements are artistically rendered, like sound effects, panels, and speech balloons that take different forms, showcasing setting, narrative, and characters’ expressions and emotions. Then there’s the chess metaphor and the way it functions in both image and text. There’s just so much to talk about here. And it doesn’t hurt that Meconis can draw water really, really well.

How do you feel about the use of typeface (versus hand-lettering)?

JONATHAN: The typeface doesn't bother me at all here, because it seems very organic. It's easy to forget that it's a typeface, unless you're paying close attention — and it's a custom typeface that is actually based on Elizabeth's Tide Letter. Sometimes, it's little details like this that really deepen the committee's appreciation for the work. 

And, yes, Queen of the Sea displays wonderful draftsmanship, and the dominant watercolor style plays to the painterly bias that committees have demonstrated over the years. The other thing is that this book seamlessly segues from a graphic novel to an illustrated novel whenever there is a fair amount of expository information that needs to be conveyed. It's just an amazing feat, and as you have said, this is a book that the committee can pore over for extra layers of nuance.

My only question is that the book ends with some unresolved threads, pointing to future adventures, and I wonder whether that will dampen enthusiasm for the book.

ELISA: That’s such a good point about enthusiasm and unresolved threads. We could write a whole post about series books and these awards!

JONATHAN: It remains to be seen whether either book will win both medals — I’m not holding my breath — but I do think Infinite Hope and Queen of the Sea will win numerous awards, regardless.

ELISA: I’m not betting on any book-award predictions, ever. But I’m glad the two of us both appreciate these titles. I can’t wait to see what happens, come January.

JONATHAN: I’d like to think both of these will find their audiences, regardless of what happens in January, because of the literary merit of their words and the artistic excellence of their illustrations.

[Read the Horn Book Magazine review of Infinite Hope.]

[Read the Horn Book Magazine review of Queen of the Sea.]


Elisa Gall and Jonathan Hunt

Elisa Gall is a teacher-librarian at the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools. Jonathan Hunt is the coordinator of library media services at the San Diego County Office of Education.

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Betsy Bird

Could not agree with you more on the Dylan Meconis title. Personally I wasn't bothered by the ending. I honestly didn't know if it was the first in a series or not, so I took it at face value that that was the true ending. It's dramatic but it has a sense of finality to it that I enjoyed.

Posted : Nov 19, 2019 03:09



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