Monday, 18 January 2016

Picture book wins the Newbery! by Malachy Doyle



Let's hear it for Matt de la Pena, Christian Robinson and Last Stop on Market Street. It's the first picture book in donkey's years to win the Newbery Medal, which is awarded to the author for the 'most distinguished contribution to American literature for children'.

Congratulations to Christian Robinson, the illustrator, for also getting a Caldecott Honor Award for the same book.

But picture books always win the Caldecott, because they're for 'the artist of the most distinguished American picture book for children'...

Whereas picture books, as opposed to illustrated books for older children or longer works of fiction, winning the Newbery are as rare as hen's teeth. None this century till now, as far as I can see, and precious few before that.

So isn't it wonderful to see a book for 3-5 year olds beating all the big hitters of children's and young adult fiction just for once! Doesn't it give us in the picture book community, particularly us writers, one great lift!

I wonder will it ever happen in Britain?  Because the parallel prizes here (and similarly the most prestigious) are the Carnegie and the Kate Greenaway Awards.

The Greenaway goes to the 'outstanding book for children in terms of illustration'.  So, generally, picture books. And, until now, awarded only to the illustrator - though that's about to change due to the sterling work of Sarah McIntyre, who also successfully campaigned for the illustrators of nominated Carnegie books to be included in the Carnegie listing. 

Nevertheless - the Carnegie Award goes to the 'outstanding book for children.'  So couldn't that, just once in a blue moon, be a picture book for young children? But how many times has it been, in the eighty year history of the award? Never, unless I'm very much mistaken.

Are picture books not as good as longer books for older children, I wonder? Are they just not as well written? Can they only be outstanding 'in terms of illustration'? Not in terms of the writing, or in terms of both writing and illustration together?

Shouldn't it be possible that the 'outstanding book' of the year in Britain, at least once in a very blue moon, is one for young children, as it is on this occasion in America?  Shouldn't it be possible, in fact, that a picture book for young children could win both the Greenaway and the Carnegie (as A Monster Calls famously did, in 2012, for Patrick Ness and Jim Kay?) Now wouldn't that be something to celebrate?

Anyway, let's hear it for Matt de la Pena and Christian Robinson! Let's hear it for picture books!


15 comments:

  1. Great, thought-provoking post Malachy.

    I think the Carnegie is increasingly becoming a "Young Adult" award. By definition, a "young adult" is not a child and research shows that 55% of YA readers are actually adults (http://www.theguardian.com/childrens-books-site/2015/feb/24/why-are-so-many-adults-reading-ya-teen-fiction).

    If the Carnegie intends to continue presenting itself as a children's book award, I think it needs to recalibrate. It would be great to see the Carnegie go to a book that appealed chiefly to younger readers, especially reluctant ones, and picture books are certainly able to do that.

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    1. I do agree, Jonathan. I'd suggest two prizes: one for over 12 (however you define it) and one for under 12.

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  2. Great post, Malachy. The US picture book market feels quite different to the equivalent UK market to me. So many US picture books are intended as coffee table books rather than as children's entertainment, which is more the emphasis over here. US picture books often (though not always, of course) carry 'worthy' messages and end up being taken more seriously for it - in other words they're deemed award worthy whereas a book that entertains, no matter how well written and how beautifully illustrated, no matter how strong, simply won't get a look in. I'm not sure why that should be. To me, having fun is vital and ought to be taken seriously too.

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    1. I suspect you're right, Michelle. The Greenaway prize is tending that way too these days.

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  3. Great post Malachy. It does annoy me when time and again good picture books are overlooked for prizes/awards. I suppose 'cos they're so easy to write compared to older fiction (said very tongue in cheek).

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  4. I even have been getting a lot of helpful and informative material in your website.
    childrens book illustrators

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  5. Well said Malachy, there's definitely a problem with British awards, the answer would surely be to separate YA into it's own category so 'children's books' are specifically picture books and middle grade only, though even then picture books are at a disadvantage. The UK is fundamentally a 'literary' market, we are the country of Shakespeare and Dickens, words rule every time, illustration and writing for younger children are the underdogs every time. I don't know if that will ever change, though there has been a lot of noise for better representation and credit for illustrators.

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    1. I agree John. It would surely be fairer if YA had its own Carnegie award, giving more chance of attention to the very high quality picture books produced in the UK every year.

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  6. It is wonderful news, but I think, unfortunately, unlikely to happen here. For a start, the Newbery and Caldecott are just two (albeit the most prestigious) prizes in a group awarded by the American Library Association, and one of those prizes is the Michael L. Printz Award for Excellence in Young Adult Literature, which is why YA does not dominate the Newbery.
    But also, I think the criteria for the Carnegie make it very difficult for a picturebook to win: http://www.carnegiegreenaway.org.uk/carnegie/award_criteria.php
    It is a such a shame and quite unfair really, as the Greenaway celebrates illustration, therefore what is left for picturebook writers?

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    1. Excellent points. When you read those Carnegie criteria, you can see how hard it would be for a picture book to win. I do agree, what is left for picturebook writers?

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  7. A new award announced today - the Klaus Flugge Award for debut picture-book illustrators. It's administered by the Branford Boase Award people, which is for debut authors. But, as the Branford Boase has never gone to a picture book author (and has one even been shortlisted?), aren't picture book authors being left out on a limb yet again?

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    1. Just checked - the Branford Boase is for a 'first novel', so picture books are ineligible.

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  8. Like you, I'm delighted a picture book won the American Newbery award, though I'm not sure how many copies we'll see in the UK (though I have one!) as it's very American. However, one book that did win a British pize is 'The Fox and the Star' by Coralie Bickford-Smith. It's currently the Waterstones' Book of the Year (for all books and not just children's books - hurrah!). It's what I'd call a sophisticated picture book in that I feel it's aimed more at adults. The emphasis is on gorgeous illustrations and stylish design, and there's a traditional thoughful message. It's not a typical child-orientated picture book, but it's a start! I do like the current fashion for illustrated books.

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