After a vigorous discussion of Brian Selznick’s The Invention of Hugo Cabret at NSLS this morning, I came away with the strong feeling that we are on the verge of a change. As most of you know, Hugo Cabret is told both through Selznick’s evocative pencil illustrations and through his text–without one of those, you don’t have the whole story. One person brought along the audiobook version of Hugo, and explained that in place of the pictures, it uses sound effects–where a picture might show Hugo walking, the audio version uses the sound of feet walking along. So, while the beauty of the pictures isn’t there, some of the information being conveyed is.
I think everyone at the table agreed that Hugo is a magnificent book, and fits the bill for the Newbery in being “distinguished”. Here’s the question: Does the book work well enough through the writing alone to merit the Newbery? And here’s the other question: Are we living in a time when it will become necessary through all of the new ways of looking at the world and at literacy to revise the Newbery criteria to fit the whole package? And here’s one more question: Would it be better to come up with an award that could encompass works that are both visual and verbal, and may also include other formats as well? And if so, who would sponsor that award? Would ALSC and YALSA each want their own version of it?
I would maintain that according to the Newbery criteria as they currently stand, Hugo relies too much on the illustration to fit the bill. Too much of what I know about Hugo himself, about the setting, and too much of the pacing come through those pictures for the award for writing to go to that book. It fits the Caldecott even less, because as far as I’m concerned, any book that would not be shelved in the picture book section should not win the Caldecott medal.
So that means that one of the year’s best books winds up slipping through the cracks completely for the major ALA awards. Too young for the Printz, too many pictures for the Newbery, not a picture book for the Caldecott. I guess I’m in favor of revising the criteria of both the Newbery and Caldecott to better encompass the books of the future. Otherwise, the Newbery medal may come to be associated not just with books that don’t especially appeal to kids (a longstanding issue) but also with books that are old-fashioned. We don’t need a new award–we need a new way of looking at the Newbery.