Will Hugo Cabret lead to a new book award?

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.

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One Response to Will Hugo Cabret lead to a new book award?

  1. Joel says:

    as far as I’m concerned, any book that would not be shelved in the picture book section should not win the Caldecott medal.

    The Caldecott explicitly covers up to age 14, but I don’t think the medal has ever gone to anything for an audience older than age 8. (And from what I’ve heard and seen, most 10- to 14-year-olds won’t be caught dead in the “baby books” section.) Also, where the Newbery only awards the work of the author, the Caldecott only awards the work of the artist. (Technically, the author of a book in the “picture book section” could win a Newbery, but I don’t think that’s never happened, either.)

    With the increasing number, popularity, and average quality of picture books for older readers, such as “A Day, A Dog”, “Woolvs in the Sitee”, “Hugo Cabret”, “The Arrival”, “Steam Park”, and even full-out graphic novels like “Babymouse”, the bias of Caldecott comittees away from such books and the inability of the Newbery committee to take nonverbal storytelling into account has resulted in these books being consistently intentionally ignored for the awards they may otherwise qualify for.

    So yes, both awards need to be revised to make their current biases explicit (otherwise why have the criteria as broad as they are if nothing remotely close to the boundaries will ever be considered?), and a new award or awards for distinguished writing, art, and/or fusion of story (not necessarily words) and pictures would probably serve these books much better than the current situation.

    Unfortunately, with new awards springing up seeminly every year, keeping up with all of the various awards is already almost more than many libraries can probably do on top of everything else–and I predict more and more libraries (and, as importantly, the teachers who assign “read an award-winning book” homework) will become award snobs and ignore the upstarts in favor of those with the most history and name recognition behind them (and thus inferred importance): The Newbery and the Caldecott.

    Perhaps instead, those two awards should have additional categories added for the age groups currently being included in the award criteria, but never recognized by the award committees. Perhaps each award should have an “author” and “artist” category, so that the Caldecott would award quality creativity (not just art) for the youngest children, the Geisel award (which already is given to the author AND illustrator of a book) would do the same for the “beginning readers” and the Newberry would do the same for older readers. After all, there isn’t just one “Oscar” award each year. (And following the Geisel’s lead would put a stop to the annual possibility that the Caldecott will go to a book with distinguished pictures but a vapid text/story.)

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