All awards are not equal

I worry sometimes about the proliferation of book awards, particularly the ones that enable a publisher to slap a shiny seal on the front of a book. There are the longstanding, very meaningful awards like the Newbery and the Caldecott. There are some newer valuable awards, like the Printz and the Geisel and the Sibert. Here is a list of the American Library Association Youth Media Awards, and you’ll see that these days, it’s become a pretty long list. These are worthy awards, each and every one, chosen by highly qualified, professional people. But there are a lot of them.

Then there are the Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards which will be announced this week from Book Expo by editor Roger Sutton and 2010 winner Rebecca Stead. I’m really looking forward to this announcement, which you can read about here, because I know who did the judging and they are very discerning, thoughtful people. The BGHB Awards often find books that are missed by other award committees, books that are rich and usually feature an extraordinary level of fine writing, illustration, and design. So that is an award to be particularly proud of. I’ll post a link to the announcement when it comes out on Thursday: 2012 Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards.

However, sometimes shiny seals on books are the best thing about the books. I recently okayed a purchase at my library of a book that a patron suggested. I looked the book up and saw that it had received the “Mom’s Choice Award,” so I figured it couldn’t be too bad. I don’t want to embarrass the author so I’m not going to name the particular book here, but it features a young Abe Lincoln strolling through the forest with his “best friend,” a turkey named Jack. Says Abe about his turkey friend, “He’s fun, and he gobbles at my jokes.” The story is about Abe conquering his fear of the forest by reading a book and learning how to act when he and Jack encounter a bear. Spoiler alert: He succeeds, and then he and Jack continue along their way exchanging turkey calls.

It’s everything that we have worked over the years to stop in children’s history books–made up dialogue, made up events, and no bibliography or anything pointing a child reader to genuine information about Abraham Lincoln. There is a note explaining that the turkey actually belonged to Lincoln’s son Tad, so I guess they get a point for that.

I am willing to put things in the collection that I don’t like myself. It is not the Susan Dove Lempke Library after all. Sometimes I even really really hate them. But what I won’t put in the collection is something masquerading as history. Kids don’t have the perspective to know the difference, so it is where I draw the line, and we will refer patrons to the many other excellent books on Abraham Lincoln instead.

So, be warned. The Mom’s Choice Award, from an organization that seems to sprinkle its shiny seals very plentifully, is not the mark of quality that parents (and librarians who don’t do a good enough job of finding reviews) think that it is.  As for me, once I recover from the shame of having made such a terrible book purchase, I will look forward to hearing who won the BGHB Awards this year, and then later this month I will head to the Newbery-Caldecott Banquet. Now those are awards.

This entry was posted in Children's book awards, Children's books, Collection Development, Parents, Public libraries, Reviewing. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to All awards are not equal

  1. I think awards like the “Mom’s Choice” are grating because they lack literary merit. I agree with all your comments on the ALA awards (premier, worthy but the list lengthens!) and BGHB. I do also appreciate awards that shine light on books from other cultures like the Americas and the new South Asia book awards (which I am currently serving on. This committee has librarians and subject experts on it). When an award brings attention to beautifully written and crafted books that reveal another culture, I can’t help but cheer! Thanks for your thoughtful post.

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  3. roxie munro says:

    Great post. And I think people pay a fee for being considered for the “The Mom’s Choice Award.”

  4. Kate the Short says:

    Ohhhhhh, yes. I’d heard about this one! BLEAH. Kill it with fire. [okay, not in a book-banning fire, but you know what I mean…]

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