February 26, 2017

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Why You Don’t Want To Know More About the Newbery and Caldecott | Up for Debate

Dan Santat

Dan Santat

I find it odd that the ALA would even consider lifting the confidentiality of the information demonstrating how committee members come to the conclusion of deciding their winning titles. You don’t get that information for the Academy Awards, the Grammys, or even the Pulitzer.

I understand that you might think there could be educational value to hearing every detail as to why a book won, but the truth of the matter is that 15 people should not dictate why you should or should not like a book. You, the reader, shouldn’t decide on a book’s value based on why 15 people felt it was worthy of a shiny gold sticker on the cover. You have your own favorites and  opinions, and there are no “right” or “wrong” answers when it comes to art.

Also read:

I Could Tell You About the Newbery and Caldecott Committees. But I Can’t.

Kathleen T. Horning, director, the Cooperative Children’s Book Center of the School of Education at the University of Wisconsin-Madison

Let Book Awards Committee Members Blab

Ed Spicer, educator who has served on the Caldecott, Printz, and other ALA awards committees

 

For example, Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree is considered a classic, even though the general public is split down the middle in terms of its appeal. It has won no awards—but is arguably more iconic to children’s literature than most books that have won numerous ones.

Why didn’t it win anything?

Does it matter?

Let’s suppose that years ago, it was up for award consideration but didn’t make the cut. Ask yourself what you would really gain from this information. Would your expanded knowledge make you love or hate it any more or less? I’m on the side of folks who like the book, but I’ve also read it enough to understand why people dislike it. I feel that the effectiveness of metaphor far outweighs Shel Silverstein’s message in the story. And from the perspective of someone who makes books, I love the brilliance of its writing, whereas some folks can’t see past the message. That doesn’t make anyone right or wrong, because appreciating art is subjective.

It is an opinion.

Does it matter if judges changed their decision for a particular reason? Do you need to know if a winning book was unanimous—or if it was decided after heated arguing for hours upon hours? Would you share these backroom tales with your students in order to influence their taste?

I’d like to make it crystal clear that the majority of book makers don’t create books in order to win awards. I never thought of myself as someone who would be considered for any. I simply make the best books I can, without fear of whether my artistic decisions could jeopardize my chances of winning a prize. With that said, I’d like to express that as an author and illustrator, I have a problem on an emotional level with the prospect of these conversations going public.

A friend recently told me that ALA committees used to have their voting-point spread of the Caldecott Medal and Honor books published for all to see. Is the Honor book with the most points considered “better?” What could the Honor books have done “better” to earn a Medal?

To a writer or artist like myself, these kinds of questions only create feelings of self-doubt and raise “what if?” questions. Knowing information about the proceedings wouldn’t make non-winners think about what they did “right.” Rather, they would ask what they did “wrong”—and what they should have done differently. You might say that it would be an author’s prerogative to do what they will with this information and possibly learn from it, but such information could also prompt book makers to question all their decisions.

Let’s also consider the ramifications from a business point of view.

Years ago, I heard a rumor that one book was removed from Caldecott consideration because there was art resting in the gutter (the seam where pages meet in the middle), which bothered a judge. The publishing industry treated that tidbit of information as gospel of what not to do if you want a book to be a winner. The rumor created a ripple in publishing that artists still experience. I still get art notes from various publishing houses if they think my art is “too close” to the gutter. The result is that books have been homogenized in a way that shies away from risk-taking for fear of possibly losing out on an award.

I have often wondered how books have been declared winners (or honorees) over the history of children’s book publishing. After years of pondering, I realized that I don’t want or need to know every discussion that transpired about my book, or how it compared to others. Maybe you agree with the committee or maybe you don’t. I don’t need historical documentation of how I sized up against the competition. I have settled on the fact that my book just simply is—and that its gold sticker reflects the opinions of 15 people in one room.


Dan Santat is the 2015 Caldecott Medal recipient for The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend (Little, Brown, 2014). He is the author and illustrator of the New York Times best-selling picture book Are We There Yet? (Little, Brown, 2016) and has illustrated many other acclaimed books for children. His next book is Elephant & Piggie Like Reading! The Cookie Fiasco (Hyperion, Sept.,2016) written by Mo Willems. Dan lives in Southern California with his family.

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Comments

  1. Well said Dan! And thank you for speaking up and giving hope for other authors and illustrators that also don’t want to create based on the need for validation in their work!

    • I agree, Dan. As writers and illustrators, our best work comes when we can block out all the noise and listen to our own voice. We need no more do’s and don’ts clouding our instincts… We may all end up creating the same exact book!

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