Quick Thoughts on the ALA Media Awards

trendingThis photo is from last year, but I loved that it shows #alamya, The One and Only Ivan, AND the Newbery Medal all trending at the same time!

It’s hard to settle down after the excitement of this morning’s ALA Media Awards announcements!

I woke up just in time to see the Printz announcement. That’s always the hardest award to predict, and I often haven’t read more than one of the honored books. (And usually, there’s at least one title I’ve never even heard of. This year included.) I was glad to see Marcus Sedgwick win for Midwinterblood. I think that’s a much stronger book than many of the titles I’ve seen winning Mock Printz Awards. I was surprised and disappointed not to see Boxers & Saints honored. I miss the days when the Printz Award included more diverse genres. There is some really fine nonfiction and graphic novel writing for young adults that I don’t think gets the recognition it deserves.

I was thrilled when Flora & Ulysses won the Newbery. The writing is just so fine in that book. Also loved that Doll Bones got an Honor. Thematically, Doll Bones is one of the most distinguished children’s novels I’ve read from 2013.  I would have loved to see a nonfiction title among the Newberys. Again, just not sure the major awards fully recognize and honor the diversity of children’s and young adult literature.

I love the winning lists this year. I do. But there is one more thing I have to say about this morning’s announcements.

Once again we see a collection of books written by white authors, illustrated by white illustrators, and mostly featuring white characters. The Pura Belpre and Coretta Scott King Awards shouldn’t be the only awards that recognize authors and illustrators of color. This continues to be a serious problem, in my opinion, with the three major awards (Printz, Caldecott, Newbery).

The committee that selects these books is essentially certifying that these are the books and stories that matter, that need to be told, shared, read. These are the most distinguished, the best. What does it mean when year after year, the stories that must be shared are stories about white people? What does it mean when year after year, the most distinguished books are written and illustrated by white people?

Those of us who teach and study children’s literature know that these are books that will be purchased for libraries, that will remain in print, that will be shared with generations of children and taught in schools. These awards stickers actually do mean something for the longevity and reach of a book. And it really disturbs me that year after year, the major awards almost exclusively recognize and highlight the achievement of white authors and illustrators and certify stories of white experiences as the ones that should be shared. 

I understand that diversity is not part of the criteria for these major awards. Perhaps committees don’t notice what Betsy Bird calls “the whitey whitey whiteville” of their lists. Perhaps they think they’re somehow being color-blind in their choices. But they’re not. There are complicated, complex reasons why a committee of mostly (exclusively?) white members will select mostly or exclusively books by white authors and illustrators about white experiences. But that doesn’t mean it’s okay that it keeps happening. There are several books I can think of written or illustrated by people of color that could have been in serious contention for gold or silver this year. Mock Caldecott, Newbery, and Printz lists recognized distinguished authors and illustrators of color this year. So why don’t the real committees? 

3 thoughts on “Quick Thoughts on the ALA Media Awards

  1. Pingback: It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? 1/27/14 #imwayr | the dirigible plum

  2. You raise a valid point and I almost wonder if people on these committees subconsciously don’t feel as much pressure to award authors and illustrators of color because “oh, they have their own award.” I don’t think anyone does it overtly, but I think it’s there.

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