by Sam Bloom
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Most of you are aware, but in case you missed it, the Youth Media Awards were announced this past Monday at the ALA Midwinter Meeting in Boston. As a member of the Coretta Scott King book jury, it’s hard for me to comment too much due to confidentiality, but I will say I was THRILLED with pretty much every result. Kudos to ALL the committee members for their service.
One thing that is guaranteed every year is the Monday- (or, in this case, Tuesday-) morning quarterbacking that inevitably shows up after the announcements, especially where Newbery and Caldecott are concerned. It’s one thing to sigh wistfully, thinking of What Could Have Been. There is passion involved in this type of reflection, and sometimes thoughtfulness, and – normally – no committee-slamming.
But then you have the ugly side of the second-guessing. We’ve seen this in display over at Calling Caldecott (and to a lesser extent Heavy Medal). The argument some commenters are making is basically that the committees “decided to promote diversity over quality.” In perhaps the most odious of all of the comments, Telly wrote:
“In my opinion, judges are going a little too far [to] showcase diversity. How likely is it that, out of everything released in 2015, 3 of the 5 winners happen to have non-white protagonists? I just picture a bunch of smug white librarians patting themselves on the back for these picks. At least if you’re going for diversity, try not to be condescending and have all those books be about civil rights, racial struggles, poverty, etc. It’s just so transparent.”
You’d think I would have made myself immune to this type of thing, seeing as how we live in the Age of the Internet, and yet this kind of self-righteous bullshit still triggers my gag reflex. Never mind the fact that committee members work tirelessly, using the award criteria (which are forever burned on their brains), to come to their respective decisions. No, what is especially troubling about Telly’s comment here is something I’m seeing across the board: the way that Telly (and CJ, and Emily) seem genuinely troubled by the success of authors of color… because apparently diversity and quality are mutually exclusive, and anyone who disagrees with their flawed perspective is “superior” (and not in a good way). In our profession where we love our authors and illustrators to a fault (I have a lot more to say on that subject, believe you me), we get catty as all hell if – God forbid – more than half of the award-winning books are from authors and illustrators of color and First/Native Nations.
For now I have promised myself that I won’t engage with commenters like this, and instead focus on the good things coming from Monday’s announcements, because, as Nana so wisely observes in our new Newbery winner, “Sometimes when you’re surrounded by dirt, CJ, you’re a better witness for what’s beautiful.”