Friday, October 7, 2016

Leaves Changing Color

Award Season is full upon us!  A few weeks ago Kirkus announced its Finalists for the Kirkus Prize in Young Reader's Literature. Children's and Teen Editor Vicky Smith called it "a Heckuva List," and it is. Narrowed down to just two titles in each of three subcategories (picture books, middle grade, and young adult), it features diversity in style and audience as well as in authorship.   Few lists of this length do, to this extent. 

That is, until this week, when the National Book Award Finalists were announced. Of course, we'd seen the longlist earlier so I was already hopeful, but following years when it was remarkable to have more than one writer of color among the finalists, it is wonderful to see, here too, a broader readership represented. 

Building on two strong years for diversity in the ALSC Newbery and Caldecott awards, can we hope that award juries, and the organizations that run them, are taking fully to heart the need to bring to the table voices that might have previously been undervalued? Are they finally asking: whose excellence in literature, and why? Setting standards by a canon that responds primarily to White voices is an exercise in exclusion, and ultimately, irrelevance. The books now being recognized for major awards by book creators of color and First Nations/Native people can only make the field stronger, and expose previous year's lists' paltry tokenism.

Looking at these lists, I'm reminded of what Ruth Bader Ginsburg said in a talk last year at Georgetown University Law Center:

"People ask me sometimes ... 'When will there be enough women on the court?' And my answer is: when there are nine."


Julie said...

Since you bring up the ALSC awards and are ALSC VP/President-Elect, I am hoping you can answer the following question: when did the ALSC media and award committee manuals first include the DIVERSITY AND ALSC AWARD COMMITTEE statement? Is this statement part of the extended criteria or something else (I ask because the statement doesn't always appear in the same place in the manuals)? I appreciate your respectful consideration.

Nina Lindsay said...

Julie, the "Diversity and ALSC Media Award Evaluation" statement is something that I've seen in the award manuals, not in the Terms and Criteria. I believe it was added fairly recently, I started hearing about it within the last couple of years. I will try to find out exactly.

When I search now I find it in the same place in the Newbery, Caldecott, and Sibert manual, roughly between "Welcome" and "Preparation". I'm pasting the statement here as I find it in the Newbery Manual, for those that are curious. All these manuals are available online.

Diversity and ALSC Media Award Evaluation
Inclusiveness is a core value of ALSC. It is the responsibility of each ALSC media award and notables
committee to reflect this value in their approach to their work. ALSC award and notables lists provide
librarians, teachers and parents with information about books and other media our association holds in
the highest regard. Everyone benefits, children most of all, when the titles recognized within and across
ALSC awards and best-of-the-year lists authentically reflect the diversity found in our nation and the wider
Each year there will be overlap among individual committees in terms of titles being considered for
recognition. The Caldecott, Notables, and Pura Belpré committees, for example, inevitably end up
considering some of the same books. It is the responsibility of each committee to consider a work based
upon how it meets the criteria of their specific award rather than speculating whether a particular title
will receive another award. If a title is recognized by multiple committees, it does not diminish the work of
any of those committees; rather, it draws greater attention to a particular work’s excellence.
As individuals serving on committees evaluate materials according to the criteria outlined for their specific
charge, they should strive to be aware of how their own perspectives and experiences shape their
responses to materials. Every committee member brings unique strengths to the table, but every
committee member also brings gaps in knowledge and understanding, and biases. Committee members
are strongly encouraged to be open to listening and learning as well as sharing as they consider materials
representing diverse experiences both familiar and unfamiliar to them.

Megan Schliesman said...

As a board member at the time this was approved, I think I recall that it was passed in spring of 2015 in an online meeting, and was integrated into the manuals in August, 2015. (As a not unrelated aside, Allie Jane Bruce has an excellent essay, "Diversity and ALSC Book Award Evaluation," in the latest edition of "The Newbery and Caldecott Awrds: A Guide to the Medal and Honor Books" ALA Editions, 2016.)

Cynthia M. Parkhill said...

I realize this blog's emphasis is upon representations of race, but I ask that similar care be taken among youth-media-award criteria when evaluating works that portray characters with disabilities.

The American Library Association's Schneider Family Book Award uniquely piques my interest both as a woman on the autism spectrum and a library professional who wants the collection to "mirror" the experiences of a diverse readership.

My cause for concern is that a person with disability DOES NOT HAVE TO BE THE MAIN CHARACTER for a book to be considered for the Schneider award.

I would argue that ONLY books with a disabled protagonist should be eligible for the Schneider award -- but if this leaves far too few for consideration, I ask that treatments of these characters be considered carefully.

(A review of "Rules" by Cynthia Lord, 2007 middle-school winner, flags problematic treatments of disabled characters. Reviewer Riki Entz writing at "Disability in Kid Lit" gave voice to my discomfort that this book received the Schneider award.

Going forward, I ask that the Schneider award committee consider:

is there a presumption that disabled characters' lives are only valid if they can meet non-disabled expectations for normality? Do they exist primarily so the non-disabled character can score "goodness points" by acting as the disabled character's "savior"?

I hope that by posting my concerns here, among such a well-connected readership, they might reach people who are actually involved in administering the Schneider Family Book Award -- including and especially those evaluating this year's nominees.

Megan Schliesman said...

Correction: it did not require board approval, but the statement was developed in March 2015 then shared with committees and incorporated into manuals

Julie said...

Drawing on my past experience and what I have learned here, Megan, I realized the statement did not require board approval as it's not part of the terms, conditions and criteria.

One last question: by "committees," do you mean media and book award committees? I was chairing a few other ALSC award committees at the time and don't remember receiving anything about it (which doesn't mean I didn't miss it).

I appreciate your diligence!

K T Horning said...

Great points, Cynthia. I agree that ALSC should add this to their award manuals. Have you written the Schneider Family Book Award about this? It's administered by ALA, not ALSC, and was founded by a blind woman who is a disability rights activist. I'm sure she'd be sympathetic to your concerns.

K T Horning said...

Great points, Cynthia. I agree that ALSC should add this to their award manuals. Have you written the Schneider Family Book Award about this? It's administered by ALA, not ALSC, and was founded by a blind woman who is a disability rights activist. I'm sure she'd be sympathetic to your concerns.

Hanna said...

I agree with Cynthia and KT—I think accurate reflection of children (in all of their diversities) should be a criteria for discussion for all ALSC awards. This is not currently the case.

Nina, I was thrilled to see these lists as well. I think it's also critical to note that when the juries are diverse, the juries' selections are diverse. They turn the theoretical question, "whose excellence in literature, and why?" into actual change in what is visible and accessible to children.

How do we protect these gains at the institutional level, rather than leaving them to the whims of the current climate? Or is this a turning tide, which cannot be turned back?

Cynthia M. Parkhill said...

Thanks for the feedback concerning the Schneider Family Book Award. I left comments last December via ALA Connect's "Awards, Grants & Scholarships database" community (the publicized avenue for feedback, URL at, but the only "feedback" has been number of views.