Cece Bell, Jillian & Mariko Tamaki Win Major ALA Awards
The American Library Association (ALA) announced their yearly awards today in conjunction with the ALA Midwinter Conference in Chicago. In a groundbreaking move, the Newbery Honor has been awarded to cartoonist Cece Bell for her graphic novel El Deafo. This is the first time a Newbery Honor has ever been awarded to a comic. At the same awards, Jillian and Mariko Tamaki won a Caldecott Honor and a Printz Honor for their graphic novel This One Summer.
El Deafo is a memoir of Bell’s real life struggles with her deafness, and features the alter ego she created for herself to get through difficult moments. The Newbery Honor is a runner-up to receiving the prestigious Newbery Medal, which recognizes “the most outstanding contribution to children’s literature.”
There were some doubts in past years if a graphic novel should even be eligible for consideration for the Newbery, making this move groundbreaking in many ways. It cements comics’ place in literature as worthy of consideration, and it opens the door for future awards.
The text of the awards criteria includes this commentary on prose versus illustrations: “Each book is to be considered as a contribution to American literature. The committee is to make its decision primarily on the text. Other components of a book, such as illustrations, overall design of the book, etc., may be considered when they make the book less effective.” In other words, the only time the art in a comic would be considered during the Newbery process is if it hurts the overall product. Truly, this is not a comics-friendly award, making it extra notable that a graphic novel has been acclaimed in this way.
The Caldecott Honor bestowed on This One Summer is a runner-up award for the Caldecott Medal. The Caldecott is for the most distinguished American picture book for children. This is not the first time a graphic novel has won a Caldecott Honor or Award, as comics for children are often assessed and categorized alongside picture books in libraries and bookstores around the country. This One Summer also won a Printz Honor, which recognizes the best books for teens each year. It’s interesting that a book could win an honor for “picture books,” which are traditionally seen as for younger children, and an honor in a young adult or teen category.
The graphic novel Hidden: A Child’s Story of the Holocaust also picked up a Batchelder Honor for excellence in translated children’s books. Hidden was written by Loic Dauvillier, illustrated by Marc Lizano, color by Greg Salsedo, and translated from French to English by Alexis Siegel.
Of note, this year’s winners for non-translated works were all female, and all of the winning books were written with female protagonists and with easy appeal to a female audience.
While it’s occasionally difficult to find where comics fit into the ALA’s award categories, it’s great to see comics included in such prestigious awards, and a great sign that the ALA is increasingly open to comics and the cartoonists who create them.