Children's Literature Awards

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Children's Literature Awards


Awards and accolades created to honor works and authors in the children's literature genre.


The presentation of awards identifying quality works of children's literature offers more than just mere recognition for honorees; it also provides the potential for increased critical attention, sales, and readership. There are dozens of various awards specifically highlighting the best in juvenile books, ranging from high-profile national awards like the American Caldecott and the British Carnegie Medals to regional and specialist trophies. The goal of such awards is not necessarily to categorically define a book as the "best" in a given year in a specific category, but often simply to promote the merits of a particular story or author to a broader audience. The benefits from such promotion is of enormous import in a publishing field flush with a litany of works struggling for greater recognition. For instance, Newbery winners, Keith Barker has noted, can expect to sell fifty thousand more copies than an equivalent book without such an acknowledgement. Even Newbery Honor Citation winners, an important but lesser mark of distinction, gain as much as ten to twenty thousand more books in sales. In such a competitive industry, this sort of increased prominence is of tremendous value to an individual writer, offering such potential implications as giving a non-mainstream author greater motivation to continue in the juvenile field, potential windfalls of thousands of dollars in increased sales, or, in the case of the smaller specialty awards—such as peace and multicultural honors—encouragement to produce more works catering to a specific need. Children's literature, in particular, is a field where the heightened reputation a book can receive from even a single major award can establish a writer as a success. In the United Kingdom, Stephanie Nettell, who heads the committee presenting the Guardian Award, has stated that children's literature encompasses 20% of all book publishing sales, yet receives less than 4% of review space in the Guardian newspaper, which is one of the stronger advocates of children's literature in England. Awards, despite their inherent reliance upon the personal preferences of a small minority of committee members, have the potential for reminding an industry of the value to offbeat and groundbreaking stories. Nettell has argued that, "[f]ar from literary awards becoming less sensible or necessary, it seems to me that in the current climate—where philistinism is not only accepted but is actually becoming respectable; where books as books, not material for reading tests, scarcely matter; where everything, from hospitals to classrooms, research departments to libraries, must show results by measurable profits; where ‘intelligentsia’ is as much a dirty word as it would be in some totalitarian state … awards are a lively, cheering way of remembering what ought to be blindingly self-evident: that books are essential for society, for its education, its leisure, and its standards of tolerance and decency."

Throughout history, certain children's literature awards have attained greater prominence. In the United States, the national awards presented by the American Library Association (ALA) are generally regarded as the most prestigious by the publishing industry. Perhaps the most recognizable among these ALA awards is the Newbery Medal, which is given annually by the Association for Library Service to Children of the American Library Association to "the author of the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children published in the United States during the preceding year." Begun by Frederic Gershon Melcher and first presented in 1922, the award is named after John Newbery, an eighteenth-century British publisher of children's books. Its sister award is the Caldecott Medal, presented to the artist for the best picture book illustrations of the preceding year. It has been awarded since 1937 in honor of Randolph Caldecott, among the most famous illustrators of the so-called "Golden Age of Children's Literature." Their English equivalents can be found in the Carnegie Medal, awarded since 1937 for best children's book, and, for British illustration, the Kate Greenaway Medal, a contemporary of Caldecott's, since 1955. Internationally, the International Board on Books for Young People presents the Hans Christian Andersen Award every two years to both an artist and illustrator for their complete body of work to date and is named after the legendary Danish folklorist. Other major awards in- clude, in America, the Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards for general excellence and the American Library Association's Mildred L. Batchelder Award, which is given to the publisher of the best translated children's book published in the United States. In England, the major awards include the aforementioned Guardian Award for excellence by a British or Commonwealth writer and the Whitbread Book Award—now called the Costa Book Award—awarded since 1971 for "conveying the enjoyment of reading to the widest possible audience."

A breadth of other children's literature awards have been created to promote specific goals or causes. This category of awards includes a wide variety of multicultural honors such as the Coretta Scott King Book Award, named after the peace activist and wife of Martin Luther King, Jr., an award which has been bestowed since 1969 for "the promotion and educational contributions from a Black author and a Black illustrator for all peoples towards the American dream." Similarly, several other prizes reward contributions to Hispanic children's literature, among them the Americas Award (formerly the CLASP Award), the Pura Belpré Award, and the Tomás Rivera Award. Other well-known awards for multicultural juvenile publications are the American Book Award, for Hispanic and Native American works, and the Stonewall Book Award for gay literature. Another aspect to the awards process is the attempt to promote higher goals through the promotion of like-minded works. Numerous in quantity and of dramatically varying levels of prestige, ultimately, these sorts of awards hope to reward like-minded authors helping to mutually promote a specified philosophy, such as The Other Award's honoring of non-biased books or the Christopher Award's honoring of spiritual content. The Women's International League for Peace and Freedom annually presents the Jane Addams Children's Book Award, which, in the words of Ginny Moore Kruse, is given "to a book with literary merits that stresses themes of dignity, equality, peace, and social justice," while the lesser known A Book Can Develop Empathy (ABCDE) Award strives to recognize literary empathy for animals.

Like any other high stakes endeavor, particularly those so closely associated with individual opinions, children's literature awards have attracted a great deal of controversy for either recognizing or ignoring potentially divisive works. William H. Armstrong's Sounder (1969), winner of the 1970 Newbery Medal, has been the source of lingering tension for its depictions of African-American culture by a white author, with critic Albert V. Schwartz arguing, "[s]urely this (positive) response by white people played a paramount role in the book's selection for the Newbery Medal." Even more vexing for its critics is the lack of recognition for more intuitively written works about African-American culture written by black authors. The Newbery and Caldecott have been regularly criticized for the homogeneousness of its past winners; few minority authors or books featuring minority characters in central roles have been featured as winners. Equally troublesome, many critics have argued, is the lack of diversity among the works themselves, thus leading to regular complaints that these kinds of major awards promote books of remarkable similarity due to overly conservative judging panels who fail to reward either creativity or stories willing to break new ground. Critical assessments of the award-winners have consistently identified such trends. For instance, a 1999 essay by Martha Parravano has noted that Newbery-winning books were most readily identified with stories featuring a white, male child protagonist overcoming roadblocks to become a stronger, more selfless person. Historical fiction has also seen a heavy favoritism from selection committees. Such recurring criticisms has led Kenneth Kidd to argue that "the Newbery Medal has slowly and inadequately adapted to social change," and Bonnie F. J. Miller has even called the Newbery Medal racist, asserting that, "[w]hen … a body of literature with the power of Newbery gold lacks even one text by a minority writer or about a minority lead, the message sent to children is that the ‘most distinguished’ protagonists and authors are white." Another source of controversy with regards to children's literature awards in general is the lack of communion between those honors selected by children themselves—typified by such state-organized reading honors as Maryland's Black-Eyed Susan Award or Texas' Bluebonnet Award—and the prestigious national awards selected by adults. This has led to intimations of a lack of concern over juvenile interests, with selection committees instead favoring literature they believe children should read, rather than works of genuine interest to young readers. Ultimately, Stephanie Nettell has argued, awards should be presented with the idea that the winner is a book "that is special, that is pushing the at the frontiers of children's literature, expanding young imaginations, widening their world, allowing them to explore new ideas, emotions, language and experiences, and perhaps in doing so demanding something from its readers in return."


The Boston Globe-Horn Book Award—Established in 1967 by The Boston Globe and The Horn Book Magazine. Winners are selected in three categories: Picture Book, Fiction and Poetry, and Nonfiction.

The Caldecott Medal—Established in 1938 by Fredric G. Melcher, chairman of the board of the R. R. Bowker Publishing Company, as an incentive for better quality in children's books. Now presented annually by the Association for Library Service to Children, a division of the American Library Association, to the artist of the most distinguished American picture book for children.

The Carnegie Medal—Established in 1937 by the British Library Association, Youth Libraries Group. The award is presented annually to an outstanding children's book published in the United Kingdom. Initially limited to English writers whose books were published in England, but, since 1969, any book written in English and published first, or concurrently, in the United Kingdom has been eligible.

The Christopher Award—Established in 1949, the Christopher Awards were founded by Christopher founder Father James Keller to salute media that "affirm the highest values of the human spirit." A separate "Books for Young People" category was added in 1970.

The Coretta Scott King Award—Established in 1969 by the American Library Association. The award is given to African American authors and illustrator for outstanding inspirational and educational contributions, the Coretta Scott King Book Award titles promote understanding and appreciation of the culture of all peoples and their contribution to the realization of the American dream. The separate award for illustrator was added in 1979.

The Guardian Award for Children's Fiction—Established in 1967 by The Guardian for outstanding works of children's fiction by a British or Commonwealth author. The award is decided by a panel of authors and the review editor for The Guardian's children's books section. Picture books and books by previous winners are excluded from consideration.

The Hans Christian Andersen Medal—Established by the International Board on Books for Young People in 1956. Every other year, the IBBY presents the Hans Christian Andersen Medal to a living author and illustrator whose complete works have made a lasting contribution to children's literature.

The Jane Addams Children's Book Award—Established in 1953 by the Jane Addams Peace Association. The award acknowledges children's books that address themes or topics that engage children in thinking about peace, justice, world community, and/or equality of the sexes and all races.

The Kate Greenaway Medal—Established in 1955 by the British Library Association, Youth Libraries Group. The award is presented annually for the most distinguished work in the illustration of children's books published in the United Kingdom.

The Laura Ingalls Wilder Medal—Established in 1954 by the Association for Library Service to Children, a division of the American Library Association. The award honors an author or illustrator whose books, published in the United States, have made, over a period of years, a substantial and lasting contribution to literature for children. The award was given every five years between 1960 and 1980; it is now given every three years.

The Mildred L. Batchelder Award—Established in 1966 by the American Library Association. The award is a citation given to an American publisher for a children's book considered to be the most outstanding of those books originally published in a foreign language in a foreign country, and subsequently translated into English and published in the United States.

The National Book Award for Young People's Literature—Established in 1950 by the National Book Foundation to enhance the public's awareness of exceptional books written by fellow Americans, and to increase the popularity of reading in general. The awards are given to recognize achievements in four genres: Fiction, Nonfiction, Poetry, and Young People's Literature. The Young People's category was added in 1996. A Children's Books category had previously existed in the National Book Award/American Book Awards program from 1969 to 1983.

The Newbery Medal—Established in 1922 by Fredric G. Melcher, chairman of the board of the R. R. Bowker Publishing Company, as an incentive for better quality in children's books. Now presented annually by the Association for Library Service to Children, a division of the American Library Association, to the author of the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children.

The Phoenix Award—Established by the Children's Literature Association in 1985. The award, given to a book originally published in the English language, is intended to recognize books of high literary merit.

The Pura Belpré Award—Established in 1996 by the Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC), a division of the American Library Association (ALA), and the National Association to Promote Library and Information Services to Latinos and the Spanish-Speaking (REFORMA), an ALA affiliate. The award is presented to a Latino/Latina writer and illustrator whose work best portrays, affirms, and celebrates the Latino cultural experience in an outstanding work of literature for children and youth.

The Tomas Rivera Mexican American Children's Book Award—Established in 1995 by the Texas State University College of Education to honor authors and illustrators who create literature that depicts the Mexican American experience.


Ginny Moore Kruse (essay date 1987)

SOURCE: Kruse, Ginny Moore. "On Awards and Prizes." In Innocence and Experience: Essays and Conservations on Children's Literature, compiled and edited by Barbara Harrison and Gregory Maguire, pp. 453-55. New York, N.Y.: Lothrop, Lee, & Shepard Books, 1987.

[In the following essay, former Newbery Committee Chair Kruse offers an introduction to several of the more prominent awards in the children's literature genre and their various aims in offering such honors.]

This text has been suppressed due to author restrictions.

This text has been suppressed due to author restrictions.

Stephanie Nettell (essay date 1990)

SOURCE: Nettell, Stephanie. "Children's Books: Always Back of the Queue?" In Reading and Response, edited by Mike Hayhoe and Stephen Parker, pp. 107-14. Buckingham, England: Open University Press, 1990.

[In the following essay, Nettell discusses, as the Chair of the Guardian Children's Fiction Award, the perceived critical apathy for children's books, arguing that juvenile literature prizes should attempt to recognize quality works and authors rather than seeking to subjectively define the "best" single book in a given year.]

For me, as a journalist, a children's books editor and reviewer, the idea of ‘response’ applies not only to the young reader but also to professional colleagues and, on a wider scale, to society as a whole, whose response to children's reading is so often puzzling and distressing.

There is, for instance, a curious atmosphere about any discussion of literary awards and prizes: anyone involved with an award is always forced into a kind of defensive defiance, such that you are really quite pathetically grateful if someone ever goes so far as to admire your choice of winner. There is no reason why the different awards should feel in competition with each other, nor why librarians, teachers, and so on, should almost invariably be critical of a winning choice, except, it seems to me, for an anxious insecurity that we all share. I have seen how enormously worrying it can be to plump for one book above all others, presumably because we all feel a little threatened about our critical abilities when others make a different choice. Strangely, this seems to apply to those looking on as interested spectators as well as to those who are actively involved. We really ought to remind ourselves every so often that anyone who goes through the whole process of struggling to select an award cares deeply about books, and is, therefore, when it comes down to it, on the same side as ourselves.

As one of the longest established literary awards, the Guardian Award for children's books is twenty-two years old. And with its fairly impressive list of winners, I think it is true to say that it is one of the most prestigious: all but one winner is still writing. John Rowe Townsend, my predecessor on The Guardian and Bill Webb, then the paper's literary editor, founded the award, setting as its standard one of ‘literary excellence’, its main criterion being that it is a tribute paid to a writer by his or her peers—the four judges must themselves be children's authors. They serve on a rota of roughly four years. I choose them, and I suppose what is in my mind is not just their critical ability to recognize good writing, plotting, etc., but whether they can see themselves as both adult judge and child audience. They are often previous winners for the obvious reason that this means they will no longer have hopes of winning it themselves—previous winners are excluded. This is one aspect that has quite an influence on the award, because good writers often go on producing good books, and excluding those books can tilt the final result. On the other hand, not giving the award twice does broaden the field, which is part of the aim of the award, and also nudges us occasionally towards a new writer. In practice, the award has been given only three times to a first novel—Watership Down (1973), Goodnight Mister Tom (1982) and The Runaways (1988).

There is a certain amount of ambiguity about whether we are recognizing a book (which is what we always do, in fact), or an author, as our rules apply to the authors as much as to the books. What we never claim to do, because it is obviously invidious given the fact that every book is different in its intent, appeal and style, is claim to be awarding the best book of the year. We are, John Rowe Townsend once said, allowed to award the body of an author's work, but the danger of that is, that unless one is psychic, hitting the right book and not what later proves to have been a particularly weak specimen is far too tricky. If it is the book in the context of that year that is being recognized, not the author, then it does not matter so much if the writer fails to write again, while if you hang back waiting for a better example from someone promising, then the right moment somehow never seems to come again.

But let us return to the concept of ‘literary excellence’. I stoutly defend the Guardian Award against those who like to say that all award-winning books are actually unread by children. However, I do think it is essential that our award should go to a book that is special, that is pushing at the frontiers of children's literature, expanding young imaginations, widening their world, allowing them to explore new ideas, emotions, language and experiences, and perhaps in doing so demanding something from its readers in return. An award winner, by definition, must stand out from the crowd. And that means it must, inevitably, appeal primarily to the good reader. But that does not mean it is inaccessible to the majority of children, and an unreadable book must never never win an award just because it strikes adult judges as clever. I really cannot emphasize this too much—it is something the panel discusses and worries over endlessly. And speaking personally, I have the least patience with the clever ‘sixth-form’ type of novel, whose authors I suspect get far more favourable treatment than they would if they took the plunge and dived into the adult end of the pool, where they really belong if they had the courage to try. But that we are elitist is still a criticism we have to face regularly. And therefore it is very encouraging and satisfying when you get a call or a letter from someone, especially a child, who has enjoyed a book, and seen on the jacket that it has won the Guardian Award, and wants to know which other winners they can read. However, it does tend to be the same three titles that crop up each time—Conrad's War (1979), Goodnight Mister Tom (1982) and The Sheep-Pig (1984).

It has often been said that children, and not adults, should be the proper judges of their own reading matter. I believe that there should be at least one award which is indeed of their choosing, but because children are as varied in their tastes, development and opinions as anyone else, I do not see that a better choice will necessarily emerge, and judging by the Young Critics' award at Bologna and that of our own Federation of Children's Books Groups, the result is likely to be as open to argument as all the others. Also, because such enterprises are impossible to organize without a lot of adult intervention of one kind and another, they are probably no more representative of unadulterated young opinion than those phoney Top Teenage Reading lists that come from the Book Marketing Council. Someone, somewhere, gives the kids the books in the first place. Therefore, although I am not against the idea, I do not think it is any less flawed than any other method.

During the initial selection process, although literary quality is the first criterion, linked to enjoyment, I must also admit that I could never be happy with a winner that contradicted those principles—putting it pompously, I suppose I mean the social, political and moral principles—The Guardian and I myself believe are important.

Though I imagine that the librarians involved in selecting the Carnegie Award would say the selection process is horrendously dictatorial, I believe choosing a winner is benevolently dictatorial, and that the final result seems not to differ so tremendously from the results of other methods—I think our record proves that it cannot be going too far wrong. The tradition for The Guardian's adult fiction award is for the literary editor to ask his regular reviewers for their choice, but such an avenue is not open to me for two reasons: first, with only four pages a year, none of my reviewers could be expected to have a sufficient overview to make a responsible choice; and, secondly, it is laid down that my judges must be writers for children, and because one of my quirks is to dislike too many authors reviewing each other, few of my reviewers could fulfil that qualification.

Because our judges are unpaid, we do not ask them to plough through a hundred books in order to make a shortlist. I do it instead. Therefore, we do not publish an official shortlist like other awards, nor do I even encourage publishers to tell their authors they are on a shortlist—although afterwards it can be a boost to someone, especially an unknown, to say so on a jacket or whatever.

During the month of January I read through the produce of the previous year—and I have the advantage of having seen most of the books already, even though I may not have read them all, though I have to re-read them anyway—and try to select about a dozen titles that seem to me to represent the best of various genres and age groups.

Picture books are excluded because there is no way one can compare a picture book and a teenage novel. The lower age limit is established at about seven, and even then, young books have a hard time when compared directly with older fiction. More often than not, the judges cannot help feeling that such books are too slight to be outright winners. Though the 1989 runner-up, Magdalen Nabb's Josie Smith, about a super little rising-six, and as suitable for reading aloud as it is for newly independent readers, is probably the youngest book to make it into the winning class, it could not, as things stand, hope to beat a book aimed at older children like Geraldine McCaughrean's A Pack of Lies (1989).

The process begins when, in November, I send out a letter through the Book Marketing Council's children's book group and put a notice in the trade journal The Bookseller. After receiving many titles through the post, I ring those publishers who have not responded, and ask for any titles I think necessary. However, authors can send in their own titles and the judges can make suggestions—as long as the book in question is fiction, has been published in the UK in the previous calendar year, and is by a British or Commonwealth writer. On average, I receive one copy of about 125 titles from twenty-three imprints. After drawing up my shortlist, a copy is then sent to each judge in February.

Early in March the four judges and I meet to decide a winner. However, it is rare indeed for the judges to be unanimous from the outset: often a compromise has to be made. This does not mean that the award is given to a second-rate book, but that though people differ as regards their first choice, they often agree on their second choice. However, we never choose a book that any member of the panel would hate to see win: hence the compromise. We have often been surprised by our choice—I worry when it faces hostility, but in retrospect I think that is all to the good—and I believe it demonstrates a certain liveliness and open-mindedness on the part of our judges. They do go for what they themselves want, not what they believe the world would want. I think our list shows a spirit of independence, some shrewd judgements, and a good range of subject matter, style and ages.

I then interview the winner and present him or her with a cheque for £500 at a celebration lunch. The runner-up (who gets nothing but a morale-boost), their publishers, the judges, past judges and general friends of the award are also invited. And, despite everyone's efforts to the contrary, that is probably the last the world hears of it all. Which leads to the question: ‘What was it all for?’

I think everyone who sets up a prize has two motives. The first, and most important, is the desire to draw the attention of an uncaring world to the best of children's books, and to what the world of children's reading can offer. I believe there is a genuine altruism in the motivation, because the returns otherwise are so small. Although The Guardian realizes that every time the phrase ‘Guardian Award’ is heard or seen, it is an advertisement for the paper, and that the reputation of the paper as one that cares about the arts, or the young, is enhanced, anyone who has tried to get publicity for anything to do with children's book awards will know that self-seeking is not a likely motive. In the case of the The Guardian, no other national paper is going to give it a plug, and only the local press and radio, and specialist journals like Books for Keeps, are realistic possibilities for interest. We had an item on ‘Treasure Islands’ recently, the BBC radio programme about children's books, and that was seen as quite a coup.

Does anyone, then, get anything other than £500 from it all? I believe winning affects the author's next book and the review coverage it might expect, that the words ‘Guardian Award’—which can be printed on the paperback cover—are a ‘come on’ for some people, and, most of all, that it makes the author feel that someone out there is taking notice—that it is, after all, worthwhile. All of the winners I have met said it gave them a tremendous boost, encouraged them to go on, and cheered them through the next book. And all the publishers and authors who say they despise awards, are thrilled when they themselves come through to win.

I believe that this is all we can hope to do in this country: draw the public's attention to the fact that children's books—good children's books—exist at all, and give a simple morale-boost to a lucky writer every year. In the USA, the equivalent of the librarians' Carnegie Award, the Newbery, puts extra thousands on to the sales of a title: here some would have us believe it is practically a death knell, even among the librarians who theoretically chose it. Why on earth is this so? Everyone agrees books are a good thing. Everyone these days gets very worked up about children being able to read, so presumably children's books are a good thing. Why, then, are children's books always at the back of the queue?

I am convinced that the reason lies deep in the psyche of our society and its attitude to the young. The apathy with which children's literary awards are regarded is merely part of the apathy with which children's books are regarded, which is itself merely part of the way children, their education and their interests, are regarded. This is why, for instance, although children's books are the main growth area of the publishing industry, involving 10% of turnover and 20% of sales, they get less than 4% of the review space—and that is in The Guardian. Most newspapers give them even less than that. For reviewing purposes, children's books are a sub-genre, like crime or science fiction, to be given quick, brief notices every so often (and not, indeed, as often as crime and science fiction!). There is not one adult literary editor on a major newspaper or book journal who genuinely cares about children's books, knows anything about them, or is willing to give decent space to them. Children's books remain the poor relations of the literary world. Their authors are not considered interesting enough in their own right to warrant media attention. It is not enough just to write a good book (this, actually, is increasingly true of adult writers, too, in today's press), but there has to be some controversial hook, or the fact that the author's made a million—money talks to journalists. There can surely be nothing left to say about Dahl, and yet there they go each time children's books are mentioned—you would think he was the only writer we have ever produced.

The world pricks up its ears when a children's author writes an adult book—people like Jane Gardam, Penelope Lively and Nina Bawden. When Ann Schlee was shortlisted for the Booker Prize, Rhine Journey (1981) was described by everyone—including her publisher Macmillan on the jacket—as her first novel, despite her having won our Guardian Award. Both she and Anne Fine, when they produced adult books, were treated as miraculous examples of new-sprung novelists, as if their many excellent children's books were sorts of embryos. Andrew Davies won the first Guardian Award I handled, and there were a lot of raised eyebrows at the time: Conrad's War (1979), which I still think is a brilliant book, had not had one single review until then, though it went on to win the Boston Globe/Horn Book Award. The Marmalade Atkins series (1979-88) followed, not in the same class but tremendously popular with kids themselves, both as books and on television, but it was only when his successful adult television plays arrived that the press recognized him in a big way.

This apathy is why, given the financial and commercial importance of the young lists to their publishers, their authors are paid less (often their editors too) and their advertising and promotion budgets are so low. I may add that for the first time in the memory of our Award, both the winning publishers of 1988 and 1989, Hutchinson and Oxford, declined to take an advertisement to support their author on our page—a matter of £200 or so. Although we felt this to be rather tacky at the time, it is more than that—it is important. In newspapers like The Guardian, and I am sure in most quality papers, the adult literary pages are guaranteed (unless the climate changes catastrophically); they are regarded as a public service, a cultural obligation that will appear each week unfailingly, contributing to the reputation of the paper as much as anything else. But I must earn my space. There is in theory a proportion of three columns of advertisements to pay for five of editorial. Now, because publishers will not or cannot come up with that, despite being given special rates below any other advertising in the entire paper, I regularly go through the irritating business of, if not actually being threatened with having no page, then at least having to be grateful for being allowed a page. Publishers, of course, would much rather have a review than an advertisement anyway, regardless of cost, but I wonder if they realize that they may wake up one day to find all review space has died because they refused to support it.

And this apathy is also why, at the retail end of the business, bookshops hate the small return on children's books, their awkward sizes, the fiercer demands made on the knowledge of the bookseller by the customers. Only the committed booksellers, the honourable few, battle on. Let us hope the small independents survive the tactics of the big chains.

Finally, this apathy is why, when a skilled, well-qualified school librarian's role in our children's edu- cation is so obvious it does not need spelling out, it should be one of the first to be cut back. This is why, in a world where every emerging democracy, no matter how embattled by poverty and debt, recognizes that educating its people so they can read and think for themselves is a priority, we in our First World smugness are unable to find the money for teachers and librarians, far less books. Instead, we seem to be sinking deeper and deeper into an increasingly philistine world. It is in this world that I think book awards have a useful role to play.

When I look at the tastes and preferences of the great British public, I cannot help thinking it is over-optimistic to assume, as many of my colleagues do, that a child will automatically move on from Sweet Valley High or Fighting Fantasies or The Famous Five to something meatier if you just leave them alone. Which newspapers have the largest sales? Which adult paperbacks are the real best-sellers? Which television programmes get the highest viewing figures? How many adults, indeed, ever do move on from pulp to ‘decent’ books? I am not totally at ease with the philosophy that it does not matter what children read as long as they are reading. While I would never stop a child from reading a book, any book—and the more the merrier—I do believe in positive guidance towards more demanding and perhaps fulfilling books. I would not ban or remove titles, but I would take positive action to add something, to suggest alternatives. And this is what book awards and prizes can do very well: they are suggestions and pointers for readers to discover something new that is rewarding, challenging and exciting—something they may not otherwise have known about.

Far from literary awards becoming less sensible or necessary, it seems to me that in the current climate—where philistinism is not only accepted but is becoming actually respectable; where books as books, not material for reading tests, scarcely matter; where everything, from hospitals to classrooms, research departments to libraries, must show results by measurable profits; where ‘intelligentsia’ is as much a dirty word as it would be in some totalitarian state (for proof of this I need only quote the report of the Lords' debate over Clause 29, which made it an offence for local government bodies to appear to ‘promote’ homosexuality: ‘Lord Beloff, supporting the Government, claimed that concern about the clause was reserved only for the intelligentsia’—note the contempt in this dismissal)—awards are a lively, cheering way of remembering what ought to be blindingly self-evident: that books are essential for society, for its education, its leisure, and its standards of tolerance and decency. The continuing and alarming response to The Satanic Verses should remind us that writing is, after all, where all the real intellectual risks are taken, and any event that celebrates what writers, and I should add artists, are trying honourably to achieve, at whatever level, is worth our support and encouragement. And so I call on all of you concerned with the young—who are the only hope we have for the future—it's time you pushed your way to the front of the queue!

John T. Gillespie and Corinne J. Naden (essay date 2006)

SOURCE: Gillespie, John T., and Corinne J. Naden. "John Newbery—The Man and the Medal." In The Newbery/Printz Companion: Booktalk and Related Materials for Award Winners and Honor Books, pp. xiii-xvii. Westport, Conn.: Libraries Unlimited, 2006.

[In the following essay, Gillespie and Naden profile eighteenth-century English children's book publisher John Newbery, for whom the Newbery Medal is named, and the history of the Newbery Medal itself.]

This text has been suppressed due to author restrictions.

This text has been suppressed due to author restrictions.

This text has been suppressed due to author restrictions.

This text has been suppressed due to author restrictions.

This text has been suppressed due to author restrictions.


Oralia Garza de Cortés (essay date June 1999)

SOURCE: Garza de Cortés, Oralia. "Justice in the Publishing Field: A Look at Multicultural Awards for Children's Literature." MultiCultural Review 8, no. 2 (June 1999): 42-8.

[In the following essay, Garza de Cortés highlights several literary awards recognizing multicultural children's literature.]

Early in the morning on the last conference day of the American Library Association's (ALA) annual meeting, hundreds of librarians can be seen scurrying to the shuttle buses that will take them to one of the most important gatherings of the conference. The gathering, probably the most integrated event of the conference, is the annual Coretta Scott King Awards Breakfast, where the prestigious award is given to the most outstanding African-American author and illustrator of the year. On reaching their destination, the guests file into the large ballroom that is host to the round tables covered in white linen, each table decorated with a centerpiece, a sampling of the year's award winners. Publishers who have come to appreciate and support this award have paid for many a re- served table. The morning's excitement is formalized by the army of writers, illustrators, editors, and librarians who march steadfast onstage to take their rightful places at the table of honor. Seated next to each honoree is the proud editor, usually a white male or female, who is also recognized for her or his role in bringing a manuscript to successful fruition. At most of these breakfasts, the president of the ALA may also be found seated at the table of honor. The festivities officially begin with the singing of "Lift Every Voice and Sing," the well-known hymn that resonates with the spirit of freedom, truth, and justice.

The Awards

The Coretta Scott King Award

At such a spirited gathering as the Coretta Scott King Awards Breakfast, it is difficult to imagine the struggle that brought this event to its present stature. Two school librarians, Glyndon Flynt Greer and Mabel R. McKissick, founded the Coretta Scott King Award in 1969. The occasion was the annual meeting of the ALA, held in Atlantic City that year. The two were vying for a poster of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. being distributed at a booth sponsored by Johnson Publishing, an African-American publisher. In their chance meeting, they began to converse on their favorite subject, children's books, lamenting the fact that neither the Caldecott nor the Newbery Award had ever recognized an African-American writer or illustrator.1 Four years earlier Nancy Larrick's classic article "The All-White World of Children's Books" had jolted the children's book publishing industry with statistics that revealed the near-total omission of African-American children as protagonists.2 Greer and McKissick developed an action plan for an award that would help to remedy the bias in children's publishing. In naming the award after Coretta Scott King, says Heather Caines, chair of the CSK awards jury (1997-98), the original committee wanted to honor Dr. King, who had recently been assassinated. "They wanted to do something to commemorate his work, but they didn't want to name it after him, because he was no longer with us. So that the spirit would be best attached to a living person, they chose to name it after Coretta Scott King, both to honor her commitment to carry on his work, and in so doing, to recognize what he had done."3

Yet for all its merits, the new award failed to receive formal support and endorsement from the ALA. Its slow start occurred, according to Caines, because "it didn't have the visibility of a division behind it. It did not have a home." It was not until 1980 that the award became officially sanctioned within ALA. The Social Responsibility Round Table (SRRT), one of the most progressive units of the ALA, took over the administration of the award. Within the SRRT, responsibility for the award was assigned to the CSK Task Force.

The CSK Task Force selects the CSK jury that decides who will receive the award and any Honor Citations that may be given. The members of the jury are, for the most part, children's librarians. Many are also members of the Association for Library Services to Children (ALSC), the division that bestows the more established Newbery and Caldecott Awards (given to children's book writing and illustration, respectively). In accordance with its focus, the CSK jury contains many members who are themselves African American.

Concerned that new African-American writers need nurturing at early stages of their careers, the CSK Task Force has added a new award, the New Talent Award, formerly known as the Genesis Award, which recognizes writers and illustrators early on in their careers. Eligibility is open to African-American authors and illustrators with fewer than three published works.4 A separate jury selects the winners of this award. One of the first winners of the Genesis Award, given to her novel Tears of a Tiger in 1994, was Sharon M. Draper, who won the CSK Award for writing for her novel Forged By Fire four years later.

In 1999, the Coretta Scott King Task Force is preparing to celebrate the Thirtieth Anniversary of the Coretta Scott King Award with renowned children's author Virginia Hamilton as chair of the anniversary activities. The planned events, to be held at the ALA's annual conference in New Orleans, Louisiana, in June 1999, include a "Gallery Walk" that will display the original artwork of past CSK Award winners. The ALA also plans a traveling exhibit of panels based on the artwork.

The Pura Belpré Award

The publishing of Latino children's books has fared no better than that of African-American children's books. Figures provided by the Cooperative Children's Book Center, located at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, show that in 1995 only 70 titles of approximately 4,500 published during this year were identifiable as books by or about Latinos, a decrease of 20 titles from 1994.5 The dearth of materials was evident to librarians, teachers, and educators, and efforts to establish a children book award to rem- edy the problem began in earnest in the early 1990s. Unbeknownst to award organizers within the ALA, two other groups had begun efforts to establish a Latino award. The Americas Award, originally known as the CLASP Award, was first awarded in 1993 to Vejigante Masquerader by Lulu Delacre. The Tomás Rivera Award was first awarded in 1995 to writer Gary Soto and illustrator Susan Guevara for Chato's Kitchen and to Rudolfo Anaya and Edward González for The Farolitos of Christmas. The Pura Belpré Award, sponsored by an ALA-affiliated organization, was first awarded in 1996 to writer Judith Ortiz Cofer for An Island Like You: Stories from El Barrio and to Susan Guevara for the illustrations for Chato's Kitchen.

The Pura Belpré Award is named for the first Latina children's librarian in New York City. Pura Belpré (1899-1982) worked for the New York Public Library, and her professional career spanned 40 years as a storyteller, puppeteer, avid promoter of books and stories, writer, and translator of stories reflecting the folklore of her beloved Puerto Rico. Her indefatigable spirit earned her a reputation as a crusader for library services for the predominantly Spanish-speaking children of Puerto Rican heritage who made New York City their home.

The first Pura Belpré Award Ceremony was held in Austin, Texas, in 1996 in conjunction with the twenty-fifth anniversary and first national conference of REFORMA, the National Association of Librarians Serving the Spanish Speaking, an affiliate of the ALA. The award is given to an author and to an illustrator whose works "portray, affirm and celebrate the Latino cultural experience."6 The term Latino as defined for purposes of the award is "people whose heritage emanates from any of the Spanish-speaking cultures of the Western Hemisphere." The award is given biannually, and the book must be published in the United States or Puerto Rico in the two years preceding the presentation of the award. Citizenship is not a requirement for this award, although the author and/or illustrator must reside in the United States. The book may be written in English, Spanish, or in a bilingual format. The first award reviewed the body of work published by Latino authors and illustrators from 1990 to 1996. In 1998 the award was presented during the annual meeting of the ALA and will continue to be presented at that time. Because of its affiliation with the Association of Library Services for Children (ALSC), a co-sponsor and administrator for the award, the Pura Belpré Award winners will be announced along with the Newbery and Caldecott winners.

As the award's administrator, the ALSC selects the jury for the Pura Belpré Award. As is the case with the Coretta Scott King Award, many of the jurors share the heritage of the writers and illustrators whose books are judged. Virtually all, regardless of heritage, are fluent in Spanish and have experience living in Latin America or working with Spanish-speaking children.

The Americas Award

The Americas Award was born out of a series of literature conferences called "Reading Latin America," held in the early 1990s in New York and Wisconsin and sponsored by Columbia Teacher's College. Publishers' interest in Latinos as an identifiable market became evident at the conference. It was here that Graciela De Italiano, a bilingual education consultant, began to ask some hard questions.

At that time, there was a terrible lack of good materials that portrayed not only Latinos but all cultures authentically and that were of good quality. And when some appeared, they were poor choices, and poorly translated. You could really just count with your two hands the amount of books that were worth mentioning, that portrayed us and particularly the Latino culture, and we're not even talking about bilingual here, I was just asking for a good book.7

For De Italiano, the conference was a turning point, as she began to wonder what could make an impact on the quantity, but more importantly on the quality, of the publishing for Latino children. Her research led her to study the literature for African-American children. It was here that she discovered the Coretta Scott King Award. She began to view awards as a "beacon of hope," a way to make just such an impact.

The Americas Award is given annually for works that "authentically and engagingly relate to Latin America, the Caribbean or to Latinos in the United States."8 The Consortium for Latin American Studies Programs (CLASP), a university-based program that promotes cultural understanding between the United States and Latin America, administers the award. The term Latin American is more closely aligned with the commonly defined term as used by Latin American Studies programs nationwide. Thus, books from and about French and Portuguese-speaking countries such as Haiti and Brazil are eligible for the award. "The Americas is a very special place," says De Italiano, "where human beings have been thrown together by conditions of history. We are attempting something that is extremely challenging, which is to live with each other when we have histories of conquest, histories of slaveries, histories of massacres of indigenous peoples, and histories of waves of immigrants leaving Europe as outcasts. We chose to encompass it all."

The ceremony itself, held during the summer at the Hispanic Room of the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., is supported by the Hispanic Division and the Center for the Book, both at the Library of Congress, and by CLASP. Each year, a fully annotated Commends List of honor books is issued along with the winning titles; the Commends List was initiated in 1995. In 1998 the committee produced a complete annotated booklet of all five years of the Americas Award winners, including the commended titles.9

Whereas the Pura Belpré Award and the Coretta Scott King Award recognize authors and illustrators who are Latino and African American respectively, the Americas Award honors the book written for children by or about the Latin American experience regardless of the author's origin. "We wanted to send a message to publishers, and we wanted to reach children, but in the process we were honoring authors and illustrators and good works of literature," says De Italiano.

The 1998 winners of the Americas Award demonstrate the range of topics, age groups, and authors considered for the award. The award for a book for older children went to Francisco Jiménez for The Circuit: Stories from the Life of a Migrant Child, published by the University of New Mexico Press. The picture book winner was The Face at the Window, written by Regina Hanson, illustrated by Linda Saport, and published by Clarion.

The Tomás Rivera Award

Tucked quietly in the hill country of Central Texas, Southwest Texas State University (SWTSU) is home to a large number of aspiring teachers who have come to regard SWTSU's Education Department as a front-runner among teachers' colleges in Texas. Among its distinguished alumni is Lyndon Baines Johnson, who taught Mexican-American children in South Texas long before he became President of the United States. The college also claims another distinguished alumnus, Tomás Rivera, the teacher and writer who went on to become the Chancellor of the University of California at Riverside. It should come as no surprise, then, that SWTSU is host to the Tomás Rivera Award. In 1995, two educators, Velma Menchaca and Judy Lovett, visited Dean John Beck of the College of Education. They were concerned about the lack of books for Mexican-American children that accurately portrayed their lives and experiences.10 They were also concerned about the rising number of Mexican-American children in the schools and the fact that students, librarians, and teachers were unaware of the literature that did exist. "We wanted to honor these authors and bring them to children in the schools so that the children could be exposed to literature that recognizes their cultural values," says Jennifer Battle, Associate Professor in the education department and a current member of the steering committee. This steering committee was originally put together to draw up the terms and criteria for the award. "A literature search was conducted," says Battle. "We didn't just make it up."11 The result is a set of criteria that calls for "accurate" and "engaging" portrayals and or representations of Mexican Americans, specifically stating that such representations should "avoid stereotypes."

The selection mechanism for the Tomás Rivera Award is a twofold process. A regional committee, comprised of classroom teachers, college professors, education majors, librarians, and community members, labors over the selection criteria and narrows its choices to a recommended list. That list is then submitted to a national committee, comprised of Mexican-American authors, university professors, and librarians, who vote by ballot for the winning book.

The 1996 winner was Carmen Lomas Garza, author of In My Family/En Mi Familia (Children's Book Press) for her detailed portrayals of family life as celebrated by Mexican Americans in South Texas. In 1998, Pat Mora's Tomds and the Library Lady (Random House), beautifully illustrated by Raul Colón, received the award for the tender story of the relationship between young Tomás Rivera and the librarian who nurtured the migrant child's reading interests.

The African Studies Association Children's Book Award

A professional association consisting of mostly university-based specialists in African Studies and headquartered at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, the African Studies Association (ASA) sponsors a children's book award, given annually to a picture book and a book for older children, but if no book merits the award in a given year, the award is not given. Notable book citations may also be given to highly recommended books that do not win the award.

The award jury consists of university-based African Studies Outreach Coordinators (who consult with school districts, publishers, and others on how to teach about Africa), teachers, and librarians. To be eligible for the award, the book must have been published in the United States in the preceding year.

The ASA Children's Book Award was established to counteract the inaccuracies, misinformation, and stereotypes prevalent in children's books about Africa. "Even today, many books set in Africa treat the continent as an entire continent, ignoring its complex history, cultures, religions, and geography. Too many books still use outdated and pejorative language that dates back to the era of colonialism," says Lyn Miller-Lachmann, a former member of the award committee.12 The first ASA Children's Book Award was given in 1991 to The Origin of Life on Earth: An African Creation Myth, written by David Anderson and illustrated by Kathleen Atkins. The Origin of Life on Earth was the maiden publication of a small African-American-owned publishing house, Sights Publishing.

Skipping Stones Award

Another award that recognizes books that promote "multicultural awareness and ecological awareness in visionary ways"13 is the Skipping Stones Award. Sponsored by Skipping Stones magazine, a multicultural children's magazine for children ages 4 through 15 based in Eugene, Oregon, the yearly award is selected by a group comprised of teachers, librarians, and students. Rather than honoring only one or two books, as do most of the other awards, the Skipping Stones Award commends up to ten books in each category and has recently added awards for nonprint materials and teaching resources. The Skipping Stones Award is also not limited to a single ethnic group. Among the 1998 winners were a book about the Native American experience (Bruce Hucko's A Rainbow at Night), a middle-grade novel about an Asian Indian American girl (Aruna's Journeys, by Jyotsna Sreenivasan), D Is for Doufu: An Alphabet Book of Chinese Culture, by Maywan Shen Krach, and Pat Mora's Tomás and the Library Lady. Announcement of the awards is made on Earth Day each year, and the winning titles are reviewed in the summer issue of the magazine.

American Book Award

The Before Columbus Foundation established the American Book Awards in 1978 as a way to "respect and honor excellence in American literature without restriction or bias with regard to race, sex, creed, cultural origin, size of press or ad budget, or even genre."14 The award, which is given in a variety of adult literature categories as well as juvenile literature, was conceived as a way to uphold freedom and equality as an American value. The intent of the award is to continue the discovery of America through fiction, nonfiction, and children's books of the best literary quality produced in a given year, and awards in past years have focused on the work of Latino and Native American authors. Previous award winners for children's books include Victor Martínez for Parrot in the Oven: Mi vida, published by HarperCollins in 1996.

Sugarman Family Award

Administered by the District of Columbia Jewish Community Center, the Sugarman Family Award for Jewish Children's Literature honors the best children's book published on topics related to Jewish life around the world. In addition to the main award, the committee, composed of librarians, educators, and Jewish leaders, awards several honorable mentions.

Joan Sugarman, a noted author, children's librarian, and college instructor, established the award in 1994. Sugarman joined with other family members to encourage and inspire other writers and illustrators and to raise awareness of the high quality books published for children on Jewish history and culture. Originally, the award was given annually; in 1997 it became a biannual award.15

The Importance of Multicultural Children's Book Awards

Guiding Teachers and Librarians

Book awards serve as guides, particularly for teachers and librarians who find it impossible to wade through reviews of the approximately 5,000 children's titles published each year, much less read the books themselves. Kathleen T. Horning, a noted librarian who coordinates Special Collections at the Cooperative Children's Book Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and author of From Cover to Cover: Evaluating and Reviewing Children's Books (HarperCollins, 1997) says, "Awards always make a huge difference because they bring people's attention to particular books, no matter what the award is for. It helps people focus on the small number of books out of the thousands that are published each year."16

Multicultural awards have an added value, Horning says: "Awards given specifically to multicultural literature give great visibility to outstanding multicultural books. It makes it easier for teachers and librar- ians to highlight particular multicultural books." From a professional point of view, Horning appreciates the work of award committees such as Coretta Scott King and Pura Belpré because "as an Anglo librarian, I appreciate learning from the committees what books are considered highly regarded by people who bring a different cultural view to the books than what we typically get on other award committees." While she does not believe these awards necessarily constitute a "stamp of approval," she points out the unique contributions of these committees. When asked about her confidence in the committees' work, she answers, "I do feel confident particularly when there are librarians who have that particular cultural background, especially African American or Latino. It's sometimes hard for [other] librarians to know what is culturally authentic."

Recognizing and Nurturing Culturally Diverse Writers

For a new writer or illustrator, a book award may launch a career, bringing a writer out of obscurity and into the public eye. This is especially true for multicultural writers, who may lack the financial resources and connections enjoyed by their mainstream counterparts. After learning that he had received a Pura Belpré Honor Award for his book of poems Laughing Tomatoes/Jítomates Risueños (1997), Francisco Alarcón wrote, "I am honored by this award! It fills my heart and soul with joy to know that there are people who celebrate my work."17 For illustrator Stephanie García, winning the 1998 Pura Belpré Award for Illustration for Snapshots from the Wedding was a gratifying experience that went beyond personal honor and recognition. "What ALSC and REFORMA have done here today helps to ensure that generations of children will have a significant knowledge of who they are," she says.18

Heather Caines, who served as the chair of the Coretta Scott King Award jury, reflects on her role as a librarian who has made a impact on the world of book publishing for African-American children:

It's heartwarming to see that you can make a difference in the life of an author and illustrator because once they receive the award for the most part it does seem to change the outlook of their careers. It brings them to a wider audience in a quicker time frame. It serves as a springboard. [The authors and illustrators] feel as if they are bringing something from their people to their people and beyond.19

After 30 years of serving as the conscience of African-American children in the world of book publishing, the Coretta Scott King Award has come to nurture a second generation of authors and illustrators. In 1998, the sons of three CSK award recipients received their own awards. Javaka Steptoe, son of John Steptoe, who won the 1988 CSK Award for Mufaro's Beautiful Daughters, received the CSK Award for Illustration in 1998 for In Daddy's Arms I Am Tall. Christopher Myers, the son of noted author and five-time CSK Award winner Walter Dean Myers, won an Honor Award for his illustration of his father's poem Harlem. Another award-winning father-son team of illustrators is Jerry Pinkney, who has received three CSK Awards for Illustration, and his son Brian Pinkney, who will be receiving a CSK Honor Award as well as a Caldecott Honor Award for his illustrations for Duke Ellington: The Piano Prince and His Orchestra.

"It's wonderful to see the second generation being able to take advantage of what was created by the first generation. You see what they were able to pass on to their children. You see it blossoming now," says Caines.

Encouraging Publishers to Produce Multicultural Books

An indirect result of the Coretta Scott King Award is a new imprint by a major children's publisher, Hyperion Books for Children. The new imprint, Jump at the Sun, is headed by noted children's writer and editor Andrea Davis Pinkney, the author of Duke Ellington: The Piano Prince and His Orchestra and herself the recipient of CSK honors. The existence of multicultural awards has made it easier for publishers to justify publishing multicultural children's books because of the sales that result from those prestigious awards.

Whereas few Newbery and Caldecott awards and honors have gone to books published by small presses, multicultural awards frequently honor small press publications. The awards have given visibility to small presses such as Lee & Low, Arte Público Press, and Children's Book Press, as well as university presses such as the University of New Mexico Press.

For small independent publishers such as Arte Público and Children's Book Press, the awards serve to validate their work of producing high quality literary works with meaningful cultural content. In receiving an award for their publications, small press publishers receive recognition and the promise of continued sales of their award-winning books. Harriet Rohmer, the innovative publisher of Children's Book Press and a leading force in the creation of multicultural literature for children, is heartened by the awards her published books and authors have received. Notable among them is Carmen Lomas Garza, who received both the Americas Award and the Tomás Rivera Award for In My Family/En mi familia (1996). Lomas Garza was also named a Pura Belpré honor award winner in 1996 for Family Pictures/Cuadros de familia (1990) and in 1998 for In My Family/En mi familia. Another Children's Book Press publication, Francisco Alarcón's book of poems, Laughing Tomatoes/Jítomates Risueños, won a Pura Belpré honor citation in 1998. And in March 1999, the Before Columbus Foundation announced that Home to Medicine Mountain, illustrated by Judith Lowry and written by Chiori Santiago, received the 1999 American Book Award for children's literature. Home to Medicine Mountain is the story of two brothers who are separated from their family in the 1930s and sent to live at a government-run boarding school for Indian children. Finally, in 1999, i see the rhythm, illustrated by Michele Wood, won the Coretta Scott King Award for Illustration. In June, Wood will receive the award for her vibrant and dynamic illustrations of 500 years of African-American music. Written by Toyomi Igus, i see the rhythm was also named to ALSC's 1999 Notable Books for Children list, as was Home to Medicine Mountain.

Rohmer considers these awards an acknowledgment of her purpose in creating books that reflect the cultural experiences of all children in the United States. For her, these awards are "recognition of the fact that the audience we serve does indeed exist."20 Ginny Moore Kruse, a leading voice for multicultural literature in the United States, expresses her concerns for publishing materials particularly about the Latino children's experience when she states: "We hope … that the U.S. publishers of children's and young adult books collectively realize the existence of mainstream and specialized markets for Latino literature in English, as well as for bilingual books."21

Making a Difference in the Lives of Children

Graciela De Italiano, the director of Centro de La Familia in Salt Lake City, Utah, is gratified that her work in helping to establish an important multicultural children's book award will make a huge difference in the lives of Latino children. "In order to develop from a very young age, children need not only to be spoken with and sung to and told stories with. They also need to see the people and the customs and the world that they are from and the culture that they live in represented in the materials that are around them."22 She is equally emphatic in stressing the need older children have for this material: "We do know what impact it has to grow up in a society where you are a not a member of the larger society and where public schools are still very much a place of what I call ‘colonization’ or oppression where you can go through the entire education in the public schools and not ever see your life, your culture, your context reflected in the curriculum. I think that's a crime."

De Italiano also worries that not seeing oneself reflected in literature sends a dangerous message to children.

Once children get a little older and they realize the place Native Americans have in the larger culture, or Latinos, or rural [people], or campesinos, it is brutal. What that does to self-esteem is a huge blow. And on top of it, if you have in your family or have had people who were not ever schooled and did not develop the skills of reading and writing, but who were major influences in your life through their storytelling, through their caring, through their cooking, through their sewing for you, to go into a world where all those people are labeled illiterate is [wrong]. What that does is it diminishes all of those contributions of those people to your life, because of a very narrow definition of literacy, which is the ability to read and write.

For De Italiano, awards such as the Americas, Pura Belpré, and Tomas Rivera have already begun to make a difference. "I think that publishers understand that there is a group, and now several, thank goodness, that are watching and reading critically. We want to work collaboratively [with publishers], but we are not going to allow trash to rise to the top," says De Italiano. "Just because this is for a diverse population which happens to be an American minority population does not mean that we can lower the quality."


1. For a history of the Coretta Scott King Awards, see Henrietta M. Smith's introduction in The Coretta Scott King Awards Book: From Vision to Reality, edited by Henrietta M. Smith. Chicago and London: American Library Association, 1994.

2. Larrick, Nancy. "The All-White World of Children's Books" (Saturday Review, 1965). Reprinted in The New Press Guide to Multicultural Resources for Young Readers, edited by Daphne Muse. New York: The New Press, 1997, pp. 19-25.

3. Interview, Heather Caines. Philadelphia, Pa., January 31, 1999.

4. Program of the Coretta Scott King Awards Breakfast, 1998.

5. Horning, Kathleen T., Kruse, Ginny Moore and Schliesman, Megan. CCBC Choices 1995. Madison: Cooperative Children Book Center, School of Education, University of Wisconsin-Madison, 1996.

6. REFORMA/ALSC Children's Book Award: Purpose, Terms and Criteria. Revised Draft. February 6, 1995.

7. Interview, Graciela De Italiano. Washington, D.C., February 10, 1999.

8. Julie Kline, Introduction in Books without Borders: Five Years of the Americas Award for Children and Young Adult Literature, 1993-1997. Salt Lake City: Centro de la Familia de Utah, 1998.

9.Books without Borders: Five Years of the Americas Award for Children and Young Adult Literature, 1993-1997. Salt Lake City: Centro de la Famila de Utah, 1998. For a complete listing of the winners, see the CLASP web site at:

10. For a complete history and information on the Tomás Rivera Mexican American Children's Book Award, including terms and criteria, see their web site at:

11. Telephone interview, Jennifer Battle. Austin, Texas, February 26, 1999.

12. Telephone interview, Lyn Miller-Lachmann. Ballston Lake, New York, March 9, 1999.

13. Children's Book Council. Children's Books: Awards and Prizes. 1996 edition. New York: Children's Book Council, 1996, p. 165.

14. "The American Book Awards." Information sheet. Before Columbus Foundation, Oakland, Calif. Undated.

15. "News Notes." MultiCultural Review 6(3), September 1997, p. 5.

16. Interview, Kathleen T. Horning. Philadelphia, Pa., January 30, 1999.

17. Francisco Alarcón e-mail correspondence with Sandra Balderrama. Posted on REFORMANET Listserv. January 28, 1998.

18. Stephanie Garcia. "The Pura Belpré Award Acceptance Speech." JOYS: Journal of Youth Services in Libraries 12(1), Fall 1998.

19. Interview, Heather Caines. Philadelphia, Pa., January 31, 1999.

20. Interview, Harriet Rohmer. San Francisco, Calif., January 9, 1999.

21. Kathleen T. Horning, Kruse, Ginny Moore, and Schliesman, Megan. CCBC Choices 1995. Madison: Cooperative Children's Book Center, School of Education, University of Wisconsin-Madison, 1996.

22. Interview, Graciela De Italiano. Washington, D.C., February 10, 1999.

Michelle H. Martin (essay date November-December 1999)

SOURCE: Martin, Michelle H. "Three Decades of Strong Women: The Coretta Scott King Awards." Five Owls 14, no. 2 (November-December 1999): 33-5.

[In the following essay, Martin emphasizes the recurrence of strong female role models in Coretta Scott King Award-winning picture books.]

My mother was the first African American employee at South Carolina Electric and Gas Company who worked in an office rather than in a broom closet. My maternal grandmother was less than a year from completing a doctoral degree in Education in the early 1970s when she was diagnosed with Alzheimer's Disease. My maternal grandmother's sister earned a teaching certificate in the early 1930s in South Carolina. Both of my paternal aunts have master's degrees from Columbia University, and my Great Aunt Margaret, Dr. Margaret Dixon, became the first Black president of the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) in 1996. I have known all of my life that I am the descendent of a line of strong, successful, well-educated, driven women. Hence, it always thrills me when I find in children's books women who are like these relatives of mine. Many of the Coretta Scott King Award picture books throughout the last three decades have offered compelling snapshots of the lives of strong Black female leaders—both historical and fictional—who sacrifice much to improve not only their own lives, but also the lives of their family members and others around them who have suffered oppression.

Named for the wife of the late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the Coretta Scott King Award is presented annually by the American Library Association to a black author and illustrator whose texts from the previous year promoted and encouraged world peace and unity, and inspired young people to achieve their goals. First established in 1969, this award both commemorates Martin Luther King, Jr.'s life and work and honors Mrs. King's continuing struggle for peace and world brotherhood for which her husband lost his life. During the first decade of the award, biographies of famous African Americans such as Jackie Robinson, Stevie Wonder, and Frederick Douglass largely dominated. In 1974, the American Library Association began recognizing the work of illustrators as well as authors. As the volume and quality of African American children's literature have increased over the past two decades, more fictional texts have won the award, and the genre choices and themes have become much more diverse than they were initially. While stories about prominent male African American heroes were standard early in the award's history, more recent award winners have shown more gender balance, making way for wonderful stories about strong girls and women who exhibit leadership qualities or potential.

Winning the award in 1980 for her illustration of Camille Yarbrough's text, Carole Byard illustrated Cornrows (Coward-McCann, 1979) with black-and-white sketches that sensitively tell the story of a mother and great-grandmother in one family who understand and appreciate the value of their distinctively African hairstyle and pass down their historical knowledge of cornrows to the youngest members of the family. As Shirley Ann, affectionately called Sister, and her little brother Mike, often called Brother or "MeToo," watch their "great-grammaw" braid their mother's hair, they listen while Great-Grammaw, the matriarch of the family, tells them about the suku (meaning basket in Yoruba), the style into which she is designing Mama's hair. Telling them of the pride of their African ancestors who came to the Americas as slaves and the significance hairstyles had for these people, Great-Grammaw explains:

You could tell the clan, the village,
by the style of hair they wore …
Then the Yoruba people
were wearin' thirty braids and more …
You would know the princess, queen, and bride
by the number of the braids …
You would know the gods they worshipped
by the pattern that they made.

After Great-Grammaw has braided both Shirley Ann and Mike's hair with the stories of the past, Mama then emphasizes more recent black history by encouraging the children to name their own hairstyles after important black leaders:

Name it Miriam,
name it Dunham,
Mary Bethune and Josephine.
Name it Aretha,
name it Nina,
name it priestess,
name it queen …

Although MeToo names his hairstyle "Batman," Shirley Ann, the more mature of the two, names her hairstyle after Langston Hughes because she has memorized one of his poems. Mama and Great-Grammaw have turned an afternoon hair braiding session into an important history lesson for both Shirley Ann and Mike, telling the children of the strength and resilience that many slaves, as well as many black leaders, possessed that enabled them to survive overwhelming hardship. Like many other of the Coretta Scott King Award books, this book emphasizes the role black elders can play in nurturing the leaders of tomorrow.

Also telling a story of intergenerational female relationships, Jerry Pinkney received the award in 1986 for illustrating Valerie Flournoy's The Patchwork Quilt (Dial, 1985). Grandma, who lives with Tanya's family, has decided to make a patchwork quilt. Tanya, the protagonist who decides to help Grandma, figures that making the quilt will take a few hours. When Grandma explains that the process could take more than a year, Tanya is amazed. When Tanya's brother, Jim, wears out his favorite blue corduroy pants, Grandma clips patches from them before throwing them away. When Tanya dresses up for Halloween, Grandma takes clippings from her African princess costume. Before long, Tanya, her two brothers, as well as her mother and father can all see patches from their own lives sewn into Grandma's quilt. But one day, Grandma becomes ill. No one is certain of how sick she is or how long her recovery time will be. Knowing the quilt will make Grandma feel better, Tanya takes over the job of quilt-making, using what Grandma and Mama have taught her.

Throughout The Patchwork Quilt, Pinkney illustrates the importance of the intergenerational Grand-daughter-Grandmother relationship. At times, Tanya understands her grandmother much better than her mother does. It is appropriate, then, that Tanya, rather than her mother, assumes the task of completing the quilt. In the end, when Grandma has recovered, she rewards Tanya for her hard work and perseverance. I appreciate Flournoy and Pinkney's collaboration on The Patchwork Quilt both because of its validation of nearly lost home arts such as quilting and because of its positive but honest depiction of the relationships between the members of this African American family. Like Cornrows, The Patchwork Quilt illustrates the way all sorts of important leadership training takes place when family elders share with young people bits and pieces of their own lives they'd like to see continue after they are gone.

A picture book of a completely different sort, Aida by Leontyne Price (Gullliver, 1990), won the award in 1991 for the illustrations of husband and wife team Leo and Diane Dillon. Relating the story of the famous opera, which Price has performed all over the world, this exquisitely illustrated picture book tells of Aida, the young, beautiful Ethiopian princess who becomes a prisoner of war among the Egyptians. During her captivity, she is forced to be a slave for the Egyptian Princess Amneris. Aida fares well until she falls in love with the handsome Prince Ramades, who is fated to marry Princess Amneris for the future and well-being of the kingdom. At one point, Aida must choose between faithfulness to her father and her people or protection of the man whom she adores. Unwilling to betray her people even for Ramades, Aida tricks her lover to save her father. But this act of self-sacrifice pales in comparison to the ultimate sacrifice she makes to be with Ramades for eternity.

Both Aida as a fictional heroine and Leontyne Price as the author and performer incite admiration in readers who encounter this book. In the Author's Note, Price reveals her own love for the story of Aida and her identification, as a woman of color, with the character of Aida:

She was my best friend operatically and was a natural for me because my skin was my costume. This fact was a positive and strong feeling and allowed me a freedom of expression, of movement, and of interpretation that other operatic heroines I performed did not. I always felt, while performing Aida, that I was expressing all of myself—as an American, as a woman, and as a human being.

Aida's wit, intelligence and ability to think quickly make her more powerful—and even more dangerous—than those around her who possess great physical strength. The Dillons contribute much to the readers' perception of Aida as a strong leader because both the small friezes across the top of each page of written text and the minor events which occur in the illustrations but not in the text emphasize the daily conflicts Aida faces and the constant humiliation she suffers as a slave to the Egyptian princess. The Dillons' choice to illustrate all of the characters with dark skin—not always the case in picture books about Egypt—may also help readers of color to identify with Aida's life. Many of these visual details reiterate how great the challenges are which Aida must overcome to regain her freedom—even if that freedom can be obtained only through death.

Illustrating Alan Schroeder's Minty: A Story of Young Harriet Tubman (Dial, 1996) in the same unmistakable Pinkneyesque watercolors of The Patchwork Quilt, Jerry Pinkney brings alive in his most recent Coretta Scott King-winning picture book some of the events of Tubman's childhood to emphasize the leadership potential in African American children. The story details several important conflicts in the early life of Harriet Tubman (whose "cradle" name was Araminta, from whence comes the little-known nickname). Born and raised on the Brodas Plantation of Maryland's Eastern Shore, Minty found herself frequently at odds with her mistress. Thrown out of the big house for disobeying the mistress and accidentally spilling cider at the dinner table, Minty becomes a field slave and experiences the hard physical labor she never knew as a house slave. Attempting to run away several times, Minty remains defiant and determined to be free in spite of being whipped until she cannot stand up. Minty gets discouraged at times, but her spirit is never broken.

Although Minty is not a "happily ever after" story in which the protagonist obtains her freedom by the end of the book, the Author's Note adds hope to the plot by detailing Tubman's involvement in the Underground Railroad, through which she helped to lead many slaves to freedom.

Considered together, the validation of important matriarchal traditions of Shirley Anne, Great-Grammaw and Mama; the inquisitiveness and honoring of elders that Tanya values; the strength and self-sacrifice of Aida; and the unbreakable will of Minty offer readers of all ethnicities wonderfully positive portrayals of leaders of African descent. The fact that these are all picture books about black leaders is also significant. In an era in which innocent people are frequently becoming targets of violence because of racial, ethnic, or religious differences, children can't be introduced to multicultural picture books soon enough. These well-written and skillfully illustrated books can not only transport children into the lives and experiences of leaders whom they might not otherwise meet, but for readers like me, they also instill a sense of pride; because, whatever else I see in Minty and Aida, I see my great-grandmothers, my aunts, and myself; and I take pride and find comfort in knowing these people are my people.


Ann Meinzen Hildebrand (essay date summer 1986)

SOURCE: Hildebrand, Ann Meinzen. "The Dreary Time: The Ethos of School in Award-Winning Fiction for Children, 1960-1980." Children's Literature Association Quarterly 11, no. 2 (summer 1986): 82-5.

[In the following essay, Hildebrand analyses how award-winning children's fiction continues to portray school as a "dreary" obligation for children.]

School is a fact of life for most real and many fictional children. As a concrete time-and-space-bound place or as an abstract, ongoing process, school has a personality, an ethos, that is independent of the people who interact with it in some way—teachers, administrators, students, parents. And like the personalities of humans, those of schools can be positive or negative. But as it emerges from a body of award-winning fiction recommended for American children between 1960 and 1980, the ethos of school as an influential institution of society distinct from the people who interact with it is essentially negative.1

When Mark Twain, that early writer of childhood realism, summed up Tom Sawyer's experience of school—"Tom's heart ached to be free, or else to have something of interest to do to pass the dreary time" (72-73)—he was not reflecting on human personalities: on the master who did little to enhance Tom's schooling or on Becky Thatcher who did. He was instead expressing a boy's vague discontent with the ethos of school itself. Tom's perception was undoubtedly echoed by countless real school children who endured the dull and often ineffectual processes of public schooling in mid-nineteenth century America; American education was at the dawn of its self-scrutiny, and Tom's experience of school, like Twain's, did not reflect any of the tentative new schemes for educational improvement (Paine 38).

But it is surprising and disconcerting that, in the era of "new realism" a century later, modern fiction writers convey the impression that the ethos of school as little changed. After all, educators in the post-Sputnik generation scrutinized and evaluated the school enterprise with unprecedented self consciousness. From 1960 to 1980, educational policies and practices adjusted frequently to changing mandates and formulae for school improvement, all with the motive of making school a pleasanter, more effective, more accessible, more relevant social institution. Yet the intense activity in professional school circles seems to have had little impact on writers of children's fiction. Despite the research, money, and enthusiasm that sometimes vitalized (though with uneven success) the generation's real schools, the atmosphere of fictional schools was still "dreary."

The individual authors of this body of books draw from different recollected and current realities; they do vary in the frequency and intensity with which they portray school, and most write quality literature to engage and enrich children rather than muckraking tracts to indoctrinate them. But these dissimilar artists often send similar messages; and because they have the approval of those who market and recommend books—editors, sellers, buyers, critics, and awarders—these books bear the tacit imprimatur of a large, literate Establishment of adult American society. Like all children's books, furthermore, this generation's "best" ones mirror, consciously or not, cultural attitudes in the society that produced them. And what these books mirror, with the candor that marks the "new realism," is the attitude that school is, more often than not, conspicuously restrictive, boring, irrelevant, unimaginative, rigid, petty, and dismal. On a subtler level, they imply that school is impersonal, undemocratic, hypocritical and even immoral. Dreary indeed!

As a compulsory, regulated social institution, school is inevitably a distasteful intrusion on real children's idyll of endless freedom, play, and autonomy. Not surprisingly, therefore, school's lack of freedom contributes to its dreariness for both Tom and modern fictional children. It may not always be like Colditz, the prison in Conrad's War, that "was just like school: nasty, cold, boring, and full of people who told you what to do all the time" (70)2; it may not be a smelly, barricaded way-station for the displaced, as in TR 7-41-R, but it is not an acknowledged bastion of freedom, either. In school, as in church, Jess in Bridge to Terabithia "could tune … out … not really thinking or dreaming but at least free" (83). In The Trouble with Terry, children chant, "No more pencils, no more books," glorying that "one second they were still in school, the next, one more step, and they were free" (3). The older fictional children are, the more they feel the strictures, so that even in strongly pro-school books like Nine Days to Christmas, fourth graders shout their freedom: "Hurray! Hurrah! … No more school until February" (10). While not every fictional child minds the lack of freedom—Esther in The Endless Steppe and Elizabeth in The Empty Moat find a haven from grim life outside in the comfortable time-and-space-bound walls—others chafe at school's tight perimeters.

Many students are merely bored by school. In What It's All About, Sasha remarks, "Generally everything at school was just as on any ordinary day—there was no excitement" (84). Less motivated students like Timmer, in One More Flight, find simply that "school was such a drag a lot of the time" (44) Louise, in Jacob Have I Loved, complains of "the unrelenting boredom of each day" (127); and Jess, in Bridge to Terabithia, feels desperate after boring first-day school routines: "A whole year of this. Eight more years of this. He wasn't sure he could stand it" (23). This sampling of individual, not-always-fair, perceptions presents the feelings, not of negative characters in the stories, but of protagonists with whom real children empathize and often agree.

The perceived irrelevance of too much school learning adds to the dreariness. In A String in the Harp, Peter has to learn historical names and dates that mean little in his life (25); Rhian Evans yearns to be out of school entirely: "Then I'd not be troubled with … learning all that useless stuff. I am sure I don't know what school's good for anyway…. I don't see the use in French! Now there's a waste of time for you!" (60). The Indian boy Cultus, in The Whipman Is Watching, feels the irrelevance of school learning, too. "Why should I waste my time going in there, then? It all the time reading those baby books and listening to some English teacher" (148). In Summer of My German Soldier, Riker perceives the terrible gap between school learning and moral behavior for educated Germans who could ignore Hitler's obscenities.

A few subjects stand out as a particular source of dreariness. For some fictional students besides Peter, social studies is boring and irrelevant. In It's Like This, Cat, Dave thinks that the subject is "a real lemon—just a lot of preaching about government and citizenship" (171); Louise, in Jacob Have I Loved, dislikes the "deadly dull" (23) course; and Felicidad, The Girl from Puerto Rico, wonders "who cared about the generals who had conquered Puerto Rico?" (24) Even more generally disliked is math, not for its dullness but its difficulty. A few students, like Meg, in A Wrinkle in Time and Girlie, in The Girl Who Had No Name, like and do well in math. But the greater number fear and do poorly in it. In Conrad's War, the boy dreads "deadly long division" (102); in A Room Made of Windows, Julia dislikes "boring old arithmetic, at which she was hopeless" (116); and in Rock Star, Tim's failure in math prompts him to run away. Science is mentioned positively but briefly by students like Queenie Peavy and Corrie in The Garden Is Doing Fine. But in both A String in the Harp and A Wrinkle in Time, the limitations of empirical ways of knowing is a major theme. English is the most frequently mentioned curricular offering and most fictional children like it, especially literature. But even this subject can be dreary when it becomes pedantic or humdrum. Ramona in Ramona and Her Mother dreads spelling (152); Queenie Peavy dislikes diagramming (48); and Louise, in Jacob Have I Loved, remembers that Silas Marner "sapped out energies through 8th grade English" (22). Perhaps it is hardly surprising that writers of fiction would create characters who like English, are suspicious of science, and hate math. But interestingly, as John Goodlad has discovered, these fictional preferences are generally congruent with those of real children.

Rigid instructional policies bother many fictional students. In A Wrinkle in Time, both Meg and Charles Wallace feel this inflexibility keenly. Meg knows math and balks when "we have to do it their way" (42); and Charles Wallace wants to learn to read "except I'm afraid it will make it awfully hard for me in school next year if I already know things" (30). In The Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, Jamie objects to the school's phonics-only reading program. "It was all I could do to sound out the name of Dick and Jane's dog" (74). And instead of imaginative instructional policies to engage her, the school uses punishment on bright-but-disinterested Turtle in The Westing Game.

A particularly annoying part of rigid instructional policies is evaluation. In The Trouble with Terry, Terry feels that grading is too strict and unfair (5); in The Whipman Is Watching, Angie finds it unjust, too. In Up a Road Slowly, Julie questions the worth of "pablum feedings of ‘true-false’ or ‘fill-in-the-blank’ tests" (123); and in The Summer of the Swans, Sara knows that the best marks go to the most attractive students (32). Both Bridie in A Sound of Chariots and Madge in Unleaving sense that grades occupy too much school time and energy. But like Lurhetta in M. C. Higgins the Great, they know, "I have to keep up my grades or lose the job" (144) in the less-than-perfect world of school and life.

Poor instructional tools, especially books, are another source of discontent. In The Contender, Alfred wonders why eleven years of schoolbooks fail to mention that a black man reached the North Pole (125). In The Endless Steppe, Esther knows that her books contain half-truths. "History was taught with some curious omissions, one being the late tsar" (106). At the black children's school in Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, the books are ancient, battered, and racially dishonest. In The Devil in Vienna, Jewish authors and characters are totally removed from schoolbooks (201), and in Boat to Nowhere, the books themselves are obliterated by the new Viet Cong government (67).

Schools' tendency to categorize children into administratively convenient groups accounts for a substantial amount of unhappiness with school. Casey, the Chinese girl in Child of the Owl, is tracked into "the dummy Chinese class" (40), not because she is stupid but because the school likes its "well-oiled routines" and avoids anything which "fouled it up" (41). In addition to ability tracking, categorization frequently occurs because of race. Black children are segregated in The Empty Schoolhouse and Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, and they are demeaned in Words by Heart. But the subtle destructiveness of racial categorization is powerful for other minority groups as well. Indian children suffer in The Whipman Is Watching; Puerto Rican kids feel the sting in Nilda when the consensus is, "you people are the limit!" (212); and Jewish kids must keep to their own suburban school in Berries Goodman.

Fictional schools also subtly classify by socioeconomic group. Well-off children have status and privilege, like Carlotta, in Up a Road Slowly. But poor ones suffer, not only from lack of appropriate clothing, like Enie, in The Rock and the Willow, and Girlie, in The Girl Who Had No Name, but from the indignity of being labeled "poor"—Nilda hates the patronizing charity of "the free lunches given at school. ‘All that awful soup’" (56). Lack of money keeps some children out of school entirely, like Jesse Bolier, in The Slave Dancer; or it makes school hard to attend, as for John Henry McCoy, Bridie, in A Sound of Chariots, or Veron, in the biographical story, The Road from Home. The expenses inherent even in public schooling are a reality, and the gap between rich and poor kids is evident in small slights suffered and large opportunities missed.

The physical surroundings of school often make it dreary. In Bridge to Terabithia, Jess perceives Lark Creek Elementary school as "a dirty old cage of a schoolhouse" (13). Other rural schools have worse facilities than city ones, as Girlie in The Girl Who Had No Name and Teffera in Meeting with a Stranger discover. In his many relocations, John Henry McCoy attends an especially ill-equipped country school that has "no doodads or aids or frills … just a stove, a water bucket, a paddle and a few worn-out books" (111). But even city schools can be grim for children like The Great Gilly Hopkins, to whom the "ancient stairway," "oiled floors," and "cafeteria soup" (20) are depressingly familiar. And Felicidad, The Girl from Puerto Rico, finds her New York City school "big, drab, colorless … forbidding and frightening" (105).

As well as locale, race can affect school facilities. In Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, the white children's school is "a long white wooden building … [with] an expansive front lawn" (15); but the "Great Faith Elementary and Secondary School, one of the largest black schools in the country, was a dismal end to an hour's journey" (15). In Sounder, the white children's school is "brick … with big windows" (91), while the black kids attend one "built on posts, and the stovepipe came through" (91); and in The Empty Schoolhouse, the best education is not found at "the public school for colored children" (55). In Dragonwings, the only public school for Chinese children was "so poorly equipped and so poorly staffed" (50); the school in the "Jewish suburb" in Berries Goodman is, in Sidney's eyes, uninviting and "lousy" (151). Such racially based inequalities vary in intensity, but they never seem to favor minority children. And even though recreational equipment is many fictional students' index of inequality, the discrepancies go deeper.

Finally, the routines and rituals of school contribute to the dreary image in many books. School bus behavior, a persistent reality, is survival of the fittest. In Bridge to Terabithia, the youngest children know the hazards of pre-empting the seventh graders' seats (36). In Reserved for M. A. Crowder, the bus is a place for fights (99), in the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, for disorder. In Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, the bus is a white weapon against the black children who must walk in the rain (48), and in The Whipman Is Watching, a battleground for testing wills (9). Some of the chaos is innocent, some serious. But school buses are not places fictional children love. Nor is lunch period. In And You Give Me a Pain, Elaine, the cafeteria is a "howling arena" (66) which nevertheless has strict, school-imposed regulations. In Queenie Peavy, lunch is a sad stage for social discrimination (33-40) and for cruel horseplay in Words by Heart (88). In Up a Road Slowly and The Whipman Is Watching, it is a hothouse for strained relationships. Other dreary routines and rituals are the terrors of tardiness (Sounder, 3; A Gathering of Days, 22) and daydreaming (Summer of My German Soldier, 156-157; Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, 182); the spectre of expulsion Nilda, 262; A Wrinkle in Time, 4) and the ignominy of failure, which, according to Esther in The Endless Steppe is "that Siberia of all Siberias for children" (100).

Not every school image is negative, of course. Books which glimpse schooling in other times or places, like The Endless Steppe, The Road from Home, What Then, Raman?, Meeting with a Stranger, and Jambo Means Hello, offer positive, even enthusiastic, images of schools that have challenging and relevant curricula, reassuring routines, and comfortable facilities. Even a few books set in fictional American schools acknowledge some good things. Julie of the Wolves "liked to learn the printed English words in books" (84); "school has its compensations" (20) for Julie in Up a Road Slowly; and even a lackluster school is better than the hospital where Corrie's father is dying in The Garden is Doing Fine. School can be briefly exciting when it means new clothing or school supplies (The Empty Schoolhouse; Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry; The Empty Moat). And some children, like Florence in Conrad's War, prefer even dreary school to other pastimes:

"I hate school."
"So do I."
"I'd rather be at school than be sick though."
"I'd rather be at school than be sick too."
"I'd much rather be at school than be sick."
"So would I. Much rather."

But tepid or even fervent approval of school by a few fictional children does not alter the essentially negative ethos that emerges from the hundreds of schooling images in these books, of which the foregoing is but a sample.

The sum of all these negative fictional parts is that the "person" of school too often fails to respond to the "person" of each child. Instead of schooling unique children like Cassie Logan, Nilda, Meg Murry, Andy, or Mark Anthony Crowder, schools classify and then process groups—like "4th graders," "poor Puerto Ricans," "behavior problems," "history students," or "underachievers." And yet, in pursuing their large group-teaching agenda, the schools neither encourage cooperation toward group goals nor guide students in—or provide models for—consistent, commendable morality. And though the books represent mainly American settings and authors, these subtler curricula are necessary for effective schooling in any free, modern society, even those whose schools are not premised on The Cardinal Principles of Education. In short, the cumulative message that a generation of adults sends in these "best books" is that school as a place or process falls depressingly short of the generation's hopes for it.

Lest this portrait of school's ethos imply a totally negative view of all aspects of schooling by an entire book-producing segment of adult society, it must be noted that, like most children's literature, these stories carry strong prescriptions for hope (Karl; Inglis). Indeed, in many ways, the fictional portrait is not unlike that drawn concurrently by empirical school studies which isolated real schools' weaknesses in the hope of bolstering or creating strengths. By vetting the wounds of school's dreariness, those sending the fictional messages not only imply how things should be but also champion the good things that are, the human personalities like teachers, parents, and students, who temper the dreary inevitability of school.

And so children who read some or all of these highly recommended, realistic books may find confirmation of school experiences, solutions for school problems, or even incentives to convert dreariness into something personally productive. Adults who read the books—educators, parents, or critics—may be chagrined, but then motivated to assess the ethos of schools they care about. Undoubtedly, the adults who produced these books sent culturally grounded caveats—and kudos—about schooling that bear heeding.


1. These conclusions are but part of my larger study, "A Portrait of Schooling Drawn from Award-Winning Fiction for Children, 1960 to 1980" (1986). The multi-perspective American awards, all of which have literary as well as specialized criteria, are as follows: Jane Addams Children's Book Award (social scientists); American Book Awards (publishers); Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards (journalists-critics); Randolph Caldecott Medal (librarians); Child Study Children's Book Award (educators); Golden Kite Awards (writers); International Reading Association Children's Book Award (English educators); National Book Awards (publishers; became American Book Awards in 1980); John Newbery Medal (librarians). Of the 160 books receiving awards, nineteen were ei- ther non-fiction or duplications. Thus, the findings are based on the remaining 131 works of fiction that were studied.

2. Since they are merely examples of attitudes commonly expressed in many books, quotations from primary sources will be cited only by title and page. Fuller bibliographical documentation is available in my complete study, "A Portrait of Schooling…."


Broderick, Dorothy M. The Image of the Black in Children's Fiction. New York: Bowker, 1973.

Goodlad, John. A Place Called School: Prospects for the Future. New York: McGraw, 1984.

Hildebrand, Ann Meinzen. "A Portrait of Schooling Drawn from Award-Winning Fiction for Children, 1960-1980." Diss. Kent State U, 1986.

Inglis, Fred. The Promise of Happiness: Value and Meaning in Children's Fiction. New York: Cambridge UP, 1980.

Karl, Jean. From Childhood to Childhood. New York: John Day, 1963.

Kiefer, Moni A. American Children through Their Books: 1700-1835. Philadelphia: John C. Winston and U of Pennsylvania, 1948.

Lystad, Mary. From Dr. Mather to Dr. Seuss: 200 Years of American Books for Children. Cambridge: Schenkman, 1980.

MacLeod, Anne Scott. A Moral Tale: Children's Fiction and American Culture, 1820-1860. Hamden: Shoe String Press, 1975.

Paine, Albert Bigelow. Mark Twain: A Biography; the Personal and Literary Life of Samuel Langhorne Clemens. New York & London: Harper and brothers [sic], 1912.

Twain, Mark. The Adventures of Mark Twain. Hartford: American, 1876.

M. Louise Salstad (essay date fall 2000)

SOURCE: Salstad, M. Louise. "The C.C.E.I. Prize: Setting Standards for Spanish Children's Literature." Children's Literature Association Quarterly 25, no. 3 (fall 2000): 155-63.

[In the following essay, Salstad examines similarities between children's texts that have won the Comisión Católica Española de la Infancia (C.C.E.I.) Prize.]

The Comisión Católica Española de la Infancia Prize (the C.C.E.I.) is not only one of the oldest Spanish prizes for children's and adolescent literature, but it is also, of these prizes, "the most dependable one," awarded every year without interruption since its inauguration (Cendán 212).1 Some consider it the most prestigious of the Spanish prizes in children's literature (Anuncio 195). The purpose of this essay is to assess the shared characteristics of C.C.E.I. prize-winning narrative fiction and to evaluate the cultural values conveyed to children through these books. How those values have been articulated to children has changed in the course of the last forty years; the changes reflect those in the larger culture of Spain and of Europe in general. C.C.E.I. winners can be said to have helped shape the cultural values evident in Spanish children's literature as a whole during this period and to have been shaped in their turn by the values of the broader cultural environment.

Background and Description of the Prize

The prize was established in 1962 by the body whose name it bears, the Comisión Católica Española de la Infancia, the Spanish section of the Bureau International Catholique de L'Enfance, whose seat is in Geneva. The prize was a response to deficiencies the members perceived in children's reading (Comisión, 25 años 5). Unlike other prizes, the C.C.E.I. is awarded to the publisher because when it was established, the market offered very few books for children by Spanish authors, not for lack of deserving manuscripts but because of the financial risk (Comisión, 25 años 6). The prize consists of a medal for the publisher and honorary diplomas for the author and, if pertinent, the illustrator (Cendán 267-68). According to María Caparrós, the absence of monetary reward does not deter the most prestigious publishing houses from competing for the prize year after year (10).2 The prize-winning book, which must have been published in the immediately preceding year, must be written in Castilian and be the original work of "Spanish or Spanish-speaking authors" (Comisión, Premio). In fact, all prize winners until now have been the creations of Spanish writers.3

The five-member jury that awards the prize is composed of "specialists in knowledge of the child and everything related to reading: librarians, professors of children's literature, bookstore owners, critics, parents, and members of the C.C.E.I.'s Secretariat of the Press and Children's Literature" (Comisión, 25 años 7). Among the jury members listed in the Comisión's twenty-five year retrospective are authors who have themselves won the C.C.E.I. The lists indicate a gen- eral effort to maintain a balance both between continuity and new perspectives and between men and women members of the jury (Comisión, 25 años 21-22).

The spectrum of acceptable genres or subject matter is ample, although adaptations and didactic or documentary works are supposedly excluded (Comisión, Premio).4 Referring to the prize winners of 1962-1986, the Comisión observes, "Humor, nonsense, poetry, the novel of science fiction, problems of the handicapped, biography, the picture book, etc., have had their place in this prize which has known how to discover what is new, what is possible, what is awaited by society" (Comisión, 25 años 8).5 The statement evinces the organization's belief in the considerable influence of their prize on the development of children's literature in Spain, a belief with which I concur.

Role of the Carta del libro infantil

A document created by the equivalent of the Comisión de Prensa y Literatura Infantil of the parent organization BICE and published in Spain in 1969 with the title Carta del libro infantil declares, "This letter … will serve as basis for the projects and annual selections carried out by this organization, on both the national and international levels" (Cendán 331).6 One can reasonably assume that the phrase "annual selections" on the national level refers to the yearly honor list of books selected, from among which the book deemed to be the best is awarded the prize by a specially constituted jury. According to Cendán, the circulation of the Carta "attempted to underscore … the importance of children's literature in children's education" and at the same time "delineated the conditions and directions that ought to guide all those persons dedicated to writing, critiquing, presenting, or selecting books for children" (268). Through the C.C.E.I. prize, the Carta has been a major, if indirect, influence on children's literature in Spain.

General Standards

The following paragraphs examine works of narrative fiction that have won the C.C.E.I., in the light of the criteria set forth in the Carta, especially those regarding values. The Comisión asserts of its prize, "All that involves a worthy content in a rich literary form has its place here" (Comisión, 25 años 8). Naturally one is induced to ask what constitutes for this body "a worthy content" and what that might exclude. Perusal of the Carta reveals that the criteria are very broad guidelines, expressed in positive terms. Indeed, the document concedes that the "recreative quality remains fundamental" in a book for children, in the same sentence that refers to the factors that determine a book's "true educational significance" (Cendán 332). Among the matters the Carta addresses are appropriate themes; adaptation to the developmental level of the young reader together with stimulation of personal growth; objectivity of information; promotion of values, particularly Christian values; and aesthetic qualities. The last topic corresponds to the "rich literary form" stipulated by the Comisión; all the other topics pertain more or less directly to "worthy content." Obviously, the Carta declares, not every children's book can fulfill all the stated criteria, "but it can, at least, emphasize the importance of one or the other of these elements, and in no case should it be in conflict with these conditions" (Cendán 333). What is excluded as unworthy is thus left implicit and unspecified, to be determined by specialists in children's literature and child development by holding up a particular book to the light of the positive standards set forth.

According to the directives of the Carta, themes should respond to the basic needs of children, to what they consider interesting and important. (One might ask how much influence children themselves have in the determination of those needs.) At the same time they should assist children's gradual integration in the social and cultural world of adults and provide them with elements for judgment. Finally, they should make allowances for children's circumstances and mentalities, which vary in different countries and civilizations (Cendán 331-32). Children's books should also take into account the different stages of psychological, intellectual, and spiritual development. Focus of interest, themes, values, language, and presentation should all be appropriate to the particular stage. At the same time, the Carta urges that authors of books for children, in their "desire to adapt their writing to the child, do not enclose him in his own world, nor keep him in an infantile stage but, on the contrary, provide him with a certain number of elements for the formation of his personality" (Cendán 332).


Books are, of course, an important vehicle by which a culture conveys its values to children. The C.C.E.I. prize has an ideological intent, which precludes complete objectivity in its criteria. Indeed, from the perspective of the Comisión, complete objectivity in values, even were it possible to achieve, would not be desirable. Nevertheless, the Carta contains a paragraph on objectivity of information that, while pertaining primarily to nonfiction, is relevant to fiction as well. The Carta stipulates that information about geography, history, culture, and other areas should be based on precise and proven data and take into account the discoveries of our own times (Cendán 332). Within the group of prize winners, this criterion is most relevant to historical fiction. Writers in this genre give considerable evidence of striving for objectivity. For example, some historical novels set in pre-Christian times—namely Guárdate de los idus (Beware the Ides), Las ruinas de Numancia (The Ruins of Numantia), and La colina de Edeta (The Hill of Edeta)—present suicide in cultural context, without condemning it, at times even presenting it as noble. Several passages in La espada y la rosa (The Sword and the Rose) manifest an attempt to view the Crusades from other than the Christian perspective, namely that of Mohammedans and Jews.

Las ruinas de Numancia presents both positive and negative aspects of Roman domination. On the one hand, the novel portrays Rome's victory over the Numantines under Scipio as ignominious. On the other, one of the most important characters, a Roman, reminds his son, "No man is perfect, but no one is totally bad. Rome brings to the world an idea of justice and peace, a concept of life and civilization that, in the long run, benefits the barbarians" (100). In addition, the novel raises the issue of the truth of history, the relation between what has been written and what "really happened":

And Polibius [official Roman historian] wrote all those lies, and they believed him. For a long time that was the history of Numantia, and it availed nothing that my father wrote letters to the governor, to the first consul and to Scipio himself….

My mother told him:

—You should not write falsehoods, because the truth is very important for one who, like you, writes for tomorrow….

Polibius answered her:

—One must write what the people want. That is what is important. As for the men of tomorrow, let them believe what they wish.


Ironically, the protagonist and narrator of this fictional text declares in the final paragraph, "And I resolved for myself to some day write a parchment with the true history of Numancia, the city in ruins, as I lived it in that terrible siege. This is it" (122).

La colina de Edeta takes the question of objectivity one step further. One of the most positive characters in the novel, a Greek trader respected by the Iberians among whom he has been staying for his prudence and his knowledge of persons and peoples, is asked for his opinion regarding the respective trustworthiness of the Carthaginian and Roman leaders. His tempered but forthright response inclines in favor of the Romans, though his trust in them is qualified. His concluding statement underscores his attempt to be objective: "You have asked me for true words and I have spoken true words to you, according to my understanding and judgment; but truth is not the same for all, and so you must discern if they seem just to you or not" (111). This assertion is a reminder to all those called upon to render judgment of the limitations of their understanding; of the inevitable subjectivity of truth, including the truth of history; and of the ultimate responsibility of each person to decide for herself.

El señor del cero (Lord of the Zero), while pointing out the important role of the Christian monasteries in the preservation and transmission of culture, also portrays the Arab culture as manifested in the caliphate of Cordoba as superior to anything in Christian Spain. The novel indicates ways in which the Muslims practiced surprising tolerance toward Christians and Jews, and ways in which they curtailed the teaching and practice of the Christian religion. It depicts wise and open-minded as well as ignorant and mean-spirited characters among both Arabs and Christians. It portrays Muslims who dealt justly and even-handedly with persons of their own and the Christian religion and also those who used religion as a cover for personal rivalry and animosity. One of the most admirable characters in the novel, the protagonist's Arab teacher, tells him, "You ought not forget that your enemies are not those of your faith, but of your intelligence and your prestige in studies. Envy nests among Muslims and Christians, in all races and in all religions" (47). The hero must flee twice, once from Cordoba because of the envy of a Muslim student of his own age, later from a northern monastery because of the enmity of a Christian monk. Finally, the book makes clear that the political and economic problems of the Christian kingdoms or counties were a result not only of Arab policies but of Christian rivalries and ambitions as well.


The Carta affirms, with respect to values, that a book "can help the young reader discover, experience, and select a set of values. Above all, if it emphasizes, es- pecially, all the positive values that can be derived from human experience" (Cendán 332). It then singles out what the Comisión evidently regards as the most significant human values: "It is important that books for children develop in the latter the sense of respect and of the dignity of the human person, in accord with the Universal Declaration of the Rights of Man, and that they inspire in young readers, today especially, the social values: civic feeling, justice, peace, freedom, solidarity" (Cendán 333). Respect for the dignity of the person, a value underlying all these texts, is highlighted in a few, such as Todos tenemos hermanos pequeños (We All Have Little Brothers) or Veva, in which attention is directed to mentally handicapped persons and the elderly, respectively.

Perhaps the single most frequently emphasized value in this group of books is solidarity, which is expressed in terms of friendship, understanding, compassion, loyalty, or responsibility toward others. This value is often demonstrated within one's own circle, whose circumference can vary to embrace family, friends, or village. Both Veva and La casa de los diablos (The House of the Demons) show the importance of each member to the happiness and security of the family. The protagonist of Óscar, espía atómico (Oscar, Atomic Spy) asserts, "When things are going worst for your friends is exactly when you have to show them your friendship. And if you don't, it's not worth anything" (66). When Grígor and Danko, heroes of Danko, el caballo que conocía las estrellas (Danko, the Horse Who Knew the Stars), are abducted, "the whole village like one man" responds to the call to rescue them (60). Lack of solidarity can result in disaster. Scipio declares of the Numantines, whom he has been ordered to subdue, "The curse of this race is their fierce individualism. They will watch Numantia perish without lifting a finger to help it" (16).

Several novels demonstrate solidarity within various circles. The younger of two shepherd boys in Las horas largas (The Long Hours) risks his life to save the older, Martín. In turn the latter staunchly defends Pedruco on several occasions and when he is in danger of losing his payment in lambs, offers to give up half his own. Both Martín and Pedruco rush to help some woodcutters extinguish a fire on the mountainside, much to the astonishment of the woodsmen, who have always believed the shepherds of the Mesta to be their enemies and to set fires deliberately for their own purposes. Chao, of La casa pintada (The Painted House), finds to his surprise that together he and Li, the girl whose partnership he had initially spurned but finally accepted, "had successfully put together some much more interesting and spectacular acts than those Chao could have presented by himself" (101). Later Chao spontaneously goes to the assistance of four people in danger, though he does not know them. Guárdate de los Idus accentuates not only the mutual concern of brother and sister but also the unfailing loyalty of master and servant and the solidarity found by the young patrician Druso among the lowly: "I had just entered the world of the wretched and the forgotten. And they had adopted me" (89).

Many novels also promote solidarity in the wider human community, regardless of nationality, race, or religion. In El bordón y la estrella (The Pilgrim's Staff and the Star) the apostle Santiago declares that he requires one thing only of pilgrims to his shrine, "that on the way to the sepulchre the pilgrims love one another, whatever land they be from" (49). Solidarity in Óscar espeleólogo (Oscar Spelunker) (1967) takes the form of mutual concern and help among members of the team, comprised by a Frenchman, an Englishman, a German, and a Spaniard, Oscar. The same sense of community occurs in Los astronautas del "Mochuelo," in which the crew is composed of African, Arab, East Asian, European, North American, and Russian members. The Alpha Centauran Serena declares that the one principle on which her people would never renege is "the idea that we have come into this life to serve our brothers and sisters, whatever planet they are from!" (74). In La colina de Edeta, like so many of Concha López Narváez's books, the theme of friendship and understanding between people of different countries or races is central. Here it takes the form of a friendship between two boys, one Iberian, the other Greek, a friendship that embraces their families and occasions great sacrifices.

At times solidarity with "the other" gives rise to problems with the smaller group or to conflicts of conscience. The narrator of Sabiondo y Colaverde (Sabiondo [Know-it-all] and Colaverde [Green Tail]), a lizard, defends his friendship with a dove in the face of strong opposition by the Congress of Lizards. Although he is demoted in rank as a result, he does not repent of his decision because "friendship is a great thing. Maybe the best thing there is under heaven" (111). Solidarity should not necessarily be denied even to the supposed enemy. The protagonist of Las ruinas de Numancia, wondering whether he was wrong in going to the aid of the rebellious leader of the Celt-Iberians, hears the following words from his father, "Retogenes was wounded, and your obli- gation was to help him, without regard to race and to war" (92). Pabluras, protagonist of the book of the same name, must wrestle repeatedly with his conscience over his decision to help a wolf, considered a natural enemy by most of the villagers, but he always concludes that because the wolf had come to depend on him to feed both himself and his family, he must carry out his responsibility to the animal.

Closely related to solidarity, understanding, and compassion, is the value of peace, important in a number of books, although one or the other implies that war may at times be a necessary evil. The protagonist of Óscar, espía atómico, who has until previously enjoyed war movies and playing war with his friends, is horrified when he sees the simulated results of nuclear war. A nuclear scientist, who envisions clearly the potential benefits of nuclear power for all the peoples of the world, is also profoundly aware of its dangers, as he intimates when he says to Oscar, "Would that all the madmen in the world, all those irresponsible people who do not hesitate in taking us to the edge of catastrophe, felt like you. Would that they all loved ‘their city’ and respected that of others" (99). Many passages of Las ruinas de Numancia deplore war, with its inevitable cruelty and betrayals, its hollow victories. The protagonist-narrator comments, "I believe I know now why soldiers never talk about wars" (120). Yet in the last lines of the novel he tells the reader that he later joined the army, was a good fighter, and was quickly promoted. Apparently the author would have us distinguish between one war and another. On the other hand, Los astronautas del "Mochuelo" suggests that the underlying cause of war, whatever the ostensible justification, is greed pure and simple. One of the earthlings observes, "Ever since the first ‘homo sapiens’ discovered how to put his fellow men out of action by throwing a stone and in that way grab his cave, our history has been a succession of follies always carried out, of course, in the name of a just cause!" (75). Contrary to the traditional picture of the medieval knight, the protagonist of La espada y la rosa, now a baron, asserts,

To be sure, I do not honor the blood of my grandfather, the brave crusader. I detest violence and, whenever possible, I try to avoid it. I do not even enjoy jousts and tournaments and I am far from being a mirror of what is understood to be chivalry. If I ever took up my sword it was to defend myself from overweening neighbors, and in these few cases no one could accuse me of lack of valor. But I never undertook any hostile action.


To judge from El señor del cero, the caliph of Cordoba Al-Hakam could have said much the same. The Muslim leader, who preferred books of philosophy to the sword, "believes that a compromise with limited tribute is better than a great victory with abundant booty. He does not want to be the cause of a man's death whatever his religion, be he friend or enemy," though he did not shrink from fighting when necessary (22, 48).

The value of liberty figures importantly in several novels of historical fiction. Las ruinas de Numancia, La colina de Edeta, and Sosala contain passages that affirm as noble, a preference for death to enslavement. Sosala speaks more explicitly than the others of freedom as a spiritual quality. A warrior of what is now Lanzarote, taken captive by a Phoenician sea captain, asserts, "[Y]ou have me bound and imprisoned in the deepest part of the house that travels on the sea and you think you have robbed me of liberty; but you are mistaken, you cannot bind my will nor imprison my thoughts. I am still free, in spite of you" (87). Shortly afterwards he proclaims that he prefers to perish of hunger and thirst as a free man, despite his physical bonds, to dying like his captor, "you who are slave to your hatred, your rage, and your impotence, because you will never conquer it" (88). In Guárdate de los Idus, too, freedom is a spiritual quality, but its application is of a different kind. Portia is determined never to submit herself to any man's will but to be the mistress of her acts, and this determination is one of the major motivations for her decision to become a Vestal. To her brother's protestation that she will be enclosed within the four walls of a temple, she responds, "That is the price of my liberty…. And I am willing to pay it" (130). Freedom for her is not a question of external circumstances but of the spirit. "Freedom, Druso, … is inside ourselves. Each one must find it in her own way" (130). Emma of El señor del cero resembles Portia, although a span of some eleven centuries separates them. She prefers to become a nun, "to be free and serve God," rather than serve and depend on a man who in all likelihood would not allow her to study and might even physically abuse her.

Liberty as a cherished value is not exclusive to the historical novels. The reader of Polvorón learns that the protagonist, a dog, did not have "the docile and obedient temperament of circus dogs. He had more personality, he was born to be free" (114). By his own example Grígor, protagonist of Danko, el caballo que conocía las estrellas, plants the seed of liberty in the minds of the circus giants and dwarves he encounters, hoping that "some day they, too, would attempt it: to recover their dignity as free beings, even at the cost of losing their tranquility and the safety of the enclosure" (79). This same message of the beauty of freedom, its dangers and risks notwithstanding, is central in Háblame del sol (Talk to Me of the Sun). Personal freedom, particularly from unwarranted social pressure, and particularly for females, is a main theme in Memorias de una gallina (Memories of a Hen). El último set (The Last Set) similarly promotes the right of the young adult to make her own life decisions without undue pressure from parents or other adults, as does La casa de los diablos, especially with respect to a career. As is the case with the historical novels, these three novels with female protagonists who strive to achieve freedom were published in the 90s.

The value of justice is associated most frequently with persons in leadership positions. Justice for such a person involves, among other qualities, even-handedness and dedication to the well-being of those one leads. Sosala, for example, hears that as chief of his people he must combine justice with compassion and that his concern should be not the number of his flocks nor the extent of his land but the time that he devotes to his people and the degree of his commitment to others (41-42). The social evils suffered by the poor in Danko are the consequence of the injustice of the count. When the protagonist of La espada y la rosa assumes his rightful position as baron of Forner, he devotes his efforts to "governing my estates with justice, endeavoring to succor the needy as our Lord Jesus Christ teaches" (117-18). The character who most evidently embodies the value of justice in El señor del cero is the Muslim judge Ibn Rezi. "The cadi was a just man, conscious at all times that he acted in the place of the caliph and that even the poorest had a right to prompt, inexpensive, and clear justice, without useless formalities or delays" (37). He has been chosen by the caliph not only for his great knowledge but also for his instinct for justice and "the rectitude of his standards of judgment" (44). Nevertheless, responsibility for justice rests with everyone, not just official leaders. The theme of the title story of El sabio rey loco (The Wise Mad King) is the people's rejection of tyranny. Carolina, the hen protagonist in Memorias de una gallina, observes the injustice that reigns in the chicken coop at feeding time and devises a plan to enable the weaker and older hens to get their share.

The values highlighted in the Carta are not, of course, the only ones promoted by the C.C.E.I. prize winners. Among other important personal values are some which tend to be associated with the Christian tradition, such as humility and forgiveness—although these values are more noticeable in the earlier books—as well as more "universal" virtues like courage, honor, or integrity. Several prize winners also underscore values that have been emphasized especially in modern times, such as self-acceptance; the humane treatment of animals; care for the earth and all its creatures; and the importance of providing children with a healthy environment in which to grow up, whether in the form of a stable, loving family or by giving children freedom from the kind of poverty that destroys their health and psychological development.

The Question of Religion

Not surprisingly, given the nature of the body that sponsors the C.C.E.I. prize, religion is more evident in these books as a whole than in other groups of prize winners written for children, such as the "Lazarillo" or the "Nacional de Creación," inaugurated in 1958 and 1978, respectively. However, the religious and spiritual values communicated are not always specifically, and are seldom narrowly, Christian. The Carta observes that many books for children lack a religious dimension. Nonetheless, even these books should be taken into consideration in just measure, "that is, in the measure in which they do not close off to the child spiritual discoveries or Christian values" (Cendán 333). C.C.E.I. prize-winning books of historical fiction whose action predates Christianity deal with the issue of religion in different ways, all of which fulfill the preceding criterion at least in small part. For example, mention of religion is virtually absent in Las ruinas de Numancia. The only reference to faith is that of the father, a doctor and the authoritative ethical voice in the novel; his is not faith in God, but, according to Scipio, the Roman general, it is a "gigantic faith in a deplorable humanity" (10).

Reference to older religious beliefs is ambivalent in La colina de Edeta. At times it is positive, as when the Iberian Norisus sees the arrival of the Greek merchant Licos and his son as an event in which the gods have had a hand and responds with gratitude for the chance to offer them hospitality (19). Such an attitude is akin to a Christian view of divine providence. On the other hand, certain Iberian beliefs concerning the gods are presented as superstitious and are rejected, not directly by the narrator but through Licos, whose common sense or predisposition to protect the vulnerable holds sway. When Norisus tries to stop Licos from rushing outside in a fierce storm to keep his mules from bolting because he fears the destructive anger of the gods, the Greek replies, "Without mules I am already destroyed, as you Edetans will be if you lose your horses and your flocks. Forget about the gods and go retrieve your cattle!" (25). And when Imilce, the daughter of the priestess, refuses to give up her favorite dog in a communal sacrifice intended to placate the gods and is excommunicated by her people, Licos is part of a stratagem that persuades them to accept her once again by taking advantage of their religious beliefs.

One way of dealing with religion in Sosala, whose action begins around 950 B.C., is to draw a modern parallel to the old beliefs. As Sosala's adoptive father Besay is readied for his journey to the other world, the child recalls the old man's explaining to him, "that men had one visible part and another invisible one: one was like clay, … which could be broken and destroyed, and the other like the air one breathes, which is felt and is not seen" (25). In another episode two members of the tribe discuss Sosala's having passed the test that proves his purity of blood and therefore his right to lead the people. The younger man, Mahay, tells the older, Garadafe, that what has happened has not been a divine action at all but has simply been a series of circumstances that made something very simple and natural look like a prodigy (50). Garadafe responds, "According to you, then, for it to be something supernatural, Althos would have had to appear upon a cloud of fire to rescue Sosala, at the same time as he hurled lightning bolts on Ahuargo and his followers. That would really be a divine performance that corresponded to your idea, isn't that right?" (50). When Mahay agrees, Garadafe asks if such an extraordinary series of circumstances can be merely fortuitous, adding, "Don't you believe that the divine power is to be seen not only in the supernatural, but in the natural as well? The marvel is in the end, not in the deed" (50-51). Clearly, both passages express a religious attitude relevant to a modern-day Christian context. In addition, Sosala establishes a distinction between the deity and his earthly representatives, as well as between the latter's office and his person. The woman who heads the government of one of the villages apprises the high priest, "Listen to me and engrave my words well on your mind: I respect you as great priest, but I despise you as a man" (53).

The main characters in Guárdate de los Idus distance themselves in different ways from the Roman religion of Caesar's day. Although the text refers respectfully to the cult of Vesta and the office of the virgins dedicated to it, Portia's response to her brother's protest to her becoming one of them indicates a pragmatic rather than a religious attitude: "Brother, each one believes in what suits him and takes hold of what serves him" (129). At the conclusion of the novel Druso reveals himself to be an atheist: "I could conclude by invoking the name of the gods, according to custom; but I do not believe in them nor do I hope for anything from the divine power. I, like my sister Portia, will weave my destiny" (165). Finally, La casa pintada presents an ostensibly non-religious theme that is synonymous with certain Christian teachings, namely, that what looks like failure in the worldly sense may actually be success in the spiritual sense, and that sacrificing one's dreams to save others can lead to fulfillment of those dreams in a different way.

The importance of religion varies considerably in C.C.E.I. winners not set in distant times. In many books a religious, though not a spiritual, dimension is lacking altogether. Others contain only a passing reference to one or another element of Christian belief or practice. A good example of a book that does not, in the aforementioned words of the Carta, "close off to the child spiritual discoveries or Christian values," is Háblame del sol. This book, besides conveying a strong sense of the wonder of the natural world, also points delicately toward the existence of something beyond the natural:

—And the sun, where is the sun?

—I don't know. Maybe we can't see it from here, but its light is illuminating everything. You could say that everything you see is the sun.


While the Carta does not exclude from consideration books that lack an explicit religious dimension, it does affirm the importance of the role of books in making known to children the Christian message. However, the Carta asserts that this message should be presented "not in a false, exclusively moralizing aspect, but rather with reference to an authentic Christianity close to our times, one that inspires personal commitment and is open to scientific knowledge, technical, social, and cultural progress" (333). Not surprisingly, the Christian religion is an important dimension in the novels set in medieval times, especially El bordón y la estrella and La espada y la rosa. For example, each handles the miracle story, a favorite medieval genre, in a manner that makes it more accessible to contemporary readers. The true miracle associated with the pilgrimage to the shrine of St. James in El bordón y la estrella is forgiveness of injuries. While La espada y la rosa appears to portray the miracle of Our Lady's jongleur as having occurred literally, the author informs his readers in the preface that he is not attempting to write a historical novel but rather to acquaint them with medieval literature. That is, this beautiful miracle story is meant to be read as poetic, not historical, truth. Furthermore, Brother Martin, now abbot, finds in it a meaning that recalls certain documents of Vatican Council II (1962-65) regarding the role of the laity in the Roman Catholic Church:

I have thought many times that that was the true meaning of poor Jacques's miracle. God our Lord, in causing the Virgin to smile, wanted to show us that he was incorporating him in his church. Not the monks or the knights, but Jacques the peasant, the poor, despised peasant. That is why, they say, the new wood carvers fill the churches with images that reflect the features of the common people. Our order is opposed to it, because they say that no image ought to be carved in the house of God. But I believe they are mistaken. The people ought to be incorporated in the Church, should form part of it and recognize themselves in it.


Apart from fiction set in a predominantly Christian place and time, the earlier C.C.E.I. winners, especially those that won the prize before the publication of the Carta in 1969, evince or even promote a quite specific Christianity. For instance, Un castillo en el camino (A Castle on the Road) (1963) alludes in a positive way to many elements of Roman Catholicism, including devotion to the Virgin. The importance of Mary is not surprising, given the centrality of the mother figure in the novel's plot and theme, whether in the form of the deceased mother, the stepmother, or the mother-in-law; Mary is implicitly the model for them all.

Tienes que vivir (1965) provides the most obvious example of a confessional stance. The Roman Catholic priest Father Gallego, presented as an unfailingly positive character, appears frequently in the story. The protagonist is a fervent Catholic, although he undergoes a spiritual crisis in the wake of a devastating accident. Whatever his admirable qualities, he goes too far, in my opinion, in his efforts to influence his friends in the religious sphere. He even suggests that they substitute a cross for the bear head that is their present totem, adding as explanation, "We all have our beliefs about the Divinity, and fear of God. In the end we are all Christians" (38). Since a few paragraphs earlier the reader learns that "Catholics, Protestants, schismatics, Jews, or Mohammedans had to lodge beneath the same tent" (38), his statement is curious. I doubt that Jewish or Muslim boys would consider themselves Christians at heart. It is not clear to whom the narrator refers as "schismatics," but the term is pejorative, even if unintentionally so.

Religion, usually in terms of the Catholic faith, figures to a greater or lesser degree in all Carmen Kurtz's novels, but the manner of its treatment changes over time. For example, Óscar espeleólogo, in which the most important value, according to Carmen Rute, is "the need for God" (n.p.), shows Oscar praying on several occasions and persuading a French speleologist who has fallen away from the faith to join him in prayer. Óscar en África (1975) suggests an uneasy accommodation of certain African peoples to Christianity. A tribeswoman gives Oscar as a going-away gift a pendant she believes to be a bearer of good luck, though she does not dare call it an amulet, since "she had gone to a Catholic school and the nuns told her one must not believe in amulets" (97). Ironically, Doña Joaquina's conviction that her novena to Saint Anthony is responsible for Oscar's safe return home is not so different from the native woman's belief. Islam, on the other hand, receives unambiguously respectful treatment. The Imam is a very positive figure, and Oscar does not hesitate to repeat his farewell, "‘Allah is great!’" (54). Veva (1981) intimates that Mass and the sacraments are frequented more by the elderly than the young, in noteworthy contrast to the earlier Óscar, espía atómico, in which the protagonist's adventures do not prevent him from attending Mass faithfully. When Veva and her grandmother discuss God, the older woman's reference to faith is much more human than doctrinal; she even indicates a possible past experience of doubt. Veva asks whether she has ever seen God. Her grandmother replies that no one has seen him but that if she ever had doubts of his existence, Veva has removed them. A bit later she tells the infant, "I lied to you when I said that I haven't seen God. I … half lied to you. The day you were born, so beautiful, so full of life, I saw God's hand. Only his hand, mind you. It is a great deal" (42). Sometimes the tone is humorous, as when the grandmother remarks that belief in the resurrection of the dead, as taught by the Credo, is very consoling, but that she is worried about one detail involving the hereafter: "[H]ow am I going to manage with two husbands? They were both quite jealous" (41).

The only other book in this group that does not fall into the category of historical fiction, was published after the Carta, and manifests a clearly confessional Christianity is La casa de los diablos (1993), in which the treatment of religion has elements in common with Veva. Roman Catholic devotional practices, such as prayer and attendance at Mass, are at first associated with the older generation, represented by the grandmother and the maid. At the same time the novel differentiates the two women. The grandmother exhibits an interesting mixture of traditional piety and independent thinking; the maid is both pious and superstitious. The young protagonist originally simply observes but does not imitate the grandmother's religious practices. She writes in her diary with amused affection of the occasion when one of the boys told of having learned in school of Nestorius' denial that the Virgin Mary was the mother of God, to which his grandmother exclaims, "Holy Virgin! Is that Nestorius one of those socialists we have in government now?" (117). Nevertheless, Teresa's deepest values are the same as those of the older woman, whom she both loves and admires. Toward the end of the novel she learns with surprise that her close friend José also prays; she had believed that praying was an occupation exclusively of the old and certainly not of men. Afraid that her grandmother is about to die, Teresa confides that she, too, tried to pray but "did it badly…. Maybe the better prayer was the caress I gave her rosary, so bright and polished by her use. I had it held tightly in my hand when they took out my grandmother's stretcher" (161). This is a different view of prayer than that presented in the earlier novels.

Other books, postdating the Carta, reveal a broader attitude toward religion. They may explicitly recognize religions other than Christianity as valid, or they may simply refer to faith in God without mentioning particular religions. What matters is that one's faith, whatever it is, be expressed in respect and care for others. Some texts explicitly or implicitly criticize Christians, though not their religion itself, for failing in these qualities. Sabiondo y Colaverde includes an illustration that shows a crucifix on the wall. However, it hangs in the house of a greedy and unjust man, thus functioning as a tacit reproach of that character. The protagonist of Pabluras considers the wolf "an animal capable of a delicacy of feeling forbidden to the majority of people that I knew" (90). The persons whom Pabluras compares negatively to the wolf are country people and, one supposes, confessed Catholics. These same people, in their ignorance, persecute not only the wolf but also a woman they regard as a witch and an Extremaduran couple who have come to tend a property of their landlord. The narrator-protagonist reflects, in what is probably the darkest picture of humankind in this entire group of books, "Men seem to feel the imperious need to hate and they would not want to give up an enemy that offers them easy occasions" (91). In Los astronautas del "Mochuelo" Serena, an Alpha Centauran, cannot understand the contradiction she has observed between the spiritual beliefs of most earthlings and the actual history of humankind. A member of Earth's Council of Government corroborates her observation, affirming before the Alpha Centaurans that in addition to their technology, far in advance of Earth's, "your spiritual virtues, … although based on beliefs similar to ours, are put into practice by you, while our race cannot say the same" (118). An obvious additional message here is that there need be no antagonism between science and technology on the one hand, and religion or spirituality on the other.

Of all the C.C.E.I. prize winners, the book that portrays a religion other than Christianity in the most positive manner is El señor del cero, which is set in the tenth century. One way it conveys this attitude is through the sensitive handling of Muslim prayer ceremonies. Another is through the words of the protagonist, a Mozarab, i.e., a Christian living in territory controlled by the Arabs. Defending himself against a charge of heresy by certain monks, he explains, "Brothers, there in Cordoba things are different. Not all our friends or relatives name God in the same way we do, but that does not mean that they are not good or that we do not love them" (64). A third way in which the novel conveys a respectful attitude toward Islam is through the narrator's characterization of the Muslim judge as an enlightened person, "a fervent and sincere believer, [who] was sure that Mohammed was above the good or evil words of a Christian" (45). The portrayal of Christians and their religious beliefs, on the other hand, is double-faceted. While depictions of religious ceremonies and observances in the monastery are always respectful and allusions to God's providence are unfailingly reverent in tone, the representation of the monks is by no means uniformly positive. One of the salient points made about the monasteries, and even monks within the same monastery, is that they differed greatly from one another in their position regarding the relation between faith and secular learning, especially if it was non-Christian. Some monks are presented as ignorant or even fanatical in their faith, others as clear-headed. Abbot Arnulf of Santa María de Ripoll is unequivocal in his disagreement with the views of the abbot of Cluny, "May God forgive him!, who with his own hands tears out the pages of books that contain poems of the ancient Latin authors and who will not allow in the monastery anything except the writings of the Holy Fathers [of the Church]" (72). In his own monastery, "we are interested in the disciplines that cause men to progress" (133). Elsewhere he explains his rationale: "[N]ot everything is written in the Bible. In Paradise, did God not subject all the animals and all things to the authority of man? And should man not progress in knowledge and in the various branches of learning in order to be better?" (74). Not all his monks agree, however; Brother Hugo and others insist on seeing in José's books of mathematics with their Arabic numerals the magic arts of Satan.


Given the religious character of the sponsor, some critics might be surprised by certain aspects of the C.C.E.I. prize winners, such as the virtual absence of religious allusions and issues in at least a dozen books; the inclusion of suicide; non-absolutist judgments like the assertion that truth is not the same for all; the sympathetic portrayal of Muslims and unsympathetic depiction of some Christians, including monks; or the association of certain Catholic practices with superstition. Indeed, the overall emphasis is on the broad human values of personal integrity and social responsibility.

Altogether, the books whose publishers have been honored with the prize meet the Comisión Católica Española de la Infancia's general criterion of "a worthy content in a rich literary form." The more specific standards set by the Carta del libro infantil have also been met for the most part by the C.C.E.I. winners since the inception of the prize. My only qualification is that a few of the texts do not correspond to what most children would on their own consider interesting and important, but the same could doubtless be said of any group of books whose prize-winning status is determined principally by adults. The standards have, I believe, served young people well. The trends manifested in these books over the last decade or more give promise that they will continue to do so, as writers and juries alike adapt to the changing circumstances of present and future generations.


1. Quotations in English are my translations from the original Spanish.

2. In 1988 the jury examined 110 books from eighteen publishing houses (Barrena 18). The number of submissions had risen dramatically from ten years earlier, when thirty-eight works from eleven publishers were submitted (Anuncio 437).

3. An article by María Caparrós, "En la brecha desde el año 1955," suggests that as late as 1990 the author of the prize-winning book had to be Spanish. The prize "is awarded as an incentive to the daring publisher who promotes and publishes works by Spanish authors and who believes in the national genius. At the same time it helps the Spanish writer get his or her work published" (10).

4. Nevertheless, the 1977 C.C.E.I. winner, Caminos abiertos por Juan XXIII, is indubitably a didactic work.

5. Between 1962 and 1998 twelve works of realistic fiction, nine of fantasy, eight of historical fiction, three of poetry, one of science fiction, one biography, one documentary, and two picture books (one tending to fantasy, the other realistic) have won their publishers the prize. These are only approximate categories, since some of these books blend two or more genres.

6. The Carta appears in its entirety in Apéndice XVIII of Cendán's Medio siglo de libros infantiles y juveniles en España (1935-1985).

Works Cited

Primary Works

Aguirre Bellver, Joaquín. El bordón y la estrella. Zaragoza: Edelvives, 1988.

Amo, Montserrat del. La casa pintada. Madrid: S.M., 1990.

Baquedano, Lucía. La casa de los diablos. Barcelona: Labor, 1992.

Domínguez, Carlos Guillermo. Sosala. Madrid: S.M., 1987.

Espinas, José. Todos tenemos hermanos pequeños. Barcelona: La Galera, 1969.

Esteban, Ángel. Háblame del sol. Madrid: Bruño, 1994.

González, Lola. Guárdate de los Idus. Madrid: S.M., 1995.

Kurtz, Carmen. Óscar en África. Barcelona: Juventud, 1974.

———. Óscar espeleólogo. Barcelona: Lumen, 1971.

———. Óscar espía atómico. Barcelona: Juventud, 1963.

———. Veva. Barcelona: Noguer, 1980.

Lanuza, Empar de. El sabio rey loco y otros cuentos. Barcelona: La Galera, 1979.

López Narváez, Concha. La colina de Edeta. Madrid: Espasa-Calpe, 1986.

———. Las horas largas. Madrid: Anaya, 1997.

———. Memorias de una gallina. Madrid: Anaya, 1989.

Martín Fernández de Velasco, Miguel. Pabluras. Barcelona: Noguer, 1984.

Martínez Menchén, Antonio. La espada y la rosa. Madrid: Alfaguara, 1993.

Molina, María Isabel. Las ruinas de Numancia. Barcelona: Noguer, 1985.

———. El señor del cero. Madrid: Alfaguara, 1996.

Panero, José Antonio. Danko, el caballo que conocía las estrellas. Madrid: S.M., 1988.

Ruiz Acosta, Juan. Tienes que vivir. Madrid: Santillana, 1964.

Sánchez Coquillat, María Marcela. Un castillo en el camino. Barcelona: Juventud, 1962.

Sierra i Fabra, Jordi. El último set. Madrid: S.M., 1991.

Sorribas, Sebastián. Los astronautas del Mochuelo. Barcelona: La Galera, 1972.

Vallverdú, Josep. Polvorón. Barcelona: La Galera, 1969.

———. Sabiondo y Colaverde. Barcelona: La Galera, 1982.

Secondary Works

60 libros para chicos. Año Internacional del Niño. Madrid: C.C.E.I., 1979.

[Anuncio de la concesión del premio C.C.E.I.] El libro español 248 (Ago. 1978): 437; 280 (Abril 1981): 195.

Barrena García, Pablo. "Hablar al oído de libros infantiles y juveniles." Alacena 11 (Primavera 1990), 18.

Caparrós, María. "En la brecha desde el año 1955." Alacena 11 (Primavera 1990): 10.

Cendán Pazos, Fernando. Medio siglo de libros infantiles y juveniles en España (1935-1985). Madrid: Fundación Germán Sánchez Ruipérez, 1986.

Comisión Católica Española de la Infancia. Secretariados de Prensa y Literatura Infantil. 25 años del Premio C.C.E.I. de libros infantiles y juveniles. N.p.: Comisión, n.d.

———. Premio C.C.E.I. 1994 para libros infantiles y juveniles. Madrid. 4 Eno. 1994.

Rute Lameyer, Carmen. El "Premio C.C.E.I." para libros infantiles. Cuadernos de documentación. Madrid: Comisión Católica Española de la Infancia. Secretariado de Prensa y Literatura, 1973.

Kenneth Kidd (essay date 2007)

SOURCE: Kidd, Kenneth. "Prizing Children's Literature: The Case of Newbery Gold." Children's Literature 35 (2007): 166-90.

[In the following essay, Kidd studies the canon of Newbery Medal-winning children's novels, noting that few unconventional works by or about minorities have ever won the award.]

Despite repeated criticisms of their efficacy—they "have a predictability for literature on about the level of crystal gazing or astrology," complains Fred B. Millett in 19351—literary prizes have mushroomed since the establishment of the Nobel Prizes in 1901 and especially since the 1960s. Literary prizing has been a remarkably effective mechanism for publicity, sales, and scandal, if not always for the production of Literature. Prizing, moreover, has middlebrow as well as highbrow features and effects; it encourages both the making and unmaking of canons, underwrites but also undercuts faith in popularity. So ubiquitous is cultural prizing more broadly that James English, in his recent study The Economy of Prestige, argues that the prize

is cultural practice in its quintessential contemporary form. The primary function it can be seen to serve—that of facilitating cultural "market transactions," enabling the various individual and institutional agents of culture, with their different assets and interests and dispositions, to engage one another in a collective project of value production—is the project of cultural practice as such.2


Prizes, English points out, are neither purely economic nor aesthetic, neither simply sacred nor profane. Moreover, prizing does not tend toward cultural saturation; rather, it generates what he calls a "logic of proliferation" within the relational field of culture. Each new prize makes possible yet another.3

While English's work is instructive, children's literature doesn't figure prominently in the analysis. In a discussion of pornography awards, English remarks that "[t]here are few fields of cultural consumption (children's literature is one) in which prizes have a more direct and powerful effect on sales" (97), and in a footnote points to the John Newbery Medal, the world's oldest prize for children's literature (1921) and the second major American literary prize to be established, just after the Pulitzers (1917).4 This is a slight improvement upon Pierre Bourdieu, who begins his chapter on "cultural goodwill" in Distinction with a discussion of literary prizes but excludes children's books from the scene of analysis, asking in one of his surveys: "In the last year, have you bought any general books for adults, i.e. apart from textbooks or children's books?"5 Bourdieu assumes that children's books are utilitarian rather than literary texts, and English seems to agree, implying that consumers of porn and children's literature are motivated by practical rather than aesthetic or cultural needs.

To prize children's literature presumably means to assert its value beyond the merely or crudely utilitarian. Among the questions we might ask: What are the mechanisms of distinction in and around children's literature, how successful are they, and how do we in turn assess (perhaps prize) them? Given that children's literature is not generally held in high regard, does prizing boost its status or contribute to its devaluation? Do prizes ensure or threaten its literariness? What "cultural market transactions" are achieved by or through or against children's book awards? Who are those "individual and institutional agents," and how do they operate? How does the prizing of children's literature compare to and intersect with the prizing of so-called adult literature? The comparison between children's literature and pornography suggests that "adult literature" veers away from as much as toward a highbrow (and less utilitarian) classification. Do adult forms claim the high and low ends of the spectrum, leaving children's literature roughly in the middle?

Rather than examining children's literature prizing at large, or the tempting subject of pornography and children's literature, I offer here a provisional case study of the Newbery Medal, first examining how the Medal established a beachhead in the economy of prestige, and then addressing the culture of critique and proliferation characteristic of the more contemporary American children's book award scene. Founded in 1921 by the American Library Association (ALA) and named after the eighteenth-century publisher and bookseller, John Newbery, the Medal has been awarded annually to "the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children published in the United States during the preceding year." To date, there are eighty-five Medal winners and several hundred Honor Books or runners-up.6 Honor Books are not mandated but are usually selected by the Newbery Medal Committee, largely made up of librarians specializing in children's materials. The Medal scheme proved so successful that in 1938, a second award was created for excellence in picture book art, named for the English illustrator Randolph Caldecott. Children's literary prizing is now nearly as varied as its adult counterpart, but the ALA, now some 60,000 members strong, is the largest and most influential evaluating body, administering twenty book and media awards and reviewing most, if not all, of the roughly five thousand children's and young adult titles published each year in the United States.7 The Medal remains the most prestigious of the ALA awards, and has come to signify the broader culture of children's literary prizing as well as a critique of such.

Although the Medal carries no cash prize, it can more than double the sales of a book, as well as increase sales of the author's other books.8 More important, the Medal keeps titles and authors in circulation for decades. Whereas the average shelf life of a children's book today is roughly eighteen months, many Newbery titles are still in print, and most can be found in public and school libraries. People with only basic familiarity with children's literature often recognize Medal titles, if not also their authors.9 Walk into any large bookstore and you'll likely see a section or shelf of Newbery titles, their covers graced with the trademark gold seal.

On the one hand, the Medal is the oldest and arguably the most influential such award, and deserves focused analysis; on the other, it is not necessarily representative of American children's book awards (any more than Newbery titles are representative of American children's literature). A broader focus on children's book awards, one testing and contextualizing the arguments of English and Bourdieu through examination of multiple prizes, might seem a more worthwhile undertaking. For better and for worse, however, the Medal represents both a tradition of merit and a growing dissatisfaction with such. There's a tradition of professional commentary on the Medal that can be brought into dialogue with more recent theorizations of cultural capital and literary value. The Medal merits more than a footnote in the history of prizing, and this essay takes the Medal as its prin- cipal subject, in an attempt to discover what might be learned about the prizing of American children's literature more generally.

If, as English asserts, the Nobel Prize has served as a baseline for the modern prize, inspiring envy and imitation, the Newbery Medal arguably has had a similar role in the children's literature scene and its own particular "logic of proliferation."10 "Each prize that achieves a premier position in a particular field," he notes, "and that becomes, however contestably, the ‘Nobel’ of that field, produces a host of imitators with various legitimating claims of similitude and difference" (65). Giving coherence to a specialized market, the Newbery Medal helped establish the modern awards system for children's literature, in the process ensuring that ALA librarians would continue to serve as tastemakers. With adult literary prizing, by contrast, critics and authors are usually the credentialed authorities.

The Medal was founded a year after John Erskine initiated the Great Books curriculum at Columbia, and five years before the launch of Harry Scherman's Book-of-the-Month Club. Janice Radway notes that the Book-of-the-Month Club gave modern readers "a way to cope with the demands of the modern tempo by placing in their hands the very embodiment of it, the new book" (172). We might say the same of the new book award: it embodied as much as managed that modern tempo. Like the Book-of-the-Month-Club, if at a different pace, the Medal responded to what Radway calls the "problem of singularity" (163) attendant on the idea of literature—how to market and sell new books without undermining ideals of distinction and talent. Like both the Club and the Great Books plan, the Medal linked texts to a tradition of merit while responding to the pressures of the day. Medal books are instant classics, the selection process an ostensible simulation of the test of time. They are "minor" classics in at least two senses of the phrase: classics for kids, and respectable if not remarkable achievements in their own right. If not exactly a canon, the Medal is part of the canonical architecture of children's literature. At the same time, the Medal stands for a good education, for what we might call "edubrow" culture—the middlebrow culture of public schools and libraries.

That said, the Medal's pre-eminence within the field of American children's literature has been challenged on the grounds that it doesn't, in fact, sufficiently promote the common good, or that its ideology of distinction is incompatible with a democratic program of literary citizenship. It's clear that the Medal has long been a selective, even separatist affair. We can see in the history of the Medal a representative shift from meritocratic, formalist expectations about excellence to a more pluralistic understanding of literary and cultural merit. The Medal, in fact, has come to embody our ambivalence about distinction in the wake of progressive social movements, canon reform, and widespread faith that literature, especially that for children, should be an equal opportunity employer.

Browbeating the Medal: The Newberry Economy of Prestige

In her important study Kiddie Lit: The Cultural Construction of Children's Literature in America, Beverly Lyon Clark reminds us that nineteenth-century American authors often wrote for children and adults alike, contributing to Youth's Companion, St. Nicholas, and other children's periodicals—so much so, in fact, that the contents list for such read like a Who's Who of American letters. Children's books were reviewed regularly in The Nation, Harper's, Scribner's, Lippincott's, The Dial, The Critic, North American Review, and Catholic World. All three editors of the Atlantic Monthly on the job between 1871 and 1898—William Dean Howells, Thomas Bailey Aldrich, and Horace E. Scudder—published children's books without jeopardizing their reputation as men of letters (Clark 55). Soon after, however, luminaries such as Henry James and Bliss Perry claimed irreconcilable differences between children's literature and literature for adults, such that the former "generally disappeared from the purview of the cultural elite" (181). Clark blames not merely cultural elitism, but also anxiety about American immaturity:

Not for nothing was a 1915 manifesto of early-twentieth-century criticism by Van Wyck Brooks—a book whose memorable contribution was the coining of highbrow and lowbrow, thereby providing terms for discussing and indeed fostering such separations as that between children's and adults' literature—titled America's Coming of Age.


Advocates for children's literature responded to this devaluation by insisting upon levels of distinction, in effect creating a middlebrow tradition of children's literature, and perhaps positioning "children's literature" as a middlebrow formulation more generally. While Clark concerns herself more with the devaluation of children's literature then and now, her gloss on Brooks points the way to a reconception of children's literature as part of what historian Joan Shel- ley Rubin has called "the making of middlebrow culture." Even as space for adult literature was being carved out, anxiety about ostensibly lowbrow forms such as the dime novel and the series book led to arguments for more respectable or legitimate writing for children. Better books were sorely needed, it was thought, along with better venues for their display and distribution. To this end, more and more people—most of them middle-class women—got involved in the children's book scene. In 1917, Macmillan created the first children's book department within a major publishing house, with others soon following. Just the year before, Bertha Mahony had opened in Boston the first children's bookshop, described by Alice Jordan as "a center for those who choose to take children's books seriously as a branch of literature" (qtd. in Viguers 429-30). Mahony and partner Elinor Whitney distributed book lists, which evolved into The Horn Book Magazine, still thriving today, as well as into library science and education textbooks. The Medal and subsequent ALA prizes also have partial origin in those lists.

More immediately, the Medal was the brainchild of Frederic G. Melcher, editor of what was then called The Publishers' Weekly. As a boy, Melcher devoured Alcott, Twain, and Pyle; he also regularly read from St. Nicholas, Harper's Young People, and other children's magazines. Familiar with children's literature from Newbery forward, Melcher is a transitional figure after Newbery himself. Like Newbery, Melcher helped reinvent the idea of children's literature at a crucial moment, as genteel East Coast tradition was yielding to new urbanism, modern writing, and dramatic changes in the book business. Inspired in part by the success of Children's Book Week—a collaborative effort among publishers, librarians, and Chief Librarian of the Boy Scouts of America, Franklin Mathiews—Melcher proposed that the ALA establish an award for children's literature and name it after John Newbery, often dubbed the father of children's literature. The Medal was a more selective affair than Children's Book Week, with the book list dramatically compressed and taking center stage. Melcher and his cohort were no doubt also inspired by the early twentieth-century culture of artistic as well as athletic competition, in which nationalist energies commingled and sometimes collided with an internationalist pride in human achievement.11 A more analogous institution is the Academy Awards, launched in 1917, and likewise focused on American cultural production.12 In any case, Melcher put the Newbery name to good American use.13 John Townsend observes that Melcher finished an Americanization process began by Revolutionary printers who pirated Newbery's work. "John Newbery never heard of the United States of America," he writes, "but thanks to Mr. Melcher and the ALA, millions of Americans have heard of him" (154).

Librarians, of course, were the mainstay of the Medal. Mostly white women of genteel or middle-class backgrounds, they saw library work as a form of public service as much as a modern profession. By 1900 they already were focused on the reading lives of children; as Dee Garrison reports, the first publication of the ALA was Caroline Hewins's book list Books for the Young (1882), and the first specialized area within librarianship was children's services. In 1918, Anne Carroll Moore of the New York Public Library began reviewing children's books in The Bookman. She insisted upon the importance of the children's reading room, and of professional commentary on children's literature. By the 1920s, librarians were working closely with the book industry to set standards for production and reception. Whereas earlier librarians pushed for mere acceptance of children's books, Moore and her cohort stressed their aesthetic value, linking that value to the public good. "Despite their perceived passivity," notes Anne Lundin, "librarians can be defined as canon makers who reproduce social hierarchy in a systematic act of tradition bearing (also known as collective development)" (30).14

Children's Book Week and the Medal arguably helped revitalize faith in the idea of the public sphere, very much at issue in the period, the subject of treatises by Walter Lippman and John Dewey among others.15 Children's Book Week was designed explicitly as an exercise in character building through books, and the Medal, though a more literary project, endorsed the association of literature with character and citizenship. Revisionist scholarship on the public sphere, notably that of Michael Warner, points to the centrality of self-reflexive textual circulation to the formation of publics and counter-publics. The self-reflexive circulation of books, lists, booklists, and other written materials qualifies this children's book culture as a public in this sense. Moore and Melcher clearly saw themselves as participating in and even reshaping public life. Melcher's formal agreement with the ALA Executive Board describes the Medal's purpose as "emphasiz[ing] to the public that contributions to the literature for children deserve similar recognition to poetry, plays, or novels" (qtd. in Irene Smith 50). "We should not forget," he elsewhere notes, "that by creating a greater audience, we are also creating literature itself … " (qtd. in Irene Smith 47). In "The Reviewing of Children's Books" (1926), Moore notes that the librarian-publisher relation was originally more fraught: "It was before librarians and publishers really began to know each other, and to vision a public as yet unreached by either" (225). The ALA still sees the vetting of children's books as a public service. Nor was this sense of advocacy restricted to literary types. The Medal itself was designed by sculptor René Paul Chambellan, known for his work on public buildings in New York City.

At the same time, ALA leaders insisted on certain standards in shaping their public. While originally the selection process involved the larger membership of children's librarians, since 1928 that process has been a committee affair, due to practical concerns as well as anxiety about the process of selection. Writing in 1922, Clara Hunt insists that the judges be "people of high standards and experience," for "[i]f a majority vote of all so-called children's librarians determines the award, it is entirely possible for a mediocre book to get the Medal" (qtd. in Irene Smith 40). Thus the formation of a special committee, the structure of which remains principally unchanged. Of the fifteen librarians who serve each year, seven are elected by the general membership, as is the Chair, who appoints the other seven.16

The first Newbery Medal winner was Hendrik van Loon's The Story of Mankind (1921), a Eurocentric history of the world approaching five hundred pages. Rubin cites van Loon's book as an example of the middlebrow "outline" genre devised by Will Durant and H. G. Wells (216-19). Although Rubin doesn't mention the Medal, and dates the term "middlebrow" to 1933 (xii), the appeal of van Loon's tome to adult as well as child readers is telling. H. L. Mencken called it "stupendous"; Carl Van Doren described it as "the chief historical primer of the age." Anne Carroll Moore predicted it would be "the most influential children's book for many years to come" (qtd. in van Loon 128).17 Although subsequent Newbery titles weren't as widely lauded—van Loon was already something of a celebrity, and outlines were all the rage—the Medal books from the 1920s were generally admired by the literati. At first, then, Newbery literature seemed destined for literary or proto-highbrow status. As the decades wore on, however, and as the Medal succeeded as a middlebrow project beyond the specificity of its titles, the Newbery books were understood primarily as minor classics rather than as classics that children might read. Thanks largely to its association with the ostensibly feminine professions of librarianship and teaching, the Medal became less a public affair and more a professional domain. Furthermore, writing for children was and remains a highly gendered enterprise; most of the Newbery titles were written by women.18 In the end, Anne Carroll Moore was right; van Loon's history became "the most influential children's book" rather than a work of Literature.

The attempt to legitimize children's literature through the Medal contributed to the ongoing separation of children's and "serious"/adult literature. There were other factors at play here—among them, the turn toward realism in adult writing—but as Anne Scott MacLeod notes, the professionalization of children's literature by the ALA effectively removed children's literature from broader public ownership, despite (or rather through) those claims about fashioning a public. As a result, writes MacLeod,

children's literature became an enclave. All the creative activity, all the knowledgeable producing and reviewing and purveying of children's books, took place a little apart from the larger world of literature. By about 1920, children's literature was a garden, lovingly tended by those who cared about it but isolated as well as protected by the cultural walls that surrounded it.


The sphere of children's literature launched in the 1920s wasn't just middlebrow, but also edubrow. Beginning in the late nineteenth century, librarians successfully lobbied public schools to introduce supplemental reading into their programs, and to furnish school libraries much in the manner of public libraries. As a result, teachers as well as librarians became invested in the Medal. Contemporaneous schemes such as Scherman's Book-of-the-Month Club, notes Radway, capitalized on the desire for educational goods in the wake of the expansion of the educational apparatus but also helped shore up that apparatus, with its systems of evaluation and accreditation. "Indeed," she writes, "these enterprises played an important role in defining the parameters of an extracurricular public space where school-derived knowledge might be further exercised" (162). So, too, with prize-winning children's literature, claimed as a curriculum of enrichment. Generally speaking, teachers and librarians have seen themselves as partners in edubrow culture. Granted, there have been some struggles for authority staged around the Medal. As Christine Jenkins reports, in the late 1930s some cantankerous male teachers, editors, and authors challenged the jurisdiction of women librarians over the Medal, accusing them of bias against boys and boy books. While the gender politics of this turf-war are significant, the turf itself is what I want to emphasize: by the 1930s, the Medal had come to be as closely associated with the educational mission as with library work.

By the 1920s, arguments for the traditional humanities curriculum—such as that of William Torey Harris, U.S. Commissioner of Education in the 1890s, who advocated the five "windows to the soul" (grammar, literature and art, mathematics, geography, and history)—were modified by more practical concerns about teaching practices. To counter the student passivity of traditional instruction, reformers recommended thematic projects, group work, and other more active forms of learning.20 They did not, however, always say much about what literature should be emphasized. In elementary schools, traditionalists and reformers alike emphasized skills over the cultivation of aesthetic sensibility. The handbooks I've examined from the period give priority to reading skills, spelling, vocabulary building, and pronunciation. By the mid-twentieth century, "language arts" was firmly ensconced as a foundation for more complex symbolic activity. This relative unconcern with literature at the elementary and secondary levels stands in sharp contrast to a strong investment in literature at the college level. The 1920s, in fact, saw the first formalization of the American literary curriculum, as professors of oratory and rhetoric began to supervise student reading, develop courses in literature, and displace the literary clubs that had long been a feature of campus life.

At the same time, this focus on skills at the pre-college level was hardly divorced from five-windows thinking. In his 1927 handbook Psychology of Elementary School Subjects, Homer B. Reed, Professor of Psychology at Fort Hays Kansas State College, argues that reading should both help with practical tasks and "supply an open window through which we may view the world and may experience in imagination human activities in unseen places and the drama of the human race as it occurred in past ages" (44). To that end, Reed evaluates phonetic and sight reading methods and invokes the Stanford-Binet Scale. In a chapter titled "Reading: Motivation and Materials," he notes that school readers were usually used in reading instruction. Those readers included selections from fairy tales, picture books, "nursery rimes" (sic), various classics of children's literature—among them Black Beauty, Pinocchio, and Robinson Crusoe—and a few American works like "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow."

As I've noted, the early Newbery books were strongly invested in history, geography, and comparative cultural study, which resonated with John Dewey's praise of geography and history as "the information studies par excellence of the schools" (Democracy 210) and his linking of these subjects with the cultivation of aesthetic "appreciation … an enlarged, an intensified prizing, not merely a prizing" (237).21 While they are sometimes incorporated into curricula, often in geographical/historical or social studies units, and in "gifted and talented" classes, Medal books are not usually primary teaching texts. Instead, they form a kind of secondary or supplemental curriculum, part of that "extracurricular public space." The existence of Newbery-themed pedagogical materials affirms such and also tacitly acknowledges doubts about the appropriateness of Newbery titles for elementary students especially.22 The Medal is thus an edubrow project with literary tendencies or aspirations.

In passing, I note that the early twentieth-century scene of children's literature has interesting resemblances to the character-building movement and may be a reinvention or extension of it. It's no coincidence that the Chief Librarian of the Boy Scouts (a man) was involved in Children's Book Week. Librarians presided over reading and reading rooms in much the same way that Scoutmasters and other boy workers supervised more outward-bound pursuits. Children's literature might be understood as a less masculinist and more literary venture in character building as well as an edubrow formation.

Medal Privilege and American Subjects

Newbery excellence is defined loosely, with interpretations of the terms, definitions, and criteria as set forth in 1921 largely left up to the annual Committee.23 At the same time, the founders of the Medal were more specific about who could participate in the contest and about what work was eligible. While "there are no limitations as to the character of the book, except that it must be original work" ("Terms and Criteria"), the award is restricted to citizens or residents of the United States, and books originally published elsewhere are ineligible. Authors had to be certifiably American, and their work had to make "original" contributions to American literature.

At the same time, most of the Newbery Medal titles in the first two decades of the award were set in other countries and/or indigenous North American cultures. Historical fiction, folklore, and comparative cultural fiction dominated the early Newbery scene. Of the 1920s Medal winners, only one is set in the United States. Arthur Bowie Chrisman's Shen of the Sea (1926), for example, is a collection of reinterpreted Chinese short stories and fables. The trend continued in the 1930s: Laura Adams Armer's Waterless Mountain (1932) tells the story of a Navajo boy in Arizona, while Kate Seredy's The White Stag (1938) reconstructs the life of Attila the Hun from Magyar legends. Other titles from this period are set in fifteenth-century Krakow, seventeenth-century England, colonial India, and pre-Revolutionary China.

For all their worldliness, the early Medal books had little in common with either progressive education or with the progressive children's books of the day. Even so, the trend was so obvious that Sophie Goldsmith, in a 1931 essay for The Bookman assessing the first decade of the Medal books, irritably calls for authors to turn homeward and to "interpret some phase of the last ten years, or even the last twenty or thirty" (314). Goldsmith didn't see that the early titles affirm WASP American society precisely by depicting other cultures as exotic, primitive, and "historical," subject to the inexorable processes of modernization. Janice M. Alberghene puts it more generously when she notes that the 1930s winners were about the frontier and/or about folk cultures—either way, they functioned to clarify "that which is American—even when the books are ostensibly about other cultures" (10). In any case, had Goldsmith surveyed the scene again in the 1940s, she likely would have been pleased. Whereas some earlier winning authors had been born abroad, all ten in the 1940s were born in the States, and only one spent any significant time abroad. More to the point, six of those authors wrote about non-indigenous American life, and declared more explicitly their patriotism, as in Daniel Boone (1939) and Johnny Tremain (1943). Since the 1940s, books set outside the contemporary United States have appeared with some regularity, but no longer dominate the scene. Books with decidedly American settings and themes have since been a staple. While historical fiction remains a preferred genre, the Newbery books are now more varied than they once were with respect to subject, setting, and even style.

For the first several decades, then, Medal committees and thus the larger credentialing body of the ALA gave priority to American work, defined not by setting but by authorship, theme, and values. What was American was established through and against contact with the cultural other, usually safely removed across time and/or space. If we include the Honor Books in our analysis, our picture of the Medal shifts somewhat, as the Honor Books are often more progressively engaged with the vexing theme of Americanness. Doris Gates's Blue Willow (1940), for example, narrates the trials and triumphs of an itinerant worker's family in California, and Florence Crannell Means's The Moved-Outers (1945) was the first children's book to focus on the internment of Japanese Americans during WWII. Arna Bontemps's The Story of the Negro (1948), the first title by an African American to garner Newbery laurels, was an Honor rather than a Medal Book. Moreover, while the Medal heavily favors the genre of historical fiction, the Honor Books are more diverse with respect to genre.24 To some extent, then, the Honor Books offset the relative conservatism of the Medal books, forming a shadow-canon of sorts that's safely contained.25 Very few Honor Books are as widely known as the Medal winners.26

Whether asserted through portraits of exotic folk cultures or through the later domestic/patriotic turn, Medal faith in literary American talent was not extended to African American authors or their works. Whereas immigrant subjects were granted Newbery citizenship, African-American subjects were excluded from the scene, in keeping with social practices of segregation. The institutional racism of the ALA can be traced both within the Newbery tradition and within ALA prize culture at large. What makes this resistance particularly disturbing is the contemporaneous existence not only of African-American children's literature, but also of African-American literary prizing, which, like ALA prizing, was linked firmly to ideals of education and uplift.

The Newbery Medal was founded in 1921, one year after the NAACP, under the guidance of W. E. B. Du Bois, launched The Brownies' Book magazine. Although it folded a year later, the magazine achieved a monthly circulation of around five thousand subscribers. The Brownies' Book, moreover, is only the best-known example of an expansive children's literature of the Harlem Renaissance, as Katharine Capshaw Smith demonstrates in her engaging study of that material. By her account, the black child became the "race leader" (xix) and an icon "of emerging cultural nationalism" (xxiii), and children's literature was central to the movement. Du Bois and others "prized" children and their material, if not through children's book awards. Literary prizing was a core element of the adult literary culture; David Levering Lewis even reads the Renaissance as a broad assertion of artistic capital, undertaken in hopes that such would translate into political gains. Hence the promotion of literary stars such as Jean Toomer and Countee Cullen. Toomer's Cane, published in 1923, was described as "a book of gold and bronze" (qtd. in Lewis 59), and gold and bronze medals for artistic achievement by African Americans soon followed.

All along, however, many prominent figures had their doubts about prizing, including Du Bois. Langston Hughes and Zora Neale Hurston, themselves prize winners, came to see prizes as part of an infantilizing white patronage system. Jessie Redmon Fauset, editor of The Brownies' Book, voiced similar concerns, and Claude McKay, in a letter to Arthur Schomburg, even called the prestigious NAACP Spingarn Medal (established in 1915) "an insult to the intelligence of the American negro—like a tick attached to a thoroughbred horse."27 African-American authors took issue with the ethos of competitive individualism that made difficult a sense of community.

Two Renaissance writers who would go on to write children's literature, Langston Hughes and Arna Bontemps, were well aware of the dangers of prizing, but also understood its power. The economic devastation of Harlem was difficult to escape, and authors needed to court a wider public in order to survive through and beyond the Depression. In the 1940s and 1950s, Hughes and Bontemps, who had greater access to white publishing structures than most African-American writers, were particularly sensitive to being excluded from Newbery recognition, and complimented each other's work as worthy of that award. In an undated letter to Hughes, Bontemps says this about Hughes's collection of poems, The Dream Keeper (1932): "Wouldn't it be great if your book would take that Medal and of course it stands a chance no matter who the publisher, though of course I wish it were Macmillan" (Nichols 19). Writing again to Hughes, this time in reference to his own Newbery Honor Book The Story of the Negro, Bontemps calls the Newbery Medal "the Pulitzer of juveniles," but also remarks that "near misses don't make me happy. I'd like a jackpot, a bull's-eye, or something—sometime" (Nichols 252).

The dominant Newbery genre has long been historical fiction, and as Dianne Johnson emphasizes, historical fiction was likewise a dominant genre of African-American children's literature from the 1940s forward. That's partly why Bontemps's The Story of the Negro, in part a corrective to The Story of Mankind, was the first title by an African American to garner "near miss" laurels. Separate and unequal traditions of children's literature long prevailed. Not until mid-century did a title about African Americans actually win the Medal, and that title was a historical novel of assimilation written by a middle-class white woman, Elizabeth Yates. Yates was one among a handful of white authors in the 1950s writing about slavery and its ills.28 Based on the life of a man who was born an African prince, became a slave in Boston, and died a free man in Jaffrey, New Hampshire, Amos Fortune, Free Man (1951) is a compelling tale, which unfortunately downplays the horrors of slavery, emphasizing as traumatic Amos's capture and Atlantic passage but refusing to subject him to indignities on American soil. Upon arrival, Amos is bought by a loving Quaker family. Though Amos was royalty in Africa, Yates implies that his life in America is better. Amos forgets his former life, and concentrates on learning a new trade, gaining freedom, and acquiring property.

Difference is tolerated until it threatens native soil; then it must be contained. Hence the comparativist ethos of the early Newbery books yields by the 1950s to a more anxious insistence on the universality of human experience, as racial otherness at home became harder to handle. Nearly twenty years passed before the Medal went to another book about African-American life, also written by a white author: William H. Armstrong's Sounder (1970), a melancholic novel about father-son separation and the compensatory power of letters. Finally, in 1974, the Medal went to an African-American writer, Virginia Hamilton, for M. C. Higgins, the Great (1974). In fits and starts, the ALA began to respect and honor African-American literature. A common assumption is that the Medal is now more often awarded to books that grapple directly with social issues. But even now, most of the Medal books that address racism, for instance, are historical novels that give priority to the folk/vernacular and are set no later than the Depression.

Concomitant with this slow assimilation of African-American writing was a universalist rhetoric of art and culture, which held sway even in (especially in) the face of social upheaval. The pluralization of prizes for children's literature came later, along with awards that honored minority writers alongside their work. In the 1960s, the only Medal winner to reckon at all with race was Elizabeth Borton de Treviño's I, Juan de Pareja (1965), a historical novel set in early seventeenth-century Spain. Treviño tells the story of a slave, Juan de Pareja, and his relationship to his master, the great Spanish painter Diego Velázquez. Diego is the royal painter for the King of Spain; he paints the King's portraits and other commissioned pieces. More an apprentice than a slave, Juan is also an artist, having observed his master and painted in secret. At the novel's end, Diego frees Juan just before the great painter dies. Juan remarks, "You are still Master. My Master, as you were master to the apprentices, and to other painters. Master means teacher, does it not?" (157). Diego dies and is canonized by the King; Juan survives to tell their story. I, Juan de Pareja expresses nostalgia for Renaissance ideals of art, apprenticeship, and patronage. It imagines the evolution of the black artist through loyalty to Master, recasting mastery as artistic achievement and freedom as the freedom to paint.

Two years later, in 1968, the Medal went to E. L. Konigsburg's From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. Unlike Treviño's work, this novel remains a favorite title, not only because it is well written and amusing but also because, like Treviño's work, it offers a seductive fantasy of private mastery of public culture, set in more familiar territory: New York City, specifically the Metropolitan Museum of Art. In Konigsburg's story, Claudia and Jamie Kincaid run away from home and hide out in the Met. The novel includes a map of the Met so that readers can follow along. Claudia burns with intellectual curiosity, while Jamie is obsessed with money; Claudia calls him "Mr. Pinchpenny" (96). Capital and the desire for cultural capital inform their every move. They show "cultural goodwill" toward art, sensing "the magic of the name of Michelangelo" (65), and set off to determine the authenticity of a statue named Angel. Is Angel an original work of art, everyone wonders, or is it merely a copy?

Their search takes them on a select institutional tour of New York, first to the public library, then to the United Nations, and finally to the private mansion of Mrs. Frankweiler, which resembles a museum. The childless Mrs. Frankweiler is culture's custodian, guarding the secret of Angel. Mrs. Frankweiler exchanges the secret of Angel for the story of their exploits, giving them a sketch that authenticates Angel as the work of Michelangelo. Rather than make that knowledge public, however, Claudia in turn keeps it private. Konigsburg thus writes a book that likens reading to museum going, and literature to art. She firmly distinguishes art from its imitations, appealing at once to a rhetoric of superior workmanship and to the realities of the market, whereby authenticity is commoditized. The Angel statue is an analog for the novel itself, for its literary potential, and for the authenticity of the artist.

More so than most Newbery titles, From the Mixed-Up Files endorses the accumulation of capital and cultural capital alike, distinguishing between the trustees of culture and the clueless masses. If the Medal helped to make a middlebrow public of children's literature, then, it also has come to represent the selectivity of that public as well as the pleasures of private consumption. Of course, a fair assessment of the Newbery tradition would have to grapple at length with the ideological energies of these eighty-five titles, but my sense is that the Medal books aspire to and sometimes approach Literature in ways that now seem troubling. If one of the Medal's original functions was to modernize the classic and reconcile it with the children's book, the Medal now also preserves its own reputation as a prizing institution.

All That Glitters

Nonetheless, the value of Newbery gold isn't what it used to be. One factor, which English emphasizes, is the post-1960s proliferation of prizes, in and around the general ascendancy of cultural capital (as "information" or "knowledge") in what economist Danny Quah has called a "weightless economy," marked "at least symbolically by the abandonment of the dollar/gold standard in 1971" (qtd. in English 77). The Medal is no longer the only game in town; several hundred prizes are now awarded to children's titles in English alone. The proliferation of prizes has in turn given rise to an apparatus of bibliographic summary, pedagogical application, and collection management. This expansion is hardly incidental to shifts in literary content and context; it embodies and accompanies new contingencies of value.

To be sure, civil rights and other progressive social movements have helped diversify prizing, through the creation of new awards and through critique of the Medal. Debate about the Medal's value has been heated of late. In her 1998 essay "What Color Is Gold?" for example, Bonnie J. F. Miller deems the Medal a racist institution, taking issue not with the basic concept of the award (or of awards more generally) but rather with the selection process, and arguing that children's literature should be more representative of diversity.29 "When … a body of literature with the power of Newbery gold lacks even one text by a minority writer or about a minority lead," writes Miller, "the message sent to children is that the ‘most distinguished’ protagonists and authors are white" (34). Others defend the Medal's aims and ends. From the other end of the prizing wars, in an essay entitled "Slippery Slopes and Proliferating Prizes," Marc Aronson deplores the expansion of prizing and chalks it up to the success rather than (as for Miller) the failure of identity politics. Citing the Coretta Scott King (CSK) Awards and the Pura Belpré Medal, founded in 1969 and 1996 for distinction in African-American and Latino/a children's writing, respectively, Aronson holds that children's literature has yielded to special interests. Aronson urges judges to "honor content alone, not identity. Use the very best judges and set the very highest standards" (278). Otherwise, he implies, to quote the Dodo in Alice in Wonderland, "everyone has won, and all must have prizes." "Who will bet," asks Aronson, "how soon mixed-race authors, those with disabilities, Muslims (and thus Jews, which, of course, then means Christians), will demand awards of their own? How can ALA say no to any of them?" (277).

Miller is right: the Newbery Medal has slowly and inadequately adapted to social change. Aronson is right, too: new prizes have shifted or at least pluralized the terms of distinction. The CSK Awards, for example, go to titles that help young readers "comprehend their personal duty and responsibility as citizens in a pluralistic society."30 What Aronson and other defenders of the Medal fail to see is that the identitarian critique may be the logical outcome of the Medal's edubrow mission. Still unclear is the impact of progressive prizes on the institution of the Medal as well as the field more broadly. On the one hand, after the critique of Miller and others we've seen some improvement in the Medal's identity politics. Replacing yesteryear's explorations of world culture are more self-consciously pluralistic titles like Linda Sue Park's A Single Shard (2002 Medal) and Cynthia Kadohata's Kira-Kira (2005 Medal). On the other hand, the Newbery's contemporary track record isn't that impressive overall, and newer awards have done more to alter the scene of prizing. Progressive prizes may have forced greater consideration of social identity within the Newbery evaluation process without necessarily improving its representational politics. The CSK Awards have gained influence even as few books by and/or about African Americans have since won the Newbery.31 After the 1977 selection of Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, the Medal did not go to another African American-authored book until 2001. Some observers have declared the 1980s and 1990s a golden age of African American children's literature, while others disagree, pointing to the white sheen of the Medal and to the low numbers of books published annually by and/or about African Americans.32 And never has a book with lesbian/gay/bisexual content received Newbery recognition (not even Honor status), in spite of or perhaps thanks to the ALA's creation of the Stonewall Book Awards in 1971.33

The Medal remains the ALA's pre-eminent award, at once continuing its mission of certifying achievement while also serving as a touchstone for debate about the politics of representation. In a 1946 essay titled "Books in Search of Children," Louise Seaman Bechtel, the first head of a children's book department, affirms the larger mission of the Medal by remarking that "Mr. Melcher knew there was no one ‘best’ book! His awards focused a wider public interest on this field, and also focused the judges' thinking on the problem of merit, the eternal problem of what is a good book" (189). Then as now, that problem is linked to the project of (literary) citizenship. If the Medal has no intrinsic merit, it attempts to generate merit, thereby establishing children's literature not only as a form of legitimate culture but also as a vital component of public life. Progressive prizes are likewise understood as useful tools for publicity and public making; prizes get the word out. Such is the paradox that prizing represents, at once the stuff of distinction and democratization.

The debate about prizing and its value(s) seems another version of the canon wars. Rather than argue about aesthetic vs. cultural value, we should ask to what extent John Guillory's critique of the liberal pluralist faith in "representation" in and around the canon wars also extends to prizing and to edubrow culture. In our sorry society of the spectacle, we mistake the syllabus for the canon, he asserts, and confuse both with the real work of political struggle and democratic change. Is prizing also a distraction from rather than an engagement with class issues and the politics of schooling? And if, as a number of scholars have argued, the idea of the public sphere is likewise smoke and mirrors to some extent—in Eric O. Clarke's words, is "necessarily subjunctive," always already presented as if it were real—how do we address the lingering belief that children's literature builds good citizens, amounts to a form of public service? We operate as if we are a democracy, as if we know our best books, as if those books are by and for the people—as if our scholarship matters. Are we fooling ourselves?

Whether approving, skeptical, or somewhere in between, analysis of prizing must consider the institu- tional and disciplinary dimensions of distinction, in this case not only those of the ALA but also the MLA and the ChLA. Academics, too, are individual and institutional agents of culture. The "market transactions" to which English refers include academic ones, which play out in various ways. My work on the Newbery Medal is itself an attempt to prize children's literature, to convert the cultural capital of the Medal into academic capital for myself and others in the field.34 I'm pleased that children's literature is now more prized or appreciated within English studies, that the MLA Division on Children's Literature is almost thirty years old, that three of our major journals are published by Johns Hopkins University Press. But I recognize that the academic prizing of children's literature shouldn't be treated in isolation and/or seen only as progress. Professing Children's Literature has yet to materialize, but as Clark makes clear in Kiddie Lit, the articulation of children's literature has a history, one involving not only devaluation but also certain formations of expertise. The rise of children's literature as a field within English has come partly at the expense of other professionals concerned with children and books. Within English studies, of course, we see familiar hierarchies. I'm intrigued by the odd identity politics of being a children's literature scholar in a Research 1 program, and of being a man within the field. Wherever and however we work, the study of prizing can help us better grasp the origins, current status, and future possibilities of our profession(s) in and around other professions and within the broader context of academic and popular culture.


My thanks to Julia Mickenberg, Katharine Capshaw Smith, Trysh Travis, and two anonymous readers for helpful feedback on earlier versions of this essay.

1. "It is extremely doubtful," writes Millett, "whether the awarding of literary prizes furthers the cause of good literature" (269); all too often, the prize goes to a "pseudotalent." Vague terms and criteria, in tandem with the inconsistency and/or ineptitude of judges, render the business of prizing all the more dubious in his eyes.

2.The Economy of Prestige is the only book-length study yet to appear on the subject of prizing. While commentary on individual prizes is plentiful, scholarly treatment of prizing as a cultural phenomenon is in shorter supply. For notable exceptions in addition to English, see Huggan; Marrouchi; and Strongman. In October 2003, Oxford Brookes University hosted a conference on "Culture and the Literary Prize," convened by Claire Squares of the Oxford International Centre for Publishing Studies and Daniel Lea of Oxford Brookes University. English was one of the keynote speakers.

3. See especially chapter three of English, "The Logic of Proliferation" (50-68).

4. See English 360 n. 35.

5. "While the propensity and capacity to form opinions on book prizes vary with reading and with knowledge of the prizes," writes Bourdieu, "a good number of those who do not read books (especially not prize-winning books), and who have no knowledge of literary prizes, nonetheless state an opinion about them, and on the whole a favourable one" (319).

6. As Linda Kauffman Peterson and Marilyn Leathers Solt warn in their introduction to a special forum on the Newbery and Caldecott books in the Children's Literature Association Quarterly, "[i]t is a difficult task to determine which works still function as distinguished pieces of literature and illustration without considering the other literature of the time and without imposing our own contemporary biases on the books" (7). They and their contributors focus instead on what the Medal books can "tell us of the field of children's literature in any given year or decade" (7). The overview essays of Peterson and Solt were subsequently republished (along with book lists) in Peterson and Solt, eds., Newbery and Caldecott Medal and Honor Books: An Annotated Bibliography. The ALA has also taken this summary-analysis approach, publishing The Newbery and Caldecott Awards: A Guide to the Medal and Honor Books intermittently since 1992 (based on the work of Christine Behrman). For more detailed summaries of individual Newbery and Honor Books, see Gillespie and Naden. For book collections of acceptance speeches and other Newbery materials reprinted from The Horn Book Magazine, see Kingman.

7. As with adult awards, emphasis sometimes goes to general excellence, sometimes to achievement within a certain genre, as with the Edgar Allan Poe Prize for juvenile mystery. In addition to the ALA prizes, U.S. awards are sponsored by individual states, among them the Colorado Children's Book Awards, the Georgia Children's Book Award, the Nene Award (Ha- waii), the Mark Twain Award (Missouri), and the Dorothy Canfield Fisher Award (Vermont). Not surprisingly, children's book awards now tend toward the multicultural and the pedagogical, as with the Carter G. Woodson Book Award, sponsored by the National Council for Social Studies and designed to promote social science books that "treat topics related to ethnic minorities and race relations sensitively and accurately." For an overview of children's book awards, see Children's Books Awards & Prizes. The Children's Book Council, the publisher of this guide, also hosts a subscription database called Awards and Prizes Online: Another online resource is the Book Award Annals Web site:

8. For example, Diane Roback reports that when the 2005 winners of the Newbery and the Caldecott were announced in late January, both were out of stock in many venues. Greenwillow Press, publisher of the Caldecott-winning picture book Kitten's First Full Moon, scrambled to provide another 100,000 copies within the week. Only five hundred copies of the Newbery-winning novel Kira-Kira were warehoused by Atheneum Press at the time of the award's announcement, but the Press quickly produced 75,000 additional copies, with more on the way. In short, children's books are big business these days, with award-winners dominating the scene alongside Harry Potter and Lemony Snicket.

9. For an updated list of Medal and Honor Books, see the ALA Web site:

10. As English observes, prizes date back at least to the eighteenth-century scientific and philosophical academies, but the early twentieth century witnessed a distinctive surge of literary prize establishment. The Nobel Prize for Literature was founded in 1901, followed by the Prix Goncourt two years later. As "perhaps the oldest prize that strikes us as fully contemporary" (English 28), the Nobel Prize has been especially influential; its only major rival is perhaps the Oscar, which operates more in the realm of mass entertainment.

11. Children's book authors are hardly Olympic athletes, and they tend not to write about sports, but with the advent of the Newbery, authors too could go for the gold, even if the Medal is actually bronze. On one side of the Medal, a man stands over a boy and girl, representing the author sharing his gift of imagination; on the other, an open book displays Newbery's name and the phrase "For the Most Distinguished Contribution to American Literature for Children."

12. In Cultural Capital, John Guillory wryly notes that canon wrangling is not "like the Academy Awards" (8). But in a sense, book awarding is like the Oscars, having comparable (if less televisual) traditions of celebrity, ceremony, and even scandal.

13. Newbery was a farm boy who made good in London, hawking books alongside patent medicines. He pioneered the first children's magazine, The Lilliputian, and is best remembered for his children's books, beginning in 1744 with A Little Pretty Pocket Book. F. J. Harvey Darton thus proposes 1744 as the provisional birthdate of modern children's literature. Acknowledging that children's books had been produced before Newbery, Harvey nonetheless dubs him "Newbery the Conqueror" (7).

14. Lundin offers a comprehensive account of the canon-making ideals and efforts of children's librarians, both individually and as a cohort, in Part 2 of her study Constructing the Canon of Children's Literature.

15. See Walter Lippman's Public Opinion (1922) and The Phantom Public (1925) and John Dewey's The Public and Its Problems (1927).

16. In 1922, Irene Smith reports, all ALA members, not just children's librarians, were allowed to participate in Medal selection by the Children's Librarians' Section, although a provision was made that, in the event of a close vote, a jury composed of the Section officers and four leading children's librarians would make the call. That first year, 212 votes were cast, 163 for van Loon's The Story of Mankind. Just a few years later, however, the Book Evaluation Committee of the Section recommended that the popular vote be discontinued. In 1924, a special award committee was set up, although Section members were still invited to nominate titles for consideration. By 1928, only 150 nominations were sent in; the award committee officially took over the entire process of nomination and evaluation. The Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC), a division of the ALA, is now responsible for awarding the Medal. Committee members serve for one year and are not eligible to participate again for five years, un- less elected Chair. The members use a weighted voting system and the results are presented at the annual ALA mid-winter meeting.

17. Son Gerard Willem cites these and other reviews in his biography of father Hendrik Willem; see 127-29.

18. The scholarship of Botshon and Goldsmith on women-authored "middlebrow moderns" suggests just how powerfully assumptions about gender determine canonicity and/or cultural status.

19. Anne Lundin takes the garden metaphor further, arguing that the librarians and their collaborators were heirs to Romantic ideals about childhood, nature, and the imagination; the centerpiece of their vision was the children's reading room, that Edenic space or secret garden wherein children could experience the natural joys of literature.

20. At the turn of the century, for example, a high school English class in Dayton, Ohio, had studied classical mythology in the following way: students read the myths in their textbooks at home, and then reproduced the myths in a series of recitation exercises. See Cuban 111.

21. Librarians were also strong advocates for the study of history; many were involved with the American Historical Association, formed in 1884, just eight years after the ALA.

22. To some degree, the Medal's status has been asserted against the child or at least the average child's reading abilities—a fact not lost on teachers, who have studied the Medal's popularity with children and/or assessed its pedagogical usefulness. See Leo Miller; Rankin. For teacher's guides using the Newbery books, see Licciardo-Musso; Lamb and Smith; and Kelly.

23. In identifying distinguished writing in a book for children, Medal Committee members must consider the following criteria:

* interpretation of theme or concept.

* presentation of information, including accuracy, clarity, and organization.

* development of plot.

* delineation of characters.

* delineation of setting.

* appropriateness of style.

Works under consideration need not show excellence in all of these areas, but a book should be distinguished in all of the elements pertinent to it. Also, the committee members must consider excellence in presentation for a child audience, even though the book need not be written exclusively for children. They are to focus on a book's literary and social value, and ignore aspects such as illustration and design unless they distract from the actual narrative. Reprints and compilations are ineligible. For more information, see

24. Burns reports that in the 1970s, Caldecott Honor Books were likewise more diverse in theme and style than the Medal winners.

25. Within the Medal books, gender has been easier to negotiate; early on, winning authors turned to proto-feminist ends the trope of the spunky tomboy, as in Caroline Brink's Caddie Woodlawn (1935) and Ruth Sawyer's Roller Skates (1946). Girl characters populate the Newberys and are typically smart and adventurous. For an analysis, see Houdyshell and Kirkland. Plus, many Newbery authors are women.

26. E. B. White's Charlotte's Web is the most obvious exception.

27. James C. Davis came across this letter while doing research for his work in progress on Harlem Renaissance prizing, sections of which he presented at the Oxford Brookes conference in 2003. Thanks to James for encouraging me to cite McKay and for providing source information.

28. On juvenile black biographies, see Mickenberg.

29. Miller faults the selection process as "completely dependent upon an individual's standards for what should be considered excellent—i.e., an individual's opinion" (35). She cites the experiences of former Committee members: "1992 Newbery Committee chair Pat Scales openly acknowledges that the Newbery Committee members understand that literature is subjective, and they approach the experience knowing that everyone has a different definition of ‘distinguished’" (35; italics in original). If individual Committee members can't be trusted, however, individual Medal titles apparently can be; Miller rescues exceptional titles from her critique of the institution. "Individually, these books are not the problem … It is only when combined that they fail to represent the full range of ‘American literature for children’ they collectively represent" (38).

30. This is criterion "g"; see

31. Not until 1982 did the ALA officially claim the CSK awards as its own. The awards originated out of an encounter between two librarians over a poster of the late Dr. Martin Luther King at a publisher's booth at the ALA meeting in 1969.

32. The Cooperative Children's Book Council provides annual statistics on children's books by and about people of color published in the United States. See

33. The ALA's Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgendered Round Table has sponsored the Stonewall Book Awards since 1971, honoring a total of forty-eight books for "exceptional merit relating to the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered experience." Aronson, however, prefers the Lambda Literary Awards, given by the Lambda Literary Foundation, saying "nowhere do they specify anything about the sexual orientation, or even gender, of the author. The book wins, no matter who wrote it" (277). Yet most books with LGBT themes are written by LGBT authors; if author and subject aren't necessarily linked, they aren't necessarily distinct either, and to insist on such amounts to "don't ask, don't tell."

34. The Phoenix Award, awarded annually by the Children's Literature Association for a book published twenty years prior that was not given due recognition, is worth some critical attention as a mechanism of evaluative reparation, as is the children's poetry award recently launched by The Lion and the Unicorn.

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