With award season upon us, I'm beginning to think about just how graphic novels might fare in January's ALA Awards.
While I'm sure we'll see them on various Notable and Best lists, the odds are against them when it comes to the Newbery, Caldecott, and Printz.
Here's the problem: the Newbery Medal is for text; the Caldecott is for illustrations. In neither case is the award for the whole book. (Each award goes to the author or illustrator who created the text or pictures for a book, not to the book itself, and is not shared with the author of a picture book or the illustrator of a Newbery winner.) This situation is of course thought goofy by all right-minded people, and while discussion of changing the award criteria comes up periodically, easier--far, far easier--said than done.
You can see how graphic novels are excluded from the Newbery, since the text without the pictures and placement would be unreadable. The Caldecott, though . . . . That, I'm guessing is going to depend upon any given committee's reading of ALSC's definition of "picture book." ALSC defines it as a book "that essentially provides the child with a visual experience. A picture book has a collective unity of story-line, theme, or concept, developed through the series of pictures of which the book is comprised," and adds that picture books appropriate for older children (through age 14) are eligible. Sounds like graphic-novel territory to me.
The Printz throws a different hurdle in the graphic novel's path. Although the criteria hang considerably looser (and I wish somebody would finally get around to copyediting that page) than those for the ALSC awards, there is that sticky designation of eligibility: "To be eligible, a title must have been designated by its publisher as being either a young adult book or one published for the age range that YALSA defines as "young adult," i.e., 12 through 18. Adult books are not eligible." To my mind, this excludes the National Book Award finalist American Born Chinese, whose publisher, First Second, does not give age or grade ranges to its titles. (And good for them.) While some graphic novels are firmly established as being for children (such as the wonderful Babymouse series), most of those read by older kids and teens are published without regard to age. If the Printz award wants to be meaningful in a fluid publishing era, it has to get rid of its "published for teens" clause, ill-considered when its rules were made and bound to become ever more increasingly out of touch.