Thursday, November 29, 2007

Picking a (Prize) Fight

This report on the Ratatouille producers' dilemma about whether to promote the film for a Best Animated or Best Picture Oscar slot reminds me of our children's book also-rans, the Coretta Scott King Awards, the Sibert, and the Geisel. Before anyone gets huffy, what I mean is to question whether the existence of these awards makes it less likely that books eligible to receive them become subconsciously marked-down by the Newbery and Caldecott judges because they can win "something else." After all, wasn't it the relative lack of award attention for books by black authors and illustrators, for nonfiction, and for easy readers, respectively, that brought these new awards into existence in the first place? (Personally, I'll give an award to anyone who can diagram that last sentence.)

10 comments:

Monica Edinger said...

I could huffily say, "never me,"but who knows about one's subconscious. (BTW, did you read the recent NYT piece about psychoanalysis not being taught psychology departments these days?) Still, I have to say the opposite is also true. On another committee, I often had to give up my darlings and was very happy to see them later recognized elsewhere.

Roger Sutton said...

Monica, I'm not clear on what you mean by "opposite." That a committee or committee member would favor an underrepresented genre or ethnicity by virtue of its/hers/his novelty? Yes, I can see that, too.

Ruth said...

I think she meant-- and correct me if I'm wrong, Monica-- that at times a book won't be selected for any number of reasons, not including the fact that it is also eligible for another award. Yet, the book may still be excellent, and having those other awards means it will receive the notice it deserves. In other words, there are times when those other awards do fulfill their purpose...?

Anonymous said...

"...what I mean is to question whether the existence of these awards makes it less likely that books eligible to receive them become subconsciously marked-down by the Newbery and Caldecott judges because they can win "something else."

Do you mean MORE likely?

Anonymous said...

Kind of a corollary question: Do you think winning a big award prior to ALA puts a dent in a book's chances? Is ABSOLUTELY TRUE DIARY less likely to win the Printz now, having already won the NBA? Is HUGO CABRET also less likely to be recognized by various committees as a result of being an NBA finalist? Is DOG AND BEAR less likely to win the Caldecott, having already won the BG-HB? Do judges subconsciously think, Oh, we can pass that book over because it already won something? I'm sure some committee members might harbor such thoughts in the back of their minds, others probably dismiss a book for literary reasons, but the whole committee colluding to exclude a book because of what it has won--or what it possibly will? Uh-uh.

Jonathan

Roger Sutton said...

Anon, you're right. MORE likely. And, Jonathan, I don't think there's any collusion or even private agendas consciously at work, and the numbers for nonfiction, or books by African Americans, winning the Newbery, for example, are so small that you can't prove that the King or Sibert have made any difference one way or the other.

Nina said...

Roger, so very clever to say "before you get huffy," precluding huffiness at the part likely to cause it: "books eligible to receive them become subconsciously marked-down by the Newbery and Caldecott judges because they can win 'something else.'"

Though I can't speak for anyone else's subconscious, and not very authoritatively for my own, my sense is that award judges work in the vaccuum of their own award. Each judge wants the best book for "her" award.

Perhaps this sounds huffy-high-and-mighty...but this is a perennial question, and I have never heard anything expressed, on the award committees I've served on, that sounds vaguely like this happening.

The question of "why don't more ____ [african american authors, non-fiction titles, etc.] win the Newbery/Caldecott" is a real and important one, but I think the idea of judges subconsciously marking down for other awards is not what's going on, and deflects, onto individuals, problems that are at a more institutional level (who gets published and why...how do we evaluate "excellence"...)

Monica Edinger said...

Roger,I meant that when something you love doesn't get recognized by your committee it is terrific to see it subsequently recognized by another one.

Anonymous said...

I have always wondered about collusion between committees. By which I mean, does the CSK book jury talk to members of the Caldecott or Newbery to make sure that those committees aren't ignoring something fabulous or that the CSK isn't letting something go that those committees deem important. But then, I actually checked, and recently several books have been recognized by Newbery and Caldecott while not getting a nod from CSK and sometimes CSK recognizes books that also are Newbery winners or honors.

My strong feeling is that Nina is right. Each committee ponders along with it's specific criteria and eligible books, and ignores that other committees even exist.

Mitali Perkins said...

Perhaps if it were one person picking the awardees your "less likely" scenario might happen more often, but committees are strangely organic processes that lead to strangely unpredictable chocies.