Prompted by the announcement that The Storm in the Barn had won the Scott O'Dell Award, there's been a question asked over at Twitter about the eligibility of a graphic novel for a prize for historical fiction. I can't speak for the other judges but it never occurred to me to think otherwise. As far as I'm concerned, historical fiction is an invented tale which not only takes place in the past but proposes to shed some kind of light on an actual event or situation of historical import. The Storm in the Barn has all the ingredients of great fiction--astute characterization, evocative atmosphere, a compelling story, a theme rewarding consideration--and gives us a unique vision of the Dirty Thirties. How is it not historical fiction? Yes, it mostly tells its story through pictures, but it's still a book, still a narrative, still fiction. While the criteria for the O'Dell Award do require that a winning book be published and set in the Americas, they say nothing about judging an entrant on the basis of words alone. (This is different from the Newbery Medal, which is specific about being solely for text. Unfortunately.)
Book awards are always comparing apples to oranges, even in a genre-specific award like the O'Dell or the Edgar or the numerous prizes for science fiction and romance. You are always comparing different stories told in different ways to different ends, thank goodness. And why shouldn't we look at the pictures?