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A Fuse #8 Production
Inside A Fuse #8 Production

Baby Wants Another New Award: Poetry Time!

Demanding little thing, aren’t I?  No sooner has the discussion of what an ALA accredited graphic novel award would entail than I launch into a new discussion.  It is Friday, the time when bloggers like myself customarily participate in Poetry Friday (today Live. Love. Explore! has the round-up).  What better time then to talk about the fact that there isn’t . . .

An ALA award for children’s poetry?

It doesn’t exist, you see.  Yes, I was as shocked as you when I thought about it.  Joyce Sidman fools us by having her illustrators win Caldecotts left and right, but that doesn’t mean that the poetry itself is winning.  Pretty sneaky, Sids.

Lee Bennett Hopkins drew my attention to this gap in our awardin’ saying, “RE: Your plea for a new ALA Award. Are you aware that there never has been an ALA award for POETRY? Methinks that should happen before a Graphic Novel Award.”  I don’t see why we can’t have both (though perhaps not a Graphic Novel Poetry Award, as such a book for kids does not yet exist).

Mr. Hopkins then let me know that for years the only approximate award out there was the NCTE Award for Excellence in Poetry for Children, established in 1977, which he chaired twice and won last year.  He went on to say, “I was adamant there should be an award for poetry, thus I founded the Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award in 1993. After many years it is now given by Penn State University as part of PLA; it is an annual award with a cash prize of $1,000.00; the only award of its kind in the nation. More angry, in 1998, I founded the Lee Bennett Hopkins/IRA Poetry Award given every three years to a poet who has published no more than two volumes. The last, 2010, was Greg Neri, who you recently blogged about regarding his new graphic novel.”

So Mr. Hopkins has pretty much spearheaded as many poetry awards as he could.  Yet that doesn’t mean that ALSC shouldn’t throw its hat into the ring as well.  Isn’t it funny that we as a nation can have a Children’s Poet Laureate, but no award from our professional librarians celebrating works of poetry for kids?  One wonders why.  With my complaint about there being no graphic novel award, I understood that librarians have been fighting against comics in libraries for years and that the recent glut of quality gn fare is new.  But librarians love poetry!  It makes no sense that we’ve historically failed to honor it.  Granted, there are good and bad years of poetry out there, but generally speaking there is no year so weak that it wouldn’t yield some wonderful stuff.

That brings us to the nitty gritty.  What exactly would we be rewarding with this award?  The best collection of original poems?  Could a single poem stretched into a picture book count?  Should there be different categories for picture books, middle grade readers, and young adults?  Where do verse novels fit into all of this?  Would they count or be stricken from the record?  Could a book of poetry win if it collected individual poems that had been printed elsewhere, say in Cricket, and put them out in a book for the first time?

Perhaps a lifetime achievement award for writing poetry for kids, given in the same manner as the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award, is what is called for here.  Nice.  Precise.  You can’t get it twice.  Biannual?  It would be a start.

I’m not an entirely impartial person to be discussing this.  There’s always some tangential family connection at work.  So just as I have a brother-in-law who inks with DC comics on occasion, so too does my mother write poetry.  In fact, she appeared in the Best American Poetry 2009.  Braggy brag brag.

There is much to chew on in this discussion.  Perhaps someday the Children’s Poet Laureate will take on the mantle of this cause and we shall see change begin.  Until then, feel free to read Robert Pinsky’s recent article on poetry for kids in Slate called Wild
Child: The Best Poems for Kids aren’t the Soft and Saccharine Ones

For my part, I’m off to go write a graphic novel entirely in haiku, thereby assuring that it will win zero awards whatsoever.

About Elizabeth Bird

Elizabeth Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.


  1. Thank you! Kudos to you and Lee! Despite this obvious lack of awards for our work, our greatest reward comes from the librarians, teachers and parents who continue to provide children with poetry!

  2. Ah Betsy, my dear, you and Lee together have opened not just a can of worms but an entire dang worm farm. Am throwing my hat into the ring on this one as well.

    And am off to write a graphic novel in verse.
    Or worse.

    Jane, who has just been named a Grand Master of Science Fiction and Fantasy Poetry by SFPA, Science Fiction Poetry Assn., by a vote of the membership.

  3. X. J. Kennedy says:

    An ALA children’s poetry award would make great good sense. Having had a book of poems for big people designated an ALA Notable Book a couple of years ago, I can appreciate how a boost from the ALA helps a book find readers. And poetry for kids needs all the help it can get.

  4. Margarita Engle says:

    Poetry is at the heart of Spanish-speaking culture, history, and classrooms. By comparison, its neglect in English-speaking America feels strange and irrational. How can the language that inspired Shakespeare, Whitman, and Frost try to shed itself of poetic influences? I have a feeling that poetry will eventually win this battle of values, no matter how slowly.

  5. Poetry has been patient, but I too believe its day has come. Awards help determine which books land in children’s hands, and by lifting this genre with an ALA award, more children will touch and taste poems. Thank you for this post and for the link to Pinsky’s article.

  6. Betsy and Lee, thanks for getting this conversation going. It’s way past time for a poetry award from ALSC. I say yea!

  7. An ALA Award for Poetry? Sounds like a grand idea to me!

    Lee definitely deserved the NCTE Poetry Award. He has done more to help the cause of connecting children and poetry than anyone else in this country. He is children’s poetry strongest proponent.


    I wish I could agree with you that librarians LOVE poetry. Some do; some don’t. In my years working as an elementary teacher, serving as a school librarian, and attending many children’s literature conferences–I was disappointed to find that there were school librarians who had little enthusiasm for poetry. Some also had little depth of knowledge about all the wonderful children’s poetry books that were being/had been published.

    I’m sure that mine may not be a popular opinion.

  8. Isn’t it funny that we as a nation can have a Children’s Poet Laureate, but no award from our professional librarians celebrating works of poetry for kids?

    What a great point. That says it all.
    I am proud of you both for getting this fantastic discussion

  9. so too does my mother write poetry. In fact, she appeared in the Best American Poetry 2009. Braggy brag brag.

    Forgot to say how this made me laugh.
    Braggy brag brag :)

  10. Well, you can probably guess my opinion on this one. I agree. What’s taking ya’ll so long, ALA?

  11. Wonderful idea! In my experience, many librarians thoroughly enjoy sharing poetry with children and are enthusiastic poetry advocates. All awards mean works for the sponsors and librarians, like many educators, are facing significant challenges in doing necessary outreach in financially difficult times–and yet, and yet, I’ll bet if there’s a determined poetry-loving librarian out there, this award can become a reality. Thanks for prompting this discussion.

  12. By all means add my name as a supporter of the idea. A poetry award from ALA would go a long way toward elevating poetry for young readers to its rightful place in school and classroom culture and from there, of course, into the home.

  13. Betsy, which poet is your mother?
    Thank-you (and Lee) for this conversation.

    • Elizabeth Bird says:

      Helen, that would be Susan Ramsey. I should start publishing her poetry on my blog again. I used to do that, back in the day.

      I’m more than a bit intimidated by the sheer number of heavyweight children’s poets casting their approval here. More to the point, the groundswell of support for this particular idea is enticing. Perhaps one of you should consider an editorial on the subject in one of our fine publications. And hopefully said publication wouldn’t put off publishing it until April, though that’s probably what would end up happening.

  14. There should have been an ALA Children’s Poetry since the ALA’s inception but as Amy said poetry has been patient. It’s a win, win for all involved, parents, teachers, children/adult readers. It’s needs to be done (to quote Shakespeare) “haste post haste even on the instant.”

  15. So when are we taking the carpool and petition up to the ALA offices 😉

    This might seem silly, but perhaps there is just a lot of anxiety and fuss over whom to name such an award after…ya never know what may be holding up the process!

  16. Great discussion! I’d love to see *any* ALA poetry award, to start with. Ideally, I think two awards, one for picture books/younger books to 5th or 6th grade, and one for secondary, would be great. And having awards and honor books would perhaps help those librarians and media specialists that Elaine was talking about who aren’t too familiar with contemporary poetry. So the award would be not only recognizing fantastic work but saying something about the continued value of children’s poetry, too.

    And congratulations, Jane!

  17. Indeed there should be an ALSC Poetry Award. Barbara Genco and I would be THRILLED to have the winner participate in the ALSC Poetry Blast which we co-host at the annual conference. A celebration within a celebration!

  18. Since I think poetry is the ANSWER to most everything (not to mention the prescription to improve every aspect of reading skills for children) I think an award to celebrate any new poetry titles is well past-due!

    I think it would do great things for the publishing of poetry in general. Just like the Schneider Family Book Award seems to have inspired more books depicting the lives of children with disabilities (Hooray!) We need MORE poetry published every year and so few houses even attempt them anymore.

    Let novels in verse, anthologies and single titles all compete, I say. Maybe the discussion between the differences and what makes a quality book in all three styles would inspire new conversations….

    THANK YOU Lee and Betsy for raising your voices.

    Let’s have a POETRY ROADTRIP to ALA!

  19. I currently serve as a member of the NCTE Poetry Committee–along with Rebecca Kai Dotlich. The July 2010 issue of Language Arts included our committee’s list of the 2009 Poetry Notables (20 books). Unfortunately, the list–which included reviews of the notable poetry books–has not been published online. It’s not easy spreading word about all the wonderful children’s poetry books that are being published today. Maybe our committee should get to work to think of ways to get word out about the best children’s poetry books every year.

    I agree with Tracie. I DO think that if ALSC had an award for children’s poetry, it would call more attention to the genre–and might even encourage publishers to publish more poetry books for children. One can dream!


  20. I would so love to see some of these amazing poets get some recognition! Given the fact that novels in verse have received ALA awards, probably a starting point would be collections of poetry that aren’t novels. But I echo the sentiment above: any award would be a great starting place! And yay for NCTE poetry notables! Good to know.

  21. Betsy (and everyone), I couldn’t agree more and have actually talked with ALSC “powers that be” about this a few years ago, but was told we wouldn’t want a proliferation of awards. However, I am not deterred and would welcome another push. Personally, I think ALA/ALSC/YALSA should recognize a shortlist rather than a single title so that we could celebrate the variety of poetry that is published– anthologies, single poem picture books, novels in verse, etc. NCTE already offers recognition for a poet’s body of work, so that is covered (although there is certainly room for more) and librarians (and others) appreciate recommendations of “best books” every year. Sign me up and let’s get this party started.

    And if you’re looking for a poetry graphic novel, try Ryan Mecum’s ZOMBIE HAIKU– which comes pretty close and is amazing!

    • Elizabeth Bird says:

      I understand the natural reluctance to avoid too many awards. However, the fact that ALSC created the Odyssey Award in 2008 causes me to suspect that perhaps they’re not quite as dead set against new awards as all that.

  22. I, too, would love to see an ALA award (or 2) for poetry.

  23. I’m raising my hand to vote yes, yes!

    I’m one of those to benefit from Lee generously establishing his awards. The award made a big difference in my professional life (heck, who am I kidding–in my personal life, too!)

  24. Annie Donwerth Chikamatsu says:

    You can never offer too many awards! Why not one for each category of book published?

    Just wanted to show my support, Betsy. Thanks.

  25. I’m on board, too. And I echo Tracie’s thought that novels in verse, anthologies, and single poem books might all be in the running. Such an award could address the qualities of the poetry – clarity of expression, form, use of language – which are universal.

    The Pinsky article is incredibly good.

  26. Belatedly, a tip o’ the cap and a click o’ the heel to Lee and you, Betsy, for raising the roofbeams high. Poetry, the midwife at the birth of the alphabet, deserves pride of place, or at least a prominent signpost saying, “This way to literacy.”

  27. I’m all for a Newbery Award for Poetry.

  28. Margarita Engle says:

    A proliferation of awards has not hurt the Olympics, or the Oscars.
    Sylvia, I really like your idea of a short list. It might help combat discrimination against poetry in bookstores. For instance, right after The Surrender Tree received a Newbery Honor, it was the only of one of that year’s Newbery Honor Books omitted from special awards sections at a major chain bookstore just a few miles from my house. I asked why the only local author was the only one left out of the display. The answer shocked me. This is what the bookseller said to my face: “There are too many great poets. We can’t carry them all. We only want potential national bestsellers.” Perhaps an ALA short list could help convince bookstores that poetry is not the plague, and should not be shunned. (Poetry is, however, delightfully contagious—children who read it will soon start writing it!)

  29. Like Margarita–I also like Sylvia’s idea of a shortlist.

    The large chain stores carry little poetry–usually books written by Shel Silverstein…and maybe one or two other children’s poets.

  30. Marianne Follis says:

    I think a short list would be an excellent idea and what a great collection development tool for teachers and librarians.

    This is an area of literature that gets overlooked too often. Many people have had “bad” encounters with poetry as children (we have all heard the stories…sometimes from our own lips!) and are not comfortable selecting or teaching this genre. A list is always a welcome device in leading people into unknown teritory.

  31. Here, here, I nominate Betsy to be in charge of all new awards that are way past due! Heck yeah! Now about that free verse graphic novel idea….

  32. Great ideas! Thanks, Betsy and everyone.

  33. I think they should consider have a poetry award and consider naming it after the late Karla Kuskin; wouldn’t that be a lovely way to honor her?

  34. Jean Holmblad says:

    The lifetime achievement award would be the path of least resistance. But a short list with the variety of poetry formats might be what we truly want. Can we have teens involved in the voting process, like YALSA has for Best Fiction Books? I would truly love to have novels in verse celebrated. Here’s another idea: how about a quick pick list for younger reluctant readers, and include the plethora of poetry on that? Warning: librarian’s wheels are spinning!

  35. Margarita Engle says:

    Jean, Your comment about reluctant readers is important. Since verse novel pages are less “crowded” with words than prose pages, they look less intimidating. I had a letter from a high school student who told me “she couldn’t believe she’d read a whole book.”

    (Also, everyone, sorry about the typo in my last note!)

  36. Jean,

    I think poetry should have its own shortlist. A lot of poetry books would not qualify as books for younger reluctant readers. I do, however, strongly agree with the idea of including some poetry books on a list of books recommended for reluctant readers. Some of my struggling second-grade readers really enjoyed the I Can Read poetry books compiled by Lee Bennett Hopkins.

  37. Lee Bennett Hopkins says:

    The NCTE Award for Excellence in Poetry for Children IS for one’s aggregate body of work.

    Karla Kuskin designed the medallion given to NCTE winners and won the award in 1979.

    Of the l6 winners from 1977-20l0, only SIX are alive. For years I begged that a CD
    be made of recipients reading their work. No one listened. And what a loss not to
    hear David McCord, Aileen Fisher, Karla Kuskin, Myra Cohn Livingston, Eve Merram, John Ciardi, Lilian Moore, Valerie Worth, Barbara Juster Esbensen — all dead — perform their brilliant poetry.

    Bird posted criteria for the two awards I founded. One other, the Claudia Lewis Award
    for the best book of poetry established in l988, is sponsored by Bank Street College in NYC. Claudia was a brilliant teacher of children’s literature who later became a good
    friend of mine. I studied under her while getting my Master’s Degree at Bank Street
    when Bank Street WAS on Bank Street in Greenwich Village, now a condominium!

    Like Bird, I am overwhelmed at the response to this Fuse #8 post. Perhaps something
    will happen now that librarians are speaking. Perhaps. Meanwhile never stop passing
    the poetry, PLEASE!

    Lee Bennett Hopkins

  38. I’m all in favor of adding a poetry award! Thanks, Betsy and Lee, for getting the ball rolling!

  39. Well, duh!

  40. Incredible! Definitely we should push for a poetry award. Maybe some librarians don’t love it, but the kids in my storytimes really do. Just when do standard methods of teaching and presentation push them away from the music of words??? Delight is a natural thing. And let’s not forget that poetry is an oral art. Too many folks kill the delight by putting barriers between the reader and the sound. Count me as a YES!

  41. What an excellent goal! More recognition means more great poems for more readers over time.

    Since poetry (or more specifically verse) is not a genre or even a form but a mode of literature, I like the idea of an annual children’s poetry shortlist from ALA, with a single winner in a few different categories initially: picture book in verse, collection, anthology, and verse novel (though this crosses into YA/Printz Award territory).

    Would this preclude books in verse from being considered for a Newbery or Caldecott?

    • Elizabeth Bird says:

      Not at all. Of course, some folks will claim that’s the case anyway. Ever since they created the Sibert Medal for non-fiction, folks have assumed that the committees say things like, “Well this other award committee is SURE to give this book a nod, so we don’t have to.” That doesn’t actually happen, as far as I know, but it remains the fear. Regardless, considering how rare it is for a work of poetry to be praised anyway, I think they need as much help as they can get.