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A Fuse #8 Production
Inside A Fuse #8 Production

The Conundrum of The Secret River

Oh, it’s too soon to consider 2012 Caldecott/Newbery books, right?  Of course it is.  Far too soon.  Still in the first flush of the announcements regarding the 2011 winners we should do a bit of maxin’ and relaxin’.  Enjoy some adult literature.  Sip a gimlet and enjoy all that Masterpiece Theater queuing up on our Netflix Watch Instantly.

Yeah.  Skip that.  I wanna talk eligibility.

Full credit for today’s post goes to Ms. Jennifer Schultz of the Fauquier County Public Library system.  She posed the following query to me the other day and I have to admit it.  I am thoroughly and entirely stumped.  It may take the clever noggin of my Candlewick co-writer Peter Sieruta to adequately call upon history to answer this question.  Here’s what Jennifer had to say:

“I recently ordered the new version of The Secret River (illustrated by Leo and Diane Dillon) by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings. I told a colleague about it, and since we had just talked about the recent Caldecott/Newbery winners, the awards were on our minds. We wondered if this new version would be eligible for a Caldecott; we looked up the manual and found this:

‘Published…in the preceding year’ means that the book has a publication date in that year, was available for purchase in that year, and has a copyright date no later than that year. A book might have a copyright date prior to the year under consideration but, for various reasons, was not published until the year under consideration. If a book is published prior to its year of copyright as stated in the book, it shall be considered in its year of copyright as stated in the book. The intent of the definition is that every book be eligible for consideration, but that no book be considered in more than one year.’

Would it be eligible? Here’s what we think:

-The new copyright date is 2011, and the illustrations will have an original copyright of 2011. Based on that, we think it would be eligible.
-We found out that it won a Newbery Honor. Don’t know if this affects it. We’re sure that this does disqualify it for any Newbery consideration, of course.

So, could this be an interesting quandary for the upcoming Caldecott committee….to consider a book that was originally published in 1955 with original illustrations, received a Newbery Honor, and was published again in 2011 with new illustrations? Or are we misunderstanding the criteria? Hope we’re not bothering you, but since we don’t personally know anyone who has served on Newbery or Caldecott and is familiar with these types of criteria, we thought we would ask you.”

Now that is an excellent question and one worth pursuing.  I think the key lies in the copyright.  While it’s true that the illustrations contain a 2011 copyright, the book itself is still going to have an original copyright date of 1955.  Since the Caldecott criteria said that, “no book be considered in more than one year” that suggests that since the book was already eligible for a Caldecott in 1956, and in spite of its new pictures, it could not qualify again.

That said, this could be a case where the Caldecott committee gets to decide what does and does not qualify to fall under these restrictions.  I could be entirely wrong!  After all, The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman could have been eliminated from consideration because a chapter had been previously published elsewhere.  It was the interpretation of the committee that gave it the golden Newbery in the end.

So what is the answer?  I assume it couldn’t qualify, but if the illustrations have a new copyright date . . . .  Has this question been seriously addressed before in the past?

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. Miss Piggy says

    Peter did mention this books in his 12/28 After-Christmas blog….but not to the extent if it qualified for a medal. Okay Peter, we’re waiting.

  2. Oh, this book has me stumped too…. like, where to put it in the bookstore? It’s a Newbery book, so should it be shelved with the Newbery books/classics? It has beautiful illustrations, so maybe it should go in the picture books? But there is a lot of text, so it doesn’t really fit with the picture books…. And the size, which makes for stunning artwork, is going to make it difficult to shelve in some library fiction shelves, I’m betting…

  3. Jonathan Hunt says

    THE SECRET RIVER is eligible for the Caldecott. A CHILD’S CALENDAR by John Updike, illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman won a Caldecott Honor in 2000, but the text was previously published in 1965, illustrated by Nancy Ekholm Burkett. The Caldecott criteria support this. The eligibility of THE GRAVEYARD BOOK, far from being a rogue decision of a single committee, is based on a series of precedence in the canon.

    • Elizabeth Bird says

      Ah, thank you, Jonathan. That is good to know. I hardly meant to imply that The Graveyard Book was “a rogue decision”, of course. But there was always an outside chance that it could have been rejected on certain grounds, had the committee been swayed in that direction.

  4. That’s good to know, because I have a novel coming out this fall that began life as a five page short story: SNOW IN SUMMER: An Applachian Snow White.

  5. Thanks for this post, Betsy. I wondered the same thing as soon as I saw this exquisite book (which we shelve in the picture book section). I assumed it would NOT be eligible. Now I’m glad to hear it will be.

  6. It looks like Jonathan got it right. There have been a couple Caldecott winners whose texts were first published elsewhere, including Donald Hall’s OX-CART MAN, which first appeared as a poem in the NEW YORKER, as well as THE FOOL OF THE WORLD AND THE FLYING SHIP by Arthur Ransome, which surely must have been illustrated by other artists in earlier versions.

    • Elizabeth Bird says

      Oh yes, fairy tales alone would have to allow for repeated texts, wouldn’t they? Excellent point there.

  7. Floating along this river, which I hope ends for the Dillon talents at CaldecottLand –
    Forgive the tour guide writer in me, but perhaps a reader will enjoy some links that I hope come thru, about the land where MKR set this

    and also

    Many thanks for this post, which will be of great interest here in Florida.

    warm breezes, all!

    ps eager to read/see SNOW IN SUMMER from JY.

  8. I just want to talk about how much I love reading this book! In my personal library I own every single Newbery (winners and honors) except four honor books (one from the 20s and 3 from the 30s–anyone want to part with a copy of Dark Star of Itza). This is one of those largely neglected gems. It has atmosphere and voice. Good to read that a new edition is coming–and with illustrations that match the wonderful text. I will be looking for this one.

  9. and isn’t there a previous version of Joseph Had a Little Overcoat by Simms Taback published by Random House much earlier than the Caldecott?

    This comes from Creative Parents and an interview they did with Simms Taback:

    “There’s an unusual story behind Joseph Had a Little Overcoat.

    I had done Joseph Had a Little Overcoat as a novelty book for Random House many years ago. It wasn’t successful, but it became a cult book. Even 15 and 20 years later people would ask for it or contact me saying they’d found it somewhere and liked it. I thought that maybe now the audience would be more receptive. I took Joseph to Regina Hayes at Viking and she went for it. There is something to be said for persistence.”

    I will try to give proper credit, given your blog’s reluctance to allow links:

    Creativeparentsdot comslashsimmsintervdothtm?

  10. Very interesting! We are looking forward to receiving our copies. We do have a very old copy of the original book, but I’m waiting until our new copies arrive to read it. Thanks for posting this on your blog, Betsy, and to Jonathan for anwering.