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A Fuse #8 Production
Inside A Fuse #8 Production

If you could change any rule . . .

Let us say that the gods have decreed that you shall now be The Supreme High Muckety-Muck of the American Library Association, hitherto allowed to command your librarian minions throughout the Americas.  Let us say that in your infinite wisdom you have decided to use this power for only good, and not evil.  Now you are seated at the great High Table of Librarianitude.  Your faithful hoards await your simplest command, you need only utter it.

The question before you then is this: You have the power to change any rule pertaining to the Youth Media Awards.  You can change only one.  So what do you do, what DO you do?

This is a game I like to play with myself from time to time.  We all have things we’d like to change, but short of acquiring High Muckety-Muck status, the likelihood of actually getting any of the following changed is strictly in the realm of the fantastical. Today, I think I’ll just break my own rule of “only one” and play around with different scenarios for the heck of it.

Here are some of my top choices:

Create a graphic novel award.  More specifically, an award for “illustrated novels”.  Because of you just say “comics” or “graphic novels” then you leave yourself wide open for future librarians having to parse semantics as they relate to books with different degrees of illustration.  Would a book like Hugo Cabret count?  Would Diary of a Wimpy Kid?  Use the term “illustrated novels” and all is well.  That just leaves the name of the award.  I’d propose either The Selznick or The Bell (alternate name: “The Cece”).

– Create a poetry award.  Because, quite frankly, it’s weird that we don’t have one.  Really very weird.  The only thing I can figure is that the sheer lack of poetry in a given year written for children and teens might contribute to folks thinking that such an award shouldn’t be around.  But the Pura Belpre Award got over that problem by initially coming out every other year.  Surely the poetry award could do the same.  But what to name it?  I know she doesn’t strictly do children’s poetry, but she’s done enough of it that I think The Giovanni has a lovely ring to it.  The Nikki Giovanni Award for Children’s Poetry.  How is this not a thing?

– Change the age range on the Newbery.  Of course, even as I write this, there’s a children’s book out this year that is clearly in the 13-14 year-old age range that I’m stumping for.  Still, I feel like the Newbery age range criteria of “up to and including fourteen” is a relic of the pre-Printz Award days.  I have heard the defense for this age cap, one being that books that fall in the range of my own beloved frontrunner would be lost come award season.  Entirely possible.  That’s why we should consider the idea to . . . .

– Create a middle school award.  Pity the middle school books.  Occasionally they do very well for themselves (see: this year’s Newbery Award winner) but a lot of the time they fall between the cracks.  And considering all the middle school/junior high librarians out there, wouldn’t it be nice if there was an award out there for them?

– Create a Batchelder-like award for foreign illustration – We have a great award for translation, no question.  But year after year the most beautiful imports pass by, unnoticed.  Think of books like Shaun Tan’s The Arrival.  I’d be willing to settle for a generalized “import” award.  Australia.  England.  Mexico.  South Africa.  It would all be up for grabs.  Now at this point folks might say that we have entirely too many awards.  All right, then.  Why not consider getting rid of one or two?

– Remove the Carnegie Medal.  This is probably the most contentious proposal listed here.  I’m sure the Carnegie has its supporters.  However, it’s a bit of an unfair game.  Of the twenty-five winners since the award was established in 1991, fourteen of those have been Weston Woods.  Indeed in the last ten years Weston Woods has won eight times.  Initially I think there was more competition for the award.  These days, it’s mostly how I learn about the newer Weston Woods releases.  That said, I’m fairly certain that someone who has served or is serving on the Carnegie committee is reading this.  If so, please tell me straight out why this is an important award.  Failing that, fans of it please rally behind your flag.  Don’t mince words.  Explain why it should stick around for the rest of our natural born lives.

Those are my particular fantasy changes.  We all harbor them from time to time.  How about yourself?  What would you like to mess with, if given the ultimate supreme power to do so?

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. I will happily beat my poor dead horse here:

    More awards are certainly all well and good, but the Newbery is the biggie out there (for better or worse it is the only one most know) and therefore as I’ve argued many times before, I’d like its criteria to change to be positive about the way art and design propel the storytelling. A graphic novel award will not keep the Newbery Committee from continuing to grapple with the current negative criteria* regarding more boundary-breaking works. Seems to me their energy should not be expended in contortions to make a less-conventionally-produced story fit, but rather in its quality. (El Deafo’s Honor this year does not prove that the criteria is fine as is. It happens to have text that does work without the images beautifully, but that isn’t always the case. And so, why should works like El Deafo be the only ones to have a chance?)

    *The committee is to make its decision primarily on the text. Other components of a book, such as illustrations, overall design of the book, etc., may be considered when they make the book less effective.

    • Elizabeth Bird says:

      Oo. I think I like your solution more. That would effectively tackle the problem without having to create more and more and more awards on top of awards. Can I change my answer? Yours is better.

      • I agree with Monica. In this day and age design needs to be included. And while we are at it lets chop Newbery at 12.
        I’m unsure about the creation of MG (even though these books are truly my jam). More awards muddy the water, for sure. If it were to happen, it would be cool if ALSC and YALSA could join forces for it, because let’s face the facts … Our patrons totally overlap in the messy world of adolescence.

  2. Considering the Caldecott which we illustrators highly think of over the Newbery (sly wink to Monica), change the criteria currently from ages 0-12. That is too broad a range. Break it down because artists are breaking their backs to fit the 32 page structure (which are printer’s rules) to have a Hugo Cabret show them up and push them out (and was too old). Also, art awards for board books which are completely overlooked.

  3. Wonderful article, Betsy! There are so many books that just don’t fit in the right boxes that should be honored in their own way. Whether or not the rules change, I am so thrilled that El Deafo received the honor it was due. (And I know my reluctant reader of a son, who absolutely ADORED the book, couldn’t agree more.) It is a step in the right direction. Here’s hoping the gods make you the new Supreme High Muckety-Muck of the American Library Association. Good luck! 🙂

    • Elizabeth Bird says:

      I don’t think I’d sit well in the Muckety-Muck chair, to be honest. Needs more throw pillows.

  4. I hereby nominate Betsy Bird for Supreme High Muckety-Muck of the American Library Association.

    I agree with all of the aforementioned suggestions, especially regarding awards for poetry and graphic novels. The latter shouldn’t have to try and squeeze themselves into the Newbery requirements–graphic novels should be honored for the glorious art form that they are.

    As an elementary school librarian, I’m embarrassed to admit that I had to Google the Carnegie Medal, as I’d forgotten which category it represents. Not to say that video productions should not have an honor, but I’m certainly not waiting on tenterhooks for that announcement each January.

    My suggestion would be to tweak the Sibert Medal. Since it was created in 2001, I’m happy to note that there has been an explosion of engaging non-fiction for all ages. The medal is awarded for books written for children up to age 14. Why not have a separate category for YA? I understand that in 2001, there very well might not have been enough contenders for separate age groups, but now there are surely enough potential nominees for two age-group categories.

    Another head-scratching aspect of this award is the exclusion of poetry. The Sibert homepage states, “There are no limitations as to the character of the book, although poetry and traditional literature are not eligible.” (

    With the rising popularity of novels in verse, why couldn’t a work of non-fiction be told using this form? Oh, right–it already has, with Jacqueline Woodson’s gorgeous Brown Girl Dreaming. The Library of Congress subject headings for this book include:

    Woodson, Jacqueline–Poetry.
    Authors, American–20th century–Biography–Poetry.
    African American women authors–Biography–Poetry.

    The poetry exclusion clause is not mentioned on the Terms and Criteria page (, so could it be removed from the homepage? Because why couldn’t a true event told as a poem or collection of poems in a picture book be considered as well? It’s shameful enough that poetry doesn’t have it’s own category, so let’s not exclude it from this one.

    • Elizabeth Bird says:

      As it happens there is a YA nonfiction award. It has the catchy little moniker “The YALSA Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults Award”. As my friend Lori Prince once said, someone needs to endow that puppy and stat (not an exact quote).

      As for poetry, it wins Caldecotts, Newberys, and more. I’d just love for the books to get their own distinctive day in the sun. Interesting point about the Sibert and poetry.

      • Speaking of the Sibert and the YALSA Excellence in Nonfiction awards, what I’d like to see is an adjustment to the age ranges so that there’s not so much potential for overlap. This isn’t an issue every year, but I noticed it particularly in 2013. My suggestion would be to lower the upper limit of the Sibert to, say, age 12. I see so much excellent nonfiction for younger readers out there, and it’s a shame when it gets overlooked. The skill required in putting together a shorter book is different from what goes into a longer, meatier book, but in no way is a shorter book is a lesser accomplishment.

    • When it comes to Sibert, books of poetry (like a collection of poems) are not eligible. However, books in verse are eligible and have received recognition from past Sibert committees. For example, “Brown Girl Dreaming” was one of the honor winners from this past year and is in verse.

  5. Eric Carpenter says:

    I hesitate to consider newbery changes without knowing more about the changes that have occurred over the last 90ish years.
    What modifications have been made to the criteria since the award’s inception? When was the last major (or minor) change? Have these changes affected how we compare current and former winners and honor recipients? This seems like a job for KT Horning…
    In terms of the Carnegie, ALSC is currently looking into changes to the award. Since the medal is funded by the Carnegie foundation ALSC would likely want to modify the award instead of ending it completely. (Maybe this is where the Graphic Novel award finds a home). (Full disclosure, I am currently serving as a member of the Carnegie committee)

    • Elizabeth Bird says:

      Modification! I love it! I think I’d prefer to make it the poetry award but to each their own.

      I was just talking to a friend yesterday about the one year that there was a Caldecott shortlist. Beyond that I don’t know of any changes that have occurred to the awards at all. As you say, KT’s the one who would know.

      • Eric Carpenter says:

        Some changes have happened over time. Until the early 1980s the newbery and Caldecott committees were one and the same and recall reading somewhere (probably Peter’s site) that for the first few decades of the newbery an author could not win for the second time unless there book recieved 100% of the first place votes. I think it was the same for Caldecott (which is the only explanation for Blueberries for Sal getting an honor and not a medal). But yes a full rundown of all the changes would be very interesting.

      • Elizabeth Bird says:

        *sigh* It’s times like this that I really miss Peter. He knew everything.

  6. Christine Sarmel says:

    Count me in as a middle school librarian who would LOVE a MS award. Primarily because it would offset the publishing adage that books must be clearly YA or MG, thus leaving seventh graders who are really, truly tween with fewer choices. Having an award might be an incentive to publish more for the “in-between” age.

  7. I recognize that these are literary awards, but I can’t help but to wish that we could find a way to make a space in children’s literature for those amongst us who prefer to earn our accolades through take-no-prisoners hand-to-hand combat. Am I alone in this…?

  8. Give the Caldecott to both author and illustrator, where applicable. It’s an award that, unlike other awards for illustration, honors the unique art form that is the picture book (where text and art merge to tell a story).

  9. I would like to see some changes to the Geisel. I would like two divisions: one for beginning readers, and one for beginning chapter books. While beginning chapter books are occasionally recognized (Tales For Very Picky Readers), they are often ignored for this award and other awards. I think this would bring a greater variety of winners to the Geisel canon.

  10. Megan Whalen Turner Award for excellent series, since the later books almost never get recognition and they should. (Named for its first recipient, naturally.) (Also, I can’t take credit for this–it was someone on the PrintzBlog, maybe Elizabeth Fama?)

    • Yes, please, a series award!!!

      And please, please, please get rid of the age overlap between the Newbery and the Printz!

      And if you’re fooling around with the Printz, why limit it to books published as YA? The long discussion on the Printz blog about which books should be weighed for the prize came to no clear resolution on this point beyond “it’s not practical” to consider books not designated YA by their publishers. But It’s getting a little crazy…books published in the UK as YA are adult books here, and vice versa. (Objectively, why is ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE not considered YA – but THE BUNKER DIARY is?) Maybe the Alex Awards need a higher profile??

  11. It’s fun to consider this. The biggest elephant in the room certainly seems to be the graphic novel. While I felt a new graphic novel award was the only way to go for a long time (and if they do go this route, it should be like the Schneider, with children’s, middle school, and teen categories all under the same award banner), I’m slowly coming over to the “expand the Newbery criteria” camp.

    The more I think about it, the more it seems like a fairly painless fix to make a modification to this part of the Newbery criteria:

    “2. Each book is to be considered as a contribution to American literature. The committee is to make its decision primarily on the text. Other components of a book, such as illustrations, overall design of the book, etc., may be considered when they make the book less effective.”

    The only potential problem here is that it may lead to the Newbery and Caldecott committees seriously considering more of the same books (both awards have an upper age limit of 14). But, really, what’s the problem with that?

    Since I’m talking changing award criteria to accommodate graphic novels, should we also consider tweaking Caldecott as well? Perhaps modifying with the term “picturebook” here:

    “3. Each book is to be considered as a picture book. The committee is to make its decision primarily on the illustration, but other components of a book are to be considered especially when they make a book less effective as a children’s picture book. Such other components might include the written text, the overall design of the book, etc.”

    In their history, the Newbery and Caldecott have given awards to graphic novels the exact same number of times – once, both this year (I’m not counting Hugo since it’s not technically a graphic novel). Maybe that indicates that both criteria should be adjusted slightly.

    • Elizabeth Bird says:

      And the best thing about this change is that it would meet head on the objection that if you change the criteria it casts a pall on all previous winners. I’m now officially Team Monica’s Idea.

  12. Anonymous says:

    I’m with Jennifer. I wish there were an award for early readers–chapter books for second and third graders. I think they’re very difficult to write, and the vast majority of books for that age are series paperbacks, with crumby bindings and bland prose. When you do get a star book–like CLEMENTINE–it’s competing for the Newbery with books for older readers, books that allow for more complexity and freedom on the part of the writer. Maybe an award for early chapter books would give rise to better early chapter books. We could use them.

  13. Victoria Stapleton says:

    Oh Canada!

    While I understand the history and initial intent of the awards’ focus on US work, I strongly feel that if Canadian librarians can serve on this committees, Canadian authors and illustrators should be eligible for recognition without having to move to the US.

    Yes, we could extend this to a wider international eligibility, but I can just think of more Canadian names right now: Frank Viva, Renata Liwska, Susan Juby, etc, etc.

    • Hear,hear.

    • Elizabeth Bird says:

      Nice point! Kenneth Oppel has a book coming out this year [NEST] that is so Newbery worthy it makes my teeth hurt. Yet what awards is he eligible for here? Um . . . Printz if they consider it YA, but that would be a bit of a stretch. *sigh*

  14. I’m in favor of the Selznick award as long as Brian Selznick designs the medal that goes on the books.

  15. Since I can only promote one change (oh so many come to mind) I fall squarely in the Adjust the Ages criteria, so you do away with the overlap. Have the ALSC awards Newbery, Caldecott , Siebert go up to age 12 and the YALSA awards start at 13. It’s a whole different world out there agewise from when the Newbery started and 14 is solidly Young Adult . Also agree wtih Monica and Stacy’s comments re design.

  16. I’m with Jules – I find the Caldecott to be a hopeless award as long as the text is not considered. So many Caldecotts that are frankly boring, with beautiful art.

    That said, picture books are not at all my expertise, and the one I care about the most would require a whole raft of changes: basically I want the Newbery and the Printz to be the same award, for two different age levels. This means: 1) changing the age cut-off for one of the two awards, 2) changing the Newbery to include non-American books, and 3) harmonizing the criteria between the two awards. No mean undertaking, but I just hate that people say “oh that’s a Printz book, oh that’s a Newbery book” when really the awards have completely different ideas of what makes a book even eligible, let alone award-worthy.

  17. I know you all are just “spit balling” and “If I were king of the world” games are a lot of fun. Just a reminder- there is not muckety muck- there is however a board of directors. After I did a lot of screaming and yelling about scope of service, someone (a nameless someone) challenged me to run for the board of ALSC. I did and was elected. What I learned from this experience- we take our responsibilities seriously and listen to membership. There is a mechanism to bringing issues to the board for consideration. The ALSC Board operates under the framework of knowledge-based decision making. There is a Board Action Request form-

    And since this is a game I was invited to play (and the opinions are my own) I WOULD give the Caldecott to the writer and the illustrator for there wouldn’t be the art without those words. Of course then there are wordless books but I am ignoring that right now.

    • Elizabeth Bird says:

      Absolutely. I think it’s important to keep in mind that for all the fun to be had with speculation, there is a process in place for these sorts of things. At the same time, I think there’s a lot to be said for this kind of conversation. For example, I found Monica’s suggestion and Travis’s to be lovely solutions. Solutions that I never would have thought of on my own.

      I can’t believe I forgot to propose that the editor get mentioned on awards as well. For that matter, I think editors should be on book covers and title pages. But that’s neither here nor there . . .

    • Amy Sears says:

      Hear Hear for author as well as illustrator being recognized for the Caldecott

    • For picture book writers, it’s like you are super excited to go to the birthday party, and then you watch others having fun and playing games, but you have to sit on a bench, and you’re never allowed to have a piece of cake!
      It feels like people in the library world think picture book texts don’t count for much. Otherwise, why wouldn’t there be an award? Especially after all these years, and so many other awards added.
      Both writing and illustrating picture books are challenging, creative jobs and both should be recognized.

  18. Since I learned how to speak, I have been annoying people with the request to make the Caldecott Award for the whole book. Which is what a picture book is. Yes, this was discussed on Calling Caldecott, and I think I was whining then too. I love to whine about this. I am purposely ignoring the recent trend towards wordless picture books. Art and text!

    • “Which is what a picture book is.”

      Exactly! If the pictures don’t work in concert with the words, it’s not a picture book… so why do we leave out the poor authors?

      And count me in for the “up to/through age 12” camp. To be applied to all of the ALSC awards – not just the Newbery.

  19. “The only thing I can figure is that the sheer lack of poetry in a given year WRITTEN for children and teens might contribute to folks thinking that such an award shouldn’t be around.” As a children’s poet, of course I would love to see a poetry award. I just wanted to point out that I don’t believe there is a lack of poetry being written, but rather a lack of poetry being published. I’ve heard from more than one editor that it’s a tough sell. That may be true, but it’s not for a lack of effort from the poets.

    • Elizabeth Bird says:

      Point taken. Written and published are, as every author knows, two entirely different kettles of fish.

  20. Dipping toes in dangerous waters…

    Sometimes unpopular opinions and/or viewpoints need to be considered. But sadly these days, those who even dare to suggest opinions or viewpoints that don’t resonate with the social media echo chamber fall victims to cruel personal attacks. Especially in this era of We Need Diverse Books.

    With that said…

    “The Coretta Scott King Book Awards are given annually to outstanding African American authors and illustrators of books for children and young adults that demonstrate an appreciation of African American culture and universal human values.”

    Should Cynthia Levinson’s brilliant WE’VE GOT A JOB : THE 1963 BIRMINGHAM CHILDREN’S MARCH been considered for a CSK Book Award?

    Should Loren Long’s glorious art in Angela Johnson’s WINDFLYERS been considered for a CSK Book Award?

    These works definitely demonstrated an appreciation of African American culture and universal human values. But the artists were not African American.

    Food for thought.

    • Elizabeth Bird says:

      This has certainly come up before. I recall a move a couple years ago that made an LGBT book award eligible only to LGBT authors, and the outcry that came when the switch was made the other way.

    • Elaine Daw says:

      This point actually came up in my elementary school this year as children were learning about the criteria for Newbery, Caldecott, King, and Belpre awards. One sixth grader said that MLK, Jr was more concerned with character than skin color so the awards should do the same. His suggestion was to open the awards to all ethnicities that honored the awards’ purposes to appreciate the culture of African Americans and Latins. As he pointed out, there isn’t an award for European Americans only and none of the other awards are based on ethnicity. The observation was from a 6th grade Samoan child.

  21. Linda Wolfe says:

    I would have both the Caldecott and Newbery issue a short list of winners (with the gold medal winner already chosen) in January, and have the announcement of the gold medal book given in March. That way, schools, libraries and interested readers could read and examine the books and come up with their own favorite. I know my students are very involved in our “Battle of the Books” but I am just guessing which ones to include. I think this would generate a lot more excitement without watering down the committee’s choice.

  22. If there’s not one already (and if there is, I’m not aware of it), I’d like to see an award for the TEXT of a picture book—not just the illustrations with the Caldecott 🙂

    • There are several lovely awards specifically for picture book text (the Charlotte Zolotow award, the Ezra Jack Keats award, the Golden Kite award) but none, I think, from the ALA? It would be nice to have the Caldecott awarded to all creators of the book, since the stated criteria aren’t only about illustration. And since the Caldecott and Newbery are the highest-profile children’s book awards, it would be great if they simply recognized the best picture books and best middle grade books, respectively.

      I also wish it wasn’t limited to American illustrators, since these days American picture books are frequently an international endeavor. I’ve had illustrators working in England, Canada, Italy…

  23. I’m in honor of anything that gives an award to Jeanne Birdsall for the Penderwicks series. The most recent one had me sobbing.

  24. Not in favor of lowering age levels for ALSC or upping them for YALSA. I think this overlap is essential, in fact. We all know OLD 12 year old people and we all know YOUNG 14 year old people. I would love to see a time in which a book wins both the Newbery and Printz. I don’t see one single thing wrong with two different committees independently finding the same book. I think that would be a good thing.

  25. Elisa Gall says:

    The Newbery goes to the author of “the most distinguished contribution…” while the Caldecott goes to the artist of the most distinguished “picture book.” Authors of PBs (and/or author-illustrators) can win the Newbery. A committee can recognize excellence in a book’s writing when that book’s illustrations are also vital to understanding (see: El Deafo, Frog & Toad Together, etc.). I have trouble with conversations of changes and new graphic novel/comics award additions because they usually focus on: 1. Age range of readers 2. Length of work. The Newbery is not a “novel” award nor the Caldecott a “32-page book award.” I don’t think I’d dream of changing criteria as much as I’d hope to expand long-held interpretations of the criteria which have become limiting for some. And I’m all for both the illustrator & author sharing the award that their book receives.


  1. […] my comment on Betsy Bird’s provocative post of today: “If you could change any rule…” More awards are certainly all well and good, but the Newbery is the biggie out there (for […]