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Heavy Medal: A Mock Newbery Blog
Inside Heavy Medal

Elephant & Piggie

There were three Elephant & Piggie books published this year: I BROKE MY TRUNK, SHOULD I SHARE MY ICE CREAM?, and HAPPY PIG DAY! The series in general and these books in particular continue to delight young (and not so young) readers.  We’ve looked at some of these books in the past for Newbery consideration, but perhaps we have made assumptions–wrong assumptions!–about how they would fare given the brevity of the text and the abundance of illustrations.

One of the jacket quotes for this series comes from a Bulletin review: “These books will take their place alongside Seuss and Eastman as classics in the beginning-reader genre.”  This is an apt comparison because while Elephant & Piggie are easy readers, their youngest audience does not read nearly as fluently as the audience for, say, Arnold Lobel’s Frog and Toad books or James Marshall’s George and Martha books (although they definitely share that classic friendship theme).  No, Elephant & Piggie are for readers just beginning–emergent readers–who are learning the basics: print motivation (being interested in books), print awareness (knowing how to track print, and turn the page), letter knowledge (knowing the names and sounds of the alphabet), phonological awareness (recognizing the smaller sounds in words), vocabulary (knowing the names of things), and narrative skills (telling a story).

Emergent literacy is a process that begins at birth and continues until the reader becomes fluent (for most people this falls between the ages of 5-8).  Incidentally, while ALSC just voted this past year to extend their range of service to include birth through eighth grade, the age range for the Newbery Medal has always been birth to 14.  We’ve been wrangling recently about CHIME and the fourteen-year-old reader, but now I ask you: what of the four-year-old reader?  What does distinguished literature for preschool children, for toddlers, even for babies, look like?

Well, that Bulletin blurb starts with some great suggestions, and now I’m going to take Martha Parravano’s question–Which was the most distinugished contribution to American literature for children: IT’S LIKE THIS, CAT or WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE?–and apply it to these easiest of easy readers.  Which was the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children: The 1958 Newbery Medal winner, RIFLES FOR WATIE, or THE CAT IN THE HAT?  Which was the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children?  The 1961 Newbery Medal winner, ISLAND OF THE BLUE DOLPHINS . . . okay, okay, most of us would probably choose that, but ONE FISH, TWO FISH, RED FISH, BLUE FISH; GREEN EGGS AND HAM; and ARE YOU MY MOTHER? were all published in that year and none of them netted so much as an Honor?  How about the 1962 Newbery Medal winner, THE BRONZE BOW, versus GO, DOG. GO!?  Perhaps another tough call, but we know which of all these books are still read fifty years later.  Hint: it ain’t the novels, folks.

So what happens when the emergent reader meets the beginning easy reader?  Magic!  That’s what.  Here’s a two-year-old girl reading I LOVE MY NEW TOY.  And a four-year-old girl reading TODAY I WILL FLY.  An older boy reading PIGS MAKE ME SNEEZE.  And another older, autistic boy reading I LOVE MY NEW TOY.  (This is just a small sampling of the young readers you can find on YouTube. Feel free to do your own search for Elephant & Piggie or individual titles.)

I am asking you to listen to these readers, to observe how they engage with the text.  What kind of emergent reader behaviors are they exhibiting?  Are they memorizing, improvising, tracking print, turning pages, decoding?  Then I am asking you to consider what a distinguished text looks like for each one of of these particular readers–the two-year-old girl, the four-year-old girl, the slightly older boy, and the slightly older autistic boy–a text that not only displays respect for their understandings, abilities, and appreciations, but one that does what it sets out to do as well or better than books for older readers.  Is not Elephant & Piggie the very definition of this?

I have looked closely at these three titles, and I think that I can make the best Newbery case for I BROKE MY TRUNK!  Next time we will see whether there are sufficiently distinguished features in the text–and the text alone–to warrant Newbery recognition.  I’m inclined to think there are, but I encourage you to track this one down so that you can participate in the conversation.

Jonathan Hunt About Jonathan Hunt

Jonathan Hunt is the Coordinator of Library Media Services at the San Diego County Office of Education. He served on the 2006 Newbery committee, and has also judged the Caldecott Medal, the Printz Award, the Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards, and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. You can reach him at


  1. I love this post, Jonathan! I’m not sure a committee will ever see it that way, but I love it.

    I’m also very glad the Geisel Award is out there now. (It almost could be renamed the Willems Award.)

    As for me, I’m completely convinced Mo Willems is a genius. His books, especially the Elephant and Piggie ones, appeal to ALL ages. They are completely perfect for beginning readers. If a Newbery committee ever chose to honor one of his books, I would be delighted. (Though my personal fave is definitely Are You Ready to Play Outside?)

  2. Now that you’ve brought this up, I think I’m going to root for an easy reader to win this year! Come to think of it I’ve been way more impressed by the short but brilliant titles I’ve picked up and read on a whim as they came into the library than I have by the novels I’ve read this year. I echo Sondy: Mo Willems is a Genius. Period. I just read– into a picture book, instead– Hooray for Amanda and Her Alligator the other day and was amazed by HOW MUCH emotion and humor he managed to fit into such a misleadingly simple text. That’s skill, there. Think how much better my comments would be if I could learn to use only just the exact right words and make easy-readers out of them!

  3. I adore the Elephant & Piggie titles as much as the next person, but I don’t think they pass the “text only” criteria. So far as I can see, there are no commercial audio copies; NLS didn’t make any, either.

  4. Mark Flowers says

    How about these:


    in other words – I agree completely. And I think I BROKE MY TRUNK is equisite – definitely worth a look for the Newbery committee.

  5. Eric Carpenter says

    Can’t believe this one hasn’t been mentioned yet:


  6. …I think the point that some picture or easy-reader books might have more distinguished texts than some novels has been made. I don’t see the point of denigrating the books that won in any year. I’m also not convinced in the slightest that what makes WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE better-loved than IT’S LIKE THIS, CAT is its text. I get the point, but why take this too far?

    –proud IT’S LIKE THIS, CAT-lover

  7. Jonathan Hunt says


    As I have been mulling these issues over this past week, I visited the Newbery manual to look at the Expanded Definitons & Examples. It discusses “children,” and makes note of the one young Newbery honor book, FROG AND TOAD TOGETHER, but spends the bulk of the time addressing those books for 13- and 14-year-old readers. One exercise that I did was to ask myself the same questions about 3- and 4-year-old readers. The one sentence that sticks in my mind is this one: A book may be considered even though it appeals to a fairly small part of the age range if the committee feels that it is so distinguished that everyone of that age should know the book. It’s a pretty bold statement to say that everyone of that age should know the book. I’m generally uncomfortable with such a one-size-fits-all blanket statements, but if I had to use it to describe a book, I would use it to describe the Elephant & Piggie books.

    But does everyone at that age know these books? I just surveyed the 22 elementary schools in my district: 12 of them only have one book, 3 have two, 1 has five, 3 have seven, and 3 have ten. Budget cuts have nixed book orders the past couple years so none of our libraries would have more than the first 10-12 titles. The only reason most of our sites have at least one (ARE YOU READY TO PLAY OUTSIDE?) is because of an award order that was made that year by yours truly for the entire group. The sites I ordered for all have 7-10, and there’s another librarian or two that ordered multiple books for their schools, but beyond that these books might as well not exist for the school children of Modesto because many of them will only access books via their school library. So I’m all for the Geisel Medal, but it doesn’t absolve the Newbery committee of their obligation to consider and–if sufficiently distinguished–recognize easy reader books. Newbery recognition for these books would elevate them to a whole different level of visibility.

    Liz and Wendy–

    I understand your reaction to the textual issues. I’m obviously going to specifically address those for I BROKE MY TRUNK in the next post, but I want to give you (and others) a warm-up question: Referencing the current HEART AND SOUL discussion on Calling Caldecott, are Elephant & Piggie illustrated books or picture books? What do you think?

    Mark and Eric–

    Thanks for the additional examples. Another thing I’ve been doing this past week is looking at some of those classic easy readers so that I can better place Mo Willems in the easy reader universe. Elephant & Piggie borrows heavily from a couple of important picture book conventions, namely the dynamics of the page turn and the text-to-picture ratio. In comparison to Eastman and Seuss, they also feature a controlled vocabulary and a wonderfully absurd sense of humor, but they also have a larger font size, less text per line and per page–and they also have stronger stories with a beginning, middle, and end. In comparison to Lobel and Marshall, they are also a series that features a classic friendship, but they only feature one story per book rather than several. It’s a very interesting combination of textual features that Willems has cobbled together, and I believe it explains the phenomenal success of the series with the earliest of emergent readers.

  8. Eric Carpenter says

    Jonathan- I’m going to go out on a limb and wager that though your school libraries may not have many copies of the E & P books the classroom libraries at these school might. In my own (probably atypical) classroom library i have 3 or 4 copies of each title and even more of the titles scholastic offers in paperback through the book club. Other 1st & 2nd grade teachers at my school all have 4 or 5 titles in their own classroom libraries. This might be because E&P books are my go to recommendation for below grade level 2nd graders or because my students read these books to their former teacher’s classes whenever they have a chance, but i’m sure this is happening at other elementary schools all over the country.

  9. Mark Flowers says

    Wendy said “I don’t see the point of denigrating the books that won in any year. I’m also not convinced in the slightest that what makes WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE better-loved than IT’S LIKE THIS, CAT is its text. ”

    First of all – apologies for seeming to denigrate titles: that wasn’t my intention. My point wasn’t that the Newbery winners from those years were bad, but simply that there were picture books whose text was (in my opinion) more distinguished. And yes, I do believe that the text of the titles I mentioned, as well as Wild Things stands alone as distinguished.

    I almost said in my first post what I will say now: I believe that the TEXT of WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE stands as one of the most distinguished pieces of children’s literature of the 20th century. I have fond memories of “reading” the book to my daughter on an airplane by simply reciting the words–and she and I both loved it. Of course the illustrations are marvelous as well, but that’s what makes that particular book so miraculous.

  10. Jonathan Hunt says

    I am sure there are many elementary schools across the country where Elephant & Piggie are widely known among staff and students, but there are also many where they are not. Sadly, I have found that teachers and librarians that know and read the latest books to be the exception rather than the rule. In any case, Newbery recognition for a book will undoubtedly raise the profile of the entire series.

    I think the purpose of these retrospective comparisons is not only to illustrate which text is more distinguished, but I think it speaks to an unspoken desire that each Newbery member has: to recognize a book that will be cherished, beloved, and embraced by children. We all want to recognize HOLES, but HOLES isn’t published every year. Elephant & Piggie, on the other hand, is published every year, is arguably just as popular, and may well outlive HOLES in the long run.

  11. Jonathan, We have often disagreed (politely and with friendship) but I have to say that I read this post and stood up and gave you a standing ovation. I read Happy Pig Day with my students this week (which I think is in the Newbery award realm) and then went home and wrote: Mo Willems is a genius. Flat out, Mo Willems is a genius. He tells great stories that have well developed characters, an engaging and child-friendly plot, a surprise ending that IS a surprise AND a surprise that works with the story. He is a national treasure and will one day win all the life time achievement awards that the book world can bestow. Happy Pig Day just blew me away. I have read every single Gerald and Piggy book and one would think that I would be there with that condescending knowing smile just waiting for those too young, innocent children to discover what I already know, and Willems surprises me. The books reach straight to the heart of what it means to be 4, 5, and 6 and he does it in a way that surprises my 57 year old self. When the pigs are revealed, I cheered! The fact that this book celebrates both fitting in and being unique is just so much frosting. Awesome!

  12. Ever since the Printz Award was designed for YA, I expected the Newbery to reformat its age criteria for “children” ages 1-11. Twelve year olds are considered YA in our library. Too many awards have been given to older “children” in the past few years. It’s like the YA’s get two awards, the Printz and the Newbery. I would like to see a true “children’s award” aka Newbery. Elephant and Piggie would shake things up just as “The Invention of Hugo Cabret” did to the Caldecott. Let’s hear it for the kids!

  13. I was so pleased to read this post. I believe strongly that there should be more recognition of fine writing in picture books and early readers. When adults choose award winners, I think, unfortunately, that they tend to be biased toward books that are closer to the adult novel in format and feel. We don’t see many younger chapter books winning distinguished awards either. I think there also may be a bias toward longer length. The short length of books for young children just doesn’t seem “enough” sometimes, I think. I would love for there to be heightened awareness of the special skill it takes to create a lot with a little.

  14. I am one of those teachers of 1/2 grade who have loads of Elephant and Piggie books in my classroom library. Unfortunately even though I am extolling their praises to anyone who will stand still long enough, and even though my kids gobble them up and can’t wait to read them, I have seen no sign of Gerald and Piggie appearing anywhere else in my school. Mo Willems certainly does have a type of genius ability to create reading gems. I see both the most emergent readers and the accomplished readers consistently pick these books, I watch as partners read them-each one taking on a the part of Elephant or Piggie, and I hear all my children begin to read these books with expressions and emphasis without instruction. Even my husband wants to read the new ones before I bring them into school!

    I also really appreciate your comments Jonathan championing this book for younger readers. I often feel the Newbery is skewed to the older end of the spectrum. Books for the 12, 13, and 14 year olds are championed every year in mock Newbery debates and often recognized by the committee. However where are the books for the 6 and 7 years olds and even younger?

    I do think the main blockage to younger aimed books appearing on Newbery lists is the question of illustrations. Jonathan, despite my love of these Mo Willems creations, I simply cannot imagine these books being so successful and having the same impact without the simple but expression filled illustrations. Due to the controlled vocabulary and small number of words on each page, so much of these stories is conveyed in a visual reaction from either character. I am eagerly awaiting a forth-coming post that provides specific, text based justifications for an Elephant and Piggie book to be worthy of Newbery recognition.

  15. Poll in my first grade class answering the question: Which book is better, Happy Pig Day or I Broke My Trunk?

    HPD 18 votes
    IBMT 6 votes

    It should be noted, however, that more than half the class SHOUTED both, with each book having three very unflappable votes that would not waver in support. I wish there were time to have these three debate the merits in front of the class when we were voting but lunch time trumps everything.

  16. I too, am eagerly waiting for Jonathan to support this theory with text. I love Mo Willems, but being a 5th grade teacher, I don’t get “down” to experience his books much. Now that my daughter is almost 2 years old, that’ll change. Darnit, she’s going to learn to read from Elephant and Piggie.

    However, for example, the Ice Cream book comes to mind. It’s a hilarious read, but mostly because of the ice cream melting more and more in each picture. I’m not sure I would count the text, and the text alone, as being distinguished. Maybe the complete package, like WONDERSTRUCK, but just the text, I’m not so sure. Most of the “emotion” people reference regarding Elephant and Piggie come from the illustrations. I’m not finding where you can get that “distinguished” character development from his text alone.

  17. At some point we have to stop and consider the phrase, “Most significant contribution to children’s literature” and not get so hung up on “text alone.” The text is great and the pictures do not detract from it. In fact, they enhance the experience–so maybe the Caldecott folks are also paying attention. Nothing wrong with that!

  18. “In fact, they enhance the experience” — But that’s the point. They aren’t supposed to be taken into consideration when discussing the Newbery, correct? So sure, they may enhance the overall reading experience, but when discussing a Newbery Medal, the text is all that can be referenced. Does it hold up? I don’t know. I said, I’m not as familiar with them as other people are. Maybe they do. I sure think Jonathan’s argument sounds inspiring thus far!

  19. I heartily appreciate all the Gerald and Piggy love here, and how very it is for me: on my day off yesterday my 2-y.o. and I read Are You Ready to Play Outside 5 times, and Elephants Can’t Dance twice! *BUT* – and I’m truly sorry to burst any bubbles here – based on the Newbery criteria, these books really don’t stand a chance. First of all, much of the E&P genius comes from the amazing visual surprises Mo comes up with time after time after time. Consider Are You Read to Play Outside: the last lines of the book are “Thank you, Gerald!” followed by “Elephants make the best friends!” Without the illustrations – the close-up shot of Piggy’s delight at the rain, Gerald’s look of concentration as he sprays water on his friend – these two lines really don’t mean diddly-squat. In Happy Pig Day (which I have only read twice and therefore not memorized, unlike AYRtPO) I can’t remember the exact text during the big reveal of the “pigs” being animals in disguise… but does it really have much of an impact on the story without the actual visuals? One more thing – each title must “stand alone” (ugh, I can’t tell you how much I hate that phrase), and I would argue that the characters of Gerald and Piggy are not as appealing on a title-by-title basis unless you are using your prior knowledge of them as characters… if that makes any sense. In other words, while I can really enjoy the whole package of, say I Broke My Trunk or Happy Pig Day having never read any other E&P titles, looking just at the text on an individual book-by-book basis, the characters aren’t as well-rounded.

    Again, I hate to say anything negative at all about these books, which I truly appreciate… but I just don’t think the Newbery dream of Gerald & Piggy is going to happen, nor honestly should it happen. It is completely possible that Mo will get some Newb-y recognition at some point in his career – City Dog Country Frog certainly was a strong text on its own – but not with the E&P franchise. But hey… I’ll campaign for Happy Pig Day to take the Geisel any day of the week!

  20. Oops… in the first sentence, please insert “timely” between ‘very’ and ‘it.’ Sorry!

  21. Sam

    What is the first E&P book? If you are like me when I thought of the question, I could not say. We can never un-read books so I’m not sure my belief that Happy Pig Day does not depend on the previous book is somewhat suspect. However, I do know that for the 8 (or so) first graders who heard this book as their very first E&P book, they had NO PROBLEM instantly relating to these characters whom they met for the first time (and I believe that is true for any of these titles).

    The reason I asked about the first book is because I think that I Broke My Trunk or Happy Pig Day or Pigs Make Me Sneeze or Elephants Can’t Dance could just as easily have been the first book as whichever book is really the first book. And I would argue that any series book that continues to have me eager and excited to read the next one is actually more award-worthy; other than Henry and Mudge (and a few other marvelous series), I get bored pretty quickly with the same characters. I still love this series, which is an indicator of books that are significant contributions.

    Also, the Newbery does not at all consider an author’s previous works. The committee does not care whether a book is the author’s best and, in fact, are not allowed to consider the author’s previous works. Their sole objective is to find the year’s most significant contribution to children’s literature. Willems text In Happy Pig Day reads extremely well without the art. The size of the text clearly conveys to young readers how to read the text (and I have first graders whispering or speaking or shouting to prove this point–much like an older book would use bold font, italics, or other text formatting tools). The fact that it also has exceptional art means that it is a book that should also receive attention from other committees.

    My point about not getting hung up on the “text only” argument earlier is probably very similar to what Jonathan’s initial post is getting at: when we have a book at the very young end of the scale that requires pictures for our younger readers to decode the text, can that book even hope to garner Newbery attention? If not, why not? Especially when that book truly represents a very significant contribution to children’s literature? When does the committee’s charge to find that “most significant contribution” of the year trump the requirement to ignore the pictures unless they detract from the text? Or is this not possible? The sum of the text and the art is truly greater than the whole and I am NOT trying to argue that the book is as good without the pictures. But a book for very young readers will ALWAYS have this obstacle in front of them. Our youngest readers require visuals to begin that process of forging the comprehension of the text. Both should be excellent and both are in many of Willems’ books. It almost sounds to me as if our younger readers, by virtue of their developmental needs, will NEVER have an award winner? And maybe these books this year are not and should not be on the table, but I would like to think that they are being considered (just as I think Chime deserves consideration). It seems to me that a book like Chime will at least have a few committee members hesitating; I wonder if the same is true with the E&P books?

  22. Ed, the criteria state: “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.”

    While I disagree with this criteria profoundly — I was frustrated with it when considering HUGO CABRET in 2007 and COUNTDOWN last year — I have yet to see how to work around it so as to be able to consider the art and design in any way but as making “the book less effective.” Nina, when discussing WONDERSTRUCK here seemed to feel there might be a way to broaden the definition of “text” but I have to say I don’t see how. Certainly not so forcefully as to convince 14 others. This criteria seems to very deliberately and specifically rule out consideration of art and design as part of the story-whole. And so I agree with Sam that so much of what makes these books so delightful is the ironic interplay between words and images, something that you cannot bring to the Newbery discussion as far as I can tell.

  23. Ed, your last post made me want to stand up and cheer. Thank you for your well reasoned and passionate explanation of the developmental needs of young children.

  24. Jonathan Hunt says

    Several points . . .

    1. Ed, I only glanced at HAPPY PIG DAY briefly in the bookstore, but I haven’t read it multiple times, nor have I field tested it with children. My public library is currently processing the book so I will have it shortly. Perhaps we will need to consider all three of these books. And perhaps having three books will divide the Mo Willems faction (just as UBIQUITOUS and DARK EMPEROR divided people here last year). We’ll see.

    2. Sam, I used to think the same thing, but now I think I didn’t look carefully enough at these books. I also think that it’s possible that not all of them stack up against the Newbery criteria so we have to revisit each individual volume; it’s not enough to pass judgment once and never revisit the books (and I’m accusing myself of doing that as much as anybody). As part of a series, I don’t think the reader has any problem without knowledge of previous entries. I do think, however, that taken together character and theme are more fully developed, while each individual volume seems slight in comparison. I think that’s where the sequel bias enters the picture. I’m happy to discuss previous titles and the series as a whole in this thread, but moving forward I’d like to focus on the three new titles, and more specifically I BROKE MY TRUNK!

    3. Mr. H, the humor of the melting ice cream in SHOULD I SHARE MY ICE CREAM? is quite wonderful and since it is based entirely in the pictures I do not expect the Newbery committee to recognize it as a distinguished feature of the text. I do expect them to recognize the book for the humor that derives from Gerald’s vacillation over whether to share or not, the mental contortions that he puts himself through in order to justify not sharing–because that is in the text. I also expect the committee to recognize that it is this textual humor that sets up the visual humor, that is, if Gerald didn’t take so long to commit to sharing the ice cream wouldn’t have time to melt. I also expect them to realize that 56 pages of melting ice cream in and of itself is hardly captivating, that it is indeed the text, slight though it may be, that drives the story. Moreover, the more one reads this book, the more the visual sight gag of melting ice cream diminishes and the more one comes to appreciate the humor that is rooted in human character.

    4. Monica, as much as I appreciated Nina’s thoughts about broadening the meaning of text, I think it’s entirely unnecessary under the current guidelines. I think the pictures in HUGO CABRET make your consideration of the text alone problematic, but I do not think they make the book less effective. In fact, you are the only person I know who thinks the illustrations in HUGO CABRET make the book less effective. Really?

  25. Two items:

    1. Monica, What you quote states, “primarily” not” exclusively, which gives me the hope that these younger books will be considered. So depending on just where one stands on the spectrum of “no consideration to pictures unless they detract” to a more holistic consideration of the text/picture relationship, determines whether one does or does not think these books are eligible. I would like to argue that the text in a picture book deserves more of a “negative space” consideration because these books depend so much on what is left out. In HPD the word “anyone” can be understood without the picture (and I am so glad the text did not say, “You are wearing masks!). The reader at least concludes that Piggy is including Gerald in the definition of this word. It does work better and gives a fuller definition of the word when we see the picture. Books for young readers absolutely depend on pictures to convey comprehension. Indeed my job is largely based on getting students to visualize what they are reading. To understand that a word like “anyone” or even a small pig softly saying, “Gerald” has layers of meaning depending on what we have experienced… If we really hold to the criteria that implies that committee members may not consider the illustrations, have we not made a de facto ruling that eliminates books intended for those folks from birth to about 7 years old to be ineligible for the Newbery?

    2. Jonathan, after really looking at this argument and really trying hard to value what Sam, Monica, Mr. H and others are saying, I have changed my mind about Happy Pig Day. I now think you are correct in stating that I Broke My Trunk is the most defensible in terms of the Newbery criteria. That said, however, I think Happy Pig Day is the better book, which makes me wonder whether I have done something wrong!

    I think this discussion of whether or not books for our youngest readers will ever (or CAN ever) win the Newbery is a good one. Thanks, all (Jill B!).

  26. Oops! de facto ruling that eliminates books intended for those folks from birth to about 7 years old from Newbery consideration?

    Time for coffee and time to get ready for my first graders and then for my own committee!

  27. Eric Carpenter says

    As a long time fan of Elephant & Piggie I find this extended discussion both wonderful and validating. I think we can all agree that a newbery on any of these three books would be a considerable long shot. What do you think about the Geisel committee giving their medal to one of the titles and an honor to the other two titles? Can this trio of titles help Willems pull off a “konigsburg+1′?

  28. Jonathan, my problem (as I’ve oft stated) is I think books like HUGO and COUNTDOWN are great because of both text and images. So, of course (as you know perfectly well, you baiter you:), I’m not debating that HUGO’s images make the story “less effective”, but that they aren’t allowed to be part of the conversation as to what makes the book more effective, award-worthy. With AMELIA LOST or THE CHESHIRE CHEESE CAT or A MONSTER CALLS or others I admire this year that have worthy art and design, I can speak of fantastic figurative language, point to specific places where the author did something writerly and amazing with words, or waxes enthusiastic about the fabulous character development all by way of words, with text. But I cannot do the same if some of the wonderful way this happened was with drawings and design which does seem to me to be the case this year with WONDERSTRUCK. And looking back at HUGO, how could I speak about the incredible pacing without being able to mention the drawings? It feels like an unfair standard — that a book that was conceived and depends on art for aspects of its story be asked to be more than that, to able to stand without that art against other books that don’t have that as part of their basis, what they are.

  29. Ed, I read that criteria to mean that the only way you are to consider the art is if it is less effective, but perhaps that is because I’m still considering the more emphatic way it was presented in the manual the year I was serving (2008): “The committee is to make its decision primarily on the text. Other aspects of a book are to be considered only if they distract from the text. Such other aspects might include illustrations, overall design of the book, etc.”

    You tried to convince me last year with COUNTDOWN, but nothing you wrote did so and so far nothing you are saying this year has either. Sorry! I would absolutely love to be convinced that there was a way to do so.

  30. Jonathan Hunt says

    Monica, I’m going to leave aside HUGO and WONDERSTRUCK for a later conversation. I understand your distinction between an illustrated book and one where the relationship between the text and pictures is more integrated. Clearly with an easy reader we expect the illustrations to enhance the text, otherwise it wouldn’t be a good example of its genre (as Ed has said). But I’m going to argue that, in spite of the brief text, these books are, in fact, illustrated books just like AMELIA LOST, A MONSTER CALLS, and THE CHESHIRE CHEESE CAT.

  31. Hey Ed, I agree with Jill completely – what an extremely well-stated point on the developmental needs of young children! Problem is, how does that translate into Newbery recognition for these titles?

    So, we’ve established that we can’t consider the illustrations unless they detract from the text, and obviously the illustrations do anything but. Looking at the 6 criteria:
    * Interpretation of theme/concept
    * Presentation of info (accuracy/clarity/organization)
    * Development of a plot
    * Delineation of characters
    * Delineation of setting
    * Appropriateness of style
    …can we really say any of the above are DISTINGUISHED in I Broke My Trunk? I don’t know… I just ordered all 3 of the 2011 E&P titles so I can reread them. But I have a feeling that the last criterion is your best bet, and even that is going to be a stretch.

    Johnathan, I look forward to seeing how you try to prove your point here… to paraphrase something Monica said at one point, I would love to see evidence to the point that you could sway 14 other folks (or even 7 other committee members) into agreeing with you. I’m skeptical, but if anyone could do it… =)

  32. As a passionate supporter of the literary worthiness books for younger children, but someone less experienced in the nuances of awarding the Newbery, I was wondering if perhaps there would be a benefit, in terms of fairness, in changing the Newbery criteria so that illustrated books/picture books that might be “most distinguished contributions” could have a fighting chance? Or perhaps there should be an award for text in illustrated books, in the way that the Caldecott awards illustration in a book with text? I am a firm believer that there is incredible skill involved in creating memorable and beautiful text that works in a short format and in tandem with pictures and that it should be recognized. If you can’t consider the illustrations in books like Elephant & Piggie, then how can you consider how well the author crafts a text that works with the illustrations?

  33. Just to be clear Ed, you do realize that all of us here, are in agreement that these books are fabulous, right? The problem comes in discussing them for the Newbery. It just doesn’t seem like an award that is realistic for these books.

    Earlier, you asked: “When does the committee’s charge to find that “most significant contribution” of the year trump the requirement to ignore the pictures unless they detract from the text? Or is this not possible?”

    I would answer, NO, it’s not possible. Not with the criteria stating all that they do. If that humongous Newbery terms and criteria manual were ever to be boiled down to simply read “most significant contribution to children’s literature” then maybe. But as long as there is other criteria making it difficult to argue THESE books for THIS award, it’s probably not going to happen.

    Doesn’t mean we dislike the books.

  34. Jonathan Hunt says

    Agreed. We all love the books; it’s just a matter of how the texts stack up against the criteria.

    I will once again **EMPHATICALLY** state that nowhere in the criteria does it say you must ignore the pictures; rather it says that the Newbery Medal must be based primarily on the text. Monica has mentioned her difficulty with the illustrations in HUGO CABRET, yet that same year her Newbery committee chose GOOD MASTERS! SWEET LADIES! which featured a strong book design and full color illustrations. I can’t imagine how you can do that without at least a cursory discussion of how the illustrations function in regard to each of those respective texts. This is not the same as discussing the illustrations and crediting their strengths to the texts.

    The criteria not only charge us to consider books for the entire range (0-14), but remind us that there are no limitations as to the character of the book (fiction, nonfiction, poetry, picture book, easy reader). Most of the books within the stated age range contain illustrations of one kind or another, and the ones in the bottom half of that range (0-7) always contain them.

    When you look at each of the line-item criteria that Sam included above, you have to ask yourself: What does this look like in a book for a four-year-old? If you try to compare it to OKAY FOR NOW then, well, of course, you’re not going to find the same kind of sophistication, what Monica calls amazing, writerly things. Each book is different. The text for I BROKE MY TRUNK! won’t blow you away in the same way as OKAY FOR NOW. But then, too, you won’t be sending me a YouTube video of a two-year-old reading OKAY FOR NOW either.

  35. Jonathan Hunt says

    The Charlotte Zolotow Award (sponsored by the CCBC) recognizes the best text in a picture book–

    And the Gryphon Award (sponsored by the CCB) recognizes the best transitional book for kingergarten through fourth grade–

    And, of course, the Geisel Medal (sponsored by ALSC) recognizes the best easy reader for PreK through second grade.

    Of course, none of these carry the prestige of the Newbery Medal . . .

  36. As a children’s bookseller, writer, and children’s book lover, I’m aware of these other awards for books, and seek out these titles, but most people (most book buyers) are not. The prestige, as Jonathan writes, is very important to getting great books for younger readers recognized.

  37. I agree!! I agree especially with Jane–it’s so very hard to craft a picture book text that is truly distinguished. And, while the illustrations in the books mentioned (from Where the Wild Things Are all the way up to E&P) are marvelous, none of those books would have made it on the strength of their illustrations alone. No–the TEXT was so remarkable. What Dr. Seuss did with a few words was give us a completely fleshed out cat character and marvelous plot. Sendak gave us not only the image of Max, but that beautifully spaced text–everything from the wild rumpus to the last page: “and it was still hot.”

    Which brings me to a question: how much can the committee consider text spacing? As more and more books play with the conventions of their genre, how do those visual elements factor in? One of the charms of the E&P series is just that: the spacing…. does that make a difference? Can it?

  38. Yes, I know that we all love the books (and I have no problems with friends disagreeing about how to interpret either books or Newbery instructions).

    I am with Jonathan on this one in thinking that it is a mistake to think that one has to ignore the pictures. Sure the text has to be the primary consideration (PRIMARY consideration; not EXCLUSIVE consideration). Monica and others reads the next line as ruling out consideration of pictures completely. I think, however, that when the line before says “primarily” what this means for the following line is that one can mention negative aspects of JUST the art or JUST the design without dealing with the text when they detract. Otherwise, committee members are to consider the text primarily but may ALSO include the blend of TEXT and picture for the very young reader because these books, by definition, are both. And what Willems has done with text and picture is a significant contribution and should not be eliminated from consideration.

    Otherwise why would the manual use the word “primarily?” What else is there that is not illustrations, overall design, etc.?

    And if Monica and others still do not agree (which is fine), I will ask again: Is this a de facto change in the Newbery age range? Can books that must have illustrations, controlled vocabulary, and other age appropriate considerations EVER win the Newbery? Should we say that the Newbery terms say that the age range is birth to 14 but what this really means is about 8 -14?

    I think a good case can be made for Willems for Interpretation of theme/concept; Presentation of info (accuracy/clarity/organization); Development of a plot, Delineation of characters; and Appropriateness of style. He falls short in the setting area (but these are guidelines and not absolutes). And, again, we are comparing writing for the younger end of the Newbery with other writing for the younger end of the Newbery. What Willems does for our younger readers is truly distinguished. I know that we all share this sentiment. Where we disagree is in consideration of whether or not it meets Newbery standards and follows the rules of the manual. This is worth discussing and I have never had a problem with accepting the wisdom of consensus, even when I am in the minority.

    I DO understand Monica’s frustration and her argument (and I applaud her integrity). She believes that word primarily followed by the next lines mean exactly as she is arguing: that the text is the exclusive consideration unless an excellent text is hindered by artwork or design so terrible that it diminishes an otherwise excellent text. Then the text is still the primary consideration; it is just diminished by flaws elsewhere. Consequently, she explains why the word, ‘primarily” is used and is not swayed by my argument that those lines of the manual may be read in a different way (as I explain above).

    My argument is, admittedly, more of a stretch because it assumes that those who drafted the manual with the age range from birth to 14 were well aware of the developmental needs of our youngest readers and did, indeed, understand that these books MUST include illustrations, fewer words, etc. I don’t think the intention was to exclude these books from Newbery consideration. I think Monica’s interpretation of the rule excludes these books from consideration and I think Jonathan’s way of viewing the manual does not. I am not swayed by Monica’s argument because she hasn’t shown my how books for younger readers would ever win the Newbery, and the range is birth to 14.


  39. I want to clarify that where I mentioned the possibility of there being an award for picture book text, I meant an ALA award. There are other great awards already out there, as Jonathan rightly pointed out, but the ALA awards have a prestige and recognition factor that the Zolotow does not, even if it should.

  40. Well said, Ed, and Jonathan AND Ed, I am personally not of the belief that books for the youngest readers are ineligible due to a de facto change in the age limits… not at all. Yes, I freely admit that books for younger folks are routinely shut out by the Newbery, and that bothers me in the same way that it bugs me that the criteria leave little to no room for graphic novels to be recognized. But, as you talk about a liberal interpretation of the word “primarily,” please understand that I’m not arguing with you – you can interpret that word how you want to. But look at the second line of that section:
    “Other components of a book, such as illustrations, overall design of the book, etc., may be considered when they make the book less effective.”

    It seems to me that you are re-writing the rule book in a way, Ed, when you say that committee members “may also include the blend of text and picture for the very young reader.” That certainly would suit your needs in this case, but I think you are stretching the terms big time.

    In a way, the expanded terms *do* handicap the award towards older readers – there is a large section on when books for the very oldest part of the audience (the “special” 13- and 14-year olds) that has been discussed here in relation to Chime, but really only a passing mention of the younger part of the audience with Frog & Toad as an example. It’s a shame that there isn’t more to work with on books for younger folks, as well as the graphic novels / illustrated books (that’s my biggest pet peeve right there). But, I don’t know that the terms are going to be changed any time soon, so I guess we’re stuck having this argument every year.

    Have I mentioned how happy I would be to be proven wrong on this one? How awesome would it be to be sitting in Dallas and hear Mo’s name mentioned under the Newbery category…

  41. Sam,

    I think we have come to that let’s shake hands and agree to agree that E&P will not (except in that land where life is beautiful all day long and I”l be happy to see those nice young…) be on the Newbery table, which may be excluding some worthy books.

    It should be noted that even if we were all to agree that these books are eligible and even if we were to agree that my [too] liberal interpretation of the rules were acceptable, that STILL would not make these books a lock to win the award or even receive an honor. There are a LOT of fine books out there in the big wide world. I am just pleased that we have had the discussion on both the older end (Chime) and the younger end of the scale because it is important to see the extent of what books to consider and to remember that the range IS from the very young up and including age 14.

    I have not read enough to really feel comfortable insisting on E&P books for the Newbery and really, here, I just want to make a case that we tend to overlook books for my first graders when considering what should be on the Newbery table. I really do understand the argument you and Monica and others make about how to read that section; I also enjoy pounding against that door from time to time in the hopes that, perhaps, more and more folks will begin to wonder why so few books for our youngest readers ever seem to find a place on the Newbery list. Change comes slow and that is probably a very good thing for the Newbery but sometimes change is required regardless of its speed and we have to start by questioning assumptions and fine-tuning manual language and dealing with very different ways of creating books that increase the authors ability to create visuals of all kinds, including graphic novels, illustrated books, and books that feature photography–Have you heard me argue about people like Nic Bishop deserving Caldecott awards? Another day; different blog! Thanks.

  42. Sounds good, Ed – I apologize for repeatedly beating the proverbial dead horse (something I would never do to a dead elephant or a dead piggie, by the way), but it was definitely a fun discussion! Also, I’d most gladly join your rant for Nic Bishop – he is a genius and the object of my 2-y.o. daughter’s biggest toddler crush. =)

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