The 2015 Newbery, Printz, Correta Scott King, and Caldecott winners were announced on Monday, and hooray for all of the winners. Let’s fast forward to the really interesting part: this year’s Caldecott honor recipients.
Traditionally, Caldecott awards and honors are given to children’s picture books in the strictest sense. Winners rarely deviate outside of basic vocabulary, focus on universal experiences, and page layouts are heavier on imagery than on text. This is not to imply that picture books are simplistic or only appeal to young children. It’s quite the opposite. Picture books are works of art that are accessible to all for those very reasons listed above. That same description applies to most graphic novels. And this begs the question: outside of industry standards and marketing, why are the two formats considered to be separate mediums?
For example, how do Donna Jo Fuller and Charles Santore’s Wizard of Oz picture books vary from Skottie Young and Eric Shanower’s adaptations of the series? Both depict Oz through illustration and abridge the original material, but one is considered for an Eisner while the other is considered for a Caldecott. But an exact boundary between the two genres does not exist. What major difference exists between a picture book and a comic book?
The only substantial difference in the content itself is that comics often deal with adult themes and sexy times, which is a territory that picture books do not venture into. But, this is not to say that books for young children do not handle dark, even disturbing subject matter. Look at the work of Tomi Ungerer to see horror. Ruth Brown for suspense. Maria Van Lieshout for existential angst. Mo Willems for rage and longing. Dark themes are all over books widely considered appropriate for tiny people.
Are the two formats truly separate genres? Should the picture books and the graphic novels be in separate sections in the library or should they be mixed in one glorious shelving unit?
Placing Olivia next to Burying Sandwiches wouldn’t be the most logical move in terms of the Dewey Decimal System. But, the line between picture books and other graphic works is hazy at best. This takes us back to the original exciting news from the 2015 ALA Annual conference. The Caldecott honorees were Nana in the City, The Noisy Paint Box: The Colors and Sounds of Kandinsky’s Abstract Art, Sam & Dave Dig a Hole, Viva Frida, The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus, and This One Summer. Did you catch that last title? This One Summer, as in Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki’s This One Summer. Holy shit, right?
This is the first time a work that is considered a “graphic novel” rather than a “picture book” received a Caldecott nod. It is also the first time a work containing such straight forward adolescent themes landed this honor. This is a big moment for the literary/comic book world. It is worth reexamining the territory these two genres share. They have a lot more in common than they have in contrast. If you consider yourself a comic book fan, maybe take another run at picture books, and vice-versa. These are exciting times, my friend.