This year the Caldecott committee chose six honor books (and Milford Command Central favorite The Adventures of Beekle, the Unimaginary Friend for the medal HECK YEAH BEEKLE!!).
This year’s awards were Interesting, with a capital I, for many reasons. One of the big reasons, a huge surprise (and for some, a horror) of this year’s ALA announcements was the inclusion of This One Summer, a story of girls trying to navigate that awkward time when childhood fades and adolescence begins, as a Caldecott honoree.
Now, for those who stumbled here from Twitter or Facebook or whatever and might not know, I write middle grade fiction, and when not doing that, I’m a kids’ bookseller. I have a little bit of a specialty in picture books, due in part to my undying love for the form and in part to my almost 20-month-old son, Griffin, so I naturally have opinions on both the Newbery and the Caldecott, and from multiple points of view: author, bookseller, mom. But this one I have special feelings about–feelings strong enough to get me writing a blog post, which I haven’t done since, what, September or something?
So first: the controversy, such as it is. This One Summer isn’t a picture book. It’s a graphic novel. And while it is intended for young readers, it’s not a book for young children–it touches on some fairly grownup themes. There seem to be some folks who are angered because This One Summer doesn’t fit the form, the demographic, or the subject parameters that seem to be called for in a book given the same honor that was bestowed on Anatole, If I Ran the Zoo, Madeline, and Blueberries for Sal.
I get it, people. It’s easy to be nostalgic about awards that have been around, it seems, since time immemorial. It’s easy to feel that there is a particular kind of book that deserves that kind of award, and to believe that the books that win it ought to evoke the same feelings, by and large, as the Caldecott winners of our childhoods. For something so unlike the rest to be chosen, a book that is so clearly more grown up and meant for an entirely different subset of readers, and a book that contains material guaranteed to make some adults twitchy on top of all that–of course that seems weird, if not actually inappropriate. For most adults, whether moms or dads or just nostalgic readers, the Caldecott means something very specific, something that belongs to the comforting world of little kids tucked in for one last story before bedtime. And yes, many of us in kidlit believe fervently that the ALA needs an award for graphic novels, but that’s neither here nor there.
Here’s my rebuttal, in two parts.
Part the first: we have to get over our “feelings” about what the Caldecott is for and read the actual rules.
If you go to the ALA’s Caldecott guidelines here on the Terms and Criteria page of the ALA/ALSC website, you find the following (emphases mine):
From the “Terms” section:
The Medal shall be awarded annually to the artist of the most distinguished American picture book for children published by an American publisher in the United States in English during the preceding year. There are no limitations as to the character of the picture book except that the illustrations be original work. Honor books may be named. These shall be books that are also truly distinguished.
From the “Definitions” section:
- A “picture book for children” as distinguished from other books with illustrations, is one that essentially provides the child with a visual experience. A picture book has a collective unity of story-line, theme, or concept, developed through the series of pictures of which the book is comprised.
- A “picture book for children” is one for which children are an intended potential audience. The book displays respect for children’s understandings, abilities, and appreciations. Children are defined as persons of ages up to and including fourteen and picture books for this entire age range are to be considered.
- “Distinguished” is defined as:
- Marked by eminence and distinction; noted for significant achievement.
- Marked by excellence in quality.
- Marked by conspicuous excellence or eminence.
- Individually distinct.
And from the “Criteria” section:
The only limitation to graphic form is that the form must be one which may be used in a picture book. The book must be a self-contained entity, not dependent on other media (i.e., sound, film or computer program) for its enjoyment.
There’s more, of course, but by reading the actual rules that govern what is and is not eligible for a Caldecott Medal or Honor, we find that a graphic novel for any age would be squarely within bounds, and an illustrated work of any kind intended for a pre- or young teen audience is also squarely within bounds.
So if you have somehow formed an opinion that the Caldecott “ought” to be defined differently, I’m sorry, but it simply isn’t defined that way. Nobody changed or even bent the rules this year for This One Summer. The fact that books for older children aren’t honored as often doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be, if they are truly distinguished. The rules say unequivocally that they are to be considered. And isn’t that great? One of the most venerable awards out there is more inclusive than you thought. It recognizes that older kids also read visually and seek out visual storytelling experiences. I think that’s great. I think that’s incredibly important. More on that below.
Part the Second: Who’s thinking of the poor children that might accidentally pick this book up because it has a Caldecott sticker and be subjected to characters thinking and talking about things like (gasp) sex?
Honestly, do you think booksellers and librarians are idiots and just because it has a Caldecott sticker we’re going to shelve This One Summer in with the picture books? No. It goes with the big kid books, and by big kid books, I mean the books we understand to be intended for kids in the 12 to 14 year-old range. (Where those books go is another issue, but let’s not get into that here.) Booksellers are not idiots, by and large; nor are librarians, teachers, or parents, generally speaking–nobody would pick This One Summer up and get confused about who it’s for. I mean, really. You cannot get confused. It is obviously not for six year olds. If you look at this book and think, wait, this looks like maybe it’s for older kids, maybe even teenagers, but it’s got a Caldecott sticker, so…I guess that means it is okay for my first grader…well then, respectfully, reader, you are at minimum having an idiot moment, and it’s not reasonable for the entire world to reconfigure itself so as to prevent anyone from ever doing a stupid thing during an idiot moment.
And that isn’t even to say it’s for all kids aged 12-14 or so, but it is for some of them, which gets into another sticky area, which is what I really want to talk about here. (I know, right? Talk about getting to the point way too late.)
Why it’s Really Important (to Me, Kate Milford, and Probably a Couple Other People) That This One Summer Won an Honor.
The sticky area I referred to just then is the question of whether you, dear horrified reader, think kids of this or any age ought to be reading books that acknowledge the presence in the world (and in their lives) of things that make you uncomfortable and wish they wouldn’t learn about until they were at least old enough to legally order a beer in a state that considers you a minor until age 35. Things like alcohol, for instance, or abuse, or sex, or violent death, or whatever. Fill in the blank with whatever you’re most upset by the idea of a thirteen year-old kid thinking about.
Do you believe books should be fundamentally positive and uplifting, improving children’s lives for a few stolen hours by removing them from reality and transporting them to a world where the dangers are few, the stakes low-to medium in height, love (if present at all) is chaste and fulfilled by a kiss on the cheek, the way forward is generally clear and uncomplicated, and good is guaranteed from page one to conquer all? Great. You have so many choices. Lots of kids would agree with you, and thank goodness there are so many wonderful books that can give them exactly that experience: a safe, soothing read. At age 38 I still have books I go to for this, and many of them are books I’ve been reading since age 10. But not everyone wants that from every book. Not every adult, and certainly not every kid.
Now, I and people much wiser than I, have written in other places about the importance of difficult and dark books for children–and for purposes of this post, let’s keep defining “children” the way the Caldecott does: up to about age 14. But here’s my thesis in brief: books give kids a chance to experience things they have questions or concerns about in a safe way, and in conditions they can choose to leave at any time, simply by closing the cover. You may not want to believe, as a parent, that your kids are experiencing or even thinking about things that make you uncomfortable, but the likelihood is that they are. Hopefully they’ll come talk to you if they have questions. I certainly hope my son will. But I also know not every kid does, despite the best intentions of his/her parents. Maybe they’ll talk to friends or older siblings, but maybe they’ll feel too awkward, in which case, thank goodness there are books that tell them they’re not alone in their questions and concerns and fears.
And guess what a really tough age for those kinds of questions and concerns and fears is? Twelve, thirteen, fourteen, fifteen. This is why books for this age, and especially really wonderful, sensitive, occasionally challenging and uncomfortably realistic books, are critically important. Twelve, thirteen and fourteen year olds might browse the middle grade section and find they want something that addresses the feelings and experiences they’re facing in their real lives a little better. Then they might go to the young adult section and browse and find they’re not quite there yet. Ages twelve to fourteen make up a really specific time in a kid’s life. It really is its own weird transition.
But guess what? It’s not only really hard to write a book with a kid in that transitional period, it’s incredibly hard to sell them. I think this is mostly because it’s really hard to know, as a publisher or bookseller, how to market them and where to shelve them. My second novel, The Broken Lands, suffered from this problem, but I was lucky and had an editor who bought it anyway and took a chance on the book finding its audience. I know plenty of authors, though, who either couldn’t sell books with protagonists in that 13-15 age range, or were asked/required to age them up or down to make the books more clearly MG or YA, and therefore easier to market.
But thirteen and fourteen and fifteen year old kids need books for them, too, and if they’re going to have them, we have to write them and publishers need to buy them. Bookstores and libraries need to make room for these transitional stories (although full disclosure: we tried a “tween” section at McNally Jackson for a year or so and it failed, largely, I think, due to the fact that no kid self-identifies as a tween because it sounds ridiculous, so it’s got to have a better name, whatever it is). And parents need to understand that difficult books–which stories for that age often are, because that age itself is difficult–may be uncomfortable, but may also be really important to young readers in their lives.
This One Summer is, in addition to being a truly distinguished book, a very brave one. Its protagonists are twelve (I think I’m right about that, but someone correct me if I’m mistaken), but reading about them is not at all the same experience as, for instance, reading about also-twelve Rosalind Penderwick. And this is good, because there is room and a need for both representations of twelve, since both kinds of twelve (and many others) exist in the real world. Maybe, hopefully, the Caldecott honor for This One Summer–an honor it absolutely deserves on the merits of its visual storytelling, which really is tremendous–will help us all embrace the importance of and need for books for stories like this, for readers of this age–that awkward 12-14 period. I hope so, anyway.
*Edited to fix two typos and one instance of Rosalind/Rosamund character name confusion. -KM
Please note that some events listed below are private events for schools and are not open to the public. If you’d like to schedule a magical Visit From Kate for your school or library, email me at kate (at) clockworkfoundry (dot) com.
Skype visits: For the moment (read: unless my schedule gets straight up nutty), I do not charge to Skype with classes that have read the book to be discussed.
In-person visits: They can be arranged. Contact me if you’d like to discuss specifics.
Light refreshments and a story will be provided. All ages are welcome.
Suddenly it’s June, and I really don’t know where May went. But this weekend I’ve been running QA on the Bluecrowne ebooks, and within the next week we’ll go to press with the paperbacks (which clocked in at 279 pages long!), so I wanted to leave a quick note here for those who are wondering how to get their hands on the book.
The ebook should launch by the end of this week, available in all formats (DRM-free) including PDF, and retailing for $5.99. The paperback should (crossing my fingers that what I say is true, but I do believe that it is) be available and shipping by the end of next week. It will retail for $16.99*, although, as with The Kairos Mechanism, I will have a bundled book+PDF+media rate shipping package available as well.
So, how do you get your copy?
At special early-bird prices, you can pre-order the PDF here and the paperback+PDF+domestic media rate shipping here. Fancier/international shipping are also available at cost–just drop me an email and let me know where you are and how fast you’d like your book to arrive. The pre-order prices will last through July 3.
The ebook will be available through all the major channels, but for extra points I encourage you to purchase through Vook, because it’s a better deal for me as the author (you still get your choice of DRM-free formats for iBooks, Nook, Kindle, or Kobo). The PDF will remain available through Gumroad. I’ll add relevant links as soon as they’re live.
The paperback will be available either through me (bundled with PDF, domestic media-rate shipping included) or through McNally Jackson Books (book only, shipping according to store policy). Again, links forthcoming.
I have a very limited supply of books from the print run paid for by Kickstarter that I can make available to you for use in your schools, libraries, and student book clubs, but when the first printing runs out, sadly, that’s the end of that. Retailers, same thing goes.
*You may be thinking, that looks a lot more like the price for an adult paperback than for a juvenile paperback, and you’re right. The higher cost is due to the higher cost of printing on McNally Jackson’s Espresso Book Machine, which I chose to do for two reasons: 1) It’s a way I can support my favorite independent bookstore; and 2) It prints far more beautiful books than most POD services do. I don’t make much money on the deal, but you get a really gorgeous book and we both get to support a really wonderful and (I think) important store. I promise you won’t be disappointed.
Cancel your plans. I’m not kidding.
This Saturday, May 17th at McNally Jackson Books at 4pm, in honor of the inaugural Indies First Storytime Day, twelve intrepid bookish folks invite you to join Milo, Tock, and the Humbug as they embark on an epic quest to bring Rhyme and Reason back to the Kingdom of Wisdom.
Join our heroes as they navigate a perilous royal banquet in Dictionopolis! Cheer as they realize that they, and they alone, can restore the semblance of order to a world gone crazy! Thrill at the theatrical stylings of writers who haven’t rehearsed but whose scripts contain stage directions anyway! And, of course, rediscover the magic of a book you have loved since forever. Extra points if you bring a friend who, through some massive childhood reading fail, has never experienced the magic of The Phantom Tollbooth.
Featuring Sophie Blackall, Matthew Cody, Adam Gidwitz, Claire Legrand, Kekla Magoon, Michael Northrop, Jeffrey Salane, Courtney Sheinmel, Natalie Standiford, Mary G. Thompson, and yours truly, our performance will be followed by a Q&A moderated by Barbara Marcus, president and publisher of Random House Children’s Books, and a book signing.
All ages are welcome. Hope to see you there!Who: You and all your friends Where: McNally Jackson Books (52 Prince Street, between Mulberry and Lafayette) When: Saturday, May 17th at 4pm
This is the place, kids. Preorder your fresh-off-the-press copy of Bluecrowne (plus PDF) here. Payments are processed securely by Gumroad. We expect to ship on or about May 15th, and media rate shipping is included.
Still waiting? WHAT FOR??
Me to post the link?
Hurry, hurry, hurry! There’s still time, but Bluecrowne is counting on you. Yes, you! If you’ve been thinking about contributing to the campaign, now’s the time. Read on for a reminder of what you have to look forward to as a backer of Bluecrowne, or click here if you don’t need convincing and just need to know where to go to join the fun.
1) The Illustrated Bluecrowne. This is the big reason for the campaign. This is why it can’t be done without you. We are hiring a group of young artists to illustrate the book, each in the style of his or her choosing. They will be paid for their work. There will be around 15 artists creating about 20 pieces of art for The Illustrated Bluecrowne, and their edition will be free or pay-what-you-like, so that their friends and family can share their accomplishments without having to pay to do it.
2) New reading material right away. Backers have already gotten their first bonus short story, The Lock, as a celebration of hitting 50%. The next one comes at 75% ($6000), which is only $1350 away at the time of this writing.
3) Great rewards! The art is going fast, but there’s still one signed Greenglass House print by Jaime Zollars, and I’ve just added four signed prints by Andrea Offermann.
4) Oh, and yeah! A new, full-length, stand-alone novel of historical fantasy. You can read the entire first chapter here.
The campaign ends at 11am on Friday, April 25th. Find more info here, including links to The Illustrated Kairos Mechanism, a video of one of the artists at work, and rewards, rewards, rewards. You know you wanna!