100 Scope Notes
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An Argument with Myself: An ALSC Graphic Novel Award

Here we go again, Travis. An ALSC graphic novel award? I hate to tell you this, but you’re beating a dead horse.

Yeah, I know. A Fuse #8 Production had an excellent post talking about a graphic/illustrated novel award. Educating Alice had a great post (with a different perspective) too – but that was almost four years ago now (Edited to add: Jonathan Hunt talked about the topic more recently at the blog Calling Caldecott). Isn’t this still something people want? Shouldn’t we recognize the best this wholly different form of storytelling has to offer?

Allow me to deflate your dreams. I have a quiver full of DDAs (dream-deflating arrows). I don’t think this new award is happening.

Jeez, you have dream-deflating arrows?

First off, how many awards do you want? Adding one more award will make the Youth Media Awards spontaneously combust, ending them for all time. That’s what you want?

I think you’re exaggerating. Who cares if the ceremony takes 5 more minutes? Does one more award make a huge difference?

Secondly, we have a current award that sort of considers graphic novels – the Caldecott. And if that isn’t enough for you, the ALSC should change the Newbery or Caldecott criteria to open the awards up more to these types of books.

Yes, I know the Caldecott technically considers graphic novels, but it was created (and has specific language in the criteria) to recognize distinguished picture books. And as for the “change the Newbery or Caldecott criteria” comment, that’s like saying “we have an award for the best car of the year, but boats will also be considered.” It doesn’t work for me. The forms are too different.

Well, what about age range? Graphic novels run the age gamut. So you want to toss the latest Toon Book in with the latest Gene Luen Yang creation? You think that that will make sense?

It should follow the Schneider Family Book Award template – one award, broken into three age categories. Simple as that.

It’s too difficult to tell what a graphic novel is these days. As soon as you create an award, there will be a bunch of books that don’t quite fall into the “graphic novel” basket that will be crying foul – illustrated novels in particular.

Look, I say the award should be for graphic novels. Pictures in panels. But perhaps the criteria for this new award can also include illustrated novels as well.

Or not.

Graphic novels are a huge category of their own these days. If, down the road, another form emerges that is as clearly different and defined as graphic novels, then give it an award as well.

Quiver of dream-deflating arrows empty. You didn’t convince me.

Okay. See you again in four years.

About Travis Jonker

Travis Jonker is an elementary school librarian in Michigan. He writes reviews (and the occasional article or two) for School Library Journal and is a member of the 2014 Caldecott committee. You can email Travis at scopenotes@gmail.com, or follow him on Twitter: @100scopenotes.


  1. Does it have to be Graphic Novel? What about long form visual storytelling? Would nonfiction be eligible then? Could a long, detailed picture book like Locomotive have another shot at a prize?

    • Travis Jonker says

      That’s a good question, Linda – and I’m sure part of the reason why creating a new award would be tricky. Personally, I think it should be for graphic novels, but possibly leave things open for variations on that form. To me, a book like Locomotive should still fall in with the Caldecott crowd.

  2. A graphic novel award makes so much sense. The most important thing is whether or not it would be good for readers. I think that’s an easy question to answer.

  3. This reminds me of a great conversation Jonathan Hunt led over at the Horn Book: http://www.hbook.com/2013/12/blogs/calling-caldecott/defense-graphic-novels/

    My take is that storytelling told through the comics format is essentially a visual experience. Graphic novels are a specific type of comic book, just like comic books are a specific type of picture book. Not all comics are graphic novels (in that they aren’t novels), and comics like newspaper strips are obviously not PBs. Some comics are picture books though, and those that are should be eligible for the Caldecott (and I hope the longer ones get recognition like shorter ones have in the past, à la Mr. Wuffles! and In the Night Kitchen).

    I’d support an award for sequential art, but only if we could call it a “comic book” award and not a Graphic Novel award. The term “comic book” is inclusive of all genres within the format. (It would be a format award, not a genre award.) To add a comic book award to the mix would create another award—like the Caldecott or Newbery— for which all genres are eligible. To me, there’s nothing wrong with that.

    The issue of length is a simple one. Nowhere (to my knowledge, other than the Geisel) is length a criteria for an ALSC award. That’s how The Invention of Hugo Cabret won an award usually reserved for shorter titles at 500+ pages, and how Dark Emperor and Other Poems of the Night received Newbery recognition at only 32 pages. The age question is also easy: Is it for children up to and including fourteen?

    Ultimately, I believe the Caldecott terms and criteria are inclusive to comic books, but because comics have historically lacked representation—I see value in having ALSC support a comic book-specific award.

    • Travis Jonker says

      Thanks for your comments, Elisa. Good point on mentioning Mr. Wuffles! – that book could certainly be called a comic. And I added a link to Jonathan’s piece in my post – thanks for bringing that up.

  4. I think you’re right, Travis(es); it’s an awesome idea, but I don’t think it’s going to happen. Nor will changing the language of the Newbery or Caldecott criteria occur any time soon, for that matter. But we can still dream!

  5. I agree. Graphic novels function differently from picture books, prose novels, and traditional nonfiction, and the ones that do it well deserve recognition.

    I’m also still pulling for a board book award (long-held thoughts here: http://walktheridgepole.blogspot.com/2012/01/lets-call-it-boynton.html).