Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Speaking of Awards, or Christmas in July

Over the past two years, I have been working toward a Certificate of Advanced Study (CAS) at the University of Illinois' Graduate School of Library and Information Science (GSLIS). As my time in the program comes to an end I thought it a good time to post one of the most fulfilling projects I had the opportunity to work on. As a student in LIS514: History of Children's Literature course I was required to create a Website in which I provided a study of a historical text. I selected Marie Hall Ets' Nine Days to Christmas, the 1960 Caldecott Medal winner. I had the honor of traveling to the University of Minnesota and spending a day going through the Marie Hall Ets papers in the Kerlan Collection. Among the items in their possession was Ets' Caldecott medal, an item that is breathtakingly beautiful. But not to get so easily lulled by that lovely medal in its soft, midnight blue velvet box, the most interesting insights about the project were not so much about the book itself, but about the Caldecott award in the context of Latino children's literature:

* Only two Caldecott medal winning books prominently feature children of Latin American heritage: Leo Politi's Song of the Swallows (1950) and Marie Hall Ets' Nine Days to Christmas (1960).

* Only one Latino illustrator has ever won the Caldecott Medal: David Diaz for Smoky Night (1995).

* Only two Caldecott honor books have prominently featured children of Latin American heritage: Leo Politi's Juanita (1949) and Pedro, the Angel of Olvera Street (1947).

I may have overlooked titles, but I don't think I did. Four medal or honor winners featuring children of Latin American descent, all published before 1960, in the past seventy-four years. And we're not even going to get into how accurately or inaccurately those books represent the specific group and culture depicted. One Latino illustrator awarded either a medal or an honor in the seventy-four year history of the award.

If you look at seventy-four years worth of Caldecott winners you're looking at a pretty homogenous world. Of course, I realize that the Caldecott isn't awarded for how well a book represents our multicultural society. It's awarded to the "most distinguished American picture book for children." There have been so many amazing Latino children's book illustrators to come around since 1995 that it's hard not to wonder why not a single one has been honored. This brings to mind the controversial topic that makes the occasional appearance in the pages of the Horn Book Magazine regarding the need for awards like the Pura Belpré and the Coretta Scott King.* Do we still need them? Would these books find a place in the world of Caldecott? Or would they simply disappear? Yeah, I'm calling you out Caldecott, on this, your seventy-fifth year.

*See Marc Aronson's "Slippery Slopes and Proliferating Prizes" in the May/June 2001 issue of the Horn Book Magazine and Nikki Grimes' "Speaking Out" in the July/August 2009 issue.