2015: The Year of the Comic

The annual American Library Association (ALA) book awards were doled out yesterday, and, for those of you who missed the award show, the big winner was…. comics! For the first time, a comic — El Deafo by Cece Bell — garnered a Newbery. In addition, This One Summer by Jillian and Mariko Tamaki received recognition from both the Caldecott and Printz committees. Last but not least, Hidden: A Child’s Story of the Holocaust received a Batchelder Honor.

The Year of the Comic

On one hand, I am thrilled that three ALA committees recognized the power and merit of comics as a medium for telling stories. I have not read This One Summer by Jillian and Mariko Tamaki. But, both El Deafo and Hidden illustrate how effectively words and text can be used to tell moving, sophisticated stories.

On the other hand, this year’s awards have left me feeling more strongly than before that the American Library Association (ALA) should create a separate comics award. I was decidedly on the fence about the topic before yesterday. Some may interpret the success of comics yesterday as an indication that a comics award is unnecessary. I, on the other hand, am left feeling like the rise of comics has added to the arbitrariness of the ALA awards.

This year’s Newbery committee was tasked with comparing apples to oranges when asked to compare the text of El Deafo (pictured below) to that of Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson or The Crossover by Kwame Alexander. Furthermore, with comics, text and images are inextrictably linked. It makes no sense to me to try to evaluate the quality of the text of a comic like El Deafo alone.

El Deafo Cece Bell

It makes somewhat more sense to me to see a comic like This One Summer receive a Caldecott.* The Caldecott committee is tasked with evaluating the quality of illustrations and how effectively illustrations help tell stories. Excellent comics, like excellent picture books, use illustrations strategically in combination with text to tell stories. The line between picture books and comics is a blurry one, with many books falling squarely on the line. Thus, I’m more comfortable with the Caldecott committee evaluating both picture books and comics than with the Newbery committee evaluating both chapter books and comics.

That said, I am in favor of creating a separate comics award, rather than lumping comics with picture books, for a couple of reasons. First, I love both picture books and comics, and I do not want one medium squeezing out the other. Second — and I think this is why we are all celebrating Cece Bell’s win — I want to see excellence in the use of text to help tell stories via comics recognized as well as excellence in the use of images.

What do you think? Would you like to see the ALA create a separate comics award? Or, do you prefer seeing the long-standing and well-respected Newbery and Caldecott committees recognizing comics?

*The Caldecott committee pushed the envelope with regards to intended audience with this pick. The Caldecott is for illustrations appropriate for children ages 0-14, which would seem to preclude a YA book from winning.

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6 Responses to 2015: The Year of the Comic

  1. Karen says:

    Is there new terminology for this type of book “comics”? In the past, they were called “graphic novels” whether they were “novels” or not. Just checking to be sure I’m up to speed.

    • Amy says:

      Great question! The term “graphic novels” is not out-of-date and would be a fine one to use to describe these three books. I use the term “comics” to refer more generally to all forms of comics, including graphic novels, floppies (i.e. traditional comic books), bound collections of comic books, comic strips, comic strip anthologies, etc.

      • Karen says:

        Thanks for the clarification. Love your blog. I teach children’s literature and language arts methods at two different universities. I also am Nana to four little “readers”.

  2. Lara says:

    I think it’s good to get graphic novels in the big categories just so that they are taken seriously as literature, but then they should certainly get their own category.

  3. I absolutely agree with you! Especially your comment about comparing apples to oranges.
    I am one of those teacher librarians who has pushed for graphic novels to be used more in classrooms and allowed for book reports. They are great to use with English learners as well as kids who learn differently. My son has Asperger’s and I’ve seen how their comprehension improves because they can see the characters’ emotions.
    Thanks for posting this.

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