Susan, what book do you want, more than anything, to win the Newbery Medal?
Answer: The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick. It's a brilliant fusion of pictures and text. It's a masterful work, full of mystery and intrigue. I think it's a major contribution to the field of children's literature.
Question: Will it win?
Answer: No. Regrettably, tragically... it probably won't win.
Question: Why not?
Answer: Take a look at the Newbery criteria:
"The Medal shall be awarded annually to the author of the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children published in English in the United States during the preceding year. There are no limitations as to the character of the book considered except that it be original work."
Let's check Hugo Cabret against the criteria:
- Most distinguished contribution to American literature for children? Yes, in my humble opinion, I think it is.
- Published in English in the United States? Yes.
- No limitations as to the character of the book. Excellent. That leaves the door open for any genre to win.
What does distinguished mean? Let's check the criteria again.
"Distinguished" is defined as:
- "marked by eminence and distinction: noted for significant achievement." Yes, it's definitely distinct, eminent and a significant achievement.
- "marked by excellence in quality." Absolutely.
- "marked by conspicuous excellence or eminence." Yes, the excellence is conspicuous. It pours out of the book.
- "individually distinct." Definitely. There's no other book like it.
"Each book is to be considered as a contribution to literature. The committee is to make its decision primarily on the text. Other aspects of a book are to be considered only if they distract from the text. Such other aspects might include illustrations, overall design of the book, etc."
And, there we have it. Game over. The Newbery committee judges the text, not the illustrations. Take away all of Hugo Cabret's illustrations, and you're left with a shell of a book. And, alas... that shell isn't strong enough to win the Newbery. The book is, rightfully so, completely dependent on the pictures. That's what makes it so incredible.
But, wait! If the pictures are so amazing (and they are), couldn't Hugo Cabret win the Caldecott? Here you have an award that's all about illustration.
Okay, worth a shot. Traditionally the Caldecott goes to a picture book, but the eligible age range is much larger than you'd think. Let's take a look at the Caldecott criteria:
"'A picture book for children' is one for which children are a 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."
So, according to that, Hugo Cabret would be eligible. It would be a dramatic departure from tradition, and a huge deal if the Caldecott went to a non-picture book. It's happened in the past, but not that recently. So, maybe, just maybe....
Wait a minute. Look at the bottom of the criteria:
"Each book is to be considered as a picture book. The committee is to make its decision primarily on the illustration, but other components of a book are to be considered especially when they make a book less effective as a children's picture book. Such other components might include the written text, the overall design of the book, etc. "
Argh!!! The Caldecott committee judges primarily on illustrations, not the text. If you take the words away from Hugo Cabret, you're left with an empty shell again. Not as empty as if you removed the pictures, but certainly a far less poignant work.
Sigh. So there you have it. A book that is a combination of illustrations and text doesn't really stand a chance for either award. And I think that's too bad, but that's the way the awards are structured. Sorry, Hugo.
Despite all that, if I were Brian Selznick, I'd be waiting by my phone on Monday morning. You never know....
Update: The Invention of Hugo Cabret won the Caldecott Medal! See this post for my reaction.