When I was a kid I didn’t care a lot about book awards. If a book had some kind of animal on the cover, that was pretty much enough. Maybe some of the books I read were award-winners, maybe they weren’t. I certainly didn’t keep track. Besides, if it was up to kids to give awards, they would probably pick them according to completely different criteria, the way I did – dinosaurs on the cover get first place, ones with horses and dogs get second, honorable mentions to ones that have elephants.
The awards aren’t really there to help the kids; they’re there to help the curators. If a parent or a teacher has a choice between two books, one with a shiny medal on the cover and the other without, which one are they likely to choose? The medal indicates that this book has been through a panel of people who all decided it was pretty great for one reason or another, and that must mean something.
And it does – don’t get me wrong! It’s just that different awards mean different things, so if you’re trying to create a diverse, useful library for young readers, it’s important to pay attention while keeping track.
Perhaps the best-known book awards are the Newbery Medal and the Caldecott Medal. These longstanding awards, decided by the Association for Library Service to Children, to distinguished contributions to American literature each year. These are meant to determine the cream of the crop, but with thousands of new books coming out for kids each year, there’s no way this can be comprehensive!
Fortunately, there are a number of other awards that can also be helpful. The Pura Belpré Award recognizes great Latino literature for children. The American Indian Youth Literature Award does the same for books about American Indians. Other awards that specialize in this way include the Tomas Rivera Mexican American Children’s Book Award, the Americas Award for Children’s and Young Adult Literature, the Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature, and of course, the Coretta Scott King Book Awards for outstanding African American authors and illustrators.
Using awards to help fill empty shelves, or the empty spaces in those shelves, might be a useful way to get good literature into the hands of eager young readers. Do you use awards as guidelines when purchasing books for your classroom or library? I’d love to hear more about it!