The Need for an International Focus

The John Newbery Medal

Next week the Youth Media Awards, the biggest children’s book awards in the United States, will be announced. This group of awards includes the Newbery and the Caldecott Medals, both awarded to creators who are residents of the United States. The recipient books of these awards get huge jumps in sales and most stay in print indefinitely after winning. There’s always someone reading through the list of award winners, after all!

Both of these awards have been around for a long time. The Caldecott was created in 1938 to honor the best example of illustration for children each year and the Newbery was created in 1922 to honor the best example of writing for children each year. Both are named after British men (Caldecott was an illustrator and Newbery was a bookseller). Both can only be won by a resident of the United States.

At the time they were created, there was interest in encouraging American publication of books for children, since it wasn’t exactly a booming field yet. Consequently, making the awards exclusive to Americans made sense. If they hadn’t, it may have been some time before an American won and part of the purpose was to get more Americans writing and illustrating for children.

The Randolph Caldecott Medal

But it isn’t the 1920s or 1930s anymore and American authors and illustrators are not remotely in shortage on the world stage of books for kids. And determining residency isn’t as easy as it used to be. Authors and illustrators, like other groups of people in the modern world, are increasingly global as well. Many move around, duel residency is not uncommon. So, is someone who lives half the year in New York and half the year in Hong Kong eligible?

I am not saying that the Caldecott and Newbery Medals should be made completely international. There are already international awards and awards in many other nations. But the residency thing is long out of date. Instead of focusing on residency of the author or illustrator, what if it was just for any book published in the United States? That would open it up to the amazing books published here but written by authors in other countries, by U.S. expats, by people with multiple residences, etc. And it would a lot easier for the committees to check!

I’m clearly not the only one thinking about this lately. The day before I posted this, I got a copy of January/February’s Horn Book Magazine in the mail with an article espousing the same opinion and while researching this post I came across this great piece by Leonard S. Marcus for the New York Times also arguing for this change! Hopefully someone will make this happen soon!

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