Graphic novels for children and young adults continue to make inroads. Read on!
This past Monday, Jan. 27, the American Library Association (at its Midwinter Meeting in Philadelphia) announced the winners of its Youth Media Awards for 2020. These include the fabled Newbery Medal, the US's oldest literary prize for children's literature (awarded since 1922), the Caldecott Medal, the US's top prize for picture book art (1938-), the Coretta Scott King Book Awards for African American-focused literature (1969-), the Michael L. Printz Award for young adult literature (2000-), and numerous other prizes.
This year, for the first time, a comic has won the Newbery: Jerry Craft's graphic novel New Kid (HarperCollins), which also won the Coretta Scott King (Author) Book Award (and had already won a 2019 Kirkus Prize for Young Readers’ Literature). The reception of New Kid, as New York Times reporter Concepción de León puts it, "reflects changing attitudes about the literary merits of graphic novels" (though interestingly, some others, such as NPR's Colin Dwyer, have not even remarked that New Kid is a comic).
Besides New Kid, a number of other comics were recognized with awards or honors this year by the ALA and its affiliate organizations. I've identified them below. Readers, please forgive me for concentrating on just comics and comics-adjacent titles here; I of course urge you to check out the ALA's full list of winners, which is long, rich, revealing, and encouraging!
This year's recipients of the Sydney Taylor Book Award for Jewish-themed children's and young adult literature (awarded since 1968 by the Association of Jewish Libraries) included Middle Grade winner White Bird: A Wonder Story, a graphic novel by R. J. Palacio, with finishes by Kevin Czap (Knopf).
This year's Asian/Pacific American Award for Children's Literature (awarded by the Asian/Pacific American Librarians Association since 2001) went to the superb graphic novel Stargazing, by Jen Wang (First Second).
This year's Asian/Pacific American Award for Young Adult Literature (also awarded by the APALA, of course) went to the graphic history/memoir They Called Us Enemy, written by George Takei, Justin Eisinger, and Steven Scott and drawn by Harmony Becker (Top Shelf/IDW).
This year's Alex Awards for the ten best adult books "that have special appeal to young adults" (awarded since 1998 by the Young Adult Library Services Association) included both Maia Kobabe's graphic memoir Gender Queer (Lion Forge/Oni Press) and AJ Dungo's graphic memoir/history In Waves (Nobrow).
Mariko Tamaki and Rosemary Valero-O'Connell's graphic novel Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up with Me (First Second) won a Michael L. Printz Honor.
Cece (El Deafo) Bell won a Theodor Seuss Geisel Honor for her graphic early reader Chick and Brain: Smell My Foot! (Candlewick Press). (The ALA established the Geisel Award for outstanding American book for beginning readers in 2004.)
The American Indian Youth Literature Award (awarded by the American Indian Library Association since 2006) this year recognized as a Young Adult Honor book the graphic novel Surviving the City, Vol. One (Highwater Press), written by Tasha Spillett (Nehiyaw-Trinidadian) and drawn by Natasha Donovan (Métis Nation British Columbia).
I also want to single out a title Honored by the American Indian Youth Literature Award in the Picture Book category, At the Mountain’s Base (Kokila/Penguin), written by Traci Sorell (Cherokee) and illustrated by Weshoyot Alvitre (Tongva/Scots-Gaelic). This book does remarkable things to the design of page and opening, using drawn threads to separate some spreads into sequences of panels. It's a captivating picture book:
I've always thought of picture books as part of this blog's focus. Let me briefly mention some comics-adjacent picture books honored this year:
Artist Duncan Tonatiuh has created a number of graphic books in a distinctive style inspired and informed by Mixtec codices, among them the accordion-fold Undocumented: A Worker's Fight (Abrams, 2018). Without presuming to claim Tonatiuh's work for "comics," I'd say that his books fascinate me as (distinct from yet undeniably) related to the young reader's graphic novel. The Pura Belpré Medal for outstanding Latinx work for young readers (awarded since 1996 by the Association for Library Service to Children and by REFORMA, the National Association to Promote Library and Information Services to Latinos and the Spanish-Speaking) has often honored his work. This year Tonatiuh earned Honors for Soldier for Equality: José de la Luz Sáenz and the Great War (Abrams).
Also recognized as a Belpré Honor Book this year was ¡Vamos! Let's Go to the Market, a picture book by artist Raúl The Third, known for his comics work, particularly the Lowriders graphic novel series (with writer Cathy Camper).
I see many connections among this year's honorees. ¡Vamos! is part of the Versify imprint at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt curated by poet Kwame Alexander, author of The Crossover and related verse novels, which have had a terrific impact. Kwame Alexander and Kadir Nelson's picture book The Undefeated, also part of Versify, joins New Kids as one of the most celebrated books of this year's ALA awards, winning the Caldecott Medal as well as the Coretta Scott King (Illustrator) Book Award and a Newbery Honor. Alexander seems to have an infinity for comics, by the way: The Crossover has been adapted into a graphic novel with artist Dawud Anyabwile, who also provided comics sequences for Alexander's Rebound (Anyabwile is known for Brotherman and the comics adaptation of Walter Dean Myers's Monster, among other projects). Graphic novels, viewed within children's and YA publishing, are part of a larger trend of formal experimentation that also includes, for example, verse novels and verse memoirs, a movement that of course includes Alexander and continues with this year's honorees Other Words for Home by Jasmine Warga (Balzer + Bray), a Newbery Honor Book, and Ordinary Hazards: A Memoir by Nikki Grimes (Wordsong), which received Honors from both the Printz and the Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Award (given by the Association for Library Service to Children since 2001).
My CSUN colleague Dr. Krystal Howard, expert in the verse novel, Künstlerroman, and comics, is the person I need to talk to about all this!
On the matter of formal innovation and multimodal storytelling, I have to mention artist Ashley Bryan's multimedia visual memoir Infinite Hope (Atheneum), which earned a Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor. Collaging together photography, painting, drawing, and historical artifacts, Infinite Hope is a transporting, visually rich evocation of the artist's life and times. (This would be another great book to discuss with Krystal!)
I note one other (by me) unexpected comics connection among this year's awards: the Odyssey Award for best audiobook for young people went to the audio adaptation of Jarrett Krosoczka's graphic memoir Hey, Kiddo (2018). And I see that there are also audio adaptations of Palacio's White Bird and Craft's New Kid. In all cases, these are audio performances by a full cast, not just a narrator. This is a trend I need to look into! Here's a sample of Hey, Kiddo in audio:
All in all, the ALA Youth Media Awards for 2020 affirm how embedded graphic novels are in the children's and young adult publishing world, and how dramatically they have engaged the challenge of boosting inclusivity, diversity, and meaningful representation in that world. This continues to be a dizzying, promise-filled time for young readers' comics!
One last note: comics-related or not, there are a few other honorees this year whom I must mention:
Of course San Diego’s Comic-Con International begins today, along with the associated Comics Conference for Educators and Librarians at the San Diego Central Library. Part of me wishes I could be there, but, as the saying goes, I have other fish to fry. First, an announcement:
After next Monday, July 23, KinderComics will be taking a four-week break so that I can prepare for the Fall 2018 semester and also address some technical problems that have arisen around this site. That is, I will have a review up next Monday, but after that KinderComics will likely hibernate until Monday, August 20. My hope is to get KinderComics on a more secure tech footing and then resume blogging on a biweekly basis just in time for the Fall semester. Expect this site to delve into teaching in a big way come August 20-27.
I’m sorry that I’ll have to be out of action for a bit. KinderComics is something I’m very proud of, and has given new shape and meaning to my life as a comics reader. Since taking this blog public about four months ago, I’ve published nearly forty posts and reviewed nearly a score of books, including nine or ten brand-new titles. I’ve hosted posts by Joe Sutliff Sanders and Gwen Athene Tarbox, published news and commentary, brainstormed for my forthcoming children’s comics seminar, and drawn hundreds of visitors. This is a project I definitely plan on continuing, even if my teaching schedule may make weekly posting impossible. Essentially, KinderComics is my way of keeping track of the new “mainstream” in comics, practicing comics criticism, and reflecting on the emergent discourse of children’s comics scholars—so it matters a great deal to me. Look out for new posts on July 23 and August 20!
Secondly, back on July 3, which to me feels like a hundred years ago, Inks editor (and my Comics Studies Society colleague) Jared Gardner published an interview with me at Extra Inks that delves into why I am doing KinderComics and what I hope this blog can contribute to the scholarly community. Jared, a top-notch scholar and critic, is one of my guiding lights in this profession, and I'm proud and grateful that he chose to spotlight KinderComics. In general, Extra Inks (the blog of Inks: The Journal of the Comics Studies Society) is a great resource for reviews and features pertaining to comics and comics scholarship, well worth bookmarking and visiting often. (Take for example my colleague Candida Rifkind's timely and helpful post spotlighting migrant and refugee comics, from July 8.) Thank you, Jared!
NEWS! As I was reviewing 5 Worlds: The Cobalt Prince (see yesterday), I noticed, on the back cover, a logo that was new to me:
While Random House Children’s Books has already published a number of graphic novels, I hadn't seen this logo before. Today I learned why, as RHCB officially announced Random House Graphic as their new graphic novel imprint! Although Random House Graphic is not expected to launch until fall 2019—i.e. the first books developed specially for the imprint are not expected until then—Random House already appears to be telegraphing its intentions (though it's not clear exactly how RHCB's graphic novel backlist, including 5 Worlds, will mesh with the new imprint).
A press release I received from RHCB this morning states that
Random House Graphic will launch in fall 2019 with titles for children and teenagers and a combination of literary and commercial works. Random House Graphic will hire a team to be solely dedicated to the creation and promotion of the imprint’s titles, and for outreach and advocacy within the industry and direct-to-consumers to increase readership.
The most exciting part of this news, to me, is that Gina Gagliano will be heading that team, as the new imprint's publishing director:
Gagliano is a leading figure in children's and YA comics publishing. As part of the First Second team since that company's launch in 2005—most recently as First Second's Associate Director for Marketing and Publicity—Gagliano has been responsible for building connections between graphic novel publishing and diverse librarians, literary professionals, and teachers (myself included). A bittersweet note of parting on the First Second blog (from Mark Siegel, Editorial & Creative Director, and Calista Brill, Editorial Director) describes Gagliano as one of the "transformative factors" behind the "unfolding comics renaissance in America," and that's not just hype. Gina Gagliano has been a marketer-with-passion and a veritable force. Anyone who has spent even a little time talking with her has a sense of her expertise in children's literature, comics, and publishing. (Speaking personally, I'm a children's literature teacher of many years, but when I talk to Gina I feel like I should be taking notes, because her knowledge of that field is vast and detailed, and she often recommends books that I know little or nothing about.)
First Second has been extremely fortunate to have Gagliano on its team, as she combines expertise in children's books with dedication to independent comics and the artist-driven side of comics culture. Her work as an event organizer (for the Brooklyn Book Festival, BookExpo, the Women in Comics collective, and the Toronto Comic Arts Festival) has made her a very respected figure in both mainstream and small-press publishing contexts. A fount of information and a tireless connector of people, Gagliano represents a living link between comics cultures and one of the best examples of a comics pro who has helped the graphic novel thrive in the book trade. In short, RHCB has made a wise choice.
As publishing director of Random House Graphic, Gagliano will report to RHCB Senior Vice-President, Associate Publisher, Judith Haut. Quoted in the press release, Haut says, “It is a truly exciting and important time of growth for comics and graphic novels within the kids' market, and we see a distinct opportunity to reach even more readers. We are thrilled to have Gina, with her creativity, expertise, and passion for the medium, at the helm of our new venture.” Over at Publishers Weekly, Calvin Reid has full details. Here's a notable passage from Reid's article:
...Gagliano called it “too early” to specify the ultimate size of the list or the size of the staff she will assemble. But she emphasized that the imprint will hire "editors, designers, and publicists," and will focus on “all genres and all age categories. Kids need to grow up with graphic novels and publishers need to provide a complete reading experience. We need to add to the breadth of the comics medium in order to transform the U.S graphic novel market.”
Hear, hear. I look forward to what Random House Graphic will bring.
The nominees for the 2018 Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards were announced today, and they make for a fascinating ballot!
The Eisners are the leading awards in the comic book and graphic novel industry. Established thirty years ago and given out each summer at San Diego's Comic-Con International, they've been organized by CCI's Jackie Estrada since 1991. The awards are voted on by industry professionals (this year's voting deadline is June 15). This year's winners will be announced in an awards ceremony at CCI on Friday, July 20.
This year's nominees were selected, as usual, by a judging panel representing various sectors and stakeholders in the comics business. The panel included Young Adult librarian and former YALSA President Candice Mack, journalist and podcaster Graeme McMillan, comics and pop culture retailer Tate Ottati, writer and comic book creator Alex Simmons, longtime Comic-Con and Cartoon/Fantasy Organization organizer William F. Wilson, and my esteemed colleague, scholar-teacher Nhora Lucía Serrano (with whom I've worked in the Comics Studies Society).
To me, the news of the Eisner nominations tends to be more exciting than the award results, because the ballot is such a cross-section of comics culture and always contains surprises. Every Eisner ballot documents a complex process of negotiation and compromise. I know how complex it can be, because in 2013 I served as a judge (along with Michael Cavna, Adam Healy, Katie Monnin, Frank Santoro, and John Smith). It's an experience I will not forget. Judging the Eisners entails reading many, many comics in a short time, then coming together with colleagues--smart, dedicated folks with diverse perspectives and interests--and working across differences to fashion a ballot that gathers up the various strands of long-form comics and represents a fair sample of outstanding work. The judges' final summit (typically a long weekend in April), at least as I experienced it, is about hours and hours of last-minute reading, and then, just as importantly, hours and hours spent around a table hashing out the ballot. Intense, exhausting, and delightful. I remember reading late into the night; I remember chatting and arguing; I remember a room that smelled like paper. Hats off for this year's judges--librarian, journalist, retailer, creator, organizer, and scholar--for their hard work, and for crafting a ballot that reflects exciting changes in the comics field.
Of particular interest to KinderComics are the young readers' categories:
BEST PUBLICATION FOR EARLY READERS (UP TO AGE 8):
BEST PUBLICATION FOR KIDS (AGES 9–12):
BEST PUBLICATION FOR TEENS (AGES 13-17):
These categories have become quite competitive, reflecting the surge in young readers' comics and the influence of children's and YA librarians, who have generally championed the graphic novel format. Notably, these are categories in which the final Eisner voting does not predictably follow popularity in the direct market (i.e. comic shops) but instead seems to reflect the interests of other communities. There have been strong winners in these categories over the past few years, and this year's nominees are a strong, exciting, varied group. Again, kudos to the judges for selecting such a wide-ranging, unconventional set!
Beyond the above categories, there are children's and YA comics-related nominees in others, such as Best Academic/Scholarly Work (Picturing Childhood: Youth in Transnational Comics, edited by Heimermann and Tullis); Best Comics-Related Book (How to Read Nancy: The Elements of Comics in Three Easy Panels, by Karasik and Newgarden); Best Digital Comic (Quince, by Kadlecik, Steinkellner, and Steinkellner); and Best Short Story (“Forgotten Princess,” by Johnson and Sandoval, Adventure Time Comics #13). Also, some of the above creators are nominated in individual categories: Lorena Alvarez for Best Writer/Artist, Isabelle Arsenault for Best Penciller/Inker, Ramón K. Perez for Best Penciller/Inker, and Federico Bertolucci for Best Painter/Multimedia Artist. In fact, this year may mark a new high point in individual nominations for creators of young readers' comics. The ballot gives me an exciting sense of children's and YA comics as emphatically mainstream and recognized for their artistry and daring as well as their accessibility.
It's such a strong ballot overall, with many startling inclusions. Beyond children's and YA comics, check out "A Life in Comics: The Graphic Adventures of Karen Green" (Best Short Story), or Pope Hats #5 (Best Single Issue), or the startling range of the whole Best Anthology category. Check out (wow) Small Favors in Best Graphic Album--Reprint, or Kindred in Best Adaptation from Another Medium. Or My Brother’s Husband in Best U.S. Edition of International Material—Asia. Among reprints, check out the two gorgeous Sunday Press books (Best Archival Collection/Project—Strips) and Conundrum's Collected Neil the Horse (Best Archival Collection/Project—Comic Books). There are many gutsy choices in this year's list—congratulations, judges, and happy reading, everybody!
NEWS! This morning, the organizers of the Excellence in Graphic Literature Awards announced their nominees for the first-ever slate of EGLs, to be awarded at the Denver Comic Con on June 16. The livestream of the announcement, hosted by KidLit TV, can be (re)viewed here. Also, PR Newswire has a press release including the full list of nominees. It's an interesting list, with books I love, books I admire, and books I'd like to get to know.
The EGL Awards, as I posted this morning, aim to strengthen the link between comics publishing and the field of children's and Young Adult librarianship. School librarians, public librarians, and K-12 educators are well represented in the judging panels and advisory board, and indeed seem to be the Awards' center of gravity. The awards include eight categories organized by age range, as well as one diversity-themed prize, the Mosaic Award, and an overall Book of the Year prize with contenders drawn from the other categories. The age-based categories are divided into Fiction and Nonfiction for Children (Grade 5 and under), Middle Grades (Grades 6-8), Young Adults (Grades 9-12), and Adults. (You can find out more about the EGL categories at the Pop Culture Classroom, here.)
It seems to me that the EGLs have been rolled out in, for comics, unusually coordinated and deliberate fashion. I expressed reservations about the seeming outlook of the Awards when I first learned of them (see the comments thread here), and continue to wonder at the Awards' judging culture and, perhaps, selective filter—all based on my guesswork, I hasten to add. It does seem likely to me that the EGLs will filter out significant parts of comics culture and book-length comics publishing. However, this is also true of other industry awards that seek to cover the whole span of book-length comics, such as the Eisners; all have blind spots, and all speak to the interests of particular communities within the comics world. That said, this first EGL slate strikes me as solid and promising, with an encouraging diversity in aesthetic, genre, and tradition. I also like the range of publishers represented (though First Second Books is clearly the favorite, with five out of the eight nominees for Book of the Year).
I confess, I do see a few frank headscratchers among the nominees (what award process is without those, though?). The nonfiction choices for Children and Middle Grades are quite thin, and in general I feel more confident of the YA and Adult categories. Also, the Best of Year finalists make for, um, an odd set: apples and oranges and then some. Further, I'm not sure that all the nominees quite match the high literary aspirations implied by the Awards' name, suggesting that the "L" in EGL may be an awkward fit for some comics, even very good ones (but, um, the politics of respectability is perhaps too big a problem for one award to solve?). Here is the full list of finalists, as reported today:
MIDDLE GRADE BOOKS
YOUNG ADULT BOOKS
MOSAIC AWARD FINALISTS
BOOK OF THE YEAR FINALISTS
Quite a list. I'm excited to see, for example, Liniers, Melanie Gillman, Tillie Walden, Katie Green, Thi Bui, Emil Ferris, Guy Delisle, and the team of Stacey Robinson and John Jennings. I'm also excited to see promising books from creators I don't know.
The division of Awards by age range, and the list of publishers represented, perhaps indicate the Awards' intended focus and community more clearly than anything I could say. Let's see what happens.
PS. It was a pleasure to see among the EGL jurors and advisors in this morning's video announcement my friends and colleagues Dr. Katie Monnin of the University of North Florida (we judged Eisners together in 2013) and Carr D'Angelo and Susan Avallone of Earth-2 Comics, my LCS!
WOW. No sooner do I finish reviewing Jen Wang's splendid new graphic novel, The Prince and the Dressmaker, than I realize that Wang and a panel of other great talents will be discussing the book at Chevalier's Books, Los Angeles's fabled independent bookstore, tomorrow night, Thursday, March 15, at 7:00pm. The details are at Chevalier's site, here (Chevalier's is at 126 North Larchmont Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90004).
Wang, author of Koko Be Good (2010), co-author, with Cory Doctorow, of In Real Life (2014), and co-founder of the Comic Arts LA festival, will be joined by Doctorow, as well as two other notable comics creators, Molly Knox Ostertag and Tillie Walden.
Doctorow is of course a novelist (author of Little Brother among others), columnist, tech expert and activist, and the co-editor of Boing Boing.
Ostertag is the author of the recent graphic novel The Witch Boy (whose exploration of gender resonates with The Prince and the Dressmaker), co-creator of the graphic novel Shattered Warrior, and co-creator of the ongoing webcomic Strong Female Protagonist.
Walden is author of the recent graphic memoir Spinning (one of 2017's most acclaimed comics) and the webcomic (soon to be graphic novel) On a Sunbeam, as well as the graphic books The End of Summer, I Love This Part, and A City Inside.
This is an incredible gathering of talent. Frankly, it would be hard to imagine a stronger panel than this when it comes to the intersection of children's publishing and graphic novels, small-press and independent comics, women comics creators, and explorations of gender and sexuality in comics. I dearly hope to make this event, which I expect is going to be great!