Prizing Children's Literature: The Cultural Politics of Children's Book Awards

full name / name of organization: 
Kenneth Kidd; Joseph Thomas

On June 21, 1921, publisher Frederic G. Melcher proposed to the American Library Association that a medal be given for the most distinguished children's book of the year. He suggested it they name it in the honor of John Newbery, famed eighteenth-century English bookseller. The next year the proposal was accepted, and the ALA has awarded a Newbery Medal annually ever since. The Medal was the first such award for distinguished children's literature, and the second literary prize on the American scene, after the Pulitzers in 1917. Children's book awards have since mushroomed and diversified, especially from the 1960s forward, as prizing more generally became a favored strategy for commodity promotion and circulation. There are over 300 awards for English-language texts and authors alone, many of them nation- or genre-specific, most meant to recognize an individual text, but some dedicated to the author and/or a body of work. The Caldecott Medal, for instance is awarded to the best illustrated children's book (typically a picture book, but not always), while the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award (founded in 1954) functions as a lifetime achievement award for an author or an illustrator. More recently-established awards give priority to social or political vision, such as the Coretta Scott King Award, the National Book Award for Young People's Literature, the Pura Belpré Award, and the Jane Addams Book Award (debate remains spirited on the "identity politics" of children's book awards). A plethora of prizes exist for young adult literature; mystery fiction has its major award (the Edgar Allen Poe Award), as do historical fiction (the Scott O'Dell Award) and North American poetry for young people (the Lion and the Unicorn Poetry Award). Many awards are regional, even local in operation or focus; in contrast, several are international, such as the Astrid Lindgren Award and the Hans Christian Andersen Medal.

Despite the clear impact of children's book awards on publishing, education, and commodity culture, there's been relatively little scholarship on the subject. This volume will bring together existing and new work on Anglophone children's book awards. We seek case studies of particular awards in cultural context as well as analyses of larger trends or patterns. What are the aims, ideologies, contexts, and effects of children's book awards and perhaps particular winning titles and authors? Have children's book awards helped to promote a public sphere of children's literature, or are they yet another symptom of our overheated culture industry? What tensions exist in and around these awards, and the institutions (civic, commercial, educational) that devise and administer them? Are prizing-winning titles "canonical" or otherwise influential; what kind(s) of cultural capital do children's book prizes claim or embody? Do such prizes tend to reinforce nationalism, promote internationalization/globalization, both, neither? What are the consequences of English-language prizing; can we study such prizing without reinforcing the cultural, linguistic, and aesthetic hierarchies it maintains?

350-500 word chapter proposals are due by December 1, 2013. Proposals should be for original works not previously published (including in conference proceedings) and not currently under consideration for another edited collection or journal. If the essay is accepted for the collection, a full draft (5000-7000 words) will be required by June 1, 2014. Editors are happy to discuss ideas prior to the deadline.

Proposals and Final Essays should be submitted to:
Kenneth Kidd:
Joseph Thomas, Jr.: