This spring I had the opportunity to attend the Bologna Children’s Book Fair along with 12 graduate students and their instructor, ALSC Past President and former Butler Children’s Literature Center Curator Thom Barthelmess. As the current Curator, I was eager to not only travel with such fun, smart, and like-minded colleagues, but to learn what children’s literature looks like around the world, and how the world sees us these days. The upshot? They like our books. Our politics, not so much.
While I was traveling on Dominican’s dime with support from the Butler Family Foundation, this trip also posed an opportunity for me, as ALSC Fiscal Officer, to learn firsthand about the impact, if any, of ALSC’s book and media awards internationally.
The first thing I learned should have been obvious: In addition to the vast market at Bologna for buying and selling rights to translate books to and from various languages and to publish them in other countries, there is a vibrant market and interest in original illustration. I saw three exhibits: the annual juried Bologna Illustrators Exhibition (featuring only one American illustrator this time, YooHee Joon); “Artists and Masterpieces of Illustration: 50 Illustrators Exhibit 1967-2016,” a special exhibit commemorating the 50th anniversary of the annual one; and one featuring art from wordless picture books (the accepted term overseas is “silent books”). Beyond these exhibits, illustrators also promote their work directly to publishers here: the market for text is a translation one, so it’s not a place for authors to pitch manuscripts, it’s a more open opportunity for art.
A fascinating debate broke out on a panel discussion about the 50th anniversary exhibit. Panelist Leonard Marcus noted the positive development of an “international visual vocabulary” that has made it increasingly difficult to pigeonhole a book’s country of origin; Etienne Delessert countered that it’s still quite easy to identify an American picture book, at least (not necessarily a compliment). This reminded me of the ALSC Board’s decision a few years ago to maintain ALSC award eligibility for books originally published in the United States and by a U.S. citizen or resident, that “reaffirmed the importance of identifying and rewarding authentic and unique American children’s literature, in keeping with award founder Frederic Melcher’s original intent for these awards.” (Foote, The Newbery and Caldecott Awards: A Guide to the Medal and Honor Books, 2010 edition).
These storied ALSC awards that have been around for decades are sacred in our association and well-known in the United States, but what do people overseas know, or think, about them?
While our awards don’t have nearly the impact on the business of publishing outside the United States as they do stateside, high international interest in illustration seems paralleled by interest in the Caldecott Medal, if not the others. This observation is supported by the ALSC office, which reports infrequent queries about seal use from international publishers, almost all about the Caldecott. U.S. publishers with whom I spoke indicated they’re never asked about awards or seals. However, I noticed many books that were published in other countries and languages were in fact ALSC award winners, even though they did not bear the award seal. This could mean overseas publishers recognize our awards as arbiters of quality and are therefore more likely to buy books that win, seal or no seal; or that they might want seals for book promotion purposes but don’t know how to procure them.
There is certainly an upside to promoting seal use internationally to raise the international profile of ALA, ALSC, and our media awards. Challenges include the need for publishers in other countries to respect U.S. trademark law (our seal images are ALA’s intellectual property); the need for an acknowledgement printed on the book that the non-U.S. edition is not the exact one evaluated by the committee; and the desire of some overseas publishers to work wording in their own language into the seal image itself. ALSC works hard to protect the integrity and reputation of these awards that have stood us in such good stead over the past 80 or so years, so we’ll continue to carefully shepherd appropriate seal use while encouraging its worldwide adoption to the extent we can.
(All pictures courtesy of Guest Blogger)
Our guest blogger is Diane Foote. Diane is assistant dean and curator of the Butler Children’s Literature Center at Dominican University GSLIS in River Forest, Illinois, and the ALSC Fiscal Officer. She can be reached at email@example.com.
Please note that as a guest post, the views expressed here do not represent the official position of ALA or ALSC.
If you’d like to write a guest post for the ALSC Blog, please contact Mary Voors, ALSC Blog manager, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thanks Diane for such a thoughtful look at the Bologna Fair. I am so happy you could combine your ALSC perspective with your work at the Butler Children’s Literature Center. I am most impressed with how little most Americans — including children’s librarians are aware of how we are perceived outside our country. That others call wordless picture books silent books is fascinating. Why do we not use that term? Why do others not call them wordless? So much to learn
Speaking as a Canadian librarian, we share a lot with the US in terms of books, but there is virtually no interest in ALA awards in my area–I usually order the titles that win ALA awards, because I know they’re good books (albeit often very American ones), and sometimes they get read more than others, other times not. I have only once ever been asked for a Newbery book as such, and never for a Caldecott (although I’ve managed to convince a few people looking for award-winning picture books that a Caldecott was a pretty major award and should count), and none of my colleagues ever pay any attention to the YMAs. I do, but then I worked in the US for the first three years of my career, and continue to be part of ALA and ALSC.
Frankly, we have plenty of our own awards and only some of those generate any interest.
Thank you so much, Diane, for looking out for ALSC and our awards everywhere!