Baby Wants Another New Award: Poetry Time!
Demanding little thing, aren’t I? No sooner has the discussion of what an ALA accredited graphic novel award would entail than I launch into a new discussion. It is Friday, the time when bloggers like myself customarily participate in Poetry Friday (today Live. Love. Explore! has the round-up). What better time then to talk about the fact that there isn’t . . .
An ALA award for children’s poetry?
It doesn’t exist, you see. Yes, I was as shocked as you when I thought about it. Joyce Sidman fools us by having her illustrators win Caldecotts left and right, but that doesn’t mean that the poetry itself is winning. Pretty sneaky, Sids.
Lee Bennett Hopkins drew my attention to this gap in our awardin’ saying, “RE: Your plea for a new ALA Award. Are you aware that there never has been an ALA award for POETRY? Methinks that should happen before a Graphic Novel Award.” I don’t see why we can’t have both (though perhaps not a Graphic Novel Poetry Award, as such a book for kids does not yet exist).
Mr. Hopkins then let me know that for years the only approximate award out there was the NCTE Award for Excellence in Poetry for Children, established in 1977, which he chaired twice and won last year. He went on to say, “I was adamant there should be an award for poetry, thus I founded the Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award in 1993. After many years it is now given by Penn State University as part of PLA; it is an annual award with a cash prize of $1,000.00; the only award of its kind in the nation. More angry, in 1998, I founded the Lee Bennett Hopkins/IRA Poetry Award given every three years to a poet who has published no more than two volumes. The last, 2010, was Greg Neri, who you recently blogged about regarding his new graphic novel.”
So Mr. Hopkins has pretty much spearheaded as many poetry awards as he could. Yet that doesn’t mean that ALSC shouldn’t throw its hat into the ring as well. Isn’t it funny that we as a nation can have a Children’s Poet Laureate, but no award from our professional librarians celebrating works of poetry for kids? One wonders why. With my complaint about there being no graphic novel award, I understood that librarians have been fighting against comics in libraries for years and that the recent glut of quality gn fare is new. But librarians love poetry! It makes no sense that we’ve historically failed to honor it. Granted, there are good and bad years of poetry out there, but generally speaking there is no year so weak that it wouldn’t yield some wonderful stuff.
That brings us to the nitty gritty. What exactly would we be rewarding with this award? The best collection of original poems? Could a single poem stretched into a picture book count? Should there be different categories for picture books, middle grade readers, and young adults? Where do verse novels fit into all of this? Would they count or be stricken from the record? Could a book of poetry win if it collected individual poems that had been printed elsewhere, say in Cricket, and put them out in a book for the first time?
Perhaps a lifetime achievement award for writing poetry for kids, given in the same manner as the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award, is what is called for here. Nice. Precise. You can’t get it twice. Biannual? It would be a start.
I’m not an entirely impartial person to be discussing this. There’s always some tangential family connection at work. So just as I have a brother-in-law who inks with DC comics on occasion, so too does my mother write poetry. In fact, she appeared in the Best American Poetry 2009. Braggy brag brag.
There is much to chew on in this discussion. Perhaps someday the Children’s Poet Laureate will take on the mantle of this cause and we shall see change begin. Until then, feel free to read Robert Pinsky’s recent article on poetry for kids in Slate called Wild
Child: The Best Poems for Kids aren’t the Soft and Saccharine Ones.
For my part, I’m off to go write a graphic novel entirely in haiku, thereby assuring that it will win zero awards whatsoever.
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About Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.
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