The Eligibility Question!
Every year you have a few books that are borderline eligible or not… there may be confusion because of a writer’s residency or the book’s publication date or how much of the book is original content.
The ALSC website defines all the Newbery eligibility terms here: and I’ll put them on the bottom of this page for easy reference. The terms state that a book be awarded to a distinguished title published in the United States by an American author in the previous year.
Sometimes I feel like these terms and criteria can bring up more questions than answers. In times of confusion, the committee chair is encouraged to bring the titles at hand to their ALSC contact for further review..
What confuses me most, is that titles are only to be compared to other eligible titles. But if you aren’t sure if a title is eligible or not, how do you know if you can compare it to others? (Please answer this deep question for me Steven, thank you!)
For some reason there seems to be much more borderline books than usual this year. And today, let’s take a look!
Majorly questionable titles
The two titles this year that seem to be the biggest head scratchers are: YOU ARE HERE: CONNECTING FLIGHTS, Edited by Ellen Oh and NEARER MY FREEDOM: THE INTERESTING LIFE OF OLAUDAH EQUIANO BY HIMSELF.
For YOU ARE HERE, there is an issue of too many authors! It is written by twelve different people, who I believe all meet the residency requirements.
Steven dropped it from eligibility based on the updated manual and this reasoning , but we can still hold out hope that the committee will decide otherwise- “Anthologies and compilations of works by many authors are not eligible. Books of this nature
consist of multiple distinct elements and are generally not a unified whole. As such, they do not constitute a single work and are therefore ineligible.” (p 62) Based on that, we’ll remove YOU ARE HERE from our Heavy Medal discussion this year. But……..even based on the Manual’s guidance, you could make the argument that the stories in YOU ARE HERE actually do “constitute a single work,” since they fit together so neatly, sharing the same setting and often the same characters. The example cited in the Manual is FLYING LESSONS from 2017, also edited by Ellen Oh, but it’s a different kind of book. The stories in that one didn’t overlap the way the ones in YOU ARE HERE do. Still, the “compilations…are not eligible” from the Manual is pretty direct, so we’ll drop YOU ARE HERE from our Mock Newbery. “
Going off of that reasoning, I believe GROUNDED would also be ineligible… however it only has four authors so is it really a compilation?
NEARER MY FREEDOM is where the question of original work comes in. I mean, the title even says THE INTERESTING LIFE OF OLAUDAH EQUIANO BY HIMSELF. However there is a significant amount of new text by Monica Edinger and Lesly Younge. Is it enough to be an original work? I think I’d vote no, but… maybe the committee will decide otherwise.
Other titles deemed ineligible this year weren’t quite as complicated. Take THE PROBABiLITY OF EVERYTHING for example by Sarah Everett. Everett is clearly Canadian which excludes her. It’s a bummer we can’t compare this book to everything else this year! We’ve had a few books like BLOOD BROTHERs suggested that were published in 2022 which is also an easy ineligible. Then there’s the picture book REMEMBER by Joy Harjo which is a beautiful poem, but the text is the same as published in 1981.
Are there any other titles this year that have you questioning eligibility? Let us know in the comments!
1. The Medal shall be awarded annually to the author of the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children published by an American publisher in the United States in English during the preceding year. There are no limitations as to the character of the book considered except that it be original work. Honor books may be named. These shall be books that are also truly distinguished.
2. The Award is restricted to authors who are citizens or residents of the United States.
3. The committee in its deliberations is to consider only the books eligible for the award, as specified in the terms.
6. “In English” means that the committee considers only books written and published in English. This requirement DOES NOT limit the use of words or phrases in another language where appropriate in context.
1. “Contribution to American literature” indicates the text of a book. It also implies that the committee shall consider all forms of writing—fiction, non-fiction, and poetry. Reprints, compilations and abridgements are not eligible.
2. A “contribution to American literature for children” shall be a book for which children are an intended potential audience. The book displays respect for children’s understandings, abilities, and appreciations. Children are defined as persons of ages up to and including fourteen, and books for this entire age range are to be considered.
3. “Distinguished” is defined as:
• Marked by eminence and distinction; noted for significant achievement.
• Marked by excellence in quality.
• Marked by conspicuous excellence or eminence.
• Individually distinct.
4. “Author” may include co-authors. The author(s) may be awarded the medal posthumously.
5. The term “original work” may have several meanings. For purposes of these awards,
it is defined as follows:
• “Original work” means that the text was created by this writer and no one else. It may include original retellings of traditional literature, provided the words are the author’s own.
• Further, “original work” means that the text is presented here for the first time and has not been previously published elsewhere in this or any other form. Text reprinted or compiled from other sources are not eligible. Abridgements are not eligible.
7. “American literature published in the United States” means that books first published in previous years in other countries are not eligible. Books published simultaneously in the U.S. and another country may be eligible. Books published in a U.S. territory, or U.S. commonwealth are eligible.
8. “Published…in the preceding year” means that the book has a publication date in that year, was available for purchase in that year, and has a copyright date no later than that year. A book might have a copyright date prior to the year under consideration but, for various reasons, was not published until the year under consideration. If a book is published prior to its year of copyright as stated in the book, it shall be considered in its year of copyright as stated in the book. The intent of the definition is that every book be eligible for consideration, but that no book be considered in more than one year.
9. “Resident” specifies that the author has established and maintains a residence in the United States, U.S. territory, or U.S. commonwealth as distinct from being a casual or occasional visitor.
10. The term, “only the books eligible for the award,” specifies that the committee is not to consider the entire body of the work by an author or whether the author has previously won the award. The committee’s decision is to be made following deliberation about the books of the specified calendar year.
Filed under: Book Discussion
About Emily Mroczek-Bayci
Emily Mroczek (Bayci) is a freelance children’s librarian in the Chicago suburbs. She served on the 2019 Newbery committee. You can reach her at email@example.com.
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