For the first time in history, a title selected for the highest honor in children’s literature, the John Newbery Medal, may be stripped of the prize. This past weekend, a committee of concerned librarians convened in Chicago with a petition demanding the American Library Association revoke the medal given to Neil Gaiman’s THE GRAVEYARD BOOK at the recent midwinter conference. At issue is the book’s eligibility for the award.
“The terms for the Newbery Medal are crystal clear,” states Carol Barbour of the Topeka Public Library, who is leading the anti-GRAVEYARD effort. “In order for a book to be eligible, it must be an original work published during the preceding year. If a book -- or even a portion of a book -- has been previously published it is considered out of contention.”
Ms. Barbour is referring to the fourth chapter of THE GRAVEYARD BOOK, titled “The Witch’s Gravestone,” which was previously published in at least two 2007 anthologies, WIZARDS : MAGICAL TALES FROM THE MASTERS OF MODERN FANTASY (Berkley) and M IS FOR MAGIC (HarperCollins.)
“Carol Barbour has no case,” says an ALA member, speaking on condition of anonymity. “Before a book can be considered for the Newbery, it must be thoroughly vetted by the Association for Library Service to Children. I’m quite sure that THE GRAVEYARD BOOK was deemed completely eligible in every regard. I can’t believe that anyone is taking this sideshow seriously.”
But the American Library Association apparently is taking Barbour’s complaint very seriously, even holding a rare closed-door meeting with her committee this past Sunday afternoon.
“It was insane,” said one ALA member in attendance. “Carol started the meeting by dramatically ripping the gold foil sticker off her copy of THE GRAVEYARD BOOK, then said that every librarian in the nation would soon be following suit when the award is revoked.”
Referring to Sunday’s closed-door session as “productive,” Barbour said, “I certainly wouldn’t be pressing this issue if Gaiman’s book contained just a few previously-published paragraphs, or even a short chapter. But “The Witch’s Headstone” is -- hello? -- forty-five pages in length and takes up nearly fifteen percent of the novel! When it was published in the WIZARDS anthology it won a Locus Award as the year’s ‘best novelette.’ Readers may approach THE GRAVEYARD BOOK expecting the literary equivalent of a gourmet meal, but what they’re really getting is Gaiman’s leftovers.”
Some ALA members have referred to Ms. Barbour as a “children’s book gadfly” who has tried to nominate herself for the Newbery, Caldecott, and other award committees many times in the past but has never received enough votes to serve on these juries. Some recall her aborted attempt to revoke the 2007 Newbery winner, THE HIGHER POWER OF LUCKY, because of its “unwholesome language.” Last year she protested Brian Selznick’s THE INVENTION OF HUGO CABRET winning the Caldecott because she considered it “too heavy for wee hands to hold.” But this year she seems to have found some major-league support in her attempt to bring down THE GRAVEYARD BOOK. The picture on the left shows a triumphant Barbour (in blue, holding Gaiman's book) after last Sunday’s meeting, posing with Shirley Sach of Ball State University, who served on the Newbery Committee that selected THE HIGHER POWER OF LUCKY and Lotta Shoppe of the Van Pelt Public Library, who was a member of the jury that awarded KIRA-KIRA the prize in 2005.
The American Library Association has issued a press release stating that the Association for Library Service to Children is “seriously” considering Barbour’s petition. If it takes the unprecedented move of revoking Gaiman’s award, they must decide whether a new winner will be selected -- possibly chosen from one of this year’s four Honor Books -- or whether 2009 will just go down in the record books as the first and only year in which no official winner was named.
Upon learning that his book may be stripped of the Newbery, author Neil Gaiman twittered, “@$#&! I might lose the @$#&ING NEWBERY! THIS IS SO @$#&ING AWFUL!”
When told of Gaiman’s comments, Carol Barbour rolled her eyes and said, “Isn’t that almost word-for-vulgar-word what he said when he thought he won the award? Hello? Even his tweets are repeats.”
The American Library Association has said they will make a ruling in this case very soon -- possibly as early as today, April 1, 2009.