Episode 13: The Caldecott

  • I wasn't gonna go here but then I thought--what the heck? This is a place for discussion, and they kinda started it in the podcast.

    I know their "Things to do/be to win the Caldecott" list was made in jest (particularly the "be Jon Klassen" joke 😉 ) but one thing didn't make their list that bears pointing out.

    One thing that could legitimately have made the list would be, "Be male".

    The numbers don’t lie: Since inception, the committee has bestowed 81 medals and 261 honor books. Based on the results, the odds seem ever in a man’s favor:

    THE WINNERS by percentage.

    54 Medals for men (67%)
    21 medals for women (26%)
    6 medals for illustrator pairs (often husband and wife) (7%)

    source: https://christinetaylorbutler.wordpress.com/2018/03/01/gender-inequity-caldecott-by-the-numbers/

    Ouch. And if anyone has been to a SCBWI conference or looked at a list of editors or agents or librarians recently, it was probably quite obvious to you that this is an industry dominated by WOMEN. Which means that this is NOT a case of men choosing to give awards to each other and ignoring women. Women are a huge part of this.

    Anyway, I don't want to start a huge argument or anything, but it felt relevant to the topic and I didn't want this angle to be ignored.

  • @sarahluann This is a super valid point and one that should be discussed either on the podcast or as you have done in the forum follow up.

    But the question remains -- why?

    As you point out the children's lit field is dominated by women. I've seen the article you linked many times in various kid lit forums over the last (I want to say) year or so. Many have lamented the information it contained but I haven't really seen any discussion about the why or what to do about it.

    Perhaps the article has already done it's job and by simply pointing out an unconscious bias the ALA and Caldecott committees will be more conscious about both gender and ethnic diversity in the future?

  • @davidhohn @SarahLuAnn
    What do we make of 48 women Nobel Prize winners compared to ca 950 men? We´re talking about the greatest achiements, on a global scale, in all fields deemed of notice (science, literature, medicine, etc...).

    There are way more factors at play than tight networks or blunt discrimination in these numbers - that oversimplifies the history of human society, the legacy of a still very recent past in terms of gender roles and social structures and aspects of gender psychology.
    I’d say, let´s just win that Caldecott (for those talented female illustrators that live in the USA) and make the numbers read better in 50 years from now :-))

  • SVS OG

    This post is deleted!

  • I've seen it mentioned on these boards before that there is a focus here on the Caldecott -- but the SVS membership is more than just citizens of the United States, and more than just picture book illustrators. So with that in mind I'd like to create a list of all the other major illustration awards (the life changers as @Will-Terry described them)

    As I am another US citizen this is a bit of a blind spot for me so I hope you all will assist me in filling this out:

    Biennial of Illustration Bratislava (Europe)
    An award for picture book illustration

    Hans Christian Anderson Award (International)
    An award for picture book illustration

    Society of Illustrators Gold Medal (International)
    Various awards given in different illustration niches

    Marilyn Baillie Picture Book Award (Canada)
    Winner receives $20,000

    Kate Greenaway Medal (Great Britain)
    British literary award for "distinguished illustration in a book for children"

  • @smceccarelli I am genuinely curious, and as a college instructor of picture book illustrators (who are overwhelmingly women) I'd like to be able to better explain what is happening. So if you can further explain or point me in direction of appropriate research into what kind of factors are at play I'd appreciate it.

  • Pro

    There's a lot of research an studies that have been done that have found a bias in how people review men and women's work. Even if it's supposed to be objective, when the gender of the person is known it is found that both men and women will judge women more severely than men. When the gender is unknown, they will sing the praise of women's work... More troubling still, when judges are aware of this bias they tend to judge women even more harshly, perhaps out of fear of favoring women (which is to me the most astonishing thing about this, considering no one's ever been fearful of favoring men, ever!). This whole thing is subconscious and affects both men and women, so I feel like it's showing the effects of small casual sexism in our society that doesn't seem like a big deal but gets added up and gets internalized in all of us. It's a tricky and insidious thing to fight. As @smceccarelli has said, I don't feel like changing society is my fight - I just have to work harder and make better art, so one day no one can deny its value!

  • @nessillustration Ugh. So disheartening!

  • Pro

    @eli It is a little bit, especially when considering that children illustration is already such a difficult field, there's already a million things we have to think about and develop (skill, style, network, marketing, portfolio, social media, etc etc) and to think that to top it all off, there's this bias against us. It can be disheartening to think about, but we can choose to think of it as "Well there's nothing much we can do about that, so let's just forget about that and focus on what we CAN work on" 🙂

  • @nessillustration Yes, absolutely! It is really troubling to learn the extent that women judge other women harshly, subconscious or not. At least being armed with that knowledge, maybe we can examine our reactions for this bias. Also, support the endeavors of other women, in the arts and elsewhere.

  • @nessillustration Time ago in auditions for orchestras, women were rejected systematically because the judges believed that women didn't have the sensibility to play an instrument at is best. They have to start making blind auditions were the solicitant was playing behind a curtain and everything changed.

  • Pro

    @zombie-rhythm I didn't know about that! I'm not surprised, though. It was like this in every industry! In animation, women did the inking and painting the cells, but they were considered not creative enough for the design or animation work. It's a massive step forward that now we're not rejected on sight, but the subtle bias now that women are judged more strictly than men is still a thing and it's even harder to fight in a way because it's insidious, internalized. These judges aren't bad people and they don't go in thinking "I'll ruin the chances of any woman that applies to this contest." It's subconscious. How do you change that?

  • @rcartwright Are you aware of the Marilyn Baillie Picture Book Award? Winner receives $20,000.


    And given the discussion of gender bias elsewhere in this thread, as I look further into that award, from 2006 - 2017 it has been awarded to women illustrators 8 out of the 11 years.
    (Oh Canada, how is it are you so much better than the rest of the world?)

  • This discussion has made me curious about gender bias in children's literature. I've spent a bit more time investigating other awards and not simply focusing on the Caldecott.

    If you look at the Newberry award winners from 2001 - 2015 it was awarded to women writers 10 times, and male writers 5 times.


    If you look at the SCBWI Golden Kite award for picture book illustration 1996 - 2016 it was awarded to male illustrators 10 times and female illustrators 12 times (math doesn't quite add up because I recorded one year when husband and wife Dennis Nolan and Lauren Mills won for co-illustrating)


    I write this mostly to add additional data points to the discussion about gender bias. I'd be interested to hear what others think of this data.

  • Pro

    @davidhohn Interesting... It suggests the Caldecott specifically shows this bias, whereas other awards don't! I wonder why that is!

  • @davidhohn I cannot say I have thoroughly investigated the matter but it is certainly a topic I've been involved with extensively when I was in science. In my department there were 6 women vs 81 men and there was a constant push to shift the ratio.
    Which was really difficult, because I was also involved in recruiting and we had the same ratio in job applicants (about 5-7 men for every woman who applied for a researcher role). Why was that? There is a majority of women in biology studies (about 80%) and about 50:50 in chemistry. Were did all these graduates go? Well, that was easy to know: when you exit graduate studies at 28 (which is the rather standard age for advanced science careers), your first thought is having a family, not starting a career in research. And after that, the train has normally left: if you're out of science for more than two years, you're out (I, for one, could never go back). I started my family at 34, when my career was established - but that came at a huge cost, and I'm not surprised that not many choose that path.

    The tension between family care and job/achievements runs deeply throughout history: many of the women who accomplished great deeds in different fields never had children. To me, this is the biggest elephant in the room whenever we talk about gender parity.

    There are some books that point to other deeper factors beyond discrimination.
    "Listening to Prozac" by Peter D. Kramer, points to the fact that until about 100 years ago, the ideal of woman was that of a shy, homely person, content of staying at home and certainly never seeking recognition. It is only since the end of second World War that women have taken a more prominent role and are encouraged to seek "fame and success" outside of the home...that's not a long time to revert a couple of millennia of engrained gender roles.
    "Sapiens" by Yuval Noah Harari points to the fact that more than 99% of human societies throughout history have been patriarchal. He doesn't give an explanation of why that should be, but it is a pretty striking homogeneity.

    There is also pretty substantial research about fundamental differences in the way men and women perceive the world. One aspect that I believe is relevant to illustration is that men have a much stronger perception of the 3D space (this is not discrimination: it's neural science at it has been demonstrated beyond doubt. It's probably a result of hunting behaviors). Drawing volumes definitely didn't come naturally to me! I do believe that women have to work twice as hard to get solid construction in their drawing than men do - but this is only my opinion, I don't have anything solid to support that with relation to illustration .

    By all means, I think women and men should be handled equally in all respects and we should aspire to a proportional representation in all prestige positions and awards. But I don't believe that the juries of these awards willingly favor men, as I know that when we hired researchers we did not favor men: quite the contrary!

  • Lots of great facts and thoughts here... exactly the kind if discussion I was hoping would emerge. There is always the fear when bringing up certain topics on the internet that people will start calling names and taking things out of context, etc. but I was pretty sure we could keep it civil here on the forums... I’m glad I was right 😊

    And yes, I am acutely aware of how having children effects ones career... I produce work at a snails pace because the majority of my time is occupied with two very small children. (I DO produce work though... that’s something, right??)

    I hear milenniels are more interested in equal share of work both in the home and supporting the family financially—that would certainly be the ideal for my husband and I, but we aren’t there yet. Over time more businesses may accommodate that kind of work but most don’t yet. 😕 So really, it may just be a matter of time.

  • SVS OG

    In my management consulting work with non-profits here in Canada, there has been research that shows the majority of front-line workers and middle management are women especially in the 'caring professions' - nursing social work, counselors, etc. (80/90% F ) But as soon as you hit the most senior level management positions and/or more 'prestigious' organizations, there is a complete shift in gender profile - Almost 90% male executives and of course the difference in pay scale is cray cray.
    I have seen this play out in so many organizations - even with the most open minded inclusive recruiting policies on the books There is a definitely societal bias supporting the belief that men will perform better at an elite level.
    I wonder if that might be one of the dynamics at play in the Caldecott, Nobel etc. - the more prestigious the award is perceived, the more bias towards awarding it to men. Of course, the path is tough enough without these unspoken barriers and no doubt many women might decide it ain't worth the aggro.
    Great discussion!

  • @missmushy I don’t know if that relates to your point or not, but when I was at the top of my scientific career, I turned down two offers for senior leadership positions. The kind of job commitment and work hours connected to that kind of position would have meant that I would see my family even less than I already did (which was already little enough). I cannot exclude that one of the reasons I left science was to get out of that kind of pressure and expectations and give my children more of my time.
    We have a 50/50 split in childcare and all home duties with my wonderful husband: it´s not a logistic problem. I just believe that women in general feel the pull of spending time with their children much more than men do....
    My experience always makes me wonder whether the lack of women in leadership position is because there is a bias or simply because they don’t want to go there...

    As for the Caldecott, I really don’t know what the dynamic at work is here. One would assume that, given the large number of women in children publishing, they would receive a proportional or at least equal share of submissions (this would have to be investigated: maybe it´s the publishers who have a bias). Are there more children books by men or by women out there? Looking at my shelf it looks like there are way more men, especially author/illustrators (which comes as a surprise to me, I didn’t expect that!). But maybe that´s my taste. Or maybe books illustrated by men are overall more successful. Does anybody have data about that?

  • @nessillustration You don't try to change it. You use it to make yourselves stronger, then you bright so powerful than you change things everywhere around you without trying 😃

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