Roundtable: ALSC’s Children’s Graphic Novel Core Collection

In October, the Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC) released their first edition of the Children’s Graphic Novel Core Collection list, a list to be created annually by the Quicklists Consulting Committee.

They present the list as follows:

  • The intended audience for the list is librarians selecting for public libraries serving elementary school-age readers.
  • The list can be used to start or maintain such a collection.
  • For the purposes of the list, they’ve defined a graphic novels as “a full-length story told in paneled, sequential, graphic format.”
  • They decided NOT to include book-length collections of comic strips, wordless picture  books, or hybrid books.
  • Classics and new titles are included and both popularity and critical acclaim are considered.
  • The titles should be readily available.
  • The list will be updated annually to remove out of print titles and include new entries.

Check out the full list here.

Now, we librarians are always happy to see new resources that take into account the specific concerns of the profession, and I know I am pleased to see ALSC take on this task.  I have been asked many times over the years the best way to keep track of titles for younger readers, and while we’ve had the Great Graphic Novels for Teens Selection List from YALSA since 2007, there have been no parallel lists for either children or adults.  Happily, ALSC has now changed that for the  youngest readers.

Since the announcement of the list and the accompanying explanation, which includes a request for feedback, I invited the NFNT crowd to take a look and discuss.  What did we think of the list?  Will it be useful?  What works well?  What could be fixed?

Jennifer W.: There seems to be a lot of variety, which is nice. Some things that are definitely popular, and some I’ve never heard of…The annotations could have been better done. Some were clunky and there were *gasp* typos!

Jennifer H.: The list looks pretty inclusive. I was glad to see that new releases like Squish made the cut. Some of my favorites like Rapunzel’s Revenge and Boys of Steel are also on there which is great.

I am unsure though about having Coraline on the list. While I think it is great that they make graphic adaptions of novels, I just have a problem with them making it to a core list. To me a core list should be comprised of original formats or stories, not adaptions. I guess I wouldn’t put Boxcar Children on the list either, but that is just my opinion. A separate list of adaptions might be a better idea.

Jennifer W.: I was pretty unhappy with the Boxcar children graphic novels when they arrived, I thought they were advertising pamphlets! – they are extremely thin and really disappear on the shelf. I wish they had bound them into a larger volume.

Matt Morrison: Thank you, Jennifer.  I resisted getting the Boxcar Children GN for our collection forever because I was concerned about the quality and size but out Children’s Librarian finally wore me down into at least trying the first few.  So far they haven’t circulated much, though I’m not sure if it’s because of them being so thin that they are lost among the more flashy spines or because they are (in my opinion) rather lackluster.

Allen: I’ll be brave and admit that I’m not familiar with several titles on the list, but am happy to know that the library has most of these.

Emma: Maybe I’m just having a semantic issue (common for me) – I would have less problems with this list if it was called “best recommendations” or was changed to “core collection 2011″. Something that reflected the fact that this type of collection can change more rapidly than others. But it’s a fine list.

Sarah: I don’t know if anyone else had this same issue, but I noticed that the older the age group got, the more titles I knew.  I’ve at least heard of almost everything (just missed the one) on the Grades 6-8 list, and I’ve read most of them.  But the earlier ones, I didn’t know several titles.

Robin: Sarah, on your note — I did actually recognize almost all of the titles for all the different ages.  Then again, I’ve been working a lot in recent years with folks desperate for younger titles, so I think I might well be more aware than many folks.

I also noticed there are almost zero superhero titles on this list, as well as no Japanese manga.  Some of this is, I’m sure, due to the fact that there is less being published in either category for the youngest readers, but by the time you get to grades 6-8, I was a bit disappointed to see neither category represented.  My 6th-8th graders especially really do love manga (like Case Closed, Naruto, etc.) and the best of the teen superhero comics (Blue Beetle, Runaways, etc.)

They also include The 9/11 Report.  I don’t know about you guys, but I never had this book shelved in Children’s, and while I have it in teen and adult, it almost never gets checked out.  I think it’s important to have, but I’m not sure I’d recommend it for kids, even accomplished kids.  Does anyone out there have it in their kids collection?  Is it used?  I’d be curious to know!

Jennifer H.: I don’t have it in my collection because, well, I don’t really think of it as being a children’s book. There are 6 copies in our system, they are mostly shelved in adult 900s. Of those 6 copies they have only circulated a handful of times. Some none at all, and none recently.

Sarah: We have 16 copies in our system (of 25+ libraries and partner libraries), but they are 100% shelved in adult non-fiction.  They have decent circulation, but not a ton recently.  I think it’s a good one to have in the system, but I’m not sure about the children’s designation.

Jenny: We have three copies in our ten branches, all in adult 900s, each circulating maybe twice a year.

Snow: I’ve been racking my brain, but I cannot think of any reason why that would be considered a children’s title, even if they are thinking of “children” as being through age 13. The original 9/11 Report was not on the Notable Children’s Books list, so why would the adaptation (which was not an abridgement or rewriting, like as been done with titles such as Three Cups of Tea or Marley) be considered of interest to children?

Robin: With these conflicts between the presented limits of the list and the titles then included on the list, how would you suggest the ALSC committee proceed when they next update?

For example, the limit on wordless picture books made me pause partly because they were including wordless graphic novels (like Shaun Tan’s The Arrival, which could arguably be a picture book or a graphic novel to my mind.)  So, would you suggest keeping that distinction?  To me, wordless stories aren’t prevented from being graphic novels by being
wordless, so You Can’t Take a Balloon in the Museum of Fine Arts is a valid graphic novel because it presents its story through panels in sequence.  So does The Arrival.  So perhaps remove that restriction from the list?

In the case of the books about comics, I’d say simply let people know they’re not graphic novels, but books about comics that might well appeal to the same readers.  If you think of graphic novels as a format, however, I would argue that they shouldn’t be included unless they are in the graphic novel format.

Snow: I would say that’s where you have an addendum to the list that has stuff like hybrids or books about comics on it. But don’t say that you’re going to do one thing and then do something completely different.

Robin:  Also noted, in the definitions of what their list, they state, “We discovered that there are a lot of gray areas, so we decided that our list would not include book-length collections of comic strips, wordless picture books or hybrid books that are a mixture of traditional text and comics/graphics.”Then they proceeded to include wordless picture books including The Adventures of Polo, You Can’t Take A Balloon into the Museum of Fine Arts (both wordless picture books), Super Nugget Boy (a hybrid), and then two books which are not graphic novels at all: Art Panels, BAM! Speech Bubbles, POW! Writing Your Own Graphic Novel and Boys of Steel: The Creators of Superman (which only has a few pages of comics).

To me, this just indicates the trouble of definitions (which I can understand struggling with, having been the Chair of Great Graphic Novels for Teens and having to make judgment calls about what was eligible and what was not.)  I’m wondering if, as they update the list, they’ll need to be a bit stricter to make sure they’re meeting the definitions as they’ve set them out and to make sure the list represents what they would like it to represent.

Dear readers, what do you think of the list?  What would you like to see happen as its updated next year?

  • Jen B.

    I’m really enjoying the round table posts you all are doing – it’s great to see things dissected from multiple points of view. I’m a little confused though – when I clicked the link with the full list of titles I didn’t see several that you discussed here: Boys of Steel, Art Panels Bam!, Super Nugget Boy, and the 9/11 Report. Am I missing a section of the list (This is always possible.)? Did they update in response to your input really quickly? I was also suprised not to see at least Runaways on there representing superheros for the middle school crowd – is it possibly out of print? And no manga definitely seems odd. Or maybe they’re not considering serialized titles that have been compiled? But there are a couple of those – the Wonderful Wizard of Oz was realeased in single issues before being done as a trade – but that was always planned as a limited series telling one story. Maybe nothing that’s not a complete story on its own? Interesting thoughts! Thanks for sharing!

    • Robin B

      Just to clarify, Jen, from what I understand they did update the list in response to the fact that the books did not fit their stated criteria. I don’t mind that they made the change — in fact, kudos to them for reacting that fast — but I would have liked to have seen a note about the change somewhere, to be as transparent as possible about the way the list has come about, and the process of updating it.

  • Robin

    Thanks for commenting, Jen, and I’m glad you’re enjoying the roundtables.

    I just looked at the list again, and yes, it looks like they’ve updated the list already. That is good news, in the sense of being prompt, but I wish I’d seen an announcement or explanation of the change somewhere on the page itself. By questioning these choices, we didn’t expect them to immediately take titles on or off but instead perhaps discuss why they’d chosen these titles. Has anyone seen any commentary anywhere from ALSC folks about the changes?

    I know many librarians, especially those new to comics, have a bit more trouble figuring out how to recognize ongoing series, but I do think it’s plausible, and the majority of comics/graphic novel recommendation lists consider such series (if they don’t, they’ll lose the bulk of titles, to be honest!). I’m guessing it was more just a lack of familiarity with the titles?

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