Monday, December 22, 2008

Newbery, Newbery

Greetings from the West Coast! I'm on vacation, so this is going to be somewhat brief.

I think many of you have already seen this article from the Washington Post with the headline "Plot Twist: The Newbery May Dampen Kid's Reading." The article basically asks if the winning books have recently been so "complicated and inaccessible" so as to turn kids off of reading. The article continued the debate that raged within the kidlit community after former Horn Book editor Anita Silvey posted a similar article in School Library Journal titled "Has the Newbery Lost Its Way?" back in October.

I can't say that I've agreed with every Newbery choice recently. And I can't say that it hasn't become a bit of a joke trying to predict which book is going to win. "It'll be a book we've never heard of," we say within publishing circles. Then again, I don't generally get to read enough published books during the course of the year to make an educated guess. But in a way, I think that's part of what makes the Newbery so valuable. It introduces to the world a worthy book that may not have received any recognition otherwise. And as an editor who loves quiet, literary books, books that may not have much commercial appeal, I'm thankful. Because I know there are kids out there who love those kinds of books, and I want to be able to continue publishing them.

I think the Newbery committee does an amazing job with such an incredibly difficult task. Say what you will about the winners, but I doubt that you'll ever be able to claim that a Newbery winner or honor book has been badly written. In fact, I'd wager that you'd have to say that all of the winners are finely-crafted works of art. Not without flaws, of course, but at the very least, well written. 

Not every child will like every book, and popular does not mean outstanding.

I took considerable offense at how these stats were used, put right in the second paragraph of the WSJ article:

Of the 25 winners and runners-up chosen from 2000 to 2005, four of the books deal with death, six with the absence of one or both parents and four with such mental challenges as autism. Most of the rest deal with tough social issues.

Umm, since when were "issue" books considered not child-friendly?

Maybe times have changed, and maybe readers like the child me don't exist now, but I doubt it. I loved issue books as a kid. I loved drama. I loved books that made me cry, I loved books that made me think, I loved those Newbery books.

So, what book do I think will win come January?

I have no idea. But I look forward to reading it.


Christine Tripp said...

Of the 25 winners and runners-up chosen from 2000 to 2005, four of the books deal with death, six with the absence of one or both parents

While I can't comment on the Physical or mental challenges the writer mentions, I can't remember a children's/teen's movie or book that DOESN'T have either death or absence of one or both parents. From our earlies days of Bambie's mother being shot, to Anne of Green Gables, there seems to always be a tragedy somewhere in our literature.

Anna Alter said...

I agree that is an odd choice of stats for evaluating children's literature, I can't think of many books that don't deal with an "issue" of some kind. Isn't that sort of the point?

Anonymous said...

The article was harsh, but was last year's choice really the the most outstanding children's book of the year? Maybe the process of choosing the winner needs to be rethought? It will be exciting to see what wins this year in any case!

Blue Rose Girls said...

Bravo, Alvina! I agree. There is too much dumbing-down already; the Newbery doesn't need to follow suit.

alvinaling said...

To anonymous--it's totally subjective as to whether last year's choice was really the best of the year, but in my mind, it was certainly worthy.