I’ve probably mentioned a time or three hundred that I love book awards. I have a little private goal to someday read all the Newbery books (I just counted, and I have read seven new ones this year, plus three rereads).
Alas, not everyone shares my love for the Newbery; Anita Silvey wrote a post that sparked off a heated debate across the children’s book world called “Has the Newbery Lost Its Way?” It’s an interesting article and full of reasonable points – in the end, it basically says the Newbery has stopped choosing books that will thrill children and turn them on to reading and instead are choosing odd and obscure books that turn kids off to reading. The commenters on this post seem to agree, saying that they never wanted to read a book picked by adults as supposedly “the best” (thanks, Teach5 for this link).
Other people are standing up for the Newbery, saying that the Newbery isn’t a popularity award – kids will read Captain Underpants whether or not it is awarded a medel – and that the Newbery helps books that might otherwise escape notice get the attention they deserve (this is also a great article, sent on to me by Definitely RA).
I certainly agree that some books boasting a Newbery gold seal aren’t really all that awesome. I myself found The Higher Power of Lucky to be completely underwhelming (snore city, frankly), but other Newbery books are absolutely phenomenal – The View from Saturday was one of my absolute favorites as a pre-teen, Number the Stars was one of the first chapter books I read on my own, Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry delighted me both as a child and as an adult. My mom read Hitty, Her First Hundred Years to my sisters and me many years ago and I loved it. Caddie Woodlawn has remained a favorite.
The Newbery is a tricky award. It’s supposed to go to the “most distinguished contribution to American literature for children.” Guess how they define children? As anyone between eight and fourteen. If you’ve been around any “children” for half a second, you know there is a huge huge gap between the reading abilities and interests of an eight and a fourteen year old. You absolutely cannot pick a book that will interest and be appropriate for all children in every one of those age categories. The Giver, for instance, is not really a book aimed at an eight year old. A fourteen year old may be more than a little underwhelmed by some of the other books on the list.
Also, with directions like “the most distinguished contribution” you could interpret that in any number of different ways. What IS the most distinguished contribution? Is it the best written book? The book with the best story? The book with the most timeless appeal? The book with the most releveant issues of the moment? Who knows? Of COURSE sometimes the book that wins causes a few people to raise an eyebrow!
Finally, when I read articles like Silvey’s and she says things like “with this century’s selections,” I’m inclined to roll my eyes a bit – “this century” is only eight years old and to dismiss an award that is 86 years old because of four books in a row that aren’t particularly popular or memorable seems foolish. The committee has picked uninspired books in the past (the most popular example cited by Newbery-naysayers is in 1952 when the award went to the pretty much universally forgotten The Secret of the Andes instead of the still-beloved Charlotte’s Web (having not read The Secret of the Andes, I can make no comment)) and its gone on to choose spectacular and worthy books since them.
I’m willing to put up with a few lackluster years, since I have faith that in the future the committee will go on to put that famous Newbery seal on more wonderful, fantastic, loveable books.
Am I the only one who has favorite books that also happen to boast a gold seal?