SCBWI's Blueboard - A Message & Chat Board

Registered Members => Book Talk => Topic started by: dave r on October 12, 2008, 03:39 PM

Title: Has the Newbery lost its way?
Post by: dave r on October 12, 2008, 03:39 PM
I've started this thread because this issue was brought up under the "Early Newbery" thread, and Sarah thought it might be a good topic for a new thread.

Here'e the link to Silvey's article that started the whole discussion. 

http://www.schoollibraryjournal.com/index.asp?layout=talkBackCommentsFull&articleid=CA6600688&talk_back_header_id=6558883

So, what do you think?  Do you see these trends?

What are you experiencing?

keep reading and writing,
dave r
Title: Re: Has the Newbery lost its way?
Post by: Sarah Miller on October 12, 2008, 03:49 PM
Love this topic!


Here's what I had to say in response to Silvey's article:

My personal experience as a former independent bookseller reinforces some of Ms. Silvey's observations: At our shop, Newbery season coincided with returns season, often with amusing results. Every January we examined our entire inventory and weeded out books that hadn't sold at least one copy in the last 6-12 months. In the last four years, we had to 'rescue' Newbery gold-medal winners from the returns pile twice. Both times, we'd joked and placed bets about those very books being chosen for the award even as we pulled them from the shelf. Another year, the winner was a title we'd never carried, and had no requests for prior to its winning the Newbery. You could argue that these books were hidden gems waiting to be discovered, but sadly you'd be wrong. Media specialists and librarians came flocking as usual to buy their obligatory copies, but the feedback after a few months was discouraging; the books only languished on library shelves, and the handful of reader responses were poor. Which means that in one small shop, 3/4 of the last four consecutive Newbery gold medal winners sold primarily on the strength of that gold sticker and ultimately disappointed their buyers. Regardless of WHY that happened, I think we can all agree it's unfortunate and distressing.


Also, this rebuttal by Nina Lindsay had some interesting things to say: The Newbery Remembers its Way, or “Gee, thanks, Mr. Sachar” (http://www.schoollibraryjournal.com/blog/560000656/post/1810034181.html)

And of course I couldn't resist commenting there, either....

To my way of thinking, there's a significant difference between popularity and appeal. Popularity is about numbers; appeal is about accessibility and relevance to the intended audience. The Newbery criteria do in fact appear to address issues of accessibility: "The book displays respect for children's understandings, abilities, and appreciations." Likely, the dissatisfaction with some of the recent winners stems from a perception that this criterion is getting short shrift. Whether or not that perception is accurate is another matter, but the fact remains that the perception exists in a significant number of readers. And if it's not accurate, how did it get rooted in so many people's minds? Because I can tell you as a former independent bookseller that right or wrong, the majority of Silvey's anonymous informants' comments and opinions are dead-on with my experience of kids', teachers', librarians', and parents' reactions to many of this decade's winners.
Title: Re: Has the Newbery lost its way?
Post by: ShannonH on October 12, 2008, 05:43 PM
A Dutton editor actually discussed this topic at an SCBWI NJ mentoring session that I attended. Her take was "yes," that the committee was more interested in what children should be reading than what children would actually enjoy reading.

Her comments reminded me of the Oscars. Many times I don't enjoy the movies that win, but I guess there's merit in there somewhere!



Title: Re: Has the Newbery lost its way?
Post by: Sarah Miller on October 12, 2008, 08:00 PM
I wanted to add:
IMO, 99% of Newbery gold medal winners are examples of finely crafted writing. Whether or not that always translates into a story that appeals broadly to children is certainly up for debate, however.

I have mixed feelings about that phenomenon. As an author, I'm pleased to see craftsmanship rewarded. As a bookseller, it was frustrating and disconcerting to find myself actually steering some customers away from recent Newbery winners. (Grandmothers who believe those shiny gold stickers are a fail-safe choice for reluctant readers, for example... :hairpull)
Title: Re: Has the Newbery lost its way?
Post by: Harrietthespy on October 12, 2008, 09:54 PM

IMO, 99% of Newbery gold medal winners are examples of finely crafted writing. Whether or not that always translates into a story that appeals broadly to children is certainly up for debate, however.


Great discussion topic, Dave R and Sarah.  I sit in on the mock committees.  On several occasions I asked about books that were going on to win awards but didn't seem appealing to children. That's EXACTLY the feedback I got.  That more often than not - the committees look only at literary merit.  I got the same answer on a literary listserv.  But those same people in both groups admitted that is not always the same as what a child wants to read or will read if it is shoved in their hands.

It is interesting that librarians across the country will share lists of potential contenders, only to see a book make the awards list that isn't on anyone's radar.  I was also at a conference a few years back attended mostly by teachers and librarians.  I watched - with amusement - as authors (exhausted from all-day booksignings) were then dragged from place to place to "meet" with influential people who sat on awards committees.  One exhausted (well-known) author found out I was also an author (I was attending incognito to hang out with a friend who was presenting at the conference) and tried to pin his red "author" badge on me so he could fade into the woodwork.  :yup  That's when I realized that there is a part of publishing that is all "meat market."

So the question begs - if the committees get a mix of books targeted by the publisher and that is combined with books they discover on their own, how much of that factors into which books are considered and which aren't when there are so many released?  Buzz?  Word of mouth among colleagues?  Influence of advertising and media sent in advance.  Authors whose ARC's are sent versus those who don't get them at all?  Etc.?

And given the committee changes from year to year - does subjective taste enter into it?  I.e. today's Newbery might not be one if it were being considered by a previous or future committee?

There are some books that are Newbery winners that I've loved, but thought - this is not a kid book.  It's an adult book with a kid protagonist.  Which now colors my view of the world from that perspective. 

That's why I like state awards as a supplement. For instance school kids vote on the books they like for the Mark Twain awards in Missouri.  More focused on the target audience and maybe a better indicator of what kids are reading voluntarily.
Title: Re: Has the Newbery lost its way?
Post by: whbeck on October 13, 2008, 03:06 AM
School librarian weighing in here....The librarians in my district have been zinging some emails back and forth about this article. Here's part of what I piped in to say:

The part of the article that struck me was, “'Recent Newbery committees seem dismissive of popularity, a quality which should be an asset,' said one reviewer.”

To me, a book that has appeal to kids and makes them want to read it is an essential component of “distinguished literature for children.” Sometimes it does seems like the committee gets so caught up in the part of the criteria that talks about theme, concept, distinction, and style that the section that mentions the “excellence of presentation for a child audience” is overlooked. Just because something is packaged as a children’s book doesn’t mean that it “works” for children. Something that is beautifully written with Deep Important Themes but that doesn’t appeal to the audience it’s written for is missing a crucial piece of the criteria.
Title: Re: Has the Newbery lost its way?
Post by: 1846 on October 13, 2008, 04:34 AM
I'm going to ring in as a defender of the status quo.

It's easy to criticize the result of a committee without being a privy to the way a decision was made.  It's easy to say that a decision was made for political or other reasons.  It's easy to minimalize the work that went into selecting a winner when that work was not your own.  I have been guilty of criticizing certain winners because that book didn't satisfy my particular taste.  And, of course, I'm not a kid.

To me, any discussion that criticizes Newbery selections ought to begin with "I think Book A should have won because it fits the criteria for the award better than Book B."  The article in question does that in one instance, though in leveling heavy criticism at the four most recent winners, this specific argument is saved for the winner of 1953.  Wnenever someone writes an article criticizing the Newberys, Charlotte's Web seems to be the poster child for "books that should have won."  You won't find a more staunch champion for Charlotte's Web than me, but Secret of the Andes is a fabulous book, lyrical, mystical and sophisticated.  The author seems to think that by reminding us that one of the most universally loved children's books in history lost to a book that few people have ever even heard of let alone read has played the trump card in making her point. And how many people who haven't read Secret of the Andes are going to go out and get it to make the comparison?

It's difficult to judge whether or not a particular winner will be successful with children when many or most of the potential winners have been on the market for such a short time.  Charlotte's Web has had fifty-six years of success.  I can state my own personal opinion that Rules should have won the Newbery in 2007 rather than The Higher Power of Lucky, but my own taste is not a sufficient argument to invalidate the work of that year's committee.  I simply didn't like that book as well, though the committee, looking at it with different eyes with closer consideration for the award's criteria, made a different selection.

Our kids are bombarded with television, video games, hundreds of activity choices; many of them worry about what their next meal will be or when Mom and Dad's next argument will begin.  We live in a culture of instant gratification that openly mocks cultural sophistication, so naturally even good readers will shy away from books with high levels of literary sophistication.  Typically, books that are eligible for the Newbery are not the kind of book that can be absorbed with one independent read by a child.  These are books that ought to be taught.  We don't, as a rule, expect high school students to read Shakespeare on their own.  We put his works in class with a teacher who hopefully knows what to do with it, and we teach it.  To fully appreciate the quality of many Newbery winners, the same approach would be more valid than simply handing a child a book with a gold sticker and saying, "Here's this year's winner.  Enjoy."  And of course, I've never seen a Newbery winner yet that was accompanied by a teacher's guide, because the book is new.  Most readers haven't read the winner before the award is given, and so even the adults who read children's books may be looking at the winner for the first time.  We're not looking at books that have stood the test of time and have proven their ability to win the love of their readers.  We're looking at fresh, new material.  It's impossible to predict how those books will be loved over time.

One last point.  I was born in 1952, the same year Charlotte's Web was published.  Also in 1952, a play by Agatha Christy called The Mousetrap opened in London.  It's been playing there ever since.  Does the fact that this play has been running continuously in London for fifty-six years - the longest running play in the history of the world - make it a great work of literature?  No.  It means it's popular, and it means it's enjoyable.  There's nothing wrong with popularity.  We should all, including children, feel free to read enjoyable literature without guilt.  But's not a measure of greatness or of quality.

So I do applaud the work of the Newbery committees, I faithfully buy and read each new winner, if the book isn't already on my shelf.  And while I don't always agree with the choice, I do try to read with an eye for why the book was chosen.

And if you get a chance, read Secret of the Andes.  it's a beautiful story. 
Title: Re: Has the Newbery lost its way?
Post by: Jaina on October 13, 2008, 05:07 AM
Just FYI, I went in and changed the subject line from "lost it's way" to "lost its way," just because it was driving me a little crazy. 

It shows up as me "editing" your posts at the bottom of each post.  Sorry about that.  I promise, all I changed was the subject line.
Title: Re: Has the Newbery lost its way?
Post by: Barbara Eveleth on October 13, 2008, 05:11 AM
So much for the punctuation vacation (wink wink).

Fascinating thread, guys!! Good stuff!

I am going to weigh in with pbs and kids and librarians when I get a free moment or maybe I'll start a similar thread just for that.
Title: Re: Has the Newbery lost its way?
Post by: Natalie on October 13, 2008, 05:33 AM
- this is not a kid book.  It's an adult book with a kid protagonist. 

Amen. The winners are beautifully written--there's no doubt about that...


The Newbery criteria do in fact appear to address issues of accessibility: "The book displays respect for children's understandings, abilities, and appreciations."

...but do kids appreciate them? From what I'm hearing--not so much. And this is supported by what I've seen in my (upper elementary) classrooms over the years.


Typically, books that are eligible for the Newbery are not the kind of book that can be absorbed with one independent read by a child.  These are books that ought to be taught. 

True, especially considering the number of students who read below grade level nowadays. Interesting to note that according to the Accelerated Reader site (http://www.arbookfind.com/default.aspx), HIGHER POWER OF LUCKY is almost on a sixth grade level. This means that this book is simply not accessible to the vast majority of kids in the age group for whom the book was written, unless a teacher (or another adult) teaches it.  Other past winners are lower (KIRA KIRA and HOLES are upper 4th grade) and RULES, which most would agree has oodles of kid-appeal, is at an upper 3rd grade level.

We don't, as a rule, expect high school students to read Shakespeare on their own.  We put his works in class with a teacher who hopefully knows what to do with it, and we teach it. 

This is true, but Shakespeare and most other works of literature that are taught in high school were written for adults. Many of the books I studied in high school are books that I didn't appreciate at the time--only when I went back and read them as adults. Perhaps there could be another award for books that should be on the elementary "to be taught" list, but is the Newbery such an award? I do agree wtih you, 1846, that children need to be exposed to books that are just beyond their independent reading levels if they are to grow as readers. But should those titles be on a different list?

To fully appreciate the quality of many Newbery winners, the same approach would be more valid than simply handing a child a book with a gold sticker and saying, "Here's this year's winner.  Enjoy."  And of course, I've never seen a Newbery winner yet that was accompanied by a teacher's guide, because the book is new. 

Good point--there's no reason why these books shouldn't have teacher's guides. A good teacher's guide can be written in a month or less, and the powers-that-be in the publishing world should get those guides out there as soon as the list is announced.

We're not looking at books that have stood the test of time and have proven their ability to win the love of their readers.  We're looking at fresh, new material.  It's impossible to predict how those books will be loved over time.

But the article points out that this has been a trend over at least the last four years--some of those books are no longer fresh, new material.

This is a great discussion, and thank you 1846 for your different point of view. I just thought I'd play devil's advocate to your defender of the status quo. ;)

Natalie
Title: Re: Has the Newbery lost its way?
Post by: Harrietthespy on October 13, 2008, 06:03 AM
!846,

I appreciate your point of view. But a lot of the people I'm working with and a lot of those who sit on Mock committees HAVE been judges.  So many of us are not speculating about the methodology used to vote or how books seem to be entered for consideration that aren't on any other radars (including many librarians not on the committee).  A friend was featured several years ago surrounded by the thousands (yes thousands) of books submitted by the publishers.

The argument still stands.  What is the point of calling something distinguished literature for children if the only people who read them are adults? 

Which is why I think the state awards are often more indicative of quality from the perspective of a the target audience.

There are some kid-centered books that fit the bill.  My kids, for instance, enjoyed Bud not Buddy and Maniac Magee.  I don't expect them to love them all.  But some books do seem to fall outside the range and I think Sarah's response as a former bookseller was appropriate.  Even after a book makes the list - how many of them sit on the shelf gathering dust?

On the other hand - I will also agree that sometimes a good book gets lost in the pile and the awards can breathe new life into it.  It's a delicate balancing act.  But fair game for discussion.

As for politics - I sat through a lively conversation about the Coretta Scott King awards and books/authors that are "redlined" there.  That's an topic for another day.
Title: Re: Has the Newbery lost its way?
Post by: lurban on October 13, 2008, 07:14 AM
As for politics - I sat through a lively conversation about the Coretta Scott King awards and books/authors that are "redlined" there.  That's an topic for another day.

Would you start that topic?  I sure would like to hear about it.
Title: Re: Has the Newbery lost its way?
Post by: Sarah Miller on October 13, 2008, 07:53 AM
The more I look over the list of Newbery gold-medal winners (http://lib.mansfield.edu/newbery.cfm), the more I think Silvey's premise is incorrect -- there is no trend. Each decade has two or three much-beloved books that resonate deeply with children for some years to come before fading into the past. The rest are examples of finely crafted writing that may or may not appeal to a broad audience of kids. This has been the pattern all along.

IMO, we can perhaps 'blame' the public sentiment of frustration and disappointment with recent Newberys on the winners of the 1990's. That was an unusual decade for kid-friendly winners. I'll bet a lot of current teachers and librarians grew up or started their careers during that decade, which yielded winners like Holes, The Giver, Maniac Magee, Shiloh, and Number the Stars. Five lasting humdingers in a decade is unheard of. It was something of a rebel decade, but even the 1990's has what you might call its duds -- I worship The View from Saturday, but in six years NEVER sold one single copy to a kid. Ditto The Midwife's Apprentice and Walk Two Moons.

Skip down the list to the 1980's and 1970's to see what I mean. Dicey's Song and Jacob Have I Loved (which I think is painfully good) barely have a chance with today's readers. The Westing Game is almost universally detested by kids in my area who read it for school. I can pick out about a dozen Newbery winners prior to 1990 that still sell quite reliably to teachers, but hardly a one that's popular with kids browsing the bookstore shelves for themselves. They may become fans after reading a Newbery winner in school, but they aren't naturally drawn to them at the library or the bookstore.

If you want to talk about silver medal winners, though, that's a whole 'nother discussion. IMO, the golds and the silvers are almost two different species. The golds seem to represent the height of literary achievement in craft, theme, or form. The silvers are where you're more likely to find excellence in the whole package -- plot, character, theme, pacing, craft, AND appeal. In the case of the silvers, the whole is generally more than the sum of its parts. The silvers are where you find the books and authors with real staying power, like Laura Ingalls Wilder, Gary Paulsen, Avi, Ramona Quimby, Frog and Toad, My Father's Dragon, Because of Winn-Dixie, and the oft quoted Charlotte's Web.
Title: Re: Has the Newbery lost its way?
Post by: olmue on October 13, 2008, 07:59 AM
Well, I think these days I watch the list for the silvers...some of my favorites (and my kids' favorites) come from this list!
Title: Re: Has the Newbery lost its way?
Post by: AnnH on October 13, 2008, 08:05 AM
My kids have told me that Newbery books are mostly those boring books that adults think we should read.  They've liked one or two of the Newberys but for the most part have seen the fact that a book won an award as a warning.

My daughter once said that she and other kids would "recoil in horror"  :ahh whenever a teacher or librarian approached them with a book "with a medal on it" because 95% of the time "those books were boring."

Title: Re: Has the Newbery lost its way?
Post by: andracill on October 13, 2008, 08:16 AM
When I was teaching, I directed my students' 'free' reading by giving them categories.  Every time they finished a book from one category, they had to choose another from a different one until they completed all nine categories -- then they could truly 'free' read.  One of the categories was "Newbery winners", and almost all of them chose that first (to get it over with) ;)

For me, I read a number of winners (or nominees) as a child and loved them (A WRINKLE IN TIME, THE WESTING GAME-- which was one of my very favorite books, btw, JACOB HAVE I LOVED, MIXED-UP FILES OF MRS. BEF).  But I did see my students pretty much not liking the majority of the Newbery books. 

I think the award, to me, has long meant well-crafted children's books that won't necessarily be a fun read ;).  I haven't read any of the recent winners (but some of the runners-up have been wonderful).  Interesting thoughts in this thread!
Title: Re: Has the Newbery lost its way?
Post by: Jaina on October 13, 2008, 08:48 AM
Those of you with children/students/library patrons who recoil in horror when they see a medal on the cover of a book--I would LOVE to know what middle grade novels those same children grab and devour.  Would anyone like to share?
Title: Re: Has the Newbery lost its way?
Post by: ShirleyH on October 13, 2008, 08:57 AM
My kids--the two oldest--have pretty much liked the Newbery books.  My oldest son fell in love with Secret of the Andes when he was in the third grade and made a Cusi doll. He learned everything he could about the Incas. I do realize he's different from most of his peers. My youngest was a reluctant reader, but he loved Holes and he eventually became a good reader. I've never seen them reading the more popular fiction. I know they are in the minority.  

But I don't know if the Newbery has lost its way or not. I go back and forth with this issue. I know what my kids have read and loved and the Newberys have helped them discover the type of books they wanted to read and could connect to.

Title: Re: Has the Newbery lost its way?
Post by: Harrietthespy on October 13, 2008, 09:08 AM
Would you start that topic?  I sure would like to hear about it.

Let me wait on that one.  It might be too passionate - know what I mean?  For instance, I knew of a brilliant book that featured an African American protagonist and later went on to be an ALA best book for YA. But the publisher stated concerns that it wasn't eligible for a CK because the author was not African American.  I asked why that was an issue - why not submit for a Newbery?  It never was. 

In conversations with librarians around the country, the unspoken sentiment is that many people think that it's easler to put AA books in the CK category because it has less competition and then no one feels guilty if it doesn't get a lot a Newbery nod.  Hence my comment "redlined."

There was a study started years ago about how many trade books are published and how many are written by authors of color.  It was started by a librarian who was appalled at how few books were submitted for the award.  The numbers are dismal.

There are other issues - for instance why so many books tend to be about civil rights and slavery (and often the same subject matter or people) when the category is inclusive of books that are set in the past, present OR future.  Which is why I think I'll wait.  Otherwise I'll get up a big head of steam on the topic.  :mob

How about we start the thread after the ALA award is announced?  By then I can bring the question up again at the Mocks and see if there has been a change and booksellers can add their insight as well.

BTW - My kids think the same thing about CK.  If it has a seal - it's likely not one they'd pick voluntarily. They and their friends are kind of burnt out on the civil rights as totality of their existence issue.
Title: Re: Has the Newbery lost its way?
Post by: Brad White on October 13, 2008, 09:13 AM
For me, when I see a medal on the front of a non-PB, I prepare myself for a critical, but ultimately dull read.

This is an issue of great concern for me, because I watch in unsurprised horror as my students are bored to tears by the Giver and The Witch of Blackbird Pond.  The other english teacher really loves them, so I agreed to read them as well, but these books bring back bad memories for me. 

Until the end of my college career, I couldn't understand why people read much for enjoyment.  Then I read Artemis Fowl and I finally "got it."
I'm so worried about turning kids off from reading (this isn't hard considering the competition books get from video hames and films) that at the end of the year we'll be reading Artemis Fowl as a class.  I don't care what "level" it's on, or what The Newberrys think of it, if someone had introduced fun, humorous novels to me when I was thirteen, I would be WAY ahead on my reading right now.

And I wouldn't have to read about kids bathing the elderly nude    :old :gaah . (Chock me up as one of those who "don't get it" when it comes to the Giver.  I understand the message, which is a valid and important one, but I'd rather have my toenails ripped out by rabid loompas than read it again.  Which I will be, in January.  That should suck out the last drop of Christmas joy I'll have.  Maybe I'll watch Schinlder's List right after and really push myself to the brink of suicide.)
Title: Re: Has the Newbery lost its way?
Post by: Cindy on October 13, 2008, 09:58 AM
I think the judging process favors books with depth. A book that excites you on the first read, can show up less favorably by the third read.  By that time, the unique newness of the book has worn off and you will see the flaws.  The winning books are read repeatedly through the process, so I think a book that wins will give the reader something different on successive reads. . .that translates to depth. I also think it usually favors character-driven fiction for the upper reaches of the age range.

In the committee's discussion rounds, only new things can be said each time. Plot is only one element and kid appeal is only one element.  Because members have to keep saying new things about the book, the book has to stand up against books that do several elements superbly. Once you've said how good the plot is or how much kids will like it, you've got to find more to keep talking about. Kids and adults love plot, especially when they are reading for pleasure.  But character, theme, setting, and description will also be looked very carefully. I think a plot-driven book can win, but it'll have to be very strong in those other elements--and that's not always the goal of a plot-driven book. 
 
As a former teacher, I understand completely that it would wonderful if we could make kids excited about reading at the same we're giving them books of top literary quality. Sometimes we CAN find books that do both--and  :yay when it happens!!!  Other times we have to make value judgements about which criteria matters more to us that year, that class, depending on the readers we have before us.  That doesn't make either of those criteria unimportant to literature as a whole, though.   

In this discussion, we are thinking mostly about what we would gain if mass kid appeal were made more important than other parts of the criteria (I say "mass" because there ARE children who loved every book that's been deemed unpopular in that article).  But I think we would also LOSE something of value to us as writers. 

The Newbery Award and the Printz are one reason publishers are willing to take a chance on books that don't immediately shine in P&L statements.  Many of us already feel there is a very slim place in the publishing world for "quieter" books and multi-cultural books and books that are unusual or that are in genres that are not as financially successful. The Newbery Awards (and the Printz, etc) are definitely one thing that holds that place open at all.  If I look at the other thread about which books people would like to see win. . .I'm not seeing very many books I would consider to have mass appeal to children.  THE HUNGER GAMES is the only one that jumps out at me.  And yet, elementary school teachers are probably not going to be able to teach that one without some hesitation over the violence factor. 

I honestly don't think we can have it all under one award. I challenge you to find that book this year that you think covers everything we have deemed important here: 

The majority of elementary and middle school teachers can teach it and will enjoy teaching it.

It makes a wonderful gift that grandma can hand off to a child she doesn't know very well.

It is among the highest literary quality that's published this year.

It will have broad kid appeal. 

And my own addition: It will continue to encourage publishers to occasionally take a risk.   

I think HOLES accomplishes all that, but that book doesn't come along very often.
 
Books with kid appeal are honored in *several* other awards (the Quills, the Cybils, the state kids' choice awards). Those awards don't have the same history and prestige yet of the Newbery, but I would say those books do get rewarded in other ways (namely, book sales).  Maybe as teachers we should make more use of those award lists as our general classroom reads. 

On a personal level, in the world beyond our children's book circle, I haven't found that the general public sees gold and silver seals that differently. Susan handles the harder parts of winning  the medal with superhuman grace and humor, but I've joked with her that I think Kirby, Jenni, and I actually got the better deal. 
Title: Re: Has the Newbery lost its way?
Post by: Brad White on October 13, 2008, 10:24 AM
Cindy--

I think you make excellent points.  And I am not one who thinks sales equals quality.  I still have yet to read a Potter book, and out of all of CS Lewis's work, I've only read his mostly under the radar space trilogy.

However, while I cheer on the little guy and books that take on more substantial topics, my experience in school, as well as the one my middle schoolers are having now, has not been one where the little guys are pushed out in favor of books with more "kid appeal."  In fact, I think that there is a reverse discrimination in academia that is far more impactful--the idea that popular means brainless.

I suppose it's fine to force this age group to read only these books as these books offer vaulable insights to the human experience.  But this ignores the pink elephant sleeping in my class.  If adolescents' first encounters with reading put them to sleep, they will be less inclined to read in the future.  Or, this just happened to me and I am weird.  Which is true anwyay.

I would never boot award winners out of the curriculum, but I don't think schools do a good job of mixing the critically acclaimed with the entertaining.  For instance, I believe that my classes should do either Blackbird Pond or Giver and then one other book with more "kid appeal."  (I really hate that label, makes many of the books I read sound like choose your own adventure or pop up).  I'd also add that I think the non award winning novels offer important lessons on writing, such as tight plotting, story structure, descriptive langauge, and use of dialogue.  For any of my students who want to be writers, I can't think of a better novel that Melissa Marr's Wicked Lovely.  Will it win a Newberry or cure any injustice? Not unless you're a summer fairie.  But, for me, it was a perfect example of how to employ rich, descriptive language without losing the reader.

Of course, I enjoyed Transformers as much as No Country for Old Men and think World War Z is a better novel than Old Man and the Sea, so my opinons should probably be shunned more than the next Ben Affleck movie.
Title: Re: Has the Newbery lost its way?
Post by: Debby G on October 13, 2008, 10:45 AM
The last four winners were historical fiction novels. The last two winners were written by children's librarians. Coincidence? Maybe. But I think if writers rather than librarians were judging the Newbery they would emphasize different elements in judging books.

I believe writer-judges would put more emphasis on whether the book is appealing to children, because we know how hard it is to write a compelling plot, a first chapter that draws readers in, a book that is written by an adult but has a child sensibility, a book that will move readers without resorting to easy emotional pulls such as death of a parent or dog. I think people who haven't actually sat down and written a book don't realize how hard these things are, how much effort and talent it takes. Creating child appeal is a very difficult part of crafting an excellent children's book. I believe pretty language and moral lessons and teaching about history currently are given too much weight in deciding what makes an excellent book, at the expense of elements that make the book appealing to the supposedly intended audience. (And there are some books I suspect were written to appease the gatekeepers more than the children.) With all the great books out there, I don't think a book that most children dislike should be chosen as the best written book of the year.

And Harrietthespy? I understand your frustration with so many books about African-Americans which focus on slavery and civil rights. I'm tired of books about Jewish children being mostly about the Holocaust or anti-semitism. I would like more books about Jews to focus on the positive aspects of being Jewish.
Title: Re: Has the Newbery lost its way?
Post by: Debby G on October 13, 2008, 10:48 AM
And Jaina, the stray apostrophe in the subject heading was killing me. Thank you for changing it. You've lowered my blood pressure.

Not that I don't make those kinds of errors a lot. But I'm glad you fixed the error.
Title: Re: Has the Newbery lost its way?
Post by: ShirleyH on October 13, 2008, 10:58 AM
The last four winners were historical fiction novels. The last two winners were written by children's librarians. Coincidence? Maybe. But I think if writers rather than librarians were judging the Newbery they would emphasize different elements in judging books.

I believe writer-judges would put more emphasis on whether the book is appealing to children, because we know how hard it is to write a compelling plot, a first chapter that draws readers in, a book that is written by an adult but has a child sensibility, a book that will move readers without resorting to easy emotional pulls such as death of a parent or dog. I think people who haven't actually sat down and written a book don't realize how hard these things are, how much effort and talent it takes. Creating child appeal is a very difficult part of crafting an excellent children's book. I believe pretty language and moral lessons and teaching about history currently are given too much weight in deciding what makes an excellent book, at the expense of elements that make the book appealing to the supposedly intended audience. (And there are some books I suspect were written to appease the gatekeepers more than the children.) With all the great books out there, I don't think a book that most children dislike should be chosen as the best written book of the year.

I think the judges for the Edgars were also writers. Obviously I was happy about this.

I do wonder if the dislike comes more from the forced reading--and I have seen that happen with over eager parents, grandparents, teachers, and Brad. :) (Kidding Brad!) 
Title: Re: Has the Newbery lost its way?
Post by: thunderchikin on October 13, 2008, 10:59 AM
If JACOB HAVE I LOVED (which is one of my all-time favorite novels) were published today, it would not win the Newbery. It would win the Printz. That's the main difference between books published in the past and recent winners. The Printz effectively took the older end of the spectrum away from the the Newbery and changed the dynamic of the award.
Title: Re: Has the Newbery lost its way?
Post by: cindoh on October 13, 2008, 11:30 AM
In response to Jaina's question, here's what my extremely avid 3rd grade reader has loved in recent months... she's definitely in the camp of Newbery books being "boring" because her main interest is a great plot. She read A Wrinkle in Time this weekend (and our copy didn't have a Newbery sticker for some reason) and was amazed to hear that it had won the award years ago.
Most of these are series but not all: Harry Potter, Lemony Snicket, The Sisters Grimm, The Chronus Chronicles, Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Children of the Lamp, almost anything by Gail Carson Levine (including Ella Enchanted which was a Newbery Honor book), Molly Moon, Chris D'Lacey's Firestar and the others, most books by Zilpha Keatley Snyder, Pandora Gets Jealous, Laveidem, Emily Windsnap, Chasing Yesterday series, Fablehaven series, The Drowned Maiden's Hair, and the Once Upon a Time series. She's reading Every Soul a Star right now and is totally loving it.
She also just read Poultry in Motion by our own Debby Garfinkle and laughed her head off!
Title: Re: Has the Newbery lost its way?
Post by: YAmom on October 13, 2008, 11:40 AM
Really great thread here. I tend to agree with those who think recent winners do not have great kid appeal.  But I spent last week speaking to almost 4000 kids in 13 different schools. The librarian driving me around told me about friends of hers who had been on Newbery committees. One tried to figure out how to put a book in plastic so that she could read while in the shower. So, despite our opinions on the choices, I have to give those committee members huge props for taking on such a momentous task. 
Title: Re: Has the Newbery lost its way?
Post by: Brad White on October 13, 2008, 11:47 AM
I think the judges for the Edgars were also writers. Obviously I was happy about this.

I do wonder if the dislike comes more from the forced reading--and I have seen that happen with over eager parents, grandparents, teachers, and Brad. :) (Kidding Brad!) 
Hey!

I should add, books I was forced to read that I loved.
Animal Farm, Farenheit 451, Confederacy of Dunces, Heart of Darkness, Hatchet, all shakespeare (I constantly play Shakespearean defense attorney to my students.  It does make sense children, you just need context!.)
Title: Re: Has the Newbery lost its way?
Post by: Sarah Miller on October 13, 2008, 11:54 AM
The last four winners were historical fiction novels.

Actually, I think just Good Masters, Sweet Ladies and Kira-Kira were historical. I'm pretty sure Higher Power of Lucky and Criss-Cross are both contemporary stories.


Quote
The last two winners were written by children's librarians. Coincidence? Maybe. But I think if writers rather than librarians were judging the Newbery they would emphasize different elements in judging books.

Now THAT would be interesting! Should we form a committee?  :applause


I'll be back to fawn over Cindy's and harrietthespy's posts later...
Title: Re: Has the Newbery lost its way?
Post by: AnneN on October 13, 2008, 12:38 PM
I appreciate and second Cindy's point that the Newbery encourages publishers to take some risks on books they might otherwise pass by.  (or over. or on.)

That's sort of related to my own worry about what would happen if "kid appeal" were the main factor for awards.

Namely, who would define "kid appeal"?

Not actual kids, I'm pretty sure.  :)

It's a tricky sort of issue, partly because "popularity" -- if you're going by sales -- depends also on a lot of factors out of an author's hand, like how much the publisher invests in publicity and so on.  I don't think we'd want to replace the Newbery committees with a computerized ranking of "most sold books for kids."

"Kid appeal," apart from sales, is another hard quality to pin down.  My own kids, for instance, LOVED "Walked Two Moons" and "The Westing Game," which I notice other people here say lacked kid appeal.  Tastes differ, even among the young!

Seems like we already suffer from almost too many "rules" (POV limited to one person; no prologues, please; action immediately; "Caitlin said" instead of "said Caitlin"......) that, if broken, are supposed to make books unmarketable to kids.  Yet my kids read with pleasure older books that break these rules, and of course some newer books break them, too, and even in creative ways. 

If "kid appeal" becomes codified somehow, I'm just afraid it will become even more difficult to do something a little bit different than the rest of the herd.

Title: Re: Has the Newbery lost its way?
Post by: Cindy on October 13, 2008, 12:48 PM
Quote
If adolescents' first encounters with reading put them to sleep, they will be less inclined to read in the future. 


Brad, I completely agree with you.  I think the Newbery medal is easy to blame for that, but I honestly think the blame lies in how the books are used. I think the real problem is that appeal to children isn't part of the criteria for required reading and the Newbery medal books end up as required reading so often.  In fact, I think the older the child, the worse the problem becomes.

My daughter read ZERO YA books as required reading in all four years of high school, for example. I meet lots of high school English teachers who don't read YA and who coudn't tell you which book won the Printz last year. Or even what the Printz IS.  Maybe it's just where I live, but I doubt it.

I think we in education need to ask ourselves, what is the goal of required reading? Is that goal important to kids? Are we meeting that goal?  Can we do better? Maybe that's where the change needs to come.  Sometimes schools use the Newbery medal books as required reading simply because of the seal, and speaking as a teacher myself, I think that's a bit lazy. We need to have more personal reasons for those choices based on our own population of kids and our own strengths as teachers. Some of the books probably still would be Newbery books, and others wouldn't be. That's my opinion, anyway. 

I hope you can add books you love to the curriculum, because your enthusiam will fuel your students'--more than anything else can do. I don't know what state you're in, but could you pick books off your state kids' choice list?  That way, the kids can vote after they've read whatever the required number is--and feel that power of honoring the books they enjoyed.  AND they'd be reading more modern books.  Literary tastes have changed a lot since THE WITCH OF BLACKBIRD POND was published. I read that one as a child and loved it, but I was a very good reader. And it has a dated and dense style now. 

I guess where we part ways is that I still think THE GIVER deserves the medal it won, even if it isn't a general crowd-pleaser (and it wasn't with my sixth graders).  But sometimes great discussion can come from books that aren't universally loved, and that was why I read it to them--and why they got to choose their own reading in other parts of the day.  It wasn't something they necessarily would've picked on their own, and I used it to stretch them a little further. We had great talks about what the author owes the reader with regard to the ending. But I didn't dislike the book, and that let me provide the other side to the discussion whenever necessary.

I honestly cringe at the idea that RULES has become required reading, and I always have mixed feelings when I hear it's a One Book/One School choice.  I got a packet of 500 letters recently from a school who read the book as an all-school read, and in there were a few very negative letters to me.  Those kids didn't want to read the book and had to, and they took it out on me.

Their frustration wasn't my fault. It wasn't the fault of my book. It wasn't the fault of the Newbery Committee.  It was simply that those kids had to read a book they were not interested in--in order to provide a common base for discussion. I never wrote RULES trying to appeal to eighth grade boys, but they had to read it. 

I'm sorry it happened, but it also doesn't negate the letters in that same packet from children who loved it.  It was just the wrong book for those kids (and they let me know it! :)).  :!
Title: Re: Has the Newbery lost its way?
Post by: Brad White on October 13, 2008, 01:00 PM
So its people like you who made me read!

Bum. Bum. Buuuuuuum.

Completely kidding.

I'm lucky in that I have a lot of autonomy about what we read.  But the other teacher is so kind and helpful to me and we're doing such a good job ensuring that our 120 odd stduents are getting the same material (which had been a major problem before I arrived) that i don't have the heart to read something else.  But I've promised myself we will read one of those shallow, entertaining books the committee loathes so much.  But not until the very end of the year (which means we probably won't get to it, thank you standardized test).

I'm clearly in the minority on The Giver.  But, as always, I shall endure the beating my contrary opinion often brings me (I once attended a Phllip Pullman signing of The Subtle Knife and pelted him with bags of dust.  I was promptly arrested.)

And kids that age sure aren't bashful about feedback, are they?



P.S.  Kidding about the arrest, but that would be a great story, no?
Title: Re: Has the Newbery lost its way?
Post by: Cindy on October 13, 2008, 01:07 PM
Quote
And kids that age sure aren't bashful about feedback, are they?

Nope. Once you've had your book called "demented," I don't think there's anywhere to go but up!  :yup
Title: Re: Has the Newbery lost its way?
Post by: Brad White on October 13, 2008, 01:34 PM
Nope. Once you've had your book called "demented," I don't think there's anywhere to go but up!  :yup
Demented?!  That's great!  You should put that on the jacket.

I described my newest manny to my kids, and one said, "if anyone else said that, I'd be really worried about them.  But with you, it makes sense."

Or as another said, "You really come from a dark place, don't you?"

Sorry.  I've hijacked this thread long enough.
Title: Re: Has the Newbery lost its way?
Post by: Debby G on October 13, 2008, 02:07 PM
Actually, I think just Good Masters, Sweet Ladies and Kira-Kira were historical. I'm pretty sure Higher Power of Lucky and Criss-Cross are both contemporary stories.


I read Criss-Cross, and believe it is set in the early 1970s. Many adults liked the "nostalgic" feel to it; though obviously children readers wouldn't feel nostalgic reading it. I haven't read Higher Power of Lucky, but it does appear to be set in the present (in a tiny town).
Title: Re: Has the Newbery lost its way?
Post by: Debby G on October 13, 2008, 02:18 PM
Cindy, hey, I didn't know you were a blueboarder. I'm so glad your daughter is enjoying my book! Thanks!

I wrote the Supernatural Rubber Chicken books with the expectation that they wouldn't win literary awards. They're not at all deep. I just wanted kids to enjoy reading them and maybe brighten up their day.

I do think Newbery award winners should have some depth and make kids think a little about life. But I also think they shouldn't be boring. Like they should have a plot. 
Title: Re: Has the Newbery lost its way?
Post by: andracill on October 13, 2008, 02:34 PM
This is a fascinating thread!  Brad, you crack me up :)

Most of my students were reluctant readers (in fact, some had never read a book before for entertainment).  Some of them really liked a few Newbery winners (WITCH OF BLACKBIRD POND, WESTING GAME, AND JACOB HAVE I LOVED) because of their old-fashioned feel and the romance (or humor).  Of course, those are three of my favs, so I might have influenced them a little ;).

I'm another who never got into THE GIVER.  I think the last Newbery winner I read was...okay, I can't think of one in the last ten years. 

As I was growing up, I think I looked at Newbery books as those with rich language and complex plots (and characters, of course).  The problem for me these days is that the plots are becoming less complex and more literary (yeah, that probably sounds contradictory) -- literary in the sense that they don't really tie together at the end.  It is tough, of course, because there aren't many books out there which 99% of us could agree upon as being 'great'.  I understand why the committee has broken it down into categories, but it still surprises me that they choose books that so few kids will voluntarily check out at the library.  Maybe one of their categories should be a results' sample from a group of kids -- their choice for the best book of the chosen ones ;).  Wouldn't that be interesting??

Title: Re: Has the Newbery lost its way?
Post by: Cindy on October 13, 2008, 02:45 PM
Quote
But I think if writers rather than librarians were judging the Newbery they would emphasize different elements in judging books.


I think you're right. The National Book Awards are judged by writers, and there often isn't much (or any) overlap between the NBA and the Newbery or the Printz--though last year there was overlap with the Caldecott.  

If anyone's interested, here are this year's NBA judges for children's/YA:  Daniel Handler (chair), Holly Black, Angela Johnson, Carolyn Mackler, Cynthia Voigt. The nominees are announced on Wednesday. Lemony Snicket as chair. . . wouldn't you LOVE to listen to those deliberations?!!!

Really, Debby, I think humor is one of the hardest types of writing. You need a near-perfect sense of timing. It might not be something award committees reward, but there is a huge need in the world for it, kids love it, and very few people can do it as well as you do. 
Title: Re: Has the Newbery lost its way?
Post by: andracill on October 13, 2008, 02:50 PM
I agree about humor!  I think it's very interesting how much more popular the Newbery honor books are -- my students almost always preferred the honor books to the actual winners. 

That committe you mentioned sounds great, Cindy :)
Title: Re: Has the Newbery lost its way?
Post by: Nora on October 13, 2008, 02:54 PM
Those of you with children/students/library patrons who recoil in horror when they see a medal on the cover of a book--I would LOVE to know what middle grade novels those same children grab and devour.  Would anyone like to share?
I did a quiet scan of the room this afternoon during a test. The students were to read silently once they finished, so all of their books were visible. Here are a few that I could see (without being a pest...)

Lots of Series of Unfortunate Events
Several Percy Jackson books
Harry Potter (of course)
Running Out of Time
Magic Thief
Santa Paws
Maniac McGee
Star Girl
Nancy Drew
Lawn Boy
Title: Re: Has the Newbery lost its way?
Post by: Jen on October 13, 2008, 03:34 PM
This thread has been absolutely fascinating to me!  I don't have much of value to add- but I will say that I've had the experience of judging a contest in which it came down to two books, and one had more kid appeal and dealt with more everyday issues (with a lot of heart) and the other had stark, lyrical writing and dealt with a more unique/hot topic issue... and I hung out very, very strongly for the one with lots of kid appeal, but ultimately got out-voted .  My sense at the time was that what it came down to wasn't so much an "appeal versus craft" debate (although we did have that debate) as a "this book has been done many times before, but has never been done so incredibly well" versus "this book has never been done before."  There was something a lot more universal about the former, but the latter seemed more unique, and I think "uniqueness" is something that is often rewarded in the awards circuit.
Title: Re: Has the Newbery lost its way?
Post by: Debby G on October 13, 2008, 04:18 PM
Yes, I have been fooling around on the Net all day. Sigh. I did finish drafting a middle grade manuscript yesterday-- hopefully containing both depth and kid appeal-- so maybe I'm entitled to relax.

Cindy, that NBA panel sounds great! So diverse and filled with writers whose work I love. I loved last year's NBA picks. I hope this year's are as terrific.

And I loved Rules, even before it won a Newbery Honor. I thought it had great characters, plot, etc. AND depth and meaning. I do think the Gold medal winners tend to have less kid appeal than the Honor books.

Jen, sometimes I think that the judges (who I admire greatly for the wonderful and difficult volunteer work they do in support of children's books) read so many manuscripts, that they are partial to those that stick out from the hundreds of others. But I don't think unique is always good. Like if books are unique because they don't have a plot-- not good.
Title: Re: Has the Newbery lost its way?
Post by: TexasGirl on October 13, 2008, 04:45 PM
I must admit reading this thread has made me feel more like a freak than ever!

As a child, the only books I trusted to be a decent read were the ones with a Newbery sticker. So many of the others were so simple, so casual, and so lacking in meaning. I'd read the popular books, but always want more depth, more beauty. I didn't know about resonance then, or about the universality of theme. But I knew what I liked, and those books had it. I was relieved in middle school, when we graduated to a slightly "bigger" library, that I had decades of books to draw from, and stickered books the elementary library hadn't carried.

So when we talk about "kid appeal," I guess I was never a kid, because the only books that ever made me anxious to get into my hot little hands, to hide beneath the covers with a flashlight, and stay up all night reading, were Newbery award winners.

I never stopped. I've read pretty much every single one, all the way through Higher Power of Lucky (which I am certain was so hard to choose over Rules--I loved them both so very much.)
Title: Re: Has the Newbery lost its way?
Post by: Harrietthespy on October 13, 2008, 08:52 PM
I will give a shout-out to librarians.  When you see the sheer volume they have to read through it becomes obvious what a herculean task it is.  I can barely get through my own tiny pile. So kudos to those who take on the task.  Perhaps after reading hundreds it really does come down to which ones lingered and the taste of the particular judges that year.

But I do know that the votes are not often unanimous and there is a lot of discussion and revotes involved to narrow down the list to something manageable.  It would be nice if they could have a honorary mention for those who made it as finalists before the final cuts are made. We might be surprised by the breadth!
Title: Re: Has the Newbery lost its way?
Post by: lurban on October 14, 2008, 04:16 AM
There was something a lot more universal about the former, but the latter seemed more unique, and I think "uniqueness" is something that is often rewarded in the awards circuit.

Having served on a state award committee, I have to admit that there is something to this.  We were lucky in that our list was actually 30 books long (the kids of Vermont got to vote on the winner.  No surprise there.  It was RULES!), but we did find ourselves asking questions about whether a particular book covered a topic that was new, but interesting or important, to the kids of Vermont.  Our list had lots of "kid appeal" books, but it also had ones that challenged what most folks would consider "kid appeal".  The idea was to reach as many different kinds of kids as possible, with all their different reading interests and levels in mind.   Unique books did stand out for us as readers plowing through 300+ submissions, but they were also important for the opportunity they provided to to reach kids the list hadn't before. 
Title: Re: Has the Newbery lost its way?
Post by: dave r on October 14, 2008, 04:40 AM
I think Cindy and Leeth have hit on a key point as far as kids loving/hating books. I discovered years ago in my teaching that if I gave my students choices, they complained less and read more (and they couldn't say I made them read a particular book).

I used lit groups, and as a result, my students came to love many of the Newbery books as well as literary classics, and yes, several books that made my colleagues cringe. But my students were in charge, and if they found something boring, it was their fault. Forcing students (or adults) to read a book isn't always a good idea.

As to the Newbery awards, my own personal experience with librarians, teachers, and writers is this:

First, it's what won. Often they feel that one or more of the honors should have won (Cindy's book being one frequently mentioned).
Second, it's what was passed over. Until recently, the two books that most people say, "You mean it didn't get a Newbery win or honor?" were Tuck Everlasting and Where the Red Fern Grows. But recently, that list has grown. The City of Ember. The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane. Everyone who has read Alabama Moon can't believe it didn't get recognized. And the list goes on.

Maybe Harriet's right. Maybe we need more disclosure, rather than more secrecy (as the new policies have created). This alone may answer the question I've been hearing so often in the past few years: "What were they thinking?'\

keep writing,
dave r
Title: Re: Has the Newbery lost its way?
Post by: TexasGirl on October 14, 2008, 07:09 AM
Thank you, Cindy, for such an emotional and forthright reply.

I will testify that the Newbery committee changed my life as a girl. I came from a small rural school where books were not pushed, but the emphasis was on farming and hunting--we even took a hunter's safety course in lieu of science in the fall of 8th grade.

If I had not realized that seal would show me good books, if I'd stayed with the more accessible teen dramas and romances that were popular, I doubt I would be a writer today.

No teacher, no librarian, no parent pushed me to read books and certainly not books that challenged me. No one expected me to get beyond my reading textbook (which I typically read cover to cover by the third day of school.) But I found I could borrow a book with a seal on it and find a world that was so much more meaningful than the very hand-to-mouth existence around me.

I'm sure the committee sometimes stutters. Some years are harder than others. But I still believe the award is important, and picks the right sort of books, the ones I would never have seen back then on my own. It's easy to find the glossy popular books like The Princess Diaries or Gossip Girls or Harry Potter. But gems like Sarah, Plain and Tall, The Mixed Up Files, Summer of the Swans, Higher Power of Lucky, and the Giver let us know there are books for those who may not be reluctant readers, but deep readers, reading above our grade level and beyond the norm for pop culture appeal. When we don't have anyone to show us the way, the seal does.
Title: Re: Has the Newbery lost its way?
Post by: tulipwars on October 14, 2008, 07:26 AM
I've really enjoyed reading this thread; thank you for posting everyone.  It seems strange to me that no one asks why Dan Brown and Steven King have never won Pullizers even though they've both sold enough books to buy Norman Mailer ten times over.  In the adult world, we take it for granted that the greatest literature isn't always the most popular.  I don't know if the issue is that these  books aren't really for kids.  I think for the most part that they are.  But reading is not always comfortable.  It's hard to read Walk Two Moons.  It's devestating and life altering--or it was for me, anyway.  I read it as an adult and even then I only read it becasue it was assigned for a class.  But it's a book that has seeped into me much more deeply than many others, and I'm so grateful that I read it.

When I was growing up, I was sort of the anti-Brad.  If I have been given only books like Artemis Fowl I would have grown up thinking that reading was some sort of lesser form of television.  I wanted books to be more than entertaining--much more than now, actually.  I think there are 12-year-olds who really do know what good writing is and really crave it--for the same reasons that adults do.  

Must agree with Brad, though, about The Giver.  ??
Title: Re: Has the Newbery lost its way?
Post by: Jaina on October 14, 2008, 08:36 AM
I have nothing very intelligent to add to this discussion.  That said, here are my thoughts.  Ha!

I just wanted to say that it is making me sad.  I'm not sure why.  I've been thinking it over.

I think it's the idea that a recommendation by a teacher or a committee--the assignment, the sticker, the summer reading list--could somehow taint a book for readers.

Kids--okay, I can get that.  To some kids being assigned reading of any sort is the equivalent of being told they need to take a spoonful of castor oil.  I was not one of those kids and I wasn't friends with kids like that as a child (I suppose this makes me freakish?), so I can't say I relate or understand precisely.  But I get it.  For me, it was fractions--for them, it was reading.  And a "recommended," "assigned," or "medaled" book meant it was going to challenge them and thus, be even harder to work through than a more "fun" commercial title.  You might as well stamp "Quit Now--You Won't Understand This" on the cover.

But adults?  Who are writers?  Who are lovers of books?  Being turned off by a sticker?

Not all books are for everyone and I certainly can't say that some recent winners are "my thing," either.  I chalked it up to personal taste, since we can't all love the same art.  For example, I adore The Giver and count it as one of the best reading experiences I have ever had.  *gasp*

I just don't quite understand the adults in our world who will not or cannot read award-winners because they are "always boring" and who choose not to challenge themselves, but dine solely on "popular" best-selling marshmallow fluff.  I try to get into their mindset, but I can't.  I'm not saying anyone here is like that--I'm talking in general terms.  It seems like years ago, this would've been something to keep to yourself.  Today, people shout it from the rooftops.  "Hello, world!  I have a short attention span!  I prefer to only use a portion of my brain power!  I only want to have fun!"

Gosh, I feel like a jerk.  I just get this sort of overwhelming anger/depression thing going on.  It's the same feeling I get when I see people slam any book that has a "message" or an "issue."  "Oh, Rules?  It's one of those books where there's an autistic kid.  That's why it won an award."  Either they can't or they won't appreciate "depth" in a book, and they never get to the point of considering how beautifully crafted such a work is.  They see some sort of insidious "agenda" where we're supposed "learn something" and immediately drop it in favor of the literary equivalent of a . . . football-in-crotch America's Funniest Home Videos clip.

Shutting up now.
Title: Re: Has the Newbery lost its way?
Post by: Debby G on October 14, 2008, 09:22 AM
I don't think anyone's arguing that the most popular book should win a Newbery. My argument is that there are wonderful books with depth AND child appeal, so why not look for one of those? My argument is that slow pacing or a throat-clearing first chapter or overuse of description at the expense of plot and character development should be recognized for what they are: craft problems. Let's not award gold medals to books with these problems under the rationale that child appeal is irrelevant.
Title: Re: Has the Newbery lost its way?
Post by: Brad White on October 14, 2008, 10:26 AM

But adults?  Who are writers?  Who are lovers of books?  Being turned off by a sticker?

Not all books are for everyone and I certainly can't say that some recent winners are "my thing," either.  I chalked it up to personal taste, since we can't all love the same art.  For example, I adore The Giver and count it as one of the best reading experiences I have ever had.  *gasp*

I just don't quite understand the adults in our world who will not or cannot read award-winners because they are "always boring" and who choose not to challenge themselves, but dine solely on "popular" best-selling marshmallow fluff.  I try to get into their mindset, but I can't.  I'm not saying anyone here is like that--I'm talking in general terms.  It seems like years ago, this would've been something to keep to yourself.  Today, people shout it from the rooftops.  "Hello, world!  I have a short attention span!  I prefer to only use a portion of my brain power!  I only want to have fun!"
I was done taking up space on this thread, but I guess I'm supposed to respond.  And while I realize you said you're not speaking of anyone here, I don't know who else you could mean when you say adults who are writers.

I have never avoided a book simply because it had a medal on it.  I've read lots of them, Roll of Thunder, May the Circle Be Unbroken, Lost Horizon...nearly all here have read more than me, so I won't attempt a classical list off.

My contention is simply that if these award winners are all you present adolescents with, you'll end up with someone like me, an excellent and motivated reader who, except for mandatory school reaing, decides to avoid most novels in favor of comic books or films until his early twenties, then realizes later what great works there are takes books up once again.  If this makes me immature or intellectually uncurious, I'll accept those labels because I know how little they ring true.

The irony of this is I have been far more willing to watch films that are considered "critical award winners" than books.  Subtitles, virtually no box office, only Sundance recognition, I don't care.  Perhaps males my age are all a products of He-Man and Nintendo and have had our attention span reduced to somewhere between a hedgehog and one of my incarcerated loompas.  I'm neither proud nor ashamed of my attention span.  I can focus for seven hours on a poly sci mid term, take 5 hours to finish Wicked Lovely, or put down the Giver after ten minutes.

And yes, I completely, fully, totally understand The Giver is beloved by most everyone.  But just not me.  I recognize the genius and depth, I just don't care to swim in it. I know many who thought There Will Be Blood was painfully slow, or just avoided it because it was one of those "smart, highbrow movies," then they promptly bought a ticket to the latest Eddie Murphy bomb (or didn't as it turned out). I, however, adored the movie.  It's okay.  Just because someone else didn't like the picture doesn't mean I have to defend the picture.

As for being frightened by agendas,  I agree there are many who cite certain value systems as a reason for not reading a book.  They're the same ones who cite the "intellectually elite" for every problem they run into.  It's hogwash.

I'm sorry if I sound hyper sensitive here, but I'm as far as you can get from someone who wants to dumb down what we expect out of our novels, our entertainment, or especially our nation's youth.  I suppose I felt the need to respond because this

I just get this sort of overwhelming anger/depression thing going on.  It's the same feeling I get when I see people slam any book that has a "message" or an "issue."  "Oh, Rules?  It's one of those books where there's an autistic kid.  That's why it won an award."  Either they can't or they won't appreciate "depth" in a book, and they never get to the point of considering how beautifully crafted such a work is.  They see some sort of insidious "agenda" where we're supposed "learn something" and immediately drop it in favor of the literary equivalent of a . . . football-in-crotch America's Funniest Home Videos clip.
is something I've told to countless others everytime they turn their nose up at some bit of entertainment that has critical value.  I'l shut up now, also, but I wanted to reply because I've never considered myself one of these adults you've cited.  If anything, they boil my blood and have caused many awkward conversations at parties.
Title: Re: Has the Newbery lost its way?
Post by: Jaina on October 14, 2008, 10:44 AM
Brad, I want to let you know that I really, really, really wasn't talking about YOU specifically in my post.  You may not believe me, but it's true!

I was really addressing a sort of trend I've been seeing.  I teach young people--entering college students--semester after semester, and there seems to be far less stigma today about being . . .  intellectually or morally bereft, for lack of a better term.  Meaning, things that would have shamed us in the past are no No Big Deal.  For my students, this includes their varying levels of illiteracy, their short attention span, their arrest record (yes, most of them have one), and their lack of preparation for school.  They have no shame about getting fired, getting a DUI, never cracking the book, not writing their papers, having to take Intro. English four times before passing it . . .  (Let me be clear, I always have some wonderful, hard-working students who have none of these qualities.  I'm merely talking about the "majority" here.)

I guess I am a little worried that this "it's all good" attitude will carry on and spread.  That being incapable of reading a work of "literature" will be the New Norm and nothing to worry about.

We've had lots of discussions on this board in the past and there definitely seem to be "camps" of where you stand regarding commercial vs. literary.  I know some authors of mainly commercial material feel insulted, as if their work isn't "good enough" for award consideration, and some authors of mainly literary work feel insulted when the commercial authors imply (or flat out state) how boring they find anything literary.

I definitely walk a line between, enjoying reading both literary and commercial.  I also have written and tried to sell both.

I also want you to know that I mentioned The Giver above not to defend it (I love it but it's fine if you don't.  I'm sure we love some of the same titles and disagree on others!).  I mentioned it as an example of how tastes differ.  If you'll notice, in that paragraph, I was saying that there are many award-winners I don't care for.  If you care to, check out a blog post I wrote on this subject a few days ago--in which I talk about The Giver.  You'll see that my experience with it has been different than yours (kids I know really like it), but that's really not the point of what I was getting at.

I wasn't trying to post about "popular books stink!"--goodness knows, I love books with lots of "kid appeal" and I'm not the most mature person around *cough, cough*  I was trying to say that I am surprised that adults would be turned away by a sticker or award-status on a book.  I can understand why some children would.  I do not understand why adults would let a sticker get in the way of trying a new work.  Literary does not equal scary, to me.  So I can't get into that mindset.

Jaina, who has been, in turns, bored and delighted by a variety of award-winners and best-sellers in recent years, and most likely always will be . . .
Title: Re: Has the Newbery lost its way?
Post by: Brad White on October 14, 2008, 11:04 AM
Brad, I want to let you know that I really, really, really wasn't talking about YOU specifically in my post.  You may not believe me, but it's true!

I was really addressing a sort of trend I've been seeing.  I teach young people--entering college students--semester after semester, and there seems to be far less stigma today about being . . .  intellectually or morally bereft, for lack of a better term.  Meaning, things that would have shamed us in the past are no No Big Deal.  For my students, this includes their varying levels of illiteracy, their short attention span, their arrest record (yes, most of them have one), and their lack of preparation for school.  They have no shame about getting fired, getting a DUI, never cracking the book, not writing their papers, having to take Intro. English four times before passing it . . .  (Let me be clear, I always have some wonderful, hard-working students who have none of these qualities.  I'm merely talking about the "majority" here.)

I guess I am a little worried that this "it's all good" attitude will carry on and spread.  That being incapable of reading a work of "literature" will be the New Norm and nothing to worry about.

We've had lots of discussions on this board in the past and there definitely seem to be "camps" of where you stand regarding commercial vs. literary.  I know some authors of mainly commercial material feel insulted, as if their work isn't "good enough" for award consideration, and some authors of mainly literary work feel insulted when the commercial authors imply (or flat out state) how boring they find anything literary.

I definitely walk a line between, enjoying reading both literary and commercial.  I also have written and tried to sell both.

I also want you to know that I mentioned The Giver above not to defend it (I love it but it's fine if you don't.  I'm sure we love some of the same titles and disagree on others!).  I mentioned it as an example of how tastes differ.  If you'll notice, in that paragraph, I was saying that there are many award-winners I don't care for.  If you care to, check out a blog post I wrote on this subject a few days ago--in which I talk about The Giver.  You'll see that my experience with it has been different than yours (kids I know really like it), but that's really not the point of what I was getting at.

I wasn't trying to post about "popular books stink!"--goodness knows, I love books with lots of "kid appeal" and I'm not the most mature person around *cough, cough*  I was trying to say that I am surprised that adults would be turned away by a sticker or award-status on a book.  I can understand why some children would.  I do not understand why adults would let a sticker get in the way of trying a new work.  Literary does not equal scary, to me.  So I can't get into that mindset.

Jaina, who has been, in turns, bored and delighted by a variety of award-winners and best-sellers in recent years, and most likely always will be . . .
Entering college students?  Oooh.

I understand and agree.  Let us dance.
 :bananadance :broccoli :bananadance :broccoli
Title: Re: Has the Newbery lost its way?
Post by: Linda on October 16, 2008, 08:54 AM
I have never understood---nor will I ever understand---this notion we gatekeepers have (and that includes us writes!) that kids don't care about literary style so we have to care for them. 

The kids I work with---in school, in after-school programs, my own kids---have always *always* been able to tell a clunkily written book from a well-written book.  When I worked with first-graders learning how to read, we read all those first readers, early readers, etc.  You know the drill. Books with fewer than twenty words, fifty words, one hundred words, early chapter, etc.

Now, I (the adult!) had no trouble seeing the literary styles involved. Most of the books we read were indifferently written (core comprehension and educators speak!). Some easy readers were just downright lousy...and then one day we opened FOX IN LOVE, by James Marshall.

Kids in every reading level---fast, medium, slow---responded to Marshall's lovely and brightly LITERARY style (and if you don't think Marshall was literary, try reading the George and Martha books). Sure, the pictures didnt' hurt, but the kids responded mostly to the words---they reread sentences and rolled them around in their mouths, tried out different voices for Fox and Raisin, and held their breaths in joy as they turned the pages.

Kids LOVE a well-written book, and they embrace a well-written book that's fun and lively and thoughtful. The problem is, we writes don't trust our readers. (nor do we trust ourselves, I suspect). We don't take our time. We don't give our best. We've swallowed the notion that the smartphone generation these days doesn't know the difference between wonderful and whatever....so we pander. We give them either fun and lively and slapped-together---or well-written and illuminating and irrepressibly drab and awful.


We can hardly blame librarians for rewarding the one over the other. That's their job, that's what they do, That's their niche and charter in this naughty world. But we writes, we're supposed to be bigger than that. We're supposed to be both wonderful with words *and* visionary in our stories---not pick one over the other. But if we're honest with each other---don't we often do just precisely that?

Personally, I don't think the Newb has lost its way. I think writes---and particularly writes with big imaginations---have lost their wayz.


Z

Title: Re: Has the Newbery lost its way?
Post by: andracill on October 16, 2008, 12:30 PM
This is such a fascinating thread --  I can't stay away :)  I'm one of those adults who avoids literary books (though I've read a couple) -- but really, all I need to know is that it's literary and I immediately lose interest.  *shrugs*  I have more patience for Newbery books, and I've read almost all of the earlier years (read:  the years when I was a kid/teen) and a few since then.  But as children's literature continues to expand (which is so wonderful) and kids have so much more to choose between, I've noticed the literary trend in most Newbery books.  Not all, but most.  It's not a problem, imo, because there will always be kids out there like TexasGirl who love the depth and ambiguity offered in such books.  I was very disappointed in last year's choice, I have to admit -- and I, like so many others, would have chosen RULES, hands' down, the year before.  I'm hoping they'll lighten up a bit this year -- but who knows?  Maybe part of the reasoning is that kids wouldn't read some of these books (which definitely have value in so many ways) if they weren't recognized by an award which brought them to the forefront of teachers' attention.

I always kind of admired those kids who LOVED Newbery books ;)  Of course, two of my closest non-writer friends read mostly literary...they laugh at me (in a nice way, hehe) every time I remind them (as they suggest various titles) that I don't prefer literary books.  One of them even said, "I assume that because you're a writer, you like all genres, especially literary." :)
Title: Re: Has the Newbery lost its way?
Post by: Sarah Miller on October 16, 2008, 01:44 PM
It seems to me that "literary" is becoming a code word for boring and highbrow. I don't think that's quite fair.

Laurie Halse Anderson is literary. So are Gail Carson Levine, Christopher Paul Curtis, Joan Bauer, and Avi. I'd call Shannon Hale and Deborah Wiles literary. Like anything else, literary fiction is a continuum.  On one end you might have something quiet, introspective, and more or less plotless like Jacob Have I Loved or Missing May, but moving in the other direction you'll find loads of fun, accessible stuff like Charlotte's Web, Stargirl, Gooseberry Park, and The Hunger Games. I think you could make a convincing case that Harry Potter resides on the literary spectrum. IMO literary fiction should showcase a certain level of craft, and some depth or insight into the human condition. That still leaves plenty of leeway for literary books to be quick, edgy, funny, well-plotted, or any number of appealing qualities.
Title: Re: Has the Newbery lost its way?
Post by: Anne Marie on October 16, 2008, 01:47 PM
Brava, Sarah!
Title: Re: Has the Newbery lost its way?
Post by: Cassandra on October 16, 2008, 01:50 PM
Laurie Halse Anderson is literary. So are Gail Carson Levine, Christopher Paul Curtis, Joan Bauer, and Avi. I'd call Shannon Hale and Deborah Wiles literary. Like anything else, literary fiction is a continuum.  On one end you might have something quiet, introspective, and more or less plotless like Jacob Have I Loved or Missing May, but moving in the other direction you'll find loads of fun, accessible stuff like Charlotte's Web, Stargirl, Gooseberry Park, and The Hunger Games. I think you could make a convincing case that Harry Potter resides on the literary spectrum. IMO literary fiction should showcase a certain level of craft, and some depth or insight into the human condition. That still leaves plenty of leeway for literary books to be quick, edgy, funny, well-plotted, or any number of appealing qualities.

Well said, Sarah!
Title: Re: Has the Newbery lost its way?
Post by: andracill on October 16, 2008, 02:22 PM
I have to laugh, Sarah, because one of the books you put on the farther end of the literary spectrum (the more ambiguous end) is JACOB HAVE I LOVED, which is one of my favorites!  *chuckles*  Just goes to show...;)
Title: Re: Has the Newbery lost its way?
Post by: Harrietthespy on October 16, 2008, 02:52 PM
Nicely said, Sarah!
Title: Re: Has the Newbery lost its way?
Post by: Sarah Miller on October 16, 2008, 07:34 PM
I'm glad that last post of mine is going over well. I wrote it on the fly and wondered if it might ruffle some feathers. *whew*


I have to laugh, Sarah, because one of the books you put on the farther end of the literary spectrum (the more ambiguous end) is JACOB HAVE I LOVED, which is one of my favorites!  *chuckles*  Just goes to show...;)

Me too. Great book -- but sure not for everybody.


What a person chooses to read is very personal, and I don't think that the choice should be criticized.

I agree. Goodness knows I've read my share of crapola over the years, and liked it, too!
Title: Re: Has the Newbery lost its way?
Post by: ohmylorelei on October 16, 2008, 08:10 PM
I certainly don't think a book should be dismissed because it happens to be popular. That's a wonderful asset.

But I'm intrigued about how the library/bookstore relationship with kids changes how the award functions.  In that the danger of turning off a potential reader is so great that we want the awards to BE popular.

Certainly, the Pulitzer committee would never balk at awarding to say, Philip Roth... because someone might, as a result, accidentally buy him in an airport, and be disappointed that it isn't Stephen King.

I don't like the idea that we're turning these awards into a way to laud work that we KNOW won't otherwise make the bestseller list.  But I do think the awards should go to the best writing (whatever that means), not the writing kids happen to want to read.

Taken to the extreme, that way lies a shiny gold sticker on "Pokemon 14, now with stickers!" Or whatever.

Title: Re: Has the Newbery lost its way?
Post by: Linda on October 17, 2008, 05:40 AM
Sarah wrote:
"It seems to me that "literary" is becoming a code word for boring and highbrow. I don't think that's quite fair."

Maybe not fair...but of very long standing....

From Ezra Pound's THE ABC OF READING (1934):

"The harsh treatment here accorded a number of meritorious writers is not aimless, but proceeds from a firm conviction that the only way to keep the best writing in ciruculation, or to 'make the best poetry popular', is by drastic separation of the best from a great mass of writing that has been long considered of value, that has overweighted all curricula, and that is to be blamed for the very pernicious current idea that a good book must be of necessity a dull one."

And:

"A classic is classic not because it conforms to certain structural rules, or fits certain definitions (of which its author had quite probably never heard). It is classic because of a certain eternal and irrepressible freshness."



Z




Title: Re: Has the Newbery lost its way?
Post by: Vijaya on October 17, 2008, 12:45 PM
A couple of years ago, I went to a talk by a professor of children's literature who was on the committee the year before.
It was very interesting to hear the criteria (and popularity isn't one).  The judges have to read something like 500 books and some of them over and over again. There are so many good books on the table in those final rounds of deliberation ...

Personally, I have enjoyed the Newbery books.  And so have my children, now that they are old enough to read some of them.  They read a wide variety of books ... from fluff to deep ... and enjoy them all.  But the meatier, heavier books stay with them.  A year later, we're still talking about Kate diCamillo's books.  The stories, themes, stay and grow with the children.

So, no, I don't think the Newbery has losts its way.

Vijaya
Title: Re: Has the Newbery lost its way?
Post by: Jan Fields on October 22, 2008, 05:56 AM
I have loved many Newbery award and honor books. In the last few years, I've been reading them to my daughter (because I want the books she encounters to go a bit beyond those she may choose) and most are really lovely to read aloud. That element of craft really shows when you read them. Most are not books she would have picked for herself because they can sometimes look weighty and she is only in fourth grade. But some really have not been inaccessible for her and those I wonder about. She's far from a stupid fourth grader and although she's not deeply rooted in popular culture, she has a decent understanding of life -- as much as a nine year old can. She loves learning about new places and enjoyed The Single Shard and Rules even though both introduced situations and/or settings well outside her life. In fact, she took Rules and snuck off to read it on her own because I wouldn't read enough at a time to suit her. But she totally couldn't "get" The Higher Power of Lucky. I loved the book. But we had to stop so many times because she just didn't understand. It's not YA but even with discussion, she couldn't really understand some of what was going on and what motivated the characters and what circumstances were affecting the plot. For her, it was inaccessable (even when basic readability was removed from the equation because it was read aloud) -- though she totally understands what a scotum is  :yup

Now maybe it was just inaccessible for my kid. I'm open to that possibility. And some of the older Newbery winners were really YA and I'm not reading those because I know she wouldn't be able to "get" it.  But even at her age level, some of the Newbery's sail over her heand and even discussion can't bring them down where she can get them.

I dunno what I'm getting to...probably I'm just wandering aimlessly. But I guess I think even if appeal has no place in Newbery's -- accessibility to the reading age group maybe should. But my sample size for accessibilty was so small...maybe it's just my kid.
Title: Re: Has the Newbery lost its way?
Post by: Paulahy on October 22, 2008, 07:12 AM

BTW - My kids think the same thing about CK.  If it has a seal - it's likely not one they'd pick voluntarily. They and their friends are kind of burnt out on the civil rights as totality of their existence issue.

Wow.  I've been reading this thread today, simply enjoying the discussion. But I had to pipe in when I saw this comment.  It sums up perfectly how my daughter and many other kids of color feel about books featuring them.

Last year, my daughter had to choose a college level book to read for English class. I tried pointing her to Native Son and a few other books by African American authors.  She said - Mom, I don't want to read a book about race...I hate those kind of books.

On one hand young Af-Am readeres (and non-black readers) need to acknowledge the past.  But I think Af-Am readers are totally over ALL of the "significant" literary books featuring African Americans being steeped in the past.   But where the CSK is involved, I don't think you'll see that change much.  After all Coretta Scott King was the wife of THE most iconic civil rights leader ever...the books must somehow lend to that legacy not detract.  So in the CSK arena, while it's frustrating, I sort of understand why the selections tend to be a bit narrow.

-P
Title: Re: Has the Newbery lost its way?
Post by: Jaina on October 22, 2008, 08:20 AM
Mrs Fields' post about her fourth grader made me wonder . . . does the committee favor upper MG or "older MG"?  Seems that way.  Right?  Wrong?  Opinions?
Title: Re: Has the Newbery lost its way?
Post by: redheadedali on October 22, 2008, 09:34 AM
Mrs Fields' post about her fourth grader made me wonder . . . does the committee favor upper MG or "older MG"?  Seems that way.  Right?  Wrong?  Opinions?

Speaking as a children's librarian, this does seem to be the case. It makes it difficult to put together book orders for elementary schools, because many of the Newbery books seem geared toward a more middle-school level audience. I'd say that's certainly true of the two books I've read from this years Newbery crop (Good Masters!Sweet Ladies! and The Wednesday Wars). It also seems to apply to two books that I've started reading that have been getting talked up a lot as contenders for this year - Kathi Appelt's The Underneath and Ingrid Law's Savvy. I can see maybe a few really strong fourth or fifth graders being able to get these, but not very many (which isn't to say that I don't like the books - I do like all of them, very much - they just don't seem ideal for a lot of the kids I work with). So with limited budgets, it becomes a question of do you buy an award-winner with a very limited audience, or do you spend the money on books that will actually get read?

I don't think this skewing-older thing is new, especially since in the pre-Printz days, many of the winners/honor books really were YA rather than MG (The Hero and the Crown, which I just read for the first time last year - and loved -  springs to mind). But as a librarian, it would be nice if the books could be appreciated by slightly younger kids.
Title: Re: Has the Newbery lost its way?
Post by: Vijaya on October 22, 2008, 12:31 PM
Yes, it does seem that Newbery books are skewed towards the older kids ...  I suppose it's much harder to write beautifully and with depth for younger kids, though I've read my share of gorgeous picture books and easy readers that will stay with us forever.
Vijaya