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Has the Newbery lost its way?

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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.

#31 - October 13, 2008, 12:38 PM
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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! :)).  :!
#32 - October 13, 2008, 12:48 PM
« Last Edit: October 13, 2008, 01:22 PM by Cindy »

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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?
#33 - October 13, 2008, 01:00 PM

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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
#34 - October 13, 2008, 01:07 PM

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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.
#35 - October 13, 2008, 01:34 PM

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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).
#36 - October 13, 2008, 02:07 PM
Author of SILVER PONY RANCH and ZEKE MEEKS series

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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. 
#37 - October 13, 2008, 02:18 PM
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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??

#38 - October 13, 2008, 02:34 PM
« Last Edit: October 13, 2008, 02:43 PM by andracill »
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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. 
#39 - October 13, 2008, 02:45 PM

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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 :)
#40 - October 13, 2008, 02:50 PM
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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
#41 - October 13, 2008, 02:54 PM

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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.
#42 - October 13, 2008, 03:34 PM

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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.
#43 - October 13, 2008, 04:18 PM
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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.)
#44 - October 13, 2008, 04:45 PM
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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!
#45 - October 13, 2008, 08:52 PM

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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. 
#46 - October 14, 2008, 04:16 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
#47 - October 14, 2008, 04:40 AM
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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.
#48 - October 14, 2008, 07:09 AM
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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.  ??
#49 - October 14, 2008, 07:26 AM
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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.
#50 - October 14, 2008, 08:36 AM

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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.
#51 - October 14, 2008, 09:22 AM
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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.
#52 - October 14, 2008, 10:26 AM

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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 . . .
#53 - October 14, 2008, 10:44 AM

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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
#54 - October 14, 2008, 11:04 AM

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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

#55 - October 16, 2008, 08:54 AM

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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." :)
#56 - October 16, 2008, 12:30 PM
« Last Edit: October 16, 2008, 12:44 PM by andracill »
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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.
#57 - October 16, 2008, 01:44 PM

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Brava, Sarah!
#58 - October 16, 2008, 01:47 PM
VAMPIRINA BALLERINA series (Disney-Hyperion)
SUNNY'S TOW TRUCK SAVES THE DAY (Abrams)
GROUNDHUG DAY (Disney-Hyperion, 2017)
among others

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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!
#59 - October 16, 2008, 01:50 PM

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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...;)
#60 - October 16, 2008, 02:22 PM
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