Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Opinion: Has the Newbery Lost Its Way?

Having served on a YALSA selection committee, I know how hard it is to select a group of books. Selecting the book that makes the greatest contribution to children's literature must, therefore, be an even more difficult task. It's always easy to play Monday morning quarterback, and I don't want to disparage anyone's hard work.

All that being said, however? Amen to Anita Silvey for asking the question, Has the Newbery Lost Its Way? (Thanks to Bookshelves of Doom for the link.) Of the last couple of Newbery winners that I've read--Good Masters! Sweet Ladies!, The Higher Power of Lucky, Criss Cross--only Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! was memorable and something that could have the broad appeal to all the groups that help create lasting popularity: teachers, librarians, children and parents.

I think all book awards where the major criterion is literary quality walk a fine line in selecting the winner, and in the case of the major awards for youth literature (the Newbery and the Printz), you truly do have to ask if the public might know a bit more about books than us experts. Silvey cites the classic example of how the Newbery has not picked the lasting book: the 1953 winner was not Charlotte's Web, but The Secret of the Andes. Will we look back in fifty years and be able to make the same case? Maybe, maybe not. But I believe Anita Silvey's article should be given to every successive Newbery and Printz committee, as a word from the wise. Because if these committees continue to select books that do not have, in Silvey's words, a kind of universality, the Newbery will start to lose a little of its status. And what a come down that would be.

No comments: