Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Opinion: That Newbery Discussion Again

I'm perfectly willing to concede when I've gotten the wrong end of the stick. I think my reaction to Anita Silvey's article about the recent Newbery winners reflected my lack of knowledge of the Newbery rules. It's true, the Newbery Award is not about popularity--which wasn't what I interpreted Silvey's article to be stating. And contrary to how Silvey indicated the Newbery is interpreted as, this award is also not about picking a new classic or selecting a book that holds a universality for many children.

Yet . . . isn't that what's happened with the Newbery? Isn't that how us librarians are often interpreting the Newbery? To quote from Liz at A Chair, a Fireplace and a Tea Cozy, who says it so much better than I could, "If there are that many people out there, including professional librarians, who don't "get" what the Newbery is about, whose fault is it?" I know that I, personally, see the Newbery Award going to a book that is considered so superior to any other book published in that year, a book that is a work of art that will last for decades. Yet the librarians in Silvey's article--and note, she spoke to over a hundred librarians, media specialists, teachers, and other professionals--indicate that the recent winners do not seem to meet that test.

However that's not to say that the argument in Silvey's article is completely valid. As Carlie from Libarilly Blonde pointed out to me, discussion on listservs have commented that comparing Criss Cross to The Giver or Kira-Kira to Holes are false comparisions, since those books were published in different years. It'd be more valid to compare the Newbery winner with other books published in the same calendar year. To use a slightly different example to illustrate this, I'm sure in years to come people will be talking about this year's Printz winner, The White Darkness, and comparing it to The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, and asking if perhaps the wrong book won the Printz. That's a fair argument, and one that could have strengthened Silvey's position.

However, the essential point still remains, I think. What's wrong with expressing a lack of enthusiasm for recent winners of the Newbery? It's not a slur upon the committees who have selected the books; as I said in my original post, I can appreciate how hard their task is. Perhaps Silvey's article is making the right argument using the wrong reasons, or perhaps this will be forgotten in a few months. Either way, it's provoked a lot of thought on my part, about how I evaluate books and how I want to express my opinions. And that's a good thing! So thank you to those who sent comments either agreeing or disagreeing with my initial post; I hope you out there continue to listen to my thoughts.


Wendy said...

Hi! I linked over to you from the Tea Cozy blog.

I'm not saying anything original here, since a lot of people have written good responses to the Silvey article. But one thing I have a big problem with is the idea that all this is RECENT. Throughout the history of the Newbery, there have been times when classics have been selected, and times when more forgettable books were selected. Are we in some kind of slump recently? I don't personally think so, but even if you or others didn't particularly care for three of the last four or whatever, I doubt you'd have to go very far back to find books you really do think are worthy. The last four years are prominent in our minds, but in ten years or so, it will probably seem like a momentary blip. Is there any time in the Newbery's history where they chose "winners" of winners year after year? I don't think so, myself.

I also sincerely doubt that every one of the hundred people Silvey talked to really supported her main idea.

melissa said...

It's very true that time may show that the last few years were just a blip: a period when yes, less memorable books were chosen, but the overall quality and prestige of the Newbery Award continued.

Disagree or not with Silvey's original article, though, I feel that there's nothing wrong with us questioning how the Newbery works. Most people would agree that we've seen some major changes in our lives and culture in the past few years, so some things that we used to do may need to be adapted or changed. Yet there's been a lot of negative response to anyone venturing such an opinion.

Time will allow us to look back at this and see that if it was just a momentary issue, but in order to keep the Newbery vital and relevant, I think it's important to always ask questions.

Thanks for your thoughts!

Wendy said...

I think one reason that it seems like people are resistant to discussion about change in the way the Newbery is selected is that I don't feel like I'm seeing specific suggestions about what needs to be changed or how to change it--other than moving the upper age limit down to 12, which seems reasonable, though others have explained why they'd prefer it to stay as is. I'd be very interested in conversations about specifics that could be changed, and I think others would be open to that discussion, too.