Newbery vs. Sibert
"But does the existence of the Sibert just give us an excuse for continuing to leave non-fiction out of most Newbery discussions? Does it imply that non-fiction Newberys are an almost-lost cause and move on?
"And then, much as I’d like to see more non-fiction among the Newberys NOW, I can’t forget my childhood disappointment when Lincoln: A Photobiography and Joyful Noise were chosen, when what I wanted was a good story.
"I’m also disappointed to see that history still seems to dominate the Sibert winners and honors (all the Newbery non-fictions and almost all the Newbery honor non-fictions are historical). I love history, but I’d like to know what the most distinguished books in other categories are, too."
Just as the Newbery is for writing across genres, yet tends to go to novels with strong plots perhaps because of the way the criteria are crafted, the Sibert Medal seems to often go to a history book, although if you look at the short span of honorees for this relatively new award, I think you’ll see a pretty fair representation of science, the arts, etc.
The Sibert criteria draw on the various strengths of the entire package of an informational book in the way that the Newbery does not, allowing non-fiction to shine in its own light. So does that "just give us an excuse for continuing to leave non-fiction out of most Newbery discussions?" Well no, of course not. The Sibert committee operates completely separately from the Newbery, and each maintains a confidentiality of their discussion list. They are working with the same year’s books, but under different criteria. And if you look at Newbery medals and honors since the Sibert was created (an 8 year span), you’ll find the following "informational" books:
Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! Voices from a Medieval Village by Laura Amy Schlitz (Candlewick)
Hitler Youth: Growing Up in Hitler’s Shadow by Susan Campbell Bartoletti (Scholastic)
The Voice that Challenged a Nation: Marian Anderson and the Struggle for Equal Rights" by Russell Freedman (Clarion Books/Houghton Mifflin)
An American Plague: The True and Terrifying Story of the Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1793 by Jim Murphy (Clarion Books)
Carver: A Life In Poems by Marilyn Nelson (Front Street)
It’s true that these Newbery Nonfictions–as Six Boxes point out–are mostly historical…and I think that’s a symptom of its criteria, which focusses solely on writing. It’s really hard to take a fabulous easy reader or picture book text and have it consensually WOW fifteen people as much as a novel. Ditto nonfiction. It does happen…but rarely, and it’s why I’m so happy to have the Sibert running alongside the Newbery. If anything, it reminds the Newbery committee of the entirety of its charge.
Sharon and I will be winding up this week before we shutter up for the season. Please let us know if you have a burning question for us!
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About Nina Lindsay
Nina Lindsay is the Children's Services Coordinator at the Oakland Public Library, CA. She chaired the 2008 Newbery Committee, and served on the 2004 and 1998 committees. You can reach her at email@example.com
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