How High Can You Fly?
I’d like to take this discussion back to the Newbery manual.
If a book is challenging, and suitable for 13-14-year-olds but not for younger readers, is it eligible? Yes; but it can be given an award only if it does what it sets out to do as well as or better than other, younger books that are also eligible.
A book for older readers can often be much more sophisticated than a book for younger readers and I think this last clause warns against the tendency to be seduced by these more sophisticated books. Just because an older book can make greater demands on its audience doesn’t necessarily make it better than an excellent book for younger readers.
Does LIPS TOUCH do what it sets out to do better than WHEN YOU REACH ME does what it sets out to do? Does LIPS TOUCH do what it sets out to do better than THE DUNDERHEADS does what it sets out to do? I think they all three succeed marvelously, and I think you could make a solid case for any of them, but I have no problem with giving WHEN YOU REACH ME preferential treatment because it more closely fits our preconceptions of what a Newbery Medal book is (or perhaps I should say that the realist in me knows that the consensus process will preference this book over the others). But, where the fiction is concerned, why can’t LIPS TOUCH and THE DUNDERHEADS be Honor books rather than several inferior middle grade novels? And then, too, why can’t we apply the same logic to bolster the chances of the very youngest books? Does WHEN YOU REACH ME do what it does better than THE DUNDERHEADS? (I have used LIPS TOUCH, WHEN YOU REACH ME, and THE DUNDERHEADS here as examples of books for–to speak in ALSC Notable parlance–younger readers, middle readers, and older readers, but I could have used any of the excellent titles this year to make the same point.)
Back to LIPS TOUCH and the Newbery manual.
* Is there any 14-year-old for whom this book is suitable?
This book is suitable for children ages 12-14 and in some cases for 10- and 11-year-olds.
* If so, is it distinguished enough to be considered?
* If so, exactly what 14-year-olds would respond to it, and why?
It’s not an age thing. It’s a fantasy thing. One full-grown imagination is speaking to another.
A book may be considered even though it appeals to a fairly small part of the age range if the committee feels that
* it is so distinguished that everyone of that age should know the book; or
* it is so distinguished, in so many ways, that it deserves recognition for the excellence it provides to a small but unique readership; or
* it is exceptionally fine for the narrow part of the range to which it appeals, even though it may be eligible for other awards outside this range. Yes, and I’d like to particularly note that one of the awards implied in that statement is the Printz Award.
I’d like to add a final note about the illustrations in LIPS TOUCH. I’m still pondering how they age the story and how they affect the sophistication of the book. Preceding each story is a series of illustrations that preview certain parts of each story–the exposition, the backstory. These snapshots force the readers to make various predictions about the literary elements in each story. Who are these characters? Where is this story set? What’s happening? (To use reading teacher jargon, it’s like having an anticipatory set built into the book.) And, of course, the reader may return to the pictures during or after the reading and reflect further on the relationship between the text and the pictures.
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About Jonathan Hunt
Jonathan Hunt is the Coordinator of Library Media Services at the San Diego County Office of Education. He served on the 2006 Newbery committee, and has also judged the Caldecott Medal, the Printz Award, the Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards, and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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