I’ve had sporadic internet access this past week while traveling during the holidays, which has been unfortunate as there have been many interesting dicussions. This post collects my response to some of them; I hope to chime in on more of them when I return home this weekend.
UNDER THE RADAR
We’re running out of time to lobby for individual books. When I mentioned HEART OF A SHEPHERD recently, one commenter inquired about ALL THE BROKEN PIECES, a book which I liked as much as any of the darkhorse contenders. I would find myself hard pressed to vote for it, however, over many of the other titles we’ve discussed here.
What other books do you feel are in danger of slipping under the radar? Here’s a couple more from me: SECRET SUBWAY by Martin Sandler (maybe not quite as good as the holy trinity–CHARLES AND EMMA, CLAUDETTE COLVIN, and MARCHING FOR FREEDOM–but as good as any of the other nonfiction published this past year) and THE CHOSEN ONE by Carol Lynch Williams (think: LIVING DEAD GIRL by Elizabeth Scott meets ARMAGEDDON SUMMER by Bruce Coville and Jane Yolen meets MEMOIRS OF A BOOKBAT by Kathryn Lasky-probably too old for Newbery, but also feels too young for Printz).
What I liked so much about Billy’s comments under Robbed! is that they reveal how the winners are always a mixed bag, even for committee members: there’s a couple you love (THE HIGHER POWER OF LUCKY and PENNY FROM HEAVEN), a couple you are underwhelmed by (RULES and HATTIE BIG SKY), several that you think should have made the cut (THE MIRACULOUS JOURNEY OF EDWARD TULANE, A TRUE AND FAITHFUL NARRATIVE, and A DROWNED MAIDEN’S HAIR), and some that others lament that you never embraced (THE KING OF ATTOLIA). If we asked the other members of the 2007 Newbery committee we would get fourteen different responses.
Now I personally was in THE KING OF ATTOLIA camp, while I found THE HIGHER POWER OF LUCKY completely underwhelming, but then I am not generally a fan of these kinds of books. IDA B and EACH LITTLE BIRD THAT SINGS were likewise mentioned in the Robbed! comments and all three have an exceedingly twee sensibility for me. But, coming off the Newbery committee and going onto the Printz committee the following year, I did not read many of the books that people would have liked the Newbery committee to recognize, namely ALABAMA MOON, A TRUE AND FAITHFUL NARRATIVE, THE GREEN GLASS SEA, and A DROWNED MAIDEN’S HAIR. It’s interesting to note that the Notables committee did not recognize any of these either (so either these books aren’t as good as we think they are–or both committees dropped the ball). Looking through the 2007 Notables list, I find CLEMENTINE, YEAR OF THE DOG, and, most distressingly, several worthy nonfiction books, namely FREEDOM WALKERS, FREEDOM RIDERS, TEAM MOON, and ESCAPE!
My current take on the 2007 crop is that they are a collection of very idiosyncratic books. Since every committee has a surprise or two–something that is the unique product of those fifteen people–we could hardly fault the committee for recognizing any of their books. What I think irritates people (more than the omissions, perhaps) is that they are all idiosyncratic picks None of them were validated very much by other awards, committees, review journals, etc.
Monica mentioned that she respects the decision of this committee. I prefer to use the word understand rather respect. I understand that fifteen dedicated people read widely, reread, thought deeply, rethought, discussed, voted with a weighted ballot, and came up with these books. I understand that this process always results in disgruntlement and misunderstanding from the outside, both about the books that were recognized–and those that weren’t.
CHANGING MY MIND
In the comments to The Truth, Leslie asked if I really go in with my mind made up or if I am open to being persuaded one way or another by the discussion. The answer, of course, is both. I read, reread, read reviews, read listservs, discuss with colleagues, discuss with children, and carefully consider the suggestions and nominations from committee members so I have a pretty good idea going into the discussions about how I would rank the books. I don’t emotionally invest in any one book because it can be devastating if it doesn’t get selected. It can also be devastating if you loathe some of the books, especially the Medal. It takes a thick skin and a tough stomach to serve on this committee, let me tell you.
On the other hand, I am open to allowing the discussion and the voting process to guide my votes. So, yes, discussion can change things dramatically. Another thing that changes things dramatically is rereading. Books that seemed confusing and/or uninspiring on a first read can change on the second reading, especially if the book isn’t your particular cup of tea. Books that seemed delightful on the first read often fail to provide the same pleasures and insights on subsequent reads.
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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 email@example.com
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