The Sibert and The Newbery
Many of you who followed the Almost Astronauts kerfuffle in all its permutations here may have been surprised to see it swipe the Sibert. Jonathan remarks:
I could have seen a dozen books winning outright which is why I refused to make a prediction here. ALMOST ASTRONAUTS has taken a beating on this blog in recent weeks, so this is something of a surprise. I also predicted a mix of picture books and longer books. I do miss MARCHING FOR FREEDOM, TRUCE, and THE GREAT AND ONLY BARNUM here, but I do know the Sibert can’t have eight honor books.
I would also like to point out that the Sibert committee has no problem routinely including picture books among the winners. So when we discuss picture books and fiction in Newbery terms and we say that picture books just can’t compete, then why do they do so well in the Sibert field?
I’ve mentioned frequently that the Sibert Terms and Criteria seem to do a better job of defining "distinguished" nonfiction than the Newbery does; at the simplest level, because they take the whole package into account, not just the text. But now seems the time to look beyond the simplest level. I’m not going to paste the entire Terms and Criteria here, but just bring out a few points:
The Sibert Award is presented annually to the author, author/illustrator, co-authors, or author and illustrator named on the title page of the most distinguished informational book for children published in the United States in English during the preceding year.
Poetry and traditional literature (e.g., folktales) are not eligible. There are no other limitations as to the character of the book providing it is an original work.
Though we’re used to saying "nonfiction," the Sibert does not. It’s an award for "informational" books, and to make it perfectly clear, it excludes poetry and folklore.
"Informational books" are defined as those written and illustrated to present, organize, and interpret documentable, factual material.
"Significant contribution" is gauged by how well the work elucidates, clarifies and enlivens its subject. The committee considers overall accuracy, documentation, organization, visual material and book design.
The press release for Almost Astronauts notes: "Meticulously researched and handsomely illustrated with archival materials, Stone’s insightful, passionately written chronicle is sure to inspire. ‘Stone has a less-is-more approach that really packs a wallop,’ said Sibert Committee Chair Vicky Smith. ‘Readers will come away with their blood boiling. It’s a heckuva story.’" Considering those remarks and the definition of "Siginifanct Contribution" in the Terms, I’m less and less surprised about this choice. I know that the argument against it is that Stone’s unfailingly strong tone distorts the "truth," but I still don’t see that. I see a tone that "elucidates" and "enlivens" the subject. In the Mock discussions at my table, I noted that I found the chapter and section headings, as well as the flap copy, to be unneccessarily provocative….and I believe that many of the adult critics of the book are reacting to that surface level tone. To me, it is a minor flaw, as I believe that any young reader with an open mind who reads the whole book will get everything they need to put this story in context.
Finally, the nitty-gritty criteria:
In identifying the most distinguished informational book for children from the preceding year, committee members consider important elements and qualities:
Excellent, engaging, and distinctive use of language.
Excellent, engaging, and distinctive visual presentation.
Appropriate organization and documentation.
Clear, accurate, and stimulating presentation of facts, concepts, and ideas.
Appropriate style of presentation for subject and for intended audience.
Supportive features (index, table of contents, maps, timelines, etc).
Respectful and of interest to children.
Looking at these, I think it becomes clear how the committee can consider various formats, including picture books, graphic novels, and memoirs. All have been honored with the Sibert since it’s inception in 2000. And since it’s inception, An American Plague, The Voice That Challenged A Nation, Hitler Youth, and now Claudette Colvin have been honored by both the Sibert and the Newbery…far more frequent recongition for "informational" books by the Newbery than before the Sibert. These titles though are of a particular type–a subset of informational books whose strength rest almost entirely upont their text–making them equally distinguished for both awards.
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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 firstname.lastname@example.org
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