Conspiracy of Kings
Alright, I figured the photo of my shelves would be a good opening party trick, but I do have to explain that those piles will start shifting, and quickly, as we get going in our discussions. So let’s go!
Why not start with A Conspiracy of Kings, whose position in my pile many of you speculated on, and which–he says in a comment on that first post–would be in Jonathan’s Mock-Newbery ballot if he had to vote today. I certainly relished this latest installment in the series following The Thief, and appreciated that Turner took the leap to focus on a different character than the much-adored Eugenidies. Though the tone seemed disappointingly subdued in comparison at first, even that of course turned out to be part of Turner’s grand scheme, and reflects on her skill. Sophos’ point of view deflects attention; as does his character. It’s an almost miraculous trick.
Those of you who were around for my Mock Newbery in 2006 might remember the discussion for Megan Whalen Turner’s previous The King of Attlolia, which did wind up on our Honor list, though not uncontentiously. There were two main issues, neither trivial, which I think also pertain to this title:
The Newbery criteria state in part that:
2. A “contribution to American literature for children” shall be a book for which children are an intended potential audience. The book displays respect for children’s understandings, abilities, and appreciations. Children are defined as persons of ages up to and including fourteen, and books for this entire age range are to be considered.
The newest revision of the Newbery Manual contains an appedix of “Expanded Definitions and Examples” which helps to clarify:
CHILDREN’S BOOK – means a book for which children, up to and including age 14, are an intended and potential audience. Books for this entire age range are to be considered. ALSC awards (with the exception of the Geisel award for books for beginning readers) are given to “children,” defined as “persons of ages up to and including fourteen.”
Frog and Toad Together, by Arnold Lobel, was a Newbery Honor Book in 1973, despite the young age of its intended audience.
In some instances, award-winning books have been criticized for exceeding the upper age limit of fourteen.
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. Questions for committees to consider include these:
* Is there any 14-year-old for whom this book is suitable?
* If so, is it distinguished enough to be considered?
* If so, exactly what 14-year-olds would respond to it, and why?
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;
* it is so distinguished, in so many ways, that it deserves recognition for the excellence it provides to a small but unique readership;
* 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.
With these interpretations, I think it’s hard to make a case that A Conspiracy of Kings is not eligible by consideration of age level, as long as it is distinguished enough.
So is it? That’s where the other issue comes in:
Does it stand alone?
Back to the criteria:
10. The term, “only the books eligible for the award,” specifies that the committee is not to consider the entire body of the work by an author or whether the author has previously won the award. The committee’s decision is to be made following deliberation about the books of the specified calendar year.
This definition compels the committee to consider only the books at hand, and only as they relate to another. Can you compellingly convince a committee of the distinguished elements of A Conspiracy of Kings without referring to the series as a whole? Surely, the previous relationships developed between Eugenidies and Sophos, and Eugenidies and Eddis in previous novels, are essential in supporting the tension in this story. As much as I feel this is a distinguished novel in a distinguished series, I’m not sure it would stand up under the Newbery criteria. I’d have to hear otherwise from someone who’s not read the others to be convinced otherwise.
Of course, Jonathan has an opinion on whether the criteria are justified on this count, and it comes more and more to bear now that sequels and series are almost a norm in children’s literature.
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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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