Too Old for the Newbery?
Last year, we considered the merits of some books–CHARLES AND EMMA and LIPS TOUCH–that were at the very top of the Newbery age range. You’ll remember the revised Newbery manual has some specific guidelines for these kinds of books.
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.
So with this is mind, tell me what you think of the following.
AS EASY AS FALLING OFF THE FACE OF THE EARTH by Lynne Rae Perkins is a wonderful road trip novel. While this one has a more conventional plot than CRISS CROSS, the main attraction here continues to be character, theme, and style. This book has some of the best sentence-level writing of the year, perfectly capturing the world as only Perkins can describe it. The plot-driven aspect of the book might appeal more to child readers than CRISS CROSS did, but do the older main character and the YA-ness of the cover pitch it to an older audience?
THE CARDTURNER by Louis Sachar reminds me of STARGIRL by Jerry Spinelli, that is, a book that is technically YA but so wholesome and engaging that it will appeal to many middle school readers, and possibly even some elementary readers. I loved being immersed in the world of bridge, but then we like to play a similar game in my family–Rook–so the card jargon was not completely unfamiliar. And it was just a great story.
THE WATER SEEKER by Kimberly Willis Holt is the story of a pioneer family in the American West during the mid-1800s. It does not feel like your typical juvenile Newbery book, but it’s historical fiction (and we all know how much the committee loves this genre) and it just seems to transcend an audience category. It’s my least favorite of this bunch, but has perhaps the best chance.
Now these may seem younger than CHARLES AND EMMA and LIPS TOUCH, but are they still too old for the Newbery? And if not, are they distinguished enough?
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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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