What is this thing called Newbery?
In my earlier post, Mocking, I outlined in the roughest terms the process for the Newbery committee. In many of the comments on the recent post Shortlist and Discussion Details Announced!, and from some of the questions from new participants who have RSVPed for Dec 12th, I’ve realized we should talk a little more about how the Newbery discussion is framed around the criteria, and how discussion participants may want to prepare their thoughts
First, please read the Newbery Criteria in full before proceeding with this post.
Discussing and considering titles for the Newbery is more focussed than most children’s book discussions tend to be. For instance:
“The committee in its deliberations is to consider only the books eligible for the award, as specified in the terms.”
This means that only eligible books published that year may be considered, and only considered against each other. The committee is looking for the one book of that field that rises to the top. Therefore, they do not compare the eligibile books to books from any other year. Whether KKK is Bartoletti’s best book is not a consideration for this committee. How it compares to the other eligibile books is. Whether ONE CRAZY SUMMER is the best avaiable introduction for kids to the Black Panther movement is not a consideration. Whether Williams-Garcia succeeds in her “interpretation…” and “presentation…” is. This is very different than how we usually think of evaluating a book for purchase.
“Committee members need to consider the following:
Interpretation of the theme or concept
Presentation of information including accuracy, clarity, and organization
Development of a plot
Delineation of characters
Delineation of a setting
Appropriateness of style.
Note: Because the literary qualities to be considered will vary depending on content, the committee need not expect to find excellence in each of the named elements. The book should, however, have distinguished qualities in all of the elements pertinent to it.” [emphasis mine]
Jonathan addressed this in an exchange with Mr. H on Monday’s post. This is the “apples and oranges” dilemma. Having distinguished qualities in more areas than another book is not the question. The question is: is the book distinguished in all areas that are pertinent to it? That is: Is Bartoletti’s nonfiction work distinguished in “Interpretation of theme or concept,” “Presentation of information including accuracy, clarity, and organization,” and “Approriatness of style”? We wouldn’t expect a nonfiction work to have elements plot, characters, or setting. However, we’d ask if KEEPER, for instance, is distinguished in plot, character, setting…and probably style. DARK EMPEROR, I’d suggest, we’d be looking at “interpretation of theme or concept,” “appropriateness of style,” and “presentation of information…” since there is an informational aspect to this book.
Of course, when you get down to it and have to ask which is “most” distinguished… DARK EMPEROR, KKK, or KEEPER (as a “for instance”) it becomes extremely difficult, and this is where you really need face to face discussion and 15 well developed opinions. Most importantly, committee members will have developed those opinions by paying close attention to their own reading prefernces and biases, and guarding against those. The justification statements submitted with each committee member’s nominations are a way for–for instance–a committee member to make a case for a poetry book to others who may be having difficultly seeing it as distinguished. Remember that a lot of us in this field tend to be “fiction” readers. A majority of Newbery honored titles are fiction…and specifically, novels. However, there is nothing in the award that suggests it is only for ficiton. It is for literature.
Those of you who weren’t with us last year might review the Dunderheads Dilemma for an approach on apples and oranges.
“Committee members must consider excellence of presentation for a child audience.
Note: The committee should keep in mind that the award is for literary quality and quality presentation for children. The award is not for didactic content or popularity. “
This is probably the hardest thing for participants to separate out of the discussion, since when considering a book we’re usually very focussed on popularity, and/or didactic intent. But the award challenges us to think of a “child audience” that is not necessarily a wide audience. It also challenges us to consider the book only for what it is, and for how well it presents itself to its audience. Not whether we think it’s important for children to read it. Committee members ask themselves: who is the best, or intended, audience for this book and how well does the author speak to them? That audience may be most 3-6 year olds. Or a narrow subset of 9-10 year olds. Or 13-14 year olds. Etc.
Angela said in a comment on Monday’s post: “Perhaps most noteably, as an elementary librarian, serving grades K-6, I feel KKK isn’t appropriate for this age group. I would hope that the book that takes home the Newbery gold would appeal to children of a wider age group than the YA or “tween” set.”
I think many of us have similar hopes, but they’re somewhat unfounded. The award is for a book for any part of an audience of 0-14 year olds. The committee does not deliberate on how wide this audience is.
When you combine this common, unfounded hope with the “test of time question”….
(Again, Angela from Monday. Not picking on you Angela, you just are most-recently asking the pertinent questions that come up repeatedly!) “It would be nice if the book that wins THE medal really and truly has the elements of a classic and stands the test of time (which I know is subjective). I’m sure the committee that selected “Secrets of the Andes” over “Charlotte’s Web,” for example, would wish to rewind time and debate a little more.”
You’ve got the age-old “Has the Newbery Lost its Way” debate. And since this post is long enough for now, I’ll point to a comment I made last year on that can o’ worms.
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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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