I’m back! I’ve spent the week on the road, presenting “The Best Young Adult Books of the Decade” for the Bureau of Education & Research with stops in Cincinnati, Columbus, Akron, and Chicago. I managed to keep up in the comments, but wasn’t very successful at posting (obviously). I’m not in San Diego (in case you’re looking for me), and will be watching the awards announcements online with most of you. I can’t wait!
Anyway, I wanted to continue the conversation about honor books that we started. It doesn’t surprise me that votes didn’t shift dramatically on our second poll. We didn’t have any discussion so it was hard for anyone to sense a collective shift toward or away from certain books (which likely would have happened in face-to-face discussion).
I’m glad Eric brought up the lone honor book myth, and that Nina quickly dispelled it. Of course, it’s certainly true that that is one way to get to a lone honor book (that is, when two equally strong books emerge as Medal candidates and multiple ballots fail to distinguish a clear winner). But our situation was different. We had a clear winner from the very first vote, and another title that also distinguished itself.
Lone honor books are not very popular with fans, but the committees who opt for this route often tend to acquit themselves favorably from a historical standpoint. I would argue that in the past twenty years the only committees I would give an A+ to are the 1991 Newbery (MANIAC MAGEE and THE TRUE CONFESSIONS OF CHARLOTTE DOYLE) and the 1999 Newbery (HOLES and A LONG WAY FROM CHICAGO), and a large part of that is that they didn’t burden themselves with an extra honor book or two of obviously lesser quality. Those four books easily remain in the top 25% of Newbery books in the two past decades.
Another false myth is that a committee with lots of honor books couldn’t make up its mind. (Again, it’s probably certainly true for some committees–perhaps those with numerous ballots?–but not true of all committees). Everybody ought to have a least one title on the list that they can be proud of, and honor books can often be olive branch gestures. Then, too, committees may reach for underrepresented books. There are many factors that contribute to the honor book decision and they are complex and dynamic, ever-changing and hard to pin down and articulate.
Some people also believe that too many honor books dilutes the power and prestige of the award and I think this is kind of true. Regardless of what the Newbery committee recognizes in any given year, the five most distinguished books are rarely all middle grade novels. So if a committee just wants to recognize four to six novels, then I would agree that dilutes the power of the award, but if the committee’s picks mirror the diversity of the field they have considered, then I’m all for more honor books. Which means that from our poll, I wouldn’t want to name ONE CRAZY SUMMER the winner with KEEPER, FORGE, CONSPIRACY, COUNTDOWN, THE KNEEBONE BOY, and THE DREAMER as the six honor books. I think this would make Team-Get-Kids-Reading-the Best-of-the-Best very happy, but as a card-carrying member of Team Best-Book-and-Devil-Take-the-Audience, the only way I could sanction six honor books is something like this. Medal: ONE CRAZY SUMMER. Honors: KEEPER, CONSPIRACY, DARK EMPEROR, SUGAR CHANGED THE WORLD, THEY CALLED THEMSELVES THE KKK, and CITY DOG, COUNTRY FROG.
So history may indeed be kinder to us if we name ONE CRAZY SUMMER (119) the Medal winner with KEEPER (64) as the lone honor book. I personally would prefer to go down two more–FORGE (47) and CONSPIRACY (44)–because I think those two books are just as good–if not better–than the first books, and I might even swallow the poison pill–COUNTDOWN (39)–to make it happen. But maybe not. Maybe I would be too pissed off about the dismissive treatment of the poetry, nonfiction, and picture books.
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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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