Twas the Night Before Christmas
Okay, okay, it’s not the night before Christmas . . . but it sure feels like it. I can’t shake that breathless sense of childlike anticipation, knowing that the committee is at this moment wrapping my presents and putting them under the tree. Metaphorically speaking, that is. On Sunday morning, they are most likely finalizing their honor book choices and writing the press release which must be turned in by noon, before wandering the exhibit floor and attending various dinners–all with their very best poker faces. So I’m posting too late for any last minute lobbying, but I’ll still offer up some final thoughts on the Newbery and other major awards.
For a second straight year, I am going against the grain. ONE CRAZY SUMMER has emerged as the popular favorite, and I think there is an excellent chance that it will be held up over the podium tomorrow, and it would be a good choice, but one of many good choices. I’m still partial to KEEPER as the best middle grade fiction, however, and having finally reread THE DREAMER now remember just why I found it so distinguished on the first read. I feel about THE DREAMER the way Nina feels about FORGE: distinguished in all aspects, but not necessarily most distinguished, hence my annoyingly inaccurate “honor book” label. One of the more impressive things was the character development of Neftali, how the events of his childhood shaped him into the socially conscious artist that he became.
“Nephew, they may have silenced La Manana, but they will never silence my pen.”
Neftali looked into his uncle’s determined face.
He did not see a man defeated by exhaustion. He saw a man ready to fight another day.
He did not see a man covered head to toe in soot. He saw a man covered in righteousness.
He did not see a man’s red and blurry eyes. he saw an intense resolve to speak for those who could not speak for themselves.
Neftali reached out and gripped his uncle’s palm and held it tight. “Nor will they silence mine.”
Because of the oppressive, autocratic nature of many Latin American governments over the years, it is the artists–the poets, the painters, the playwrights–who have emerged to serve the same role that the press, that investigative journalism, has played in our country. It is the artists who serve as the social conscious of the nation, often giving their art a double meaning in order to criticize and voice opposition. (If you read the graphic novel, MR. MENDOZA’S PAINTBRUSH, this past year then you saw another manifestation of this.)
I know Pablo Neruda may not seem like the most child-friendly subject for a fictionalized biographical treatment, but he is revered as one of the best writers in the Spanish language. My wife, born and raised in Guatemala City, attended the finest schools, read lots of Neruda (loves him), but no Shakespeare. And yet we wouldn’t think to question the child appeal of a similar treatment of Shakespeare . . . Perhaps this defense of THE DREAMER is too little, too late, but I would be happy to see it recognized by the Newbery committee, and think it’s virtually a shoo-in for the Belpre.
My top three Newbery choices remain atypical–A CONSPIRACY OF KINGS, DARK EMPEROR, SUGAR CHANGED THE WORLD–and I still have not been able to nudge one ahead of the others because they are so different, although I suspect that DARK EMPEROR may be the easiest to build consensus around. I’d also like to see the Caldecott committee recognize DARK EMPEROR for Rick Allen’s wonderful illustrations (and likewise CITY DOG, COUNTRY FROG; yes, Willems’s text is awesome, but Muth’s illustrations are equally deserving).
I also expect that A CONSPIRACY OF KINGS and SUGAR CHANGED THE WORLD are being seriously considered by the Printz committee. I don’t think that the Newbery field is perhaps as wide open as some have suggested, at least not in comparison to the Printz field where the strongest books are either nonfiction (THEY CALLED THEMSELVES THE KKK, THE WAR TO END ALL WARS, SUGAR CHANGED THE WORLD, THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE BARBIE, and THE NOTORIOUS BENEDICT ARNOLD, a book which could have emerged as this year’s A SEASON OF GIFTS if more people had cared to read it; Nina and I clearly have strong and opposite reactions) or fantasy (INCARCERON, FEVER CRUMB, THE RING OF SOLOMON, A CONSPIRACY OF KINGS, and FINNIKIN OF THE ROCK to name a few). The realistic fiction, whether historical or contemporary (REVOLUTION, REVOLVER, THE SKY IS EVERYWHERE, and WILL GRAYSON, WILL GRAYSON), hasn’t won the consensus popular opinion vote the same way that, say, MARCELO IN THE REAL WORLD or THE ABSOLUTELY TRUE DIARY OF A PART-TIME INDIAN did. So that will be an interesting list.
We’ve discussed and quickly rejected BINK & GOLLIE, LING & TING, and WE ARE IN A BOOK! for Newbery consideration, but they could all be recognized by the Geisel committee. And I don’t care if the Geisel committee is tired of giving the award to Mo Willems; his book is still the best of the bunch. I’m also intrigued by Roger Sutton’s argument for MIRROR, MIRROR as an easy reader, and I’d like to suggest my own Geisel darkhorse, FEEDING THE SHEEP by Leda Schubert. Yes, dear readers, it’s come to this: Geisel darkhorses. What’s a kid to do? Tis the night before Christmas, after all.
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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 email@example.com
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