Well, I’m impressed, and while I try to absorb all your recommendations, let’s get into it with the one title I’m surprised so few of you have suggested: Brian Selznick’s WONDERSTRUCK.
Fuse #8 posted her online review yesterday, which includes some interior images for you. Arranged physically like HUGO CABRET, this is a completely different story, including shifts in time, and a visual narrative that evokes–rather than the movies of CABRET–the interior narrative of deaf characters. As a non-deaf reader, I found this visual/worded narrative stream even more effective in WONDERSTRUCK than it was in CABRET, in terms of capturing me emotionally with character, setting and narrative tension.
But here we get to the complication (and it will be a parallel, but totally different complication for our friends at Calling Caldecott, which is indeed now live), because the Newbery criteria remind us that:
2. Each book is to be considered as a contribution to American literature. The committee is to make its decision primarily on the text. Other components of a book, such as illustrations, overall design of the book, etc., may be considered when they make the book less effective.
While “text” still does primarily mean, in common parlance, and clearly in the intention of these criteria, “written words,” I believe that the meaning of this word is shifting, and within not too long a time we’ll see a more common acceptance of “text” to include other elements, including visual. Etymologically the root has to do with “thread” and “weaving,” and the definition of the word seemed to have come around to distinguish things recorded physically–i.e., “written words,”–rather than orally. I personally don’t believe that readers experience “word” text separately from visual “text” anymore…as, probably, they didn’t when the written word first came about.
But this year, with this book, this Newbery committee is bound by that criterium, and the third sentence pretty clearly indicates that the word “text” is to be taken as “words,” because “other components…such as illustrations” are to be excluded from consideration unless “they make the book less effective.” (While the manual includes a section of expanded definitions to further clarify criteria, this one is not addressed there. Yet.)
With other examples of illustrated contenders for the Newbery, the “trick” for considering them is to cover up the illustrations so that one can focus solely on the worded text. That doesn’t quite work here, because the worded text doesn’t tell the whole story. Must it, under the Newbery criteria? I don’t see where the criteria call for that. I would want to, in discussion, look for evidence of distinguished characteristics solely in the worded text, and would find them distinguished if they do their part with “eminence and distinction,” etc. Do they? My personal jury is still out. I think Selznick’s writing here is stronger than it was in CABRET, yet will it stand up to some of the other major contenders this year? The problem, when considering this for the Newbery, is that while this is certainly a distinguished book, the best parts of it are not necessarily in the words.
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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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