Short and Funny
We often try to spotlight as many atypical Newbery books as possible rather than chasing down every last middle grade title, but the shorter time frame has hijacked some of the posts that we normally devote to them, but we find ourselves with some extra time this week as we await the mock choices from Oakland.
Picture books obviously have a hard time of it during the Newbery process, and funny picture books–though they are the favorites of children everywhere–have an even rougher go of it. Yet there is a pro type: DOCTOR DeSOTO by William Steig, which won a Newbery Honor back in 1983.
Elissa has spoken for I YAM A DONKEY and I would always seriously consider the latest Elephant & Piggie book (in this case, I REALLY LIKE SLOP) it’s too easy to dismiss these books because they read like one really long joke–very, very good jokes, but jokes nevertheless. For those books to be taken seriously, I think you have to look at them as picture books and as easy reader books through the Geisel lens. I’m up for that challenge, but I think it’s a hard sell for a majority of the committee. I’m going to focus my efforts, then, on the pair of picture books that dominated the mock Caldecotts that I conducted with a series of fifth grade classes.
Here’s what IT’S ONLY STANLEY has going for it: rhyming couplets with a flawless sense of meter that when coupled with the drama of the page turn–a drama rooted in the words as much as the pictures, if not more–make this a delight to read silently to oneself or aloud to a group of children. There are also healthy doses of alliteration, onomatopoeia, and foreshadowing.
THE SKUNK is another silly little book about those twin maladies: obsession and paranoia. We have predictable repetition in the narrative structure, yet we really don’t have a clue where this is going, ultimately, and like STANLEY, the pacing is perfectly fluid. Last year, Barnett wrote a book in SAM & DAVE DIG A HOLE that explicitly asked readers to make meaning of what they’d just read. I’d argue that this one does something similar, albeit in a more understated absurdist sort of way. (Ahem, Travis Jonker; I think a follow-up post is in order.)
Neither of these books have the heft of DOCTOR DeSOTO nor do they have Steig’s million dollar vocabulary, but I think they both have the same kind of intelligence, wit, and absurdity that deserves a Newbery Honor. Don’t you?
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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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