Consider the margins
As some of you get ready, with Jonathan, for the San Diego mock Newbery tomorrow, the actual Newbery committee members are in the midst of their own re-reading, and many of all of us are approaching the “apples to oranges” dilemma. How, considering the Newbery criteria, and the nominated books (for the committee, a secret list of dozens, for us, a mock shortlist of 9 titles), do you stack up one against the other?
We’ve now run through each of our shortlist books a couple of times for you to start comparing them, but I’m struck by responses so far to two titles in particular. MY SENECA VILLAGE, and ROLLER GIRL, I think, would both be considered “outliers” on a real Newbery discussion list, at least initially. They are not the “typical” looking Newbery book, but as there should be no “typical,” I do have a soft spot for them.
At the redux post for MY SENECA VILLAGE, commenters who appreciate the book on a literary basis still have questions about audience. Joe says “And though I know “popularity” is never taken into consideration (and shouldn’t be taken into consideration)… unfortunately, my students have show *no* interest in the book whatsoever. … I’m a bit bummed. I hope if the awards committees shower it with some love. Maybe that will raise its profile.”
While at the redux of ROLLER GIRL, Roseanne Parry mentioned “I did find it a fun and accessible read with surprising depth about girls’ friendships.” Megan Singer spoke to the strength of voice in a way that sounded distinguished to me, but concluded: “Is Roller Girl the most distinguished book I’ve read this year? No. But is it a book that I know will constantly be checked out of my classroom library, engage even my most reluctant readers, and leave my students with a positive message? Yes. And for those reasons it’s one of my favorite books this year.”
Using a “we” that is a gross generalization… we have one book we can find “distinguished” in a literary way, but question audience, and another that we have no doubt speaks to a child audience in a distinguished way, but for which we can’t quite make the leap to say it is Newbery-Worthy. I find these two ends of the spectrum very interesting. If there is no “typical” Newbery book, neither of these cases should exist as extremes. So this tells me we are still searching for something “recognizable” as a Newbery book. While it IS an award granted by a consensus, the process, and the fact that the committee changes entirely from year to year, should encourage ultimately a wide variety of examples of distinguished literature, even by the criteria (which are purposefully general, too).
If you are a fan for either of these, preparing for your imaginary Newbery committee, can you see where this title fits squarely in your assessment of “distinguished,” and can you pitch this orange against the many apples on the table?
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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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