Last Stop for Nina
Jonathan will be closing out our season shortly with a preview for 2016; but first I’d like to say goodbye. As I warned at the beginning of the season, this is my last hurrah with Heavy Medal.
In that post in September, I’d mentioned I’d been doing this “long enough.” Although the books change each year, the process doesn’t, and to some extent I feel I’ve said what I’ve had to say. And while I recognize that getting top billing lends authority that I’ve tried my best to own, I hope this blog is about what each and all of us think about books and readers, not just me and Jonathan. So I’ve long been ready to detach myself from this byline and make room for other voices, and will be glad for the room for other pursuits, including the blog Reading While White, and my candidacy for ALSC President (against my good colleague and 2016 Newbery chair Ernie Cox, who I thank here for facilitating such a groundbreaking and affirming selection for the 2016 Newbery and honors). ACL / Bayviews will continue the live local mock discussions in the Oakland/SF Bay Area.
Every year I’m amazed and refreshed by the level of discussion we’re able to achieve on this blog, and, at the same time, how differently rich is the discussion we have in our in-person Mock Newberys. Always there, but only rarely here, are we able to truly exchange ideas…. to make an argument, know the person is listening, have a conversation to a point of understanding, if not agreement. It does happen here, it is simply harder to facilitate, and so I want to send out a huge appreciation for those of you who bring your arguments to this blog in the spirit of a collective discussion. Please continue to do so.
Book awards recognize the hard work of book creators, and point readers to good books. But neither of these can be the only end for an award that holds up one book above others, because we know that there are many other excellent books, hard working creators, and deserving readers of a myriad of tastes. The end result of book awards should always be a broadening and strengthened articulation of what can stand for excellence in the field, in order to promote the creation of more excellent work… and to prompt those of us who are in the business of connecting child readers with books to seek it out and share it, wherever we find it.
That is why I am so truly appreciative of the award committees who, this year and last in particular, have clearly worked to consider a truly open view of what can make a book “distinguished” for children, especially with the recognition of distinguished text that is inseparable from its graphics, and of representations of excellence for less-acknowledged ages in the span of the awards. In the process of doing this, recent committees have also clearly looked to diverse experiences for examples of distinguished work. It is hard work to do all this, and I know it depends on group trust that makes room for challenging thinking. Working from the criteria, one can use previously winning books to help set a bar. But rather than then looking for other work like those books, we can instead ask what it is these books tell us about writing… how it speaks to readers, what can make it unique or excellent as opposed to derivative or mediocre. How is it that writing achieves that miracle of creation within a reader’s mind, and where else can we find it?
Asking that, we may then find true excellence in something familiar, but we won’t also be able to find it in something new unless we keep this active mind, asking “what don’t I know, yet?,” and listening to others who can speak to different experiences and interpretations. And if we don’t make room to award something different some of the time, we’ll never have a spectrum of award winners that do the body of literature, and its readers, justice.
“He wondered how his nana always found beautiful
where he never even thought to look.
He looked all around them again, ….”
–Matt De La Peña, Newbery Medalist
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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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