Frank and Lucky Get Schooled
One day when Frank could not win for losing, he got Lucky.
And one day when Lucky was lost and found, he got Frank.
Sometimes you read a book, and you have a gut reaction to why it belongs in the discussion of the most distinguished contribution of American literature for children, and you can articulate exactly why it belongs in the discussion, but that explanation doesn’t fall very neatly into the enumerated Newbery criteria. And that’s where I find myself with FRANK AND LUCKY GET SCHOOLED. This book belongs in the discussion because Lynne Rae Perkins sees the world in a way that is completely unique, and now that we have glimpsed it with new eyes, we cannot look at the world the same way ever again. Most books remind us of other books that we like, but a rare few seem wholly unique and individually distinct. Lynne Rae Perkins has built a career out of writing such books.
That distinctive glimpse is a product of the text, the pictures, and the relationship between the pictures and the text. There’s quite a bit of misunderstanding about the Newbery criteria in regard to picture book texts–They fight an uphill battle because (a) it’s hard to make the same kind of impact that a longer text does and (b) the presence of words and pictures muddies things rather than clarifies–but Nina coined a phrase (“We consider only the text, but the text need not stand alone”) to remind us ourselves of the gist of it. It’s kind of become our mantra here, something we chant over and over again when we discuss these kinds of texts. In years past, we would quibble about whether this could really happen, or whether it was merely an academic discussion, but now with AVIARY WONDERS, INC taking the Kirkus Prize and THE LAST STOP ON MARKET STREET taking the Newbery, I’m hoping that we’ll all take picture book texts more seriously.
Mark Twain said, “I have never let my schooling interfere with my education,” and this book not only demonstrates the spirit of that quote, but also brings to mind current discourses in the world of education about engagement, relevance, and integrated learning. Obviously, I’m bringing lots of positive baggage to my reading of this text, but I’m also bringing a very serious problem to your attention, too. There is a very small amount of Spanish text in the book, but it ranges from awkward to wrong.
Annamaria and I discussed the various problems with it on our picture book teaser post, and the publisher, Greenwillow, chimed in to let us know that they would all be fixed in subsequent printings. I have mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, I’m happy to see this happening, and for me it fixes the only flaw I see in this book. On the other hand, Spanish speakers unanimously find this problematic, and it’s not just the error in and of itself, it’s the characterization of a Latina who cannot even speak her own language properly, so while I love the book to pieces I also have reservations.
Does the Newbery criteria provide any guidance on this issue? It does.
6. “In English” means that the committee considers only books written and published in English. This requirement DOES NOT limit the use of words or phrases in another language where appropriate in context.
And the Expanded Definitions & Criteria in the back of the manual further states that–
IN ENGLISH – means that the committee considers only books written and published in English. This requirement DOES NOT limit the use of words or phrases in another language where appropriate in context. Bilingual books may be considered, with the understanding that the award is given for the English text. In such cases the committee should, if necessary, request that the non-English text be read by a native-speaker of that language to determine whether there are flaws that detract from the book’s excellence or that would limit its acceptance by readers in the second language. Care must be taken, when approaching outside readers, not to imply the book is “under consideration” by the committee. This should be done ONLY by the chair, not individual committee members. Outside readers may be told only that the book is “eligible,” and should be approached as early in the year as possible, to avoid the impression that the book appears on the discussion list. As stated in the terms and criteria, all eligible books are to be considered.
While I believe the English text is wonderful, I also believe that the Spanish is a flaw that detracts from the book’s excellence and also that the Spanish would limit its acceptance by readers in the second language. I wrestled with how I might argue for this one, all things considered, but ultimately I decided not to.
I came back to another mantra that I use: “I can’t want your book to win more than you do.” You, being the publisher, of course. I typically think this to myself when the committee is not getting particular books late in the year, or when the publishers use excessively cheap production values (like paper so thin it wrinkles and warps or the ink bleeds through the other side, especially if you hold it up to any light source). This is a harsh thing for me to acknowledge, given my affinity for this particular title, but it should have been–easily could have been–a moot point.
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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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