As our discussion of GHOSTS slowly unfolds, I’m reminded of how very unNewberylike it is. Part of that is because it’s virtually impossible to simulate a face-to-face discussion in an online setting, but I also think that another part has to do with process.
The committee trades suggestions anonymously through the chair throughout the year. It’s possible that GHOSTS had several suggestions before any of the critical online discussions happened, and that it may have continued to accrue some throughout the controversy. In order for the book to be discussed at ALA Midwinter, however, somebody would need to nominate it. Members get 3 in October, 3 in November, and 2 in December. There might be a brief facilitated discussion of “accuracy” online in which members share sources with each other in order to continue their individual and collective vetting process, but this is at the discretion of the chair.
Members would be keenly interested in any critical points brought up online, and there have been many regarding this book. Many of these need to be reframed in the context of the terms, definitions, and criteria; some others may be irrelevant, misleading, or false. The committee has to evaluate these sources of information as well as seek out their own. Of course, they will consult child readers, especially Mexican-American children and Native children, if possible. They will likely consult friends and colleagues with these backgrounds and solicit opinions, and they may also consult academic sources whether in the form of written articles and books and/or discreet conversations. This has always been encouraged, but with new language that Sam quoted from the Newbery manual, this is more necessary than ever. If this book makes it to the table, I think the online discussions on GHOSTS will merely represent the tip of the iceberg. Of course, not every member can be as thorough in their vetting of every book, but with 15 people on the committee, it allows for a fairly rigorous process.
As for that aforementioned reframing process. Here is the relevant language–
2. A “contribution to American literature for children” shall be a book for which children are an intended potential audience. The book displays respect for children’s understandings, abilities, and appreciations. Children are defined as persons of ages up to and including fourteen, and books for this entire age range are to be considered.
1. In identifying “distinguished contribution to American literature,” defined as text, in a book for children,
a. Committee members need to consider the following:
- Interpretation of the theme or concept
- Presentation of information including accuracy, clarity, and organization
- Development of a plot
- Delineation of characters
- Delineation of a setting
- Appropriateness of style.
Note: Because the literary qualities to be considered will vary depending on content, the committee need not expect to find excellence in each of the named elements. The book should, however, have distinguished qualities in all of the elements pertinent to it.
b.Committee members must consider excellence of presentation for a child audience.
When it comes to the face-to-face discussions, most committees use a variation of book discussion guidelines developed at CCBC that allow for positive points to be made first before mixed and negative ones are introduced into the discussion, preferably as questions.
So a hypothetical Newbery discussion of GHOSTS would open with strengths of the book–people have mentioned the relationship between the sisters most often here, but there are others we have probably neglected in our rush to focus on concerns–then mixed or negative comments would be introduced. I might say, for example, “Given this obvious inaccuracy, does this book respect the abilities, understandings, and appreciations of children? All children, both Mexican-American and Native children?” I feel like our conversation here might have benefited from more of this kind of structure. We didn’t enumerate many strengths of the book–I’m not sure that either Sharon or I are the best advocates for this book–and we referred people to earlier conversations about problematic concerns, rather than explicitly spelling them out, or citing specific textual examples. I think the real committee won’t take the shortcuts that we have here, but they may ultimately end up at a very similar place, one where it appears difficult, if not impossible, to build consensus around this title.
As I reflect on the imperfections of both FRANK AND LUCKY GET SCHOOLED and GHOSTS, I’m reminded that a genius once said that even flawed books can positively impact readers. They won’t positively impact all readers, of course, and that doesn’t mean that flawed books need to win awards. Then, too, neither Lynne Rae Perkins and Raina Telgemeier need help finding readers for their books. On the other hand, like Nina, I’m encouraged by the recent performance of the ALSC awards in regards to diversity, not to mention the Kirkus Prize shortlist and National Book Award finalists this year. Here’s hoping that diversity–in all forms–becomes the rule rather than the exception.
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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 email@example.com
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