One Plus / One Minus: Name the strengths and weaknesses of Newbery contenders
As we move into the fall, I don’t have a single personal favorite for the Newbery Medal yet. And judging by our list of compiled suggestions, there’s no obvious front runner among the community of Heavy Medal readers either. I’d love to get a better feel for what people are thinking about individual titles, so let’s play a game we’ll call: “One Plus /One Minus”:
- Pick a potential 2023 Newbery contender. It can be one from our suggestion list, but doesn’t have to be (though I’m especially interested in hearing about the books near the top of that list). It’s fine to include something not yet published if you’ve read an advance copy.
- Tell us one area where you think the book is especially excellent. You could use the literary elements noted in the Newbery Terms and Criteria (plot, setting, characters, etc.), but you don’t have to. Just think of the quality that you would lead off with if you were trying to convince others that the book is distinguished.
- You can just name the quality (“the plot is perfect”) or you can elaborate (“the plot is perfect; these are the ways that it stands out; and here’s an example or two”).
- Then tell us one aspect of the book that might not reach the level of excellence…or might even be a real flaw. Again, you can use the elements from the Terms or anything else that could be a concern in a Newbery discussion.
- Again, you can simply identify that flaw, or go into more detail about how it might prevent the book from contending for the award. You can be as brief or as detailed as you please.
The purpose of this is to get into the specifics of what makes an excellent, or a less-than-excellent book. Starting with a positive is usually the best practice with book discussion. Even if we detest the book, it’s likely that we can see some strengths in it, and if we’re talking about books from our suggestion list, we know that others have rated it highly.
Identifying negative aspects can be equally illuminating. If it’s a book we rate lower than many other people do, it’s a chance to learn if the flaws we see are meaningful, or even valid, to other readers. It’s also valuable to look for possible weaknesses in a book that we’re enthusiastic about. That can help to prepare for discussion and also deepen our understanding of the book.
You can approach this in different ways. You might choose a book that you feel is a very strong contender. For example, I might look at one my favorites, HOW TO BUILD A HUMAN:
- PLUS: I would highlight the creative presentation of information and how that might connect strongly with learners.
- MINUS: Here I would add my mild concerns about how the pop culture references might be over-used. I really do want to know if those are valid, or just me…
You can also try this with a book that you don’t rate as highly as others seem to. My example could be AFRICA TOWN (an Emily favorite, I know), which I struggled with at times:
- PLUS: I would look the ways the authors conveyed the settings and historical background.
- MINUS: The I might question the style choices, where I thought the array of characters and poetic forms, along with the length, might distance a reader.
Please share your own thoughts in the Plus One / Plus Minus structure. Just look at one book per comment, please, but you can do as many comments as you like. And comment on the comments of others of course…
Filed under: Book Discussion
About Steven Engelfried
Steven Engelfried was the Library Services Manager at the Wilsonville Public Library in Oregon until he retired in 2022 after 35 years as a full-time librarian. He served on the 2010 Newbery committee, chaired the 2013 Newbery Committee, and also served on the 2002 Caldecott committee. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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