Newbery Criteria Deep Dive: Presentation of Information
Today we’ll continue our series of conversations about the literary elements noted in the Newbery Terms and Criteria and how they apply to some of this year’s contenders. We looked at “delineation of characters” and “development of a plot” in previous posts. Now we’ll shift to “Presentation of information including accuracy, clarity, and organization.”
EMILY: I always get a little confused about what presentation of information is and how we evaluate it. Steven, would you say it looks more at if information is clear, accurate and makes sense or how information is displayed and organized (drawings, graphic novels, etc. etc.)?
STEVEN: For the success of a book, I’d say all of the above. But from a Newbery lens, I think I lean towards the “clear, accurate, and makes sense.” That’s where the author has the most responsibility and the most choices to make. And I would add “creative,” especially in ways that can engage young readers.
STEVEN: This literary element is especially relevant to most nonfiction books, but can also be important with fiction. Let’s start with the nonfiction side, though. We both nominated HOW TO BUILD A HUMAN, which takes a creative approach in its presentation of human evolution. Your mention of drawings and graphic novels makes me think of CONCRETE, where informational text plays off of word balloons from the drawings, and VICTORY, STAND, an autobiography, in graphic novel form, of Tommie Smith’s life as an athlete and activist. Do you think HUMAN is the clear nonfiction leader, Emily, or do you see other strong contenders?
EMILY: I would agree that HUMAN particularly excels in the presentation of information, especially how each chapter is laid out in an area of evolution – breaking it down in a way that kids understand.
STEVEN: That “kids understand” piece is so important. You can write about something and have all the facts accurate and coherent, but to excel in “presentation of information” for kids, I want to see the author do something more. Turner does that with the humor and the conversational style, but it’s all carefully related to building the reader’s knowledge, over the course of the book, about a pretty challenging topic.
EMILY: This leads me to think of LITTLE MONARCHS. I feel like although it is fiction, it attempts to read as nonfiction and the misperceptions of information can get complicated. It’s hard to see that type of situation ever happening, and the way science is used for profit also seems implausible.
STEVEN: Interesting perspective on LITTLE MONARCHS. Even with a book set in the future, the author has to convince us that the events could happen the way she tells it.
EMILY: Definitely true, for example even in fantasy titles this year like THE OGRESS AND THE ORPHANS AND THE LAST MAPMAKER, you are able to see these stories as “actually” happening. Although one can argue in MAPMAKER that the situations seem too contrived, especially with Bo being the captain’s son.
STEVEN: I do think MAPMAKER does a great job of telling us about that world without stepping out of the story, which can be tricky in fantasy. That’s a key for historical fiction, too, where readers need some background, but there’s also a story to tell. I thought I MUST BETRAY YOU managed that expertly.
EMILY: Definitely true. The choice of using poetry sticks out to me too . Does writing something in verse (AFRICAN TOWN or AND WE RISE) help the book or take away from it? I think the verse really helps give the historical event a “voice” in both those titles.
STEVEN: I agree, poetry can bring history to a more personal level. It’s not someone today telling you what happened then, but a voice from that time and place. STAR CHILD is another example, mixing poetry by the author with quotes from Octavia Butler herself, along with passages of straight prose to fill in the background history. It can be effective, but also potentially challenging for a reader.
EMILY: Yes, when I was young I would immediately stop reading any books in verse. That was my total dealbreaker. I think it was too complicated for me to understand.
Are there any other books from this year that stick out to you when thinking of presentation of information?
STEVEN: I mentioned VICTORY, STAND above, and I just read another excellent nonfiction book about track stars. THE RACE OF THE CENTURY is about three runners hoping to break the four-minute mile. The author doesn’t tell us who will do it, setting up suspense, then jumps expertly back and forth between the three. Very exciting, but also you really get into the worlds of three very different athletes. Plus a bunch of fascinating background info about training and running history (maybe too much? I can’t decide) [NOTE: After this discussion I learned that this book is not Newbery eligible, since it was adapted from a previously published book for adults]
EMILY: Wow, I think my new understanding about presentation of information is that there’s A LOT to talk about with it. I’m sure we could go on for 700 more words! I’m interested to hear what everyone else thinks about this piece of criteria and 2023 Newbery potentials.
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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