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Monday, January 26, 2009

But I’m Not Painting “Newbery” Across my Chest

You might assume this is my dad watching the Superbowl.
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It’s actually me, streaming award announcements from the American Library Association—the Printz (go Jellicoe Road!), the Caldecott, the Morris, the Newbery, annual medals bestowed on “distinguished contributions” to juvenile literature.

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A great deal of Newbery criticism has surfaced in the past few months, however, as pieces in the School Library Journal, the Washington Post, and Bloomberg question the time-honored award: do winning stories actually interest children? Are they accessible to them? Are they overly grim, are they lacking diversity, are they even worth putting onshelf?
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Yesterday, the ALA announced 2009's Newbery recipient, "The Graveyard Book," by Neil Gaiman (of Stardust and Coraline fame), a choice sure to spark more discussion across the kidlit blogosphere.

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"The Graveyard Book" tells the story of Bod, an orphan boy raised and protected by the souls who inhabit his graveyard. While it’s certainly kid-friendly—in a witches, ghosts and vampire sort of way—the selection brings up quite another issue: was the committee possibly influenced by concern for the medal’s future?

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It’s rare for a Newbery to be given to a book that has already spent months on the New York Times bestseller list. Certainly, fiction can be popular and well-written, but it doesn’t happen every day. The line between excellence and appeal is a blurry, interesting line, one that agonizes many writers, and, without a doubt, many Newbery committee members, as well.

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But can one year’s choice—this year’s, or any year’s—discredit the merit of an award with the Newbery’s rich history?

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Even when my dad’s favorite team doesn’t make it to the Superbowl (and that’s often), he gears up nonetheless. He anticipates each playoff result, and come January, eagerly brings out the chips and salsa. It doesn’t matter that he’s not a fan of either team. He’s a fan of the game.

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Even when my version of “distinguished” doesn’t match up with the Newbery committee’s, I still follow the buzz. I still read the Newberys, revisit old winners, and root for a better season next year.

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When patrons ask for “The Graveyard Book,” I'll put it in their hands. But like thousands of librarians, teachers, and parents, I can also reach for other books. "I'm not a huge fan of this year's winner. But here it is. And oh, you really have to try "Masterpiece," too. It didn’t win anything, but it’s great. So is "The Penderwicks on Gardam Street." And "Cosmic." You'll love them."

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And here's to next year!

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Noel De Vries is a youth librarian with a novel in her desk drawer—Edward Eager meets E. Nesbit. Or so she likes to think. Visit Noel at her blog, Never Jam Today.

4 comments:

Gina Holmes said...

Thanks Noel. You're my kind of girl. I'm glad you added your recommendations for books to read. My boys and I recently tried to get through many of children's books that were mediocre or just not interesting to them. We read The Tale of Despeareux and it was fabulous. (A Newberry winner.) Now, I only go for those as the closest thing to a guarantee I can get that the book will be worth reading.

Right now we're reading Elijah of Buxton which is good but not quite as interesting to us as the first book I mentioned. We'll hit Cosmic next. Thanks chickie.

Noel De Vries said...

Cosmic is ... cosmic. I heart the author, Frank Cottrell Boyce. Your boys will, too. And you. That's the best part. He's funny for all ages.

Marie DeVries said...

I loved your paralle, Noel. I had never thought that football and book awards were alike in any way...

Marie DeVries said...

*I mean parallel :) *