In the world of Children’s Literature, a recent (and seemingly perennial) debate has the field experts and practitioners jumping in and all over each other on the Nets (an Ender’s Game term!) Anyway. Here are some links and a couple of my own responses to those articles and comments.
The original article is called Has the Newbery Lost Its Way by Anita Silvey and SLJ published the article and many comments in its Talkback section. One of the very active talkback follows Nina Lindsay’s thread in SLJ’s own blog “Heavy Medal” entitled The Newbery Remembers its Way, or “Gee, thanks, Mr. Sachar”. Over here on Roger Sutton’s blog Read Roger, his post Going for the Gold also generated further discussions. Another thoughtful blog post is The best book no kid wants to read at Librarily Blonde.
I posted two rather long-winded responses on the SLJ and the Librariry Blonde sites but want reposts them here as well:
Response on Librariry Blonde:
I agree with almost everything here and I already posted a long response to Silvey’s article in two places. However, I still think it is important that we/the committee members take into consideration of the author’s ability to “speak to children” successfully through his/her work. And I DO think that the criterium of potentially appealing to many children should be considered as an important component when we define the “work of art” aspect in a “book for children.”
This is a separate genre and it should have its own distinct set of criteria. If we are looking at a work of fiction, we must of course examine its plot, its character development, its theme presentation, its pacing, its use of language, etc. But, then, where in this list of criteria do we consider the “children’s literature” part? What makes a book “stand apart” and become a great “book for children” and not just a “book for general readers or adults” IS its ability to reach out and grab child readers. Some of them will appeal to adults (Golden Compass, Charlotte’s Web, Tuck Everlasting, Out of the Dust, The Giver, and yes, Holes) as well — but, if they are only appealing to a very small group of children and a large group of adults, then they, in my mind, fail to BE “children’s books.”
I think there has to be a balance and a serious appreciation of those writers who really know how to tuck the heart strings of many children without giving up the high demand of literary qualities. That, my friends, should be the real charge of the Newbery Committee (and actually it IS the current charge if the committee chooses to interpret the criteria to its fullest extend and give EVERY clause equal weight.)
Response on SLJ:
I don’t quite feel outraged by Anita’s article as some of my Newbery Committee colleagues (not necessarily serving simultaneously as I did but those who went through the “same” process as I did.) Maybe because in some way, I feel similarly to many of those quoted by her — that the recent few years did not QUITE yield the most long-lasting and child-appealing titles.
But even in the 90s, not all of them are being sought after by today’s children — even HOLES has lost some of its luster with my 4th and 5th graders because they have moved on to the newest things! Out of the Dust is not picked up by children themselves. It is being “used” by teachers. The View from Saturday is read but only by a small group of children. The Midwife’s Apprentice does not get takers no matter how much I try to push it. Walk Two Moons is just one of the many Sharon Creech titles now. The Giver remains strong going both within the classroom setting and words of mouth. Missing May has become almost obscure. Shiloh definitely does not elicit the same excitement as many new titles. Maniac Magee is still being taught and regarded highly in classrooms. It, however, is also not a book that children recommend to each other any more. Number the Stars remains strong. So… out of the 10 titles, only 3 really has its OWN lasting power without the help from teachers or librarians.
And in the 9 years of winners from 2000 to 2008, we have Bud, Not Buddy, a book my students constantly read and exclaim to their peers how good it is! We have The Tale of Despereaux, a new “classic” amongst grade school kids. And this year’s Good Masters! Sweet Ladies!, a book that teachers will keep promoting and will bring fresh air into the classrooms. Plus the title cited by Anita A Single Shard which teachers definitely enjoy teaching. And the reports from the students remain positive, although it is not an easy “sale” all the time. That’s 4 titles worthy of mentioning. Not that much different from that of the 90s and actually if one examines carefully each decade, the scenarios are quite similar (3 or 4 that really speak to a larger number of children and 3 or 4 that are somewhat obscure and than about 2 in the middle ground.)
So, I do question the whole “surveying” method that is the basis of this article and wonder about those other who were “interviewed” but not quoted. Did some of them speak positively about the choices and their faith in the process but were not quoted because their opinions did not fit cozily with the intent of the report? However, even as I somewhat question the method of the article, I do agree, quite strongly, that CHILD-APPEAL is essential in selecting the “most distinguished” literary work for children in the United States.
I have made this same argument for years now — that we as participants in a legitimate field of intellectual inquiries (the children’s literature study,) must acknowledge and award those who have the uncanny abilities to speak directly to children everywhere — those who know HOW to write “for children,” and those who are beloved by their targeted audience. Writing for children will always be regarded as “simpler and easier” than writing for adults if we cannot figure out ourselves how to critique, evaluate, and award the true talents and keep the Newbery Medal truly meaningful to the readers.