The Age-old Conundrum of Newbery "Ages": fairrosa's solution

Ok.  These are the exact words from the official Newbery Terms and Criteria document:

The Medal shall be awarded annually to the author of the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children published by an American publisher in the United States in English during the preceding year. There are no limitations as to the character of the book considered except that it be original work. Honor books may be named. These shall be books that are also truly distinguished.

And, to further define the terms, we have:

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.

Since children is defined as “up to and including 14-year-old” individuals and if you, like me, are familiar with many 14-year-olds, you would know that quite a number of them read general adult books, classics not intended for children, and most of them have encountered and loved Young Adult books.  So, why can’t we then just judge ALL books published in America this year and pick the ones that are most stellar, literary-wise, since basically they can all be appreciated by some or many 14-year-old readers.

Because, the terms also dictate that we only consider books which “children are an intended potential audience.” I take this as charging the Newbery Committee to take the publishers’ designations (if not always the authors’) into consideration.  So, we can safely get rid of all the books published by “grown up” houses.  Still we are left with the sticky bunches marked 12 and up, 13 and up, 14 and up, and the generic “teens” — which, actually, basically are ALL YA titles published in the U.S.  (Since I don’t recall seeing designated age range for 15 and up or 16 and up…. If I’m wrong, please comment and I will correct the post.)

So, how can we then decide WHICH YAs are TOO YA and which are OK YA?

This is quite subjective, indeed.  And there are 15 subjective age-assigners in the Committee who might or might not agree with the member next to him or her.  So, I can only offer how I might interpret the terms and how I currently consider to be the OK YAs:

It is actually super easy for me now:

If a YA book can be appreciated greatly by 14-year-olds and that they won’t feel “embarrassed to be caught reading a babyish book,” but I also have no problem recommending it to 11 or 12 year old readers because I believe that the themes, the presentations, the events, etc. in the book can be grasped without additional life or literary experiences by those younger readers, then, I will embrace whole-heartedly and believe such title falling quite squarely within the terms of the Newbery manual.

On the other hand, if a YA book can be appreciated greatly by 14-year-olds and they feel that they are stretching their experiences, literary abilities, or even a bit on the “risque” side while reading this book, and I find that I keep recommending it to my 16- or 17-year old high school readers because they really would GET the book much better, then, I would consider such title NOT eligible for consideration for the Newbery.

Summarize quickly: My eligible YA titles will be those that 14-year-olds are the “oldest readers” and my ineligible YA titles will be those that 14-year-olds are the “youngest readers.”

Does this make sense for anyone else?  Or am I somehow delusional?  I cannot tell others how to solve this puzzle (not even my fellow committee members.)  We all have to find our own measurements and comfortable ways that help our minds wrap around this really tough question.


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4 responses to “The Age-old Conundrum of Newbery "Ages": fairrosa's solution

  1. I think this is an excellent solution. Hopefully your fellow committee members agree!


  2. Beth

    It is too bad that there isn’t a Newberry Medal just for YA books. This becoming a larger genre in publishing and the literary elements for these books would be good to evaluate separately.
    Also, it isn’t clear from your post how the appropriate age range for the books you are considering are set. It is the publisher? Is it the Newberry committee? Or is it some combination of the two? I’m curious.


    • fairrosa

      Beth, there is a very prestigious literary award JUST for YA titles: The Printz Award. You’re right, the genre is large enough to receive its own and it has been so since 2000. As to the age-range: if you see galleys, there usually are designations printed on the info pages for the marketing and sales folks at each house. My own judgement of each book’s age range is solely personal (although I try my best to evaluate based on professional experiences as a middle school librarian for over 15 years.)


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