By Judi Moreillon, Texas Woman’s University, Denton, TX
This is the second of a planned four-part interview with Nick Glass, member of the 2009 Newbery Committee, conducted electronically by Judi Moreillon.
JM: Welcome back, Nick and WOW Currents readers.
Let’s talk about The Graveyard Book. In the International Reading Association publication Reading Today (April/May 2009), Gaiman notes that “all books are collaborative.” Similar to reading scholar Louise Rosenblatt, he describes the reading transaction as a collaborative creation between the author, the reader and his/her background experience, and the actual words and images of the text.
What was your response to the book when you first read it? Did your response change when you discussed it with your fellow committee members?
NG: The “collaborative creation” concept that you describe in your question, between the author, the reader and his/her background experience, and the actual words and images of the text,” is a beautiful thought, and definitely resonates with me. And yes, I believe this multidimensional experience works very well with The Graveyard Book, or many great books, because of the reactions readers have during the journey we take.
Nobody, the central character in The Graveyard Book, is an amazing kid, and the way his life transcends various earthly experiences stood out for me after my first read. I also remember pausing after reading about five different words, and asking what those words are, and looking them up. I loved that, and recognize that I don’t have that experience with too many books for children and teens.
Listening to the discussions about The Graveyard Book absolutely expanded my opinion about the book. I really liked the book coming into the meetings, but honestly hadn’t any idea or even pre-conceived opinion about which book could or would rise to the top. I really had no way of knowing that until we sat down to listen to each other and discuss. During our conversations I became aware of many new insights and sound reasons why this book is so distinguished. I re-read the book while in Denver, and heard the words of committee members in my head while reading passages that supported their persuasive arguments.
I love that this book won. It offers a tremendous story, brilliant writing, an inspirational setting, and an emotional plot that puts a smile on my face. It is a great book, and I think the gold Newbery Medal seal looks marvelous on the cover, too.
JM: In the March 2009 issue of School Library Journal, Roger Sutton conducted an interview with Neil Gaiman. In the interview, Gaiman quoted a U.K. Guardian article that said, “…they’ve been arguing about whether the Newbery winner should be popular or whether it should be excellent, and they’ve got The Graveyard Book, which effectively demolishes the entire argument, because it’s both.”
What’s your opinion of the popular versus excellent argument in relationship to the Newbery Medal and this book in particular?
NG: Of course I was aware of this public debate. Popularity, though, is not a criterion for the Newbery Medal. It is about which book is distinguished based on a series of factors that have been outlined and revised since 1922. The process is an extraordinary one, and I think it worked marvelously. We selected one Medal-winning book, and four honors that are really distinguished. I can’t imagine that a huge variety of young readers won’t get lots of enjoyment from them.
Every reader is different, so personally I find it an odd argument that we expect readers to love each book we selected. We worked diligently and professionally and respectfully to follow consistent criteria to find distinguished literary quality. That was our charge, and I thought we did it very well. Not everyone will love everything about each book, but having recently re-read all five books we recognized, there is amazing writing, memorable stories, and different genres in the 2009 John Newbery Medal and Honor award-winning books.
JM: Have you ever met Neil Gaiman? What do you think we can expect from Gaiman in his upcoming Newbery Medal speech?
NG: I’ve never met Neil Gaiman, but suppose I will at ALA. I did hear him on the phone when we called to tell him he won the 2009 John Newbery Medal, and that was quite hilarious. My sentiment was he was essentially asleep—and soooo pleased.
I very much look forward to his speech, but have no pre-conceived expectation. It will be a pleasure to sit and listen to it with my family and with colleagues in this field whom I love and admire. That’s what I’m most looking forward to.
JM: I noticed Neil Gaiman has a presence on TeachingBooks.net. Will you please elaborate?
NG: TeachingBooks.net has thousands of multimedia resources about authors and books, including audio and video with Neil Gaiman, and teacher/discussion guides for many of his books. You are welcome to freely explore all of our Neil Gaiman resources.
I’d also suggest you watch this video of Gaiman reading each and every chapter of The Graveyard Book. It is marvelous to watch and hear the author himself read his work.
JM: Nick, let’s talk again after Neil Gaiman’s Newbery Medal speech on July 12th.
NG: I look forward to it. Thanks, Judi!
We would love to hear WOW Currents readers’ responses to this year’s Newbery Medal winning book. What were your thoughts/feelings as you read The Graveyard Book? What was your reaction when you learned the book earned this prestigious award? Next week, Nick and Judi will post their responses to Gaiman’s speech and address your comments.
Nick Glass is the founder and principal of TeachingBooks.net, an online subscription service that provides children’s and young adult author and illustrator information and resources for students, teachers, and librarians. You can reach Nick at nick@TeachingBooks.net.
Judi Moreillon is an assistant professor in the School of Library and Information Studies at Texas Woman’s University. She teaches a variety of courses for preservice school and public librarians, including children’s and young adult literature. You can reach Judi at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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