Nick Glass Interview – Part 2

By Judi Moreillon, Texas Woman’s University, Denton, TX

GraveyardBookJacket

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.

Biographies:

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: info@storytrail.com.

Please visit wowlit.org to browse or search our growing database of books, to read one of our two on-line journals, or to learn more about our mission.

4 thoughts on “Nick Glass Interview – Part 2

  1. I think the “popular” versus “excellence” argument is interesting, because it does seem to me that many, many books that have won the Newbery are both. Perhaps the question should be, popular with whom? Children? Parents? Teachers? Librarians? For my dissertation on multicultural children’s books, I spoke with book publishers and bookstore owners who said that the people who buy children’s books are teachers, librarians, parents, and grandparents, not generally kids. These buyers may be selecting a book based on whether they enjoyed it, what they’ve read about it, what someone else said about it, or whether they “think” their child will enjoy it. From what I have heard about The Graveyard Book (I haven’t read it yet), it is popular with children. Perhaps that is the difference between it and other Newbery Award winners.

    This isn’t to say that children don’t enjoy reading Newbery Award winners, but perhaps that The Graveyard Book was popular with children before it was chosen as the Newbery winner.

  2. Paula Daubert says:

    The Newbery Award is not about popularity, nor should it be. It’s about finding a truly distinguished book. Think of how many books are popular and are trash. True, trash can be fun to read at times. But when you’re talking awards, it should be quality.

  3. Janine Schall says:

    Sometimes when I’m teaching children’s lit my students question why certain books won awards and others that they really loved did not win anything. One of the things I do is talk with my students about what a “good” book is. I distinguish between a book that is “good” because of the writing and literary quality and books that are “good” because the reader finds it really cute/funny/personal/etc. Of course, for me, most of the books that I return to over and over again are books that are very well written, but also have some sort of emotional or personal impact.

  4. Thank you for joining in. I think this is a critical conversation for educators – classroom teachers, specialists, librarians, and teacher and librarian educators.

    I agree with Ann that “popular” to whom is a large aspect of this question. I also agree with Paula that award-winning books must meet award criteria and therefore, they should be high quality, “distinguished” books. Janine’s explanation to her students regarding literary merit is important to children’s literature students who may (will) be in the position of engaging in this conversation with future K-12 students.

    But just as book reviews are dependent on the knowledge, experience, and preferences (see June WOW Currents conversation), I think popularity, quality, and literary merit are most likely subjective – based on each reader’s knowledge, experience, and preferences.

    In my role as a teacher-librarian and teacher and librarian educator, I have had the experience of having to “sell” a well-written Newbery award-winning book to a reader. “Literary merit” doesn’t always sell itself. Literary merit is also dynamic; it changes with societal trends. I have experienced a tension in my charge to help youth and adults choose to read (anything!) and my charge (and desire) to help them develop a lifelong love of literature that will enrich their inner lives (books with “literary merit”).

    Last Sunday, Neil Gaiman addressed this topic in his Newbery Acceptance Speech. With his perspective as a starting point, we’ll have the opportunity to further the conversation around the concept of “good books” next week. Please stay tuned…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *