By Judi Moreillon, Texas Woman’s University, Denton, TX
This is the fourth of a planned four-part interview with Nick Glass, member of the 2009 Newbery Committee, conducted electronically by Judi Moreillon.
JM: Nick Glass and I are wrapping up this month’s Newbery Medal Award conversation with a look at the books that have earned this prize since it was first awarded in 1922. That year, The Story of Mankind written by Hendrik Wellem van Loon earned the medal. To support our historical look, we referenced a book now published annually by the Association of Library Services to Children (ALSC), The Newbery and Caldecott Awards: A Guide to the Medal and Honor Books.
In clarifying the criteria for the awards and defining terms, ALSC notes that the “award is for literary quality and quality of presentation to children. The award is not for didactic intent or for popularity” (p. 4). As we noted in early posts this month, the question of popularity should not enter into the committee’s deliberations. Still, every school and public library branch in the country purchases at least one copy of each Newbery award-winning book.
Do we expect Newbery Award-winning books to be enticing to readers? If not, can we rely on teachers and librarians to push titles that possess literary quality but are less popular with young people? What has been your experience?
NG: I absolutely believe the books that have been recognized as distinguished by the Newbery committee will be enticing –- with the caveat that not every book is for every reader. I loved the 2008 Newbery Medal-winning Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! It is both a wonderful book, and perhaps the one of the best curriculum-fit books I’ve read in a long time. It tells marvelous stories of the Middle Ages, and can be performed as fun, comprehension-grasping reader’s theater. Do I expect everyone to pick this book up and find it enticing? No. But for the people who love mini-dramas, goodness, they will love this treasure.
I do rely on teachers and librarians to share books that their patrons will value and enjoy. They have a special place in customizing book selection for each person. The Graveyard Book will be for some; The Surrender Tree, The Underneath, Savvy, and/or After Tupac and D Foster will work for others. I sort-of doubt one reader will call these five books all marvelously enticing, but I am confident saying that they are great books for different readers.
JM: The ALSC resource includes brief summaries of each of the medal and honor books. Although all genres are to be considered, I was struck by how few of the medal winners have been poetry, informational books, or science fiction. Although there have been notable exceptions to that trend in the last two or so decades, 1998 Out of the Dust (Hesse), 1988 Lincoln: A Photobiography (Freedman), and 1985 The Hero and the Crown (McKinley) among them, realistic and historical fiction dominate the medal winners.
Although there are other awards for informational books (ALSC’s Sibert Medal, National Council of English Teachers’ Orbis Pictus, and content-area awards such as the National Science Teachers Association’s Outstanding Science Trade Books for Students K-12), would you hope to see more nonfiction, poetry, science fiction, and traditional literature among the Newbery medal winners? Why or why not?
NG: I would like to point out that all of these types of books are eligible for the Newbery. For example, we consider informational books even though our ALSC division also awards the Sibert Medal for nonfiction books. Actually, when the awards from the other committees were announced, we smiled broadly and cheered when books we loved that we didn’t recognize were honored by other awards.
Jim Murphy’s An American Plague: The True and Terrifying Story of the Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1973 was recognized by both Newbery (Honor Book) and Sibert committees (2004). This year Kadir Nelson’s We Are the Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball was independently recognized by ALA award committees for three distinct honors: Coretta Scott King (CSK) Author Award, CSK Illustrator Award, and the Sibert Award. On the 2009 Newbery Committee, we recognized Margarita Engle’s The Surrender Tree, which it turned out, earned the Pura Belpré Award as well.
I just wanted to point out that there aren’t restrictions based on genre or literary style for the Newbery Medal, and that we examine and consider as many eligible books that we can.
JM: Looking at the list of winners, WOW Currents readers who are especially interested in cultural representation in children’s books will note that some medal winners may have represented literary quality at the time they earned their awards but would be considered lacking in cultural authenticity by today’s standards. Some examples are 1970 winner Sounder (Armstrong), 1942 winner The Matchlock Gun (Edmonds), or an honor book such as The Sign of the Beaver (Speare, 1984).
WOW Currents readers, we want to hear from you on all the questions in this post and then some. What are some strategies for inviting young readers to critically examine award-winning books that perpetuate stereotypes or contain historical or cultural inaccuracies? Or do you think such books should be avoided? Nick and I will continue to read and respond to your comments. Thank you for joining the conversation.
Nick, thank you for sharing your experience and perspective based on your service on the Newbery Award Committee. I am in awe of your commitment to the process and to read over 300 books in just one year!
NG: Thank you, Judi and our Worlds of Words colleagues, for inviting me to participate in this blog interview. I have very much enjoyed this opportunity to reflect on the past few years of Newbery work, and to get to know your organization and work, too. My very best…until next time we meet.
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.
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.