By Judi Moreillon, Texas Woman’s University, Denton, TX
This is the third of a planned four-part interview with Nick Glass, member of the 2009 Newbery Committee, conducted electronically by Judi Moreillon. Readers may refer to Judi’s summary of Gaiman’s acceptance speech.
JM: Nick Glass and I were among the enthusiastic authors, illustrators, librarians, publishers, and fans of children’s books at the Newbery-Caldecott-Wilder Banquet in Chicago. Held on July 12th during the Annual American Library Association Conference, this event gives the award winners the opportunity to share their responses to earning the awards, a peek into their creative processes, and, we hope, a glimpse into their hearts. I have attended this event for many years, and I always leave the banquet hall with admiration for the talent and generous spirit of the award winners. This year was no exception. Nick, what were some of the memorable moments in Neil Gaiman’s Newbery acceptance speech?
NG: My strongest memories have nothing directly to do with the speech, but instead the evening. I had my oldest daughter and life partner with me that evening –- because they had worked so hard allowing me to read and work on the Newbery committee. It was important that they joined me for the festivities. They were gorgeous. They were happy. And they felt the passion and love for books that transcends our profession. I was sooooo happy they were with me.
My next memorable moment from the evening was the committee Chair Rose Treviño’s introductions. While she spoke, I took an unexpected and beautiful journey through eighteen months of work with this committee. I recalled our first meeting when we went around the room sharing our favorite Newbery books. I recalled Rose opening each meeting by asking what has been happening in our non-book lives. (The fifteen of us experienced so many personal events, from weddings and funerals of loved ones, to illness and dramatic job changes.) Life happened around our relentless volunteer work for this committee, and as Rose named each one of us, I smiled broadly, tearing up as felt so lucky to know and work with this special and super smart group of professionals.
One final memory: I loved hearing Rose introduce each of the five books we recognized. Her passion, enthusiasm, and on-target insights had me nodding “yes! That is why this book is soooo good” –- and then I loved watching the authors come to the dais to receive their awards. I stood and clapped for each and every one of them.
JM: To further our conversation about The Graveyard Book, one of the compelling pieces of Gaiman’s speech was about his stance regarding “good” books, “books that are good for you,” “bad” books, and books that readers “love.” He positioned himself squarely in the center of the camp that believes the most important thing about a book is that the reader loves it. Nick, what’s your response to Gaiman’s position?
NG: I haven’t yet read in The Horn Book or listened to the CD recording of the speeches that Weston Woods generously provides all attendees of the banquet –- so I’m writing this from my memory and heart.
Also, know that I haven’t expended much energy on “good” vs “popular”, or spent much time thinking about the controversy and camps that you mention in your question. That said, I was really pleased when Gaiman used his pulpit to speak on this issue.
I recall feeling that Gaiman was right on target –- that he reminded us that it is about books we love that matter most.
I know that as our 2009 Newbery committee chose the five extraordinary books to be recognized by the Newbery this year, that we found them to be the most distinguished books of the year. We felt that children will love these journeys and characters and places. I can’t forget the swamp and heart of the animals in The Underneath; the jungle, the insatiable drive to heal, and the unraveling of Cuba’s history in The Surrender Tree; the talking tattoos and tall tales in Savvy; the music and friendship in After Tupac and D Foster; and Jack and Bod and the brilliant setting in The Graveyard Book.
I deeply hope that young people will love these books for years to come. What will it be like during the next ten years when I re-read these distinguished books with my youngest daughter, who wasn’t at the banquet? I don’t know, but I have confidence that these are really, really good books that many children and adults will love, re-read, and discuss. It is this enthusiasm about books that I find most satisfying, and why I couldn’t stop clapping, crying, and smiling during the evening of the 2009 Newbery/Caldecott/Wilder banquet.
JM: What tensions do WOW Currents readers feel with regard to leveled books or the “required” canon and the books that readers love? How do we as teachers, librarians, and teacher/librarian educators advocate for the wisdom of a reader to select, read, and respond to books that speak to her? Are we sufficiently committed to a belief in the wisdom of a child, and as a result, stretch the boundaries and borders of curriculum to serve his reading needs and desires?
What are your thoughts? What has been your experience?
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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