Monday, September 1, 2014

Mondays on the Margins: In Which I Embark on a Quest Which I May or May Not Complete

A few weeks ago, I came across a Buzzfeed Quiz about Newbery Medal books with a tagline: Were you a well-read child? Naturally, this pissed me off a little (I just typed "got my knickers in a bit of a twist" and then erased it, for some reason. I wonder why that is. It's a perfectly serviceable expression, and yet I felt disinclined to use it. Curious) since there seems to be a bit of a fallacious assumption going on there: one could surely have been a well-read child (I was) without having necessarily read a great number of Newbery Medal-winning books (I hadn't, as it turns out). But doing the quiz (I can't resist quizzes where I get to check off books, even ones that irritate me - the quizzes, I mean, not the books) reminded me of a few books that I had always meant to read and had somehow never gotten around to, and introduced me to a few others that looked interesting and worth a look. So I decided then and there that I would read and blog about all the Newbery Medal Award winners.
Photo by University of Illinois Library

Then I remembered that I'm a touch lazy and somewhat disorganized and prone to procrastination.

So since then, I have read five or six Newbery Award books that I hadn't before, reread two, requested a whole bunch from the library, and written nothing at all.

I have, however, had an interesting discussion with a friend on Goodreads who goes by the name Killer Rabbit, about our opinion of the success of the committee in choosing winners.

The John Newbery Medal is "awarded annually by the American Library Association for the most distinguished American children's book published the previous year." It is named for an eighteenth-century English bookseller and its stated purpose was: "To encourage original creative work in the field of books for children. To emphasize to the public that contributions to the literature for children deserve similar recognition to poetry, plays, or novels. To give those librarians, who make it their life work to serve children's reading interests, an opportunity to encourage good writing in this field."

In the Terms and Definitions, I found this: 2. 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. And this is where Killer Rabbit and I (DAMN I need a cooler name on Goodreads), and several other people I have seen commenting on Newbery books, agree that sometimes it seems that the Newbery Medal Award committee might have their heads somewhat up their collective ass, and that the committee would do much better to have some members who are actually children on it. 

So how do I evaluate the books? On whether I like them? On whether I think they are, in fact, distinguished contributions to children's literature? On whether I think I would have liked them when I was a child? SO MANY MORE things to think about while not blogging. Clearly I just need to plunge in. So I will. I will just write whatever semi-coherent thoughts I can muster up about whatever Newbery medal book is closest to hand and mind. 

Soon. 

6 comments:

Nicole said...

I am going to be following this avidly (like I don't already follow you avidly...) But seriously, I read a lot as a kid and off-hand I have no idea if any of those books were Newberry Medal winners. Must click the link to see.

Lynn said...

Awesome, I am super looking forward to this series. I read a few Newberries as a kid and they remain some of my all-time favourite books; and since then I have bought several for the kids, and while the kids haven't always loved them, I certainly have. In fact, that's an interesting point - I wonder how different the winners would be with kids actually voting (Captain Underpants and Diary of a Wimpy Kid, every year!).

Let me know if you want a list of the ones we own for borrowing purposes.

Lynn said...

Kay, I am just reading through the entire historical list of winners and special mentions, and I have to say a) I have read a LOT fewer of these than I thought; b) no one other than Laura Ingalls Wilder (who is like, a six time runner up) had name recognition for me before the 50s; and c) the judging committee seems to really prefer "important" books, rather than a simple damn good read (see: the whole of the 50s, which includes titles such as "Theodore Roosevelt, Fighting Patriot" and "Gandhi, Fighter Without a Sword" and "Abraham Lincoln, Friend of the People". I'm sure they were keeping kids up at night dying to know how things turn out. SHEESH.

Mary Lynn said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mary Lynn said...

wrote a great big long comment on this last night, but on my iPhone, so of course it all went wrong when I tried to post it.

Aaaaanyway, I have to say I've always kinda wondered about the titles they choose for the Newbery award. I read voraciously as a kid, but I've only read three of the titles shown. One of the books, Jacob Have I Loved, I totally remember picking up on several bookstore shopping occasions, turning it over, reading the back, and then putting it back on the shelf again. Then I'd buy another Judy Bloom, Paula Danziger or Lois Duncan book.

I just find the books they choose to be so earnest and lacking in humour, which were not at all qualities I was looking for in books when I was a kid. Looking at the titles from more recent years, I think they are choosing more books that I would've been interested in...though actually, fewer of them are ones my daughter would be into. For instance, I loved When You Reach Me, but Hana read it when she was 9 and found the story too convoluted. But she'd read a Wrinkle in Time and enjoyed it.

I'll definitely run out and get her that Lincoln book! ;-) It looks AWESOME.

Courtney said...

I've only read 5 of the Newbery Medal Winners. FIVE. WTF.

So I am depending on you to tell me which ones are enjoyable. :)