I should be on the Newbery committee

Except I would end up bruising my hand from all the B-slaps I'd have to deliver.

The results came in yesterday. There are a lot of issues swirling around out there with the Newbery award (also known as the award for "the most distinguished contribution to children’s literature").

Some committees feel like they need to be looking for more creative or literary books to receive the award, rather than just going for the book that is likely to be the most beloved by children. Also, each year the committee is allowed to determine what "distinguished" gets to mean.

Some want them to be more multi-cultural. Others think they're getting too multicultural.

Some argue that even though a book may send the committee into a swoon of book-geekery, it's stupid to pick something that children are never, ever, ever going to read. In life, ever.

Some people are librarians, and they don't love the part where parents or teachers will demand that kids go read "a Newbery winner" with the idea that any Newbery winner will automatically be good and interesting to their child. Gayneck: The Story of a Pigeon is not likely to do it for many elementary school kids. Plus just imagine what would happen if they were caught reading it by their peers.

Some parents are upset that they can't necessarily share each year's Newbery winners with their children because the award will at times go to books that are written for older children or even a young adult audience. I feel for those parents, but it's good that at least they know that "distinguished" does not necessarily mean "appropriate for your child." Or, sometimes, for any child. But I'm getting ahead of myself, here.

Anyway. Here are this year's literary awards.

John Newbery Medal

Winner: The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman. Have not read this one yet (it was not one of the ones we were buzzing about during our Mock Newbery). But I'm fine with it winning because it actually sounds like a sweet (if dark) story. Yes, the protagonists parents are killed by a knife-wielding psycho when he's a baby and then he is raised in a graveyard by a tight-knit family unit of ghosts. Some of your kids might be a bit sensitive about that.

Newbery Honor Books:

The Underneath by Kathi Appelt. This book was very good, one of the ones I hoped would get something. But it's scary. There are mean people in it and mean things happen. The ending is lovely, though. So don't worry too much while you're reading.

Savvy by Ingrid Law. This is the only one of these that I could recommend without reservation to anyone. It is a sweet, funny, great book.

The Surrender Tree: Poems of Cuba’s Struggle for Freedom by Margarita Engle. Crack. Smokers. I didn't get to this one, but my very liberal coworker did. She said it was one of the most violent, disturbing things she'd read all year and she couldn't imagine handing it over to anyone under the age of 15. At one point someone gets hacked up and their body parts are scattered all over the place as a warning to others.

After Tupac & D Foster by Jacqueline Woodson. Jacqueline Woodson is a great author, but this is most definitely a young adult novel, and deals with gangs, violence, prison, and mentiones homosexual prison affairs. So unless you want to be explaining that . . .

But yeah, that's my beef. What's with the violent books that you can't even give to kids being called distinguished contribution to children's literature? I don't see why the Newbery medal gets into young adult literature when there already IS a prize for young adult literature. That's what the Printz award is for, even though this year the Printz people seem to be all about being as edgy as possible and also about completely shutting out Hunger Games, which is not okay. The rumor is that Octavian Nothing got an honor award instead because its author went all over the place on chat shows talking about how teens should be reading more elevated writing (read: his writing).

Also, don't read A Couple of Boys Have the Best Week Ever. Remember how I talked about some books not even belonging on the consideration list? Yeah. This was totally one of them. But please DO read Diamond Willow. I loved that one in all sorts of ways and wanted it to get a Newbery Honor award instead of that mass-killings-in-the-jungle book.

But enough of what I think. Does anyone else have any opinions? I'd love to hear which books you think should have won, or even if you're blissfully happy with the results. Feel free to disagree with me or each other on any of this as long as you don't talk smack about anybody's mom. Because that's the rule.


Naomi said... [reply]

I'm embarrassed to admit that I have not read any of these books, although The Graveyard Book was highly recommended to me just last week.

Interestingly, we just had a conversation about the controversy about and varying positions on children's book awards--these very things you brought up--in the undergraduate international children's lit course that I teach. I can now prove to my students that these very issues are pertinent and timely!

Th. said... [reply]


Lesson for me: when you pick a Neil Gaiman book to read hotoffthepresses, pick one that will win an award so you can talk about it with people.

April said... [reply]

I was excited to get "The Graveyard Book" when it was released, but it just didn't hold up to my expectations, I guess. I found it rather boring. Haven't read any of the others.

Science Teacher Mommy said... [reply]

Janssen has blogged a lot about this the last few weeks. I will admit that I usually equate Newbery with excellence and love them; but sadly, my young adult perspective is not what it used to be.

Science Teacher Mommy said... [reply]

PS I wrote the rant about the Mormon unmarried blog for you: yours, no doubt, will be much funnier, but the fallout has been marvelous.

Giggles said... [reply]

I was kind of hoping I wouldn't have to read more Gaiman. I read "Coraline" several years ago, and it was, creepy. And I was upper 20s at the time.

Seems like they are hit and miss most of the time, which is unfortunate.

Lola said... [reply]

Um, so The Graveyard Book, sounds a lot like that Iva Ibotson book, Dial a Ghost, or that one book......The Jungle Book.........hmmm.....

Th. said... [reply]


In my opinion, Gaiman's at his strongest when he's writing short works. His novels tend to be weak.

I thought GS was more episodic (al Jungle Book); is that true? Because if so, I expect great things. If not, I don't.

Th. said... [reply]



If you come by again, your new blog isn't allowing comments--bad link.

Seriously, you are The Hardest Person to keep track of. I never know where you'll be blogging next!

Jenny said... [reply]

I really liked Savvy and thought it should be a Newbery Honor book. I was surprised at how many Caldecott, prinze and Newbery books my library didn't have or had on order. I guess this is why. Was this year slim pickins?

Anonymous said... [reply]

I luuuurved The Graveyard Book. But then I usually love Gaiman, so it's hardly surprising.

Bridget said... [reply]

The Hunger Games deserves some kind of award, definitely.

I agree that the Newbery award seems to have changed in the years since I was its books' target audience. Whatever happened to honoring books like Jacob Have I Loved or The Westing Game? Maybe it's just nostalgia, but the books just don't seem as good these days.

calmrapids said... [reply]

I found your blog through STM. I read many Newbery books--for myself and the kids so thanks for the insight on them.
Also, I noticed you had a comment from Heidikins--my cousin! Small world.

Christian said... [reply]

I don't see why the Newbery medal gets into young adult literature when there already IS a prize for young adult literature.

Not having sat on the committee, I have this feeling that the Newbery committee is still refusing to concede a portion of the children's literature domain to other people. The Printz is a rather young award still. I also wonder if the Newberys still ignore it because it's also open to non-American authors.

@Th. 5:01 . . .

I think that's why I liked Graveyard Book; it felt like a number of short stories connected by characters.

Holly said... [reply]

I really enjoyed "Hunger Games" by Suzanne Collins and was sorry it did not at least make the Honor list.

And though it isn't a Newbery type book, I really liked "Schooled" by Korman Gordon.

I also quite liked "Graceling" by Kristin Cashore.

Anonymous said... [reply]

Our budget is really tight, so I've not yet ordered The Surrender Tree or After Tupac and D Foster. I've been undecided about ordering these, so your input has helped.

Also re. Alex Awards:
Has anyone read Over and Under? Our library does not have this either.

I am beginning Mudbound tonight. Has anyone read this one?

Carrie R.

abby said... [reply]

I had a children's lit teacher who said there was a lot of fighting behind closed doors at the Newberry and Caldecott. She was on both committees multiple times. I attended a meeting for a children's book award it was tiring.

I saw Neil Gaiman at the National Book Festival, he and his fans have a major goth vibe. He is pretty witty though.

Kristy said... [reply]

Thank you for putting together your thoughts on these! It's good to get the opinion of a smart, clean, and classy lady like you on these things, otherwise, I'd be flying blind picking out books for my kids (and myself). Thanks again.

Unknown said... [reply]

B-slaps and fighting behind closed doors with fellow committee members? You'd better not sign up for any of these positions.... after that post about the lip thing, well, let's just say you might not ever be the same.

Janssen said... [reply]

Oh, the opinions. . .I have them. But, it's time to go to bed and frankly, I have a whole year to hash out my complicated feelings about the Newbery and the Printz.

Except, I will say that I'm totally tired of M.T. Anderson and this whole pretending he's the best thing ever business. I have zero interest in reading Octavian Longest Title Ever Volume II.

chosha said... [reply]

I love Gaiman's children's books - they are entertaining but also empowering (just writing a post on that actually). I'm thrilled he won the Newbery. I hope you'll not only read it, but listen to Neil reading it on the audiobook - excellent.

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