Thoughts on Newbery: Mashups

Dear Gatekeepers,

Where are the new genres?  If you feel compelled to place a book into one, why use the old ones?

On this Heavy Medal post, Cindy comments:

I’ve been sharing the medal winners and honor books with my students and have come across the same issue with When You Reach Me. According to the definition we use (takes place at least 30 years prior to date of publication), it does qualify as historical fiction. Since I was only a couple years younger than Miranda in 1979, it doesn’t feel “historical” to me. However, because of the time travel element, we probably wouldn’t offer it for either historical or realistic fiction assignments.

Or what about the Scott O’Dell winner, graphic novel The Storm in the Barn with its mix of fantasy and history?  J. L. Bell is dubious.

Not to mention other Newbery honorees, say the 2008 one.   Commenting on an earlier Heavy Medal post by Nina, Jonathan wrote:

I am leery of counting CARVER and GOOD MASTERS! as informational books. Yes, they both use poetry in service of history and the latter, in particular, is a hybrid of poetry, monologue, and nonfiction, but I worry that too many people like to list these as nonfiction because “a spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down.” In other words, isn’t it lovely to have something to make those dry facts not so dry?

How about the loveliness of new genres?  Why, when everything else is merging and shifting and changing, are we still using categories that don’t work?  I just love the way Stead, Nelson, and Schlitz mixed and melded a whole bunch of genres into delicious new ones.  If it is so critical to tag them with particular genre names, rather than forcing them to be what they aren’t can’t we generate and advocate and come up with new ones?

Sincerely,

One of you (a gatekeeper too)

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14 Comments

Filed under Fantasy, Historical Fiction, Newbery

14 responses to “Thoughts on Newbery: Mashups

  1. Thanks, Monica. This is a grand time for literature with all of the rigid boundaries finally moving and flexing. It’s occasionally nice NOT to be able to pigeonhole a book into one genre, form, or format.

  2. Jonathan Hunt

    I’m reminded of this excerpt from the Horn Book several years back. Roger Sutton and Virginia Euwer Wolf

    RS: But a poem doesn’t do that. It’s compression that makes a poem work. If the lines in True Believer didn’t work from their compression it would seem just another way to paragraph, an easier way to read. With some of these “prose poem” novels we’re increasingly seeing, it’s possible to rearrange the line breaks into paragraphs without feeling as if anything has been lost. I can’t do that with your books.

    VEW: If form is only an extension of content and we want to try to make our stories as convincing as they can be, we have to find the right form. I find the only form in which I can write the thing. I like to think of the young man in Chekhov’s The Seagull who rants, “We must have new forms! . . . If we can’t have new forms, we had better have nothing at all.”

  3. I wonder whether this is a change, or something that’s always been there; if “we” make a bigger deal about fitting a book into a genre now than perhaps was done in the past. Looking at the list of past winners, I see some that blend fantasy and historical fiction–HITTY, for instance. The 21 Balloons (fantasy, historical fiction, AND science fiction, one might say–or could at least make a case). Is Charlotte’s Web realistic fiction or fantasy? What about Secret of the Andes? Does it matter?

  4. Wendy, I think you are probably right in that there seems to be more attention now to shoehorning books into particular genre than may have been the case when the books you cite were honored. When I began teaching (around the time WHEN YOU REACH ME takes place) I did not do genre units as are popular today in many classrooms (mine included, I should say).

    There also seem to be more awards determined by genre. For example, I thought When You Reach Me would be in the Middle Grade Fiction Cybils category I’m judging, but it was in Sci-Fi/Fantasy.

  5. I’m often torn about genres. My library has separate sections for fantasy/scifi and mystery, which makes it great when you’re asked to recommend a fantasy, for example, because you can take a patron to the shelves and quickly scan for a fantasy to suit their tastes. And it makes for easy browsing for genre fans. But every time I order new books, I agonize over where to put certain titles. What if it’s got mystery AND a fantasy element? Ghosts? Time travel? At least once a month I seriously considering rearranging the entire children’s fiction section and merging all the genres.

  6. Jonathan Hunt

    SLJ just released an article complaining that WHEN YOU REACH ME was snubbed by the Edgar nominations (best juvenile mystery).

  7. Sam

    Harry Potter, anyone? The most successful fantasy/mystery/realistic/time travel/romance series of all time!

  8. Cindy

    I feel that a bit of clarification is in order. First of all, after quite a bit of reflection I would have to say that When You Reach Me doesn’t strike me as a piece of historical fiction (in the interest of keeping this post from getting out of hand, I’ll save my reasoning for my Heavy Medal response). Does it need to be “shoe-horned” into a particular genre? That depends. If my students ask me for a realistic fiction book to read on their own (not for an assignment), I will definite recommend WYRM. I would also recommend it to fantasy and mystery fans. If a teacher asks me to pull realistic fiction (or fantasy or mystery) titles for a book project, I would not choose it.

    The student coming to me for a recommendation might really like the genre they’re asking about, but he/she will likely be open to elements that don’t fit neatly into the category. The teacher doing a genre study is looking for specific elements to teach his/her students. Why? Maybe just because they like studying that genre but, certainly, thanks in part, to standardized testing. Students are routinely asked to read a selection and then identify its genre and in order to be able to do that, they have to know “the rules”.

    I teach my students “the rules” partly to support my teachers, but also to give them a way to talk about books and to express what they like to read. It gives me a sort of shorthand to use when introducing or recommending titles and I often refer to books as being part of multiple genres (my favorite for WYRM comes, I think, from one of the Heavy Medal blog posts: Fantasy for people who don’t like fantasy). Unfortunately, testing is the word of the day and, until that changes, the rules will prevail.

  9. Cindy,

    Thanks so much for the clarification. It helps us all to understand the realities of education today. In particular how testing compromises so much. Sigh.

    But I do have to say it bugs me when I see WYRM not considered for a particular award, say the Edgars.

  10. Jonathan Hunt

    But it was considered! It just wasn’t shortlisted!

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