“What the — I’ve never even heard of the book.”
“Jeez; another book adults love and kids won’t touch.”
“Oh, it only won because it is so popular with kids.”
“My class is going to be thrilled; it was their favorite book this year!”
“My class is going to be so upset; it was their most hated book this year!”
“I knew it! As soon as I read it I figured it was the winner!”
In January, the 2008 Newbery Committee of which I’m a member, will select a winner. Some of you will be elated, some miserable, and still others will be totally flummoxed. I mean, for all the carefully constructed terms and criteria, there is just no way everyone is going to agree on the best book of the year anymore than the best Broadway musical of the year, the best bagel in New York City, or whether Melinda Doolittle deserved to go. You’ve all got your own personal ideas as to what makes something great just as I and my fellow committee members do.
But that isn’t stopping us, as we read, from thinking hard about what the particular qualities are that make a children’s book distinguished, considering carefully what makes this one special and that one not, and wondering what it means for us former children to be reading books meant for an intended audience that we no longer are. It is a daunting and elating journey, one we have only just begun.
To help me along my own particular Newbery road, I planned on using this blog to work out my ideas about what a great book really is, more specifically — what a great American children’s book really is. I thought I’d do this with eligible books, but the recent controversy about award committee members blogging has me skittish; therefore, I’m going to use older books instead —- previous winners and honor books, other books I think perhaps should have won or been considered, and just any older book I admire and think is distinguished. However, even if I don’t write about eligible books in these Thoughts on Newbery posts, you can certainly write about them in the comments. Please, please do —- your thoughts on this year’s books will be incredibly helpful to me as I continue on my perhaps quixotic quest to find the best children’s book of the year.