Daily Archives: October 9, 2008

Thoughts on Newbery: Taste

Learning how to set aside my personal reading prejudices and taste may have been one of the most important critical reading skills I developed while on the Newbery Committee and while serving on the NCTE Notable Books in the Language Arts Committee.  Sharon McKellar thoughtfully considers this issue in  “Just Not My Thing.” She writes:

I’m thinking about this especially in light of all the conversation surrounding the Anita Silvey article.  It has made me think about my own bias in reading, but also the ways in which I put those biases aside when it comes to reviewing a book and especially in terms of considering a book for a Mock Newbery short list or in a Mock Newbery discussion.  I can tell excellence outside of my own personal preferences.  And even beyond that, when I finally get to the end of a book that has been a challenging read to me (either because it’s a challenging book or because it is outside of the realm of what I usually gobble down) it’s a pretty instantaneous sense of, “Wow.  That was an excellent book!”.  And on top of that, I most certainly think about its audience – children – and how it would work for them.  Not ALL of them.  But any of them.

In a way, I think a book like that, for me, gets almost a more fair shot because it breaks through my preconceived notions and touches me anyhow.  And this makes me start to think about how and why it was distinguished.  A book that I know I’m going to love, I can read through so quickly I have to really remember to pause and look for its nuances.

I definitely found myself admiring books that I did not naturally gravitate to as I considered them within the context of the two committees’ criteria.  I may even have ended up nominating them!  The only Mock Newbery I’ve done was last year at my school when I was ON the actual committee so I can’t say I’ve had the experiences Sharon has had.  But now, post-Newbery, I am reading very differently than I did before.  I suspect that may be true for others on such a committee.

One of my biggest worries as a member of the Newbery Committee was that I might have to support winning books that I disliked. I’m happy to say that did not happen!  Were there other eligible books that I also loved?  Yes.  Were there certain eligible books that spoke to me more than others because of personal taste?  Absolutely.  Am I going any further with this line of thought?  No.

Some of the informants in the Silvey article and others who have weighed in on it since have suggested that personal taste played a role in recent unpopular Newbery decisions. Based on my own experience on the committee I would say that it is highly unlikely.  If Sharon who hasn’t yet served on the Committee is able to set aside her personal biases when considering excellence believe me, the Committee members can do so too.  In fact, I’d suspect anyone on such a committee can do so. I know it was true as I considered books for the NCTE committee as well as when I did so for Newbery.  Serving on such a committee is such an honor; you want to justify those who put you there.  You want to justify those who think these awards mean something.  You want to do it for the industry, for the writers, the editors, the readers (young and old), and for everyone who cares about books for children. You want to do your best to find the arguably best of the year.  Given the many hundreds of people on book award committees, I would be naive if I didn’t think it was conceivable that there has been the occasional person who put personal tastes and agendas first (as some of the stories about awards suggest); however,  I am optimistic enough to think that a rarity.


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Alice in Burtonland

Yesterday Betsy Bird pointed out that some of the recent casting news for Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland involved characters from Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking-Glass.   I’ve been following this for a while, being both a fan of Carroll’s work (educating alice, remember?) and Burton’s, and I’d say that combining the two works (as was done with the older Disney animated film) is the least of it.  Above is a shot from the set of Alice herself (looking much older than Carroll’s eight year-old) and from what I can tell from this Tim Burton fan site, a whole lot of adapting is going on.

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I’m Sorry For That

The False Apology Syndrome flourishes wherever there has been a shift in the traditional locus of moral concern. At one time, a man probably felt most morally responsible for his own actions. He was adjudged (and judged himself) good or bad by how he conducted himself toward those in his immediate circle. From its center rippled circles of ever-decreasing moral concern, of which he was also increasingly ignorant. Now, however, it is the other way round. Under the influence of the media of mass communication and the spread of sociological ways of thinking, a man is most likely to judge himself and others by the opinions he and they hold on political, social, and economic questions that are far distant from his immediate circle. A man may be an irresponsible father, but that is more than compensated for by his deep concern about global warming, or foreign policy, or the food situation in Africa.

A false apology is usually accompanied by bogus or insincere guilt, which is often confused with appropriate shame. The German chancellor, Mrs Merkel, spoke in the Knesset recently of her shame at what Germany had done: this was the correct word to use, and precisely the right sentiment for a German who shared no part of the responsibility for what had happened. Pride in the German musical tradition; shame for what Germans had done in the 1930s and ’40s.

From Theodore Dalrymple’s “False Apology Syndrome – I’m sorry for your sins.”

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