Thoughts on Newbery: Subjectivity

“Reading is subjective” is how Julius Lester begins his SLJ’s Battle of the Kids’ Books decision. It is, it is.  And this is why we have different books receiving different awards the same year.  It is why I might love this year’s Newbery winner yet you might not.  It is why the chances are good that two different groups of people might chose two different winners the same year (as happened with Heavy Medal here and here).

People have been surprised by some of the judges’ decisions at the Battle, but I’m not.  While I may not agree with their reasons I respect them.  Because they are doing what the Newbery Committee does every year.  Yes, unlike the Battle, there are criteria, but in the end each person has to figure out how their favorites work with that criteria.  And it isn’t just the Newbery.  It is true for all awards.  J.L. Bell wondered about The Storm in the Barn winning the Scott O’Dell because he didn’t think of it as historical fiction. However, the committee that gave it the award clearly thought it was.

When on the Newbery Committee you want to be able to listen, consider, and also be passionate about what you care about. Passion is all about subjectivity in the end, isn’t it?  So while you may not agree with Julius Lester today (and some clearly don’t) you have to acknowledge that he showed his cards in that very first sentence.  We are human. We care. We are subjective.


Filed under awards, Battle of the (Kids') Books, Newbery

6 responses to “Thoughts on Newbery: Subjectivity

  1. What would be interesting is if you had all these author/judges have to make a joint decision. Because that is another element of the award process that is different from SLJsBob.

    I may dislike (fill in the blank), but because its a committee, that dislike will be balanced by other committee members.


  2. Can you imagine this crew sitting down in a hotel room having to choose just one book? Boy would I want to be fly on that wall! But seriously, I agree completely with you about the significance of the committee process. Yet, as we saw with the two different Heavy Medal decisions, different groups will still make different decisions. So subjectivity seems to always be a factor, don’t you think?


  3. Yes, it’s such a subjective industry! This is what I always tell aspiring authors–one editor may hate your book, but another will love it. That’s why the same book that four publishers turn down will be competed for in a heated auction by three others and end up selling for six figures. You just never know!


  4. betty tisel

    When choosing winners in a group process, it’s not only about how good the choices are, it’s also about the personalities of the choosers. Some people are really conciliatory. Some people just want to win. Some people are super passionate about their first choice and never give up. Others like many of the choices and don’t feel as invested in a single outcome. When one person is making the choice, the dynamic is different. There’s not that possible element of competition. Each judge brings their own personality to the process, and it’s fun to watch.


  5. mwt

    I definitely think that next year you should fly all the judges to New York for a cage match. Everyone reads all the books, picks a favorite and then we lock them into a hotel room until they pick a winner.

    I am really enjoying the image of Judge X emerging bloody, but unbowed. “I chose the new book by Christopher Paolini because it’s 685 pages would give me a clear advantage when smacking the other judges upside the head.”

    In addition to subjectivity, you have important structural difference. No one tells these judges what measures they should use make their decision. Gary Schmidt chose to ask himself which book he wanted most to put in the hands of kids. Lester asked ‘Which one did I enjoy more?” That’s the fun of the BoB, I think. The contest is really more about the judges than the books.


  6. Cage match?

    Best. idea. ever.

    I agree — the fun is seeing the judges and how and why they pick a book.


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