It was the end of our second week of school. A week with no disasters, no bomb threats, no evacuations, no special assemblies, and no school cancellations. Just plain old school. My fourth-graders (equivalent to Year 5) got spelling books, started maths, and wrote in their journals. There was homework. I sidelined some kids for playing too roughly during recess. A couple of girls started a petition because they didn’t like the way I’d arranged the desks. Plain old school, but in a brand new world.
Ten days earlier had been our first day of school. At 8am I had opened my classroom door to a bunch of energetic nine-year-olds who quickly discovered the chocolate ladybugs I’d placed on each of their desks for good luck. By mid-morning, I’d led a discussion on classroom rules, helped them stow away school supplies, and taken them on a tour to see where the all-important bathrooms and water fountains were.
Then we heard about the attack on the World Trade Center. School resumed two days later. The freshness and excitement of that first day seemed long gone; now we had to help pupils whose world, like ours, had been changed forever. We listened to the advice of our school psychologists and talked together about how we felt and how we would work with the children.
Once again I opened my classroom door and once again my students came in. After checking that their ladybugs were still on their desks, they settled on the rug for our morning meeting. We would begin with an assembly on the tragedy, I told them. After that, they could decide whether they wanted to write, do art, or respond further to it. Or not, if they’d had enough.
From “Normal Service Will Be Resumed,” an article I wrote for the British Times Educational Supplement weeks after 9/11.
Popularity is in the eye of the tweeter, facebook-liker, and such. That is, I do feel that those of us involved in social media can perceive and help foster the perception that particular books are more popular than others. And those involved in enthusiastically advocating for these books can feel dismayed when their evident popularity is not considered for awards like Newbery. But I’ve always felt that these representations of popularity are problematic — that they do not give us a true sense of what books are truly loved. After all, there are so many young people getting and engaging with books and we may only see some of that in our classrooms, homes, bookstores, and libraries. Or on twitter, on blogs, on facebook, and so forth.
And so I was very glad to see NPR’s Ombudsman Edward Schumacher-Matos’s thoughtful examination of their recent contest for the 100 Best Teen Books, “When a Popular List of 100 ‘Best Ever’ Teen Books is the “Whitest Ever.‘” He addresses what is often a problem with such contests, the particular demographic participating, in this case NPR’s audience that is indeed most likely whiter and older than the general population of teen readers. It is something I think needs to be considered with other lists that get sent around, say those of flavorwire or HuffPo. What and who do they actually represent?
Because there is often such unhappiness voiced when the evidently “popular” books are seemingly snubbed come Newbery-announcement-time I think it is good to remember this note from the the Newbery criteria and to keep in mind just how problematic it is to determine true popularity anyway. To keep in mind that not all voices get heard in all places. And to do whatever you can to seek them out. All of them.
The committee should keep in mind that the award is for literary quality and quality presentation for children. The award is not for didactic content or popularity.