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.