Thoughts on Newbery: Flaws, Fatal or Not?

Heavy Medal has started up again and some fascinating conversations are well underway.  One aspect of the conversation that has struck me is the idea of flawness (my made-up word). That is, are all books perfect? And if not, how do we grapple with perceived flaws? Can we reach consensus on the degree of their significance?

This came to mind when in her Heavy Medal post on Deborah Wiles’ Revolution, Nina noted that “There is a fatal flaw that I find in REVOLUTION, and that is that Raymond is not as fully realized a character as Sunny, not by a very long shot.” She goes on to thoughtfully articulate why she thinks this and others of us have been discussing this concern in the comments. Now I adore Revolution (you can read my review here) , but had noticed that Wiles had been able to write Sunny through her own personal experience while she couldn’t with Raymond resulting in a more cautious presentation. If I were on the Newbery Committee this is something I’d want to explore long and hard. I’d pester a huge range of people, those with different racial and regional backgrounds and historical experiences, to read the book and tell me what they think. I’d have to stand back from my first love of the book to honestly attempt to figure out if this is a flaw and if it isn’t, why not. And if it is, is it fatal? How would I argue that it was or was not when in my deliberations with the Committee?

Then there is Jonathan’s post on A Snicket of Magic which has generated a fabulous conversation about vernacular, about so-called folksy literature. By attempting to categorize a collection of titles as being this, Jonathan provoked a wonderful series of comments. For some, I know, this sort of voice is tough going. So when you are on the Committee, how do you distinguish a personal distaste from a flaw, much less a fatal one?

Thinking about this fatal flaw business caused me to head to my goodreads Newbery list and add a few more personal favorites, some of which also have flaws…er…blemishes…er..imperfections… (Roget, I need you!)… I’m wondering about. As a result, I’ve now got ten books there, three more than I’d be able to nominate if I were on the Committee.  I’ve added Kwame Alexander’s The Crossover as I thought it fabulous –except for the ending.  And I’ve added Cece Bell’s El Deafo even though I have no clue how to make a case for it as it is a graphic novel.  Similarly, despite not having figured out how interlaced the text is with the art, I’ve added Patricia Hruby Powell’s picture biography, Josephine.  This review of Rachel’s of Dana Alison Levy’s The Misadventures of the Family Fletcher reminded me of how I loved it (reviewed it for Horn Book) and so it is now on the list. Does it have a fatal flaw? Not so noticeably that I can figure out.  Finally, I added Jack Gantos’ series finale, The Key That Swallowed Joey Pigza. While I don’t think it is flawed, I’m sure there will be some absolutely horrified by Joey’s circumstances as they were with the previous books.

Fatal. Flaws. Fascinating.

 

7 Comments

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7 responses to “Thoughts on Newbery: Flaws, Fatal or Not?

  1. Sam B

    Hey Monica, I agree with you; this is a pretty fascinating topic. Reminds me of Vicky Smith’s post from last year on Heavy Medal: “Reader, know thyself!”

    http://blogs.slj.com/heavymedal/2013/09/24/reader-know-thyself-guest-post-from-vicky-smith/

    I’d been meaning to go back to this recently as I’ve found myself questioning my own tastes as I try to figure out my own Big 7.

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  2. Pingback: Do I have the right to be angry… | Fairrosa Cyber Library

  3. Sometimes all of the flaw hunting gets me down… it seems counterintuitive that we’re all in the business of getting good books into the hands of kids, and yet, in our critical capacity, we spend so much time looking for the one smudge on the crystal goblet. I mean, I understand why, especially in the context of Newbery/Mock Newbery, but a big part of me just wants to “sound the horn about good books for children,” to paraphrase the Horn Book’s tagline.

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    • Indeed. The problem is that when you ARE on the Committee you have to prepare fanatically to fight like hell for your favorites AND to fight like hell against those you feel have those fatal flaws. It is such a weird stance to have.

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  4. jharrisonverona

    This is a great topic! I remember enjoying “Counting by 7s” by Holly Goldberg Sloan, but I was bothered by one character’s financial decisions that didn’t make sense to me, which many other people noted on goodreads too. Since I suspect some kids would be confused by the same issue, the flaw became fatal in my mind, from a Newbery perspective.

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