Thoughts on Newbery: If I Could Change One Rule

Here’s my comment on Betsy Bird’s provocative post of today: “If you could change any rule…

More awards are certainly all well and good, but the Newbery is the biggie out there (for better or worse it is the only one most know) and therefore as I’ve argued many times before, I’d like its criteria to change to be positive about the way art and design propel the storytelling. A graphic novel award will not keep the Newbery Committee from continuing to grapple with the current negative criteria* regarding more boundary-breaking works. Seems to me their energy should not be expended in contortions to make a less-conventionally-produced story fit, but rather in its quality. (El Deafo’s Honor this year does not prove that the criteria is fine as is. It happens to have text that does work without the images beautifully, but that isn’t always the case. And so, why should works like El Deafo be the only ones to have a chance?)

*The committee is to make its decision primarily on the text. Other components of a book, such as illustrations, overall design of the book, etc., may be considered when they make the book less effective.


Filed under Newbery

4 responses to “Thoughts on Newbery: If I Could Change One Rule

  1. Well written, Monica and I completely agree!


  2. Lots to think about, Monica! Thanks for posting.


  3. Anonymous Librarian

    I disagree. It seems to me that a novel and a graphic novel are art forms as different as a book and a movie, and we would be better served by two awards.

    Just to throw a monkey wrench into the works, I am beginning to worry a little about graphic novels. I love giving them to readers who have a strong aesthetic sense–children who miss the sheer beauty of the picture book form. And I am enormously grateful to have graphic novels to give to readers who aren’t yet skilled at creating images in their minds–readers who are literal, or who have difficulty entering into the emotional worlds of their characters. Some readers need to see a picture of an anguished face when a character is threatened; the parts of their brain that would say, “Okay, his mother’s threatening never to let him see his father again; of course that would upset him,” are occupied with decoding the language. They need that picture. And when the pictures are superb, that’s all to the merry. We should have graphic novels and we should have better graphic novels.

    On the other hand, I am dismayed when a good reader picks up the graphic novel version of THE TALE OF DESPEREAUX or A WRINKLE IN TIME. These are, quite simply, perfect novels, and the space demands of the pictures means that much has been simplified or omitted from the original text. Because children today spend so much time in front of one kind of screen or another, they find graphic novels “easier”–but they are missing out on language, on depth, what makes these books rich, complex, and satisfying. They aren’t learning certain essential skills–they’re not designing pictures in their own minds. I may be a dinosaur, but I find myself thinking, “If they grow up in a steady diet of graphic novels (it didn’t used to be possible; there weren’t enough of them, but there are more all the time) what will happen when they open a volume of Shakespeare or Dickens?”

    So I think we NEED an award that just covers TEXT.

    Of course, the medieval world was also shocked by the first printed books; they were worried that what was exquisite about hand-written manuscripts was going to be lost…


    • I absolutely get your point and concern, but I sort of think the horse is out of the barn. Being a classroom teacher and not a librarian I have a much smaller pool of children to observe and I haven’t noticed them reading the graphic novels over the original books. While I too might be dismayed if they chose the graphic novel of Despereaux (one of my favorite Newberys — except, of course, for “my” winner, Good Masters! Sweet Ladies!) over the book itself, I would also hope it might bring them to the book. I think right now of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland — for better or worse, there are so many other ways people enter that story, only one being the original. (My crusade is to make that original friendly for 21 century children.)

      My frustration about this began not with graphic novels, but with Hugo Cabret. That to me was a feat of storytelling, one combining text and drawing. I think there will be more intriguing works that meld the visual and text in original and exciting ways and I would love to see the award be more open to them.

      And, yes, those illuminated manuscripts…sigh….


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