Category Archives: Newbery

Thoughts on Newbery: My Wishes for This Year

Before anything else I must say — I will admire and honor and applaud the winners, whether they were my personal favorites or not. For all awards are given subjectively. That is, every group of people will have their own tastes and orientations that are bound to affect their decisions, however hard they try for impartiality. As a reminder, here is a post I wrote a few years ago for the Nerdy Book Club giving a sense of how things happen: Top Ten Things You May Not Know About the Newbery Award. Being on an award committee is exciting, but also challenging as anyone who has served on one well knows. So let’s celebrate the work of those doing their final preparations for ALA’s Youth Media Awards — they will be making their decisions this coming Friday – Sunday and these will be announced on Monday. (ETA I wrote this before the Heavy Medal 15, of which I was one,  completed their work. Thrilled that I‘m Just No Good at Rhyming: And Other Nonsense was our winner. Congrats to all!)

The following are titles I’d personally be pleased to see honored this year:

  • Jason Reynold’s Long Way Down. From my review:  “I thought it magnificent.”
  • Erin Entrada Kelly’s Hello Universe. From my review: “It may be this is a book for introverts? I can’t say, but it provided all that I want in a book for children — an intriguing plot, beautifully articulated characters, tight and elegant sentences, wit, and opportunity for thought.”
  • Chris Harris’s I’m Just No Good at Rhyming: And Other Nonsense for Mischievous Kids and Immature Grown-Ups. From my goodreads review: “Chris Harris is a worthy heir to Lewis Carroll, Edward Lear, A. A. Milne, Ogden Nash, and more I can’t think of right now.”
  • Eucabeth A. Odhiambo’s Auma’s Long Run. From my review: “Odhiambo relates Auma’s story in clear and direct prose, as practical and realistic as her protagonist. Her descriptions of Auma’s life are vivid and authentic, her scenes raw and real.  While there is indeed sorrow and sadness, there is also humor and joy.”
  • Dave Eggers’ Her Right Foot. No review, but I thought this outstanding for the voice, the information, and the theme. So did my students when I read it aloud.
  • Paul Mosier’s Train I Ride. From my review: “Best of all is the sentence level writing which is a delight.”
  • Derrick Barnes’ Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut. This is getting a lot of Caldecott buzz rightly for illustrator Gordon C. James, but I think the writing is superb too.
  • Rita Williams-Garcia’s Clayton Byrd Goes Underground. I think the sensibility of this title is remarkable; what a feat to communicate the blues, musically, emotionally, and in prose no less.
  • Kimberly Brubaker Bradley’s The War I Finally Won. I’d enjoyed this, but it took my fellow Heavy Medal  Mock Newbery Committee members (especially here) to convince me that this an elegant and beautifully constructed work worthy of the medal.
  • Victoria Jamieson’s All’s Faire in Middle School. Just delightful.
  • Shannon Hale’s Real Friends. In my review I wrote, “A piercingly honest view into the complicated social life of one young girl that is certain to resonate for all who have observed, participated, or otherwise experienced the difficult dynamics of school friendships.”
  • Deborah Heiligman’s Vincent and Theo. In my Horn Book review I wrote, “The result is a unique and riveting exploration of art, artists, and brotherly love.”





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Thoughts on Newbery: Ten Years On


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It is the tenth anniversary of my Newbery.  Of course, it is really Laura Amy Schlitz’s and  honor-winners Christopher Paul Curtis, Gary M. Schmidt, and Jackie Woodson’s, but serving on that 2008 Committee was so very special that I do feel it is also mine somehow. What an  experience. That intense time of reading and thinking and reading and thinking. The tragic death of one of our original committee members, the wonderful Mikki Nevett. Our deliberations in a hidden-away room at Philadelphia’s Ritz Hotel where, during breaks, I would look out the window at the glorious view while eating the many sweets we all had brought; will-power be damned. The quiet celebratory drink a committee member and I had at the hotel’s classy bar.

Then there we were writing up the press release, making the Calls, and waiting to see the reaction to our choices at the YMA announcements. And of course there was that unique and amazing Banquet. How lovely that Travis and Colby are also reminding us of this in their latest episode of The Yarn, “Everything is Upside-Down: The 2008 Newbery and Caldecott Medals.

It was while on the committee that I started my “Thoughts on Newbery” series. This is from my first of these:

To help me along my own particular Newbery road, I planned on using this blog to work out my ideas about what a great book really is, more specifically — what a great American children’s book really is. I thought I’d do this with eligible books, but the recent controversy about award committee members blogging has me skittish; therefore, I’m going to use older books instead —- previous winners and honor books, other books I think perhaps should have won or been considered, and just any older book I admire and think is distinguished. However, even if I don’t write about eligible books in these Thoughts on Newbery posts, you can certainly write about them in the comments. Please, please do —- your thoughts on this year’s books will be incredibly helpful to me as I continue on my perhaps quixotic quest to find the best children’s book of the year.

Here are links to the posts I wrote during that special Newbery year:

Remembering with enormous fondness, gratitude, and awe my fellow committee members (as listed in the ALA press release though I know some of them are doing different things now):


Chair Nina Lindsay, Oakland Public Library, Oakland, Calif.; Yolanda Foster Bolden, Forsyth County Public Library, Winston Salem, N.C.; Barbara Jones Clark, Birmingham Public Schools, Southfield, Mich.; Monica Edinger, The Dalton School, New York; Carol A. Edwards, Denver Public Library; Tami Chumbley Finley, Bettendorf Public Library, Bettendorf, Iowa; Kathleen Isaacs, children’s literature specialist, Pasadena, Md.; Bonnie Kunzel, youth services adolescent literacy consultant, Germantown, Tenn.; Cindy Lombardo, Cleveland Public Library, Ohio; Martha V. Parravano, The Horn Book Magazine, Boston; Michael Santangelo, Brooklyn Public Library, Brooklyn, N.Y.; Victor L. Schill, Harris County Public Library, Houston; Dean Schneider, Ensworth School, Nashville, Tenn.; Luann Toth, School Library Journal, New York; Maureen White, associate professor, University of Houston-Clear Lake, Canyon, Texas.

Since then I’ve continued the series, mulling over Newbery issues, indicating what I’d like to see win on a given year, and reflecting on winners. Soon I will be doing one for this year. Can’t wait to see what this year’s committee selects!

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Thoughts On Newbery: Books I Wish Could Be Contenders, But Can’t Be

Heavy Medal has a clever post, “The Glorious Ineligibles” featuring books the three moderators love, but aren’t eligible for one reason or another.  Invited to provide our own I wrote the following:

La Belle Sauvage. [The moderators already had given good reasons for this title so I didn’t add more.]

Both Hardinges. [That is, the titles out this year in the US which are mentioned in the post.]  I read A Face Like Glass years ago when it was published in the UK (as I wanted to read EVERYTHING of hers). At the time she seemed a bit under the radar here, but The Lie Tree changed that and now Abrams is bringing out older and newer works of hers. Yay!

Frank Cotrell Boyce’s Sputnik’s Guide to Life on Earth. Just finishing up reading it aloud to my class. This writer should NOT be so under the radar in this country. He does middle grade to perfection.

Jonathan Stroud’s The Empty Grave — probably wouldn’t go far as it is the finale of a series, but so good!

Noah Tervor’s Born a Crime. I know, I know…adult adult adult. But why this didn’t get an Alex I do not understand.

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Thoughts on Newbery: This Year’s Awards (and not just Newbery)

Yesterday was a terrific day for me for a number of reasons.

First of all, I’m on the 2018 Arbuthnot Committee which means we:

… choose annually an individual of distinction who shall prepare and present a paper which shall be a significant contribution to the field of children’s literature; to select a host institution and make appropriate arrangements for the presentation of the lecture; to arrange for publication of lecture in children and libraries.

It is a virtual committee so we made our decision long ago, but had to wait till yesterday for our selection to be announced. It is Naomi Shihab Nye and the response in the auditorium yesterday and subsequently on social media has been enormously gratifying. If you are not familiar with her work please rectify that asap! She is a a remarkable Palestinian-American poet, author of works for adults and children, and a brilliant speaker. Now for the second part of our charge — to select the location of next spring’s lecture. Betsy Bird is our chair and the other members of the committee are Wendy Lukehart, Sharon McKellar, and Tim Caphart.  Wendy, Betsy, and I were at the announcements yesterday and, after taking the official photos, the kind photographer took a bunch more on my phone. Here’s my favorite:


Before I get to the Newbery I need to give a shout-out to the Stonewall Committee for selecting Rick Riordan’s Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard: The Hammer of Thor.  When I read this title I was so impressed with Riordan’s portrayal of gender-fluid Alex and am over the top that the committee thought so too.  And one to the Caldecott Committee for their excellent choices, especially giving the medal to Javaka Steptoe for Radiant Child which is a phenomenal work of art. Oh, and then there are the multitudes of well-deserved awards for March: Book Three. Amazing, wonderful, and absolutely deserved. What an experience to be in that room, in Atlanta, to hear and see that. Loved all the other awards too — Odyssey (my good friend Roxanne Feldman served on that committee), Printz, CSK,  Geisel, Pura Belpré, and many more. What a great day indeed.

As for Newbery, congratulations to the committee for their outstanding choices.  A fantasy! When was the last time one received the medal? Bravo, committee! While it wasn’t among my own hopes for the award, I read and liked Kelly Barnhill’s The Girl Who Drank the Moon very much. So congratulations to her and to her publisher, small, but might Algonquin.  Similarly, I read and admired Lauren Wolk’s Wolf Hollow and so congratulations to her and Penguin.

But it is the other two honor books that have personal importance to me. I’ve known Ashley Bryan for a long time. He was a teacher at my school and, when I first came, regularly returned to do fabulous work with our children. And then I got to know him even more during the summers I attended the wonderful CLNE institutes. I loved Freedom Over Me, thinking more Caldecott, so am over the moon that it received a Newbery Honor. Ashley has had recent health issues so what a wonderful thing for him right now.

And then there is Adam Gidwitz’s honor for The Inquisitor’s Tale. I’ve been a huge cheerleader for Adam for years, even before his first book came out. We arranged for him then to come to my school to work with our fourth and fifth graders and he has come yearly ever since.  The Inquisitor’s Tale was one of my hopes for the award so I’m thrilled it was honored. It is an ambitious, thrilling, and unique work and I am so glad the committee thought so too.

Okay, I’m beat, still in Atlanta, heading home later today. What a lovely respite from the dreadful daily stuff coming out from DC.


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Thoughts on Newbery: My Hopes for this Year

There are many worthy possibilities this year. Here are some I’d be happy to see recognized:

First and foremost there is Jason Reynolds’ Ghost. I came across the ARC in early July and read it knowing nothing about it. I fell in love then, wrote this rave review, and am still in love. It is tight, fast paced, with beautifully developed characters, vivid description, and a fabulous voice. My heart is on my sleeve with this one.

Of course, there are many, many other wonderful books this year. Among them I’d be especially happy and thrilled to see any of the following recognized.

  • Jenni L. Holm’s Full of Beans.  I read this aloud to my class this fall and that experience reinforced my admiration for this title. It is spare with fully realized characters, a wonderful voice in Beans (interesting that two of my favorites so far have strong boy voices as narrators), and clever. It is warm, emotional, and funny. A delightful middle grade work of historical fiction that totally deserved the Scott O’Dell historical fiction award.
  • Adam Gidwitz’s The Inquisitor’s Tale.  This is a unique and compelling book. The structure is fascinating — a series of connecting stories told in the vein of The Canterbury Tales (but without the sex:) — that build to a remarkable climax. Wonderful historical material, wonderfully researched. There is a lot going on in this book, all of it good. In particular I admired the themes related to faith and religion. Wow! I had thought it would be for kids older than my 4th grade students, but several strong readers have read it with pleasure.
  • Louise Erdrich’s Makoons. This is a quiet story rich in the lives of this family, introduced years ago by Erdrich in The Birchbark House. In my starred Horn Book review I wrote, “Throughout, there are poignant moments, including the deaths of several family members and a sense of foreboding about the future as the buffalo begin to disappear. Whether encountering this community for the first time or returning to it, readers will be enriched by Erdrich’s finely crafted corrective to the Eurocentric dominant narrative of America’s past.”
  • Pamela L. Turner’s Samurai Rising. Having no interest in samurais I was surprised how much I enjoyed this book. It is a credit to Turner’s passion for her subject, research, and brash writing. There has been debate whether her little sardonic asides enhance or distract (“No pressure, Yoshitsune”)  — for me it is the former. My enthusiastic blog review is here.
  • Grace Lin’s When the Sea Turned to Silver. With each book in this series, I feel Lin got stronger. This final one is the best, I think. Great characters, description, and a twisting narrative makes for an immersive read. While not necessary for Newbery consideration I like that every kid I know who reads this (and/0r the earlier titles in the series) loves it.
  • Julie Fogliano’s When Green Becomes Tomatoes. Many others have been articulate about this delightful title so I don’t feel I have anything to add other than the individual poems are gems and the way they connect to make a whole is masterful. I am in awe of Fogliano’s skill at writing true and genuine poetry for children.
  • Anne Nesbet’s Cloud and Wallfish. This is probably the outlier of the list, but it is a book that grew and grew on me. Having a personal familiarity with the time and place I first read it when I received an ARC months ago. Then sometime later I reread it several times for a review and each time it impressed me more. It is certainly a dark horse, but you never know! I concluded my starred Horn Book review, “This is edgy, dramatic, and emotionally rich historical fiction that provides a vivid look into an extraordinary moment in history.”
  • Melissa Sweet’s Some Writer!  I have been doing an author study of E. B. White for years with my students and am also a big fan of Sweet so this, for me, was a match made in heaven. I had thought that it might be a long shot for Newbery given how heavily illustrated it is, but was thrilled recently to see that it won Sam Bloom’s Mock Newbery at the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County. I adored this (you can read my review here) and would be delighted to see it honored.


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Thoughts on Newbery: A New Day After

Yesterday was quite a day. Boy oh boy, was it! Congratulations to all the honorees and everyone involved. What follows are a few personal responses to all of it.

First of all, it is important to celebrate the committee members — they worked hard all year and this past weekend to come together to honor a group of books. The process is intense, well-designed, and carefully led and I’m sure each committee member will remember this experience as unique and like no other. Bravo to all of them.

Secondly, score for diversity! What a trilled to see it recognized by committee after committee in form, genre, age, gender, ethnicity, and race. Last year’s committees threw down the gantlet with reaching high age-wise for Caldecott and beyond traditional text with graphic novels for the Newbery. But more important was the clear attention to this year’s important, difficult, and needed conversations about race — responding to the horrible things happening in the world along with the call within our small community for greater diversity — the result this year is spectacular, not just for Newbery and Caldecott, but for all the awards. All of this makes for a clear open path for future committees. To think even more broadly and critically, following the lead of this year’s committees.

Thirdly, mea culpa for my repeated rule-bound insistence about art and text for Newbery. While I was a huge advocate for El Deafo last year, I had thought this year’s equally delightful Roller Girl was far more dependent on the art. Clearly I was wrong. Since I think it is a terrific book (and coincidently very beloved by my 4th grade students) I obviously need to recalibrate my way of reading such titles in terms of the Newbery criteria. And that is wonderful indeed. It makes me so happy to think that more works with art and graphics that advance the story can be honored by the Newbery this way.

Fourthly, while I was startled by the announcement of Last Stop in Market Street I’m not surprised, but delighted. It was certainly always one of the books I had hopes of for a Caldecott (for which it was also honored). But I realize that I pay more attention to text in picture books for older kids and so managed not to recognize the text of this one for younger kids as distinguished as it is for its intended audience. I can’t wait to read it to my 4th graders this morning — I’m sure they will be thrilled with it and it will let us all know just how grand the text is.

Fifthly, I will admit that the announcement of the selection of Sophie Blackall’s terrific Finding Winnie for the Caldecott medal had me in tears. This was not a rational response, but a completely emotional one related to the painful and challenging fall involving the discourse around Sophie’s other book, my part in it, and the important learning process it has taken me — no doubt one that I will always be doing and that we all should be doing.

Lastly, while the winners are no longer interviewed on the Today Show, they got a far better interview yesterday by the distinguished journalist Lynn Neary who actually knew something about them and could even pronounce their names correctly (just check out this 2008  Today Show video with Laura Amy Schlitz and Brian Selznick to see what I mean). Go here to listen to it. Thank you, NPR!


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Thoughts on Newbery: My Personal Druthers (for More Than the Newbery)

The announcement for this year’s ALA’s Youth Media Awards is this coming Monday, January 11th and as is true every year there are a large number of potential and worthy honorees, some having received more public scrutiny and attention than others. Having served on the 2008 Newbery committee I know how hard the members of all of this year’s committees will have worked — not just those days coming up that they will be spending together making their selections, but all year long — reading, rereading, thinking, considering, and learning. Whether I end up agreeing with them on Monday, I will respect completely their choices knowing the care, thought, and time they took to reach them. (See this post I wrote a few years ago for more about the Newbery criteria and process.)

As for what might get some ALA sticker-love this time around, the field seems wide open this year. I’m especially excited at the possibility of more boundary-breaking selections like last year’s This One Summer and El Deafo while still wondering what is possible given the current Newbery criteria. Happily, recent discussions are really helping me, especially the comments here.

So here you are, among the many eligible titles I liked, twenty special favorites:

Drowned City by Don Brown.
Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman.
Enchanted Air by Margarita Engle. My thoughts here.
Funny Bones by Duncan Tonatiuh.
Gone Crazy in Alabama by Rita Williams-Garcia. My thoughts here.
Goodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead. My thoughts here.
The Hired Girl by Laura Amy Schlitz. My thoughts here.
The Marvels by Brian Selznick. My thoughts here.
Most Dangerous by Steve Sheinkin. My thoughts here.
My Seneca Village by Marilyn Nelson. My thoughts here.
Nimona by Noelle Stevenson.
Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson
Rhythm Ride by Andrea Davis Pinkney. My thoughts here.
The Skunk by Mac Barnett and Patrick McDonnell.
Symphony for the City of the Dead by M. T. Anderson.
Tricky Vic by Greg Pizzoli.
Two Mice by Sergio Ruzzier. My thoughts here.
Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer by Kelly Jones. My thoughts here.
The War that Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley. My thoughts here.
X: A Novel by Ilyasah Shabazz and Kekla Magoon. My thoughts here.




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Rita Williams-Garcia’s Gone Crazy in Alabama

Ah, sisters…for all of us it is complicated. I have one who is two years younger. Because we traveled and moved a lot when we were children, we depended on each other for playmates and more. We fought, physically and emotionally — when we annoyed each other, when we wanted something the other had, for space, and so on; we played intensively, I remember an ongoing story we told each other on long car trips where I got to be the younger for a change (interesting how we both felt the other was more parentally privileged than the other); and today, decades later, we still look out for each other in every way. As I am certain will always be the case for the sisters in Rita Williams-Garcia’s Gone Crazy in Alabama, the finale of her trilogy centered on the Gaither family.

Let me state up front — I’ve been a huge fan of this series. I gave One Crazy Summer a rave New York Times review and was beside myself with joy when it received a Newbery Honor. I was delighted with the next book, P.S. Be Eleven and so happy that it, like its predecessor was honored with a Coretta Scott King award. And so now here we are with the final book giving this family, these sisters, and most of all Delphine Gaither, a satisfying send-off.

Crazy. It is in the title of the first book and the last one. Rightly. For the first book is crazy when the girls have their lives and understanding of life turned upside down during a, yes, crazy summer with their mother and the Black Panthers, in Oakland — the other side of the continent from the only world they’d previously known in Brooklyn. And so for this final book it is the next summer — another crazy one for some completely different reasons and some the same. Different because it is set in Alabama where there are no visible Black Panthers, instead there are very visible aspects of Jim Crow, the Ku Klux Klan, and family history. The same because it is about love, about hate, about reason and unreason, about family, learning and growing and becoming no matter your age.

The plot is complicated, full, and rich; I suggest going elsewhere if you want to know about it in detail. It involves the three sisters — Delphine, Vonetta, and Fern — going to their grandmother in Alabama for the summer. Big Ma pretty much had raised them until their father married someone who is not going to just sit home and take care of him, something very much not to their grandmother’s more old-fashioned taste. In Alabama too are their great-grandmother and her half-sister who have been feuding forever.  Their uncle who betrayed them so horribly is there too — will any of them ever forgive him? The girls are all growing older and changing — what does that all mean for each of them?

While for me the heart of the book is the relationship between Delphine, Vonetta, and Fern it is also about each girl’s evolving self. Since I adore E. B. White’s Charlotte’s Web I won’t easily forget Fern’s use of it in her efforts to save her beloved chickens. There’s angry, angry Vonetta who is not one to forgive — will she stubbornly refuse to for decades like her great-grandmother? For Delphine, her sisters are growing up and able to fend for themselves. She’s watching and considering the older women, her father’s new wife, and her own mother and thinking about the woman she is going to be. Williams-Garcia’s way with characters is superb — she can give you sense of a stance (Fern balling up her fists), a feel (Vonetta’s glare), or an oddity (Big Ma’s obsession with ironed sheets) like few others.

In contrast to the three girls is the puzzling feud between their great-grandmother and her half-sister. With care, Williams-Garcia lets us know what is behind it — history that makes the racial dynamics of the past, present, and future all the more complicated. It isn’t simple — life never is. There are some harrowing moments — both from the past and from the immediate time of the book — in particular what happens when Vonetta disappears during a tornado. All in all, it is a fabulous read, one that can be appreciated in its entirety whether or not you’ve read the previous books (hint: Newbery Committee:).

Gone Crazy in Alabama is just crazy good.



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Thoughts on Newbery: The Nature of Distinguished

What is meant by distinguished?  How readers with a myriad of different life experiences and realities define this was broken wide open this fall during a discussion that started on the Heavy Medal blog with a consideration of Laura Amy Schlitz’s The Hired Girl. Since then, the conversation has broadened beyond the one book, on various social media platforms, exploring different reading stances, the dominance of white privilege in the world of children’s books and among the adult gatekeepers, the noticing (or not) of micro-aggressions, the circumstances for child readers today, and much more. It has been a difficult one at times, emotionally intense, but one I think folks I know in this world would agree is hugely important. It has made me think hard, to reflect on how I perceive books, to revisit books I admire to see the problems that I missed, to reconsider some I use in my teaching, to rethink curriculum, and to simply keep reading and talking and learning. So I’m grateful and look forward to continuing to learn and do better. And with this all in mind, I’d like to return to The Hired Girl.  Some have pointed out that it is sometimes necessary to hold opposing notions and I think that is the case for me with this book, one I continue to see as distinguished Newbery-wise while recognizing that it may be a problematic read for some readers.

To review, The Hired Girl is presented as the diary of one extremely unreliable narrator, 1911 farm girl Joan Skraggs.  After a brutally isolated life on a Pennsylvania farm, toiling away for her brothers and father, the motherless Joan runs away to Baltimore where she ends up the hired girl of a wealthy German Jewish family. In classic Bildungsroman fashion, the fourteen year-old who successfully passes for eighteen, bangs up again and again with what she doesn’t know, gaining knowledge each time. The issue is that much of what she doesn’t know, what she blurts out, considers, repeats from others (say her father or books), mulls over, and does is often racist, stereotypic, and otherwise problematic. That this is true to her time and place seems not to be in question. That these individual moments might be offensive to certain readers today is.

And so there is the dilemma we’ve been grappling with — if there is something in a book that is offensive to certain members of the reading population does that mean it can no longer be distinguished?  As a member of one of the minority groups represented in the book, I would say it still can be. In our case, that of Jews, the online response has been wide-ranging. All are bringing their own life-experiences to their reading of the book; in some cases this makes it a painful read, but in others it is an affirming, funny, and enjoyable read, one that some of us consider of high literary merit, say Marjorie Ingall who not only named it one of the best Jewish Children’s Books of 2015, but also her favorite novel among them.

While the story revolves around a Jewish family and Joan’s interactions with them, Jews aren’t the only group to receive a stereotypic 1911 presentation. African Americans, Irish Americans, and American Indians also are mentioned. Of these, it is the last that has provoked the greatest amount of discussion. The two references to American Indians in the book are absolutely unquestionably stereotypic; if you are not already familiar with them please visit this post by Debbie Reese for an overview.

For some, that these two moments are in the book is what keeps it from being award-worthy, that is, distinguished. Yet, even after rereading, listening, reading, and mulling it all over, I continue to think they do need to be there and that they are does not compromise the book in terms of its literary merit.  I know that there will be disagreements here, but this is my current thinking. Joan is white and that means that for all her hardships she still is privileged, even in 1911 Baltimore. Not only isn’t she Jewish, but she also isn’t African American, Irish American, or American Indian — all groups that receive varying degrees of stereotypic mentions in the book. These are all folks she has never encountered before in her previous isolated life. What little she knows about them is through books and whatever her beloved teacher passed on to her. And so she, in her at times arrogant white privileged place, repeatedly speaks of these stereotypes, ones that she is unlearning as she encounters reality.  Some of this reality is the result of firsthand experience as in the case of Jews, but some of it is through the broadening lens that all of it is affording her. If she has learned that Jews are real and civilized, she is also presumably beginning to think of others she had only thought of vaguely before, as real and nothing like the stereotypes her older self knew.

Books and reading offer so many different experiences. The learning can be as specific as Joan learning about the religious practices of these Baltimore German Jews or as general as Joan’s learning that the world is bigger and broader than the one she knew on her father’s farm. This is a book that is going to offer so many different experiences for those readers that chose to read it. And that idea of choice is important. For this is certainly not a book for all readers — again, there will be some who will indeed find aspects of it offensive and they should not read it. But there will be some young readers, indeed some among the minority groups of the book (I posted over at Heavy Medal a response by a Jewish 8th grader at my school) who will like it, tremendously. These will be the readers who will identify with Joan’s passion, her desire to learn, to love, to think, to contemplate, to embrace faith, to yearn to do art, to write. They will learn and grown themselves through this — perhaps and hopefully about prejudice, about the limited, stereotypic, and racist world views of 1911 whites, about the details of observant Jewish life — and then about themselves and the world today as well. It is all of this that continues to make this book for me distinguished and worthy of this year’s Newbery award.

I’m still reading, learning, rethinking, and trying. This is one moment on my journey doing so.


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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.


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