Category Archives: Newbery

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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Thoughts on Newbery: The Day After (and El Deafo Redux)

Well, saying I’m pretty happy today is an understatement. First of all, congratulations to all honorees, committee members, contenders, creators, publishers, readers, writers, editors, marketers, publicists, librarians, and everyone else who had a stake in these awards. Secondly, EL DEAFO!!!!!!!!!!!

After telling my 4th graders that it was the day of the award announcements and about my hopes for winners, highlighting El Deafo as the one I hoped for the most while also telling them why it was unlikely, I went into the hallway to watch the announcements while someone else was teaching them. The period ended just before the final two awards were announced so I went back and a few of my students stayed to watch while some 6th graders started coming in for a class they have in my room. When El Deafo was announced I screamed and jumped about. Now I often scream and jump about when I’m at the announcements in person, but the practice isn’t something most people associate with me at school, especially my students. So the kids were rather amazed, not quite sure why I was behaving this way. After they headed off to art class, I tried to express my enthusiasm to some colleagues who smiled benevolently and went back to whatever they were doing. Thank goodness for twitter where there were others who understood and shared my enthusiasm.

I’m very happy with The Crossover getting the medal and Brown Girl Dreaming getting the other honor — both were on my short list — but my heart is with El Deafo.  I just hope that its honor does not cause ALSC to sit back and feel this proves that the criteria don’t need to be changed. They do. While El Deafo, as I proved, shines for its text, in many other fabulous graphic novels the text does not work as well without the art. On Sunday I ended up in a lively twitter conversation about this — I argued then, before, and now that the criteria need to be altered so that it is easier for graphic novels to be considered with their art and design being considered in a positive way, not if they make the book “less effective,” as in the current criteria.

As for the other awards, let’s talk Caldecott. I was especially thrilled with three personal favorites of mine,  The Right Word, Viva Frida, and Sam & Davegetting honors. And then, This One Summer, my oh my. I love it, but it never occurred to me to think of it for Caldecott. Kudos to the Committee for be more out-of-the-box thinkers than me. It is a beautiful book and highly deserving of the award. That said, its honor doesn’t get ALSC off the hook in terms of relooking at the Newbery criteria. Still needs doing. And then the Sibert Awards. Awesome to see The Right Word get the medal followed by a fabulous array of honors.

sam&dave

 

 

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Thoughts on Newbery: Today’s the Day!

In a few hours all will be known. The award winners will have been called and the announcements in snowy Chicago will have been made. My congratulations to all in advance — the honorees, those who were considered, and the hard working committee members. And as a public service for anyone dismayed for any reason, here are a couple of posts that may help.

  • If you think the committee missed an important book, must have not given the award because the author was too well-known, felt another committee would take care of the particular book, or have other unhappy thoughts about why the book you loved wasn’t honored, I wrote the following for you: Top Ten Things You May Not Know about the Newbery Award.
  • And for those creators whose books were getting a lot of buzz, but ended up without honors, this one is for you: Thoughts on Newbery: This Year (and be sure to read the comments).

 

 

 

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Thoughts on Newbery: What I’d Like to See Honored a Week from Today

Next Monday morning the ALA Youth Media Awards will be announced. Many wonderful books came into the world this year, some receiving a great deal of attention while others were appreciated more quietly. And as is true for all the hardworking committee members, those charged with selecting the Newbery will have spent an enormous amount of time considering the eligible titles before making their careful decision. (See this post for more about the criteria and their process.)

Because it is fun to see if any of your own favorites get the nod here are eight of mine. While there were many more I loved this year (including some on this list), based on recent conversations, hard thinking, and irrational feelings from the heart these are the ones I’d be preparing for the most if I were on this year’s committee.

  • El Deafo  This is probably a long shot, but I can dream, can’t I? My arguments for this wonderful graphic novel memoir are here.
  • West of the Moon Way back last March I wrote in my review, “Mixing fairy and folktale with harsh historical reality, Preus has created a gorgeous story of migration set in 19th century Norway.”
  • Brown Girl Dreaming  I wrote here that it is “One of the most lyrical and moving books of the year.”
  • The Key That Swallowed Joey Pigza  “By the time this final book of the series—as elegantly and propulsively written as the others—draws to a close, you know that no matter what the future holds, Joey’s inner strength and smart, sweet nature will prevail.” is how I concluded my starred Horn Book review.
  • The Madman of Piney Woods  In another starred Horn Book review, I wrote,” Curtis takes his young protagonists — and his readers — on a journey of revelation and insight. Woven throughout this profoundly moving yet also at times very funny novel are themes of family, friendship, community, compassion, and, fittingly, the power of words.”
  • The Crossover About this powerful verse novel, I wrote here, “The poetry is energetic and the story compelling — a sure-fire hit for a wide range of readers.”
  • The Family Romanov Of this elegant work of nonfiction I noted here, “Balancing the over-the-top lifestyle of the last Russian royals with firsthand accounts of the rest of the populace, Fleming provides a fascinating and highly readable version of this tragic story.”
  • The Fourteenth Goldfish In my New York Times review I wrote, “Youth, old age, life, death, love, possibilities and — oh yes — goldfish all come together in this warm, witty and wise novel.”

 

 

 

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Thoughts on Newbery: El Deafo

I don’t usually do single titles for this series, but am making an exception for Cece Bell’s El Deafo, a graphic novel that is getting some serious Newbery buzz. About this affecting and funny childhood memoir, I wrote elsewhere, “While Bell doesn’t shy away from issues dealing with her hearing loss, doing so with wit and a refreshing lack of self-pity, it is the search for a good friend that will resonate most with young readers.” I’ve definitely been part of the buzzing (say over at Heavy Medal where I put it as the first of my 3 votes for their online Mock Newbery), but also have been dubious about its chances due to this part of the criteria that the award committee is required to follow:

2. Each book is to be considered as a contribution to American literature. 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.

However a rereading focusing on the text has changed my mind. First of all, I found it surprisingly easy to do. This is because the text carries the story completely. Those panels where it is necessary to look at the art to make sense of the text are not critical to making sense of the story overall.  I also found in this reading a new appreciation for the voice, one that I realized is very much brought out through the writing. As Nina Lindsay notes here, “Cece’s emotional arc of self-awareness, her coping mechanisms and challenges in navigating friendships, are all delivered in a voice that is as lively in the text as in any non-graphic novel this year.” I agree wholeheartedly.

Something that really struck me on this rereading is Bell’s use of text boxes and speech bubbles. She uses them as a poet does line breaks, building scenes, expressing feelings, and so forth. Take this text from pages 44-45. Look at the way the text builds in the way that lines in a poem would do. (I have taken the liberty of using caps, parentheses, italics, bolding, and line spacing to differentiate as a poet might well do.)

I can hear everything my teacher says and does! In the classroom…

[IN] FOURTEEN-HUNDRED [AND] NINETY-TWO, COLUMBUS SAILED THE OCEAN BLUE

(I will gain the wisdom of the ages!)

…in the hallway….

GO STRAIGHT TO THE PRINCIPAL’S OFFICE NOW

(I will discover the secrets of my fellow man!)

…in the entire school building….

TINKLE TINKLE TINKLE

(I will –wait! Is she using the bathroom again? Ha! Ha!)

…and possibly in the entire world! And no one else can hear what I hear!

OK, CLASS! LET’S LINE UP FOR RECESS!

(Holy Hearing Aid, Batman—)

(I will amaze everyone –)

HEY! WHAT ARE THOSE THINGS IN YOUR EARS?  ARE YOU DEAF?

POP

(Ummm…)

So how about looking at El Deafo as one does a work of poetry and considering the textual elements in those terms?

Something else that wowed me on this rereading was the pacing. In the overall story arc, there is such fluidity in the way we move from scenes featuring her hearing loss to those about friendships to the smaller ones –say those with her siblings and mother— that offer texture to the overall book. This is a complex work and Bell elegantly weaves these different threads in and out of each other without ever dropping a single one. Highly distinguished plotting, I say.

Then there is setting, something that you’d think was largely established in the art. But not so, I say. I think there is a great deal that gives you the sense of the time period in the text. Go take a look at Pages 77 – 80 when Cece struggles to make sense of television; the shows that she watches are all of a particular time. In fact, they almost seem like little Easter eggs for adults as kids now are not going to even know what shows like The Waltons are. Not to mention, it is a way of watching television that doesn’t tend to happen for kids today, I suspect.  And just about all of it is text-based. (I grant you the Star Trek panel is definitely funnier with the image, but not critical to the overall story. Also, it will mean more to adult readers than children of today. The rest of them work perfectly just with the text, I’d argue.)

Characters. Beautifully developed through text, especially in terms of friendships. Consider this on pages 48-49:

MY NAME IS LAURA, YOU KNOW, AND THAT’S A PRETTIER NAME THAN YOUR NAME. I THINK MRS. LUFTON IS BEAUTIFUL. YOU’RE A WEIRD KIND OF FUNNY. HEY! LET’S BE BEST FRIENDS!

It’s all kind of sudden, so I think about it for a minute or two…

[writes list of pros and cons]

Frenz with Laura? 

Yes                                                       No

Fritos                                                    kinda pushee 

        duz not mine heerin aid__                       ______             

… and then I say:

Ok?

What else? Bell communicates vividly through text the ups and downs of childhood. While it is set in her childhood of a few decades past she has managed to beautifully capture certain universals — first crush, the need for a best friend, sleepovers etc. Take this little bit on pages 94-95 from the sleep-over when the other girls want to do her hair and make-up, something Cece hates, but struggles to get out of:

Y’ALL WAIT! CAN PEOPLE WHO WEAR HEARING AIDS ALSO WEAR MAKEUP?

(Huh?)

(That’s the dumbest question I ever — wait a minute! Here’s my chance to get out of this!)

Um…

I don’t believe we can. Messes up the hearing aids, and stuff.

I THOUGHT SO!

BUMMER.

(Whew!)

And so, for the moment I rest my case.(I may update this post when I have more time.)  This book, in my opinion, can absolutely be considered the most distinguished children’s book of the year using the current Newbery criteria.

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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.

 

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Thoughts on Newbery: Patrick Ness’s CBAITS

Some of you may bristle (or already have) about this topic, but I think it is one to take very, very seriously. It is Patrick Ness‘s provocative point in his SLJ Battle of the Kids’ Book decision this week about what he has termed CBAITs:

Crappy Books About Important Things; you know exactly what I’m talking about: books with either important subject matter or important formats that are so terrible-but-worthy they turn reading into medicine for young people.  People tend to be far too afraid to give these books bad reviews and they often go on to win prizes.

I think Patrick has a point, an important and enormously complicated one. First of all, what Patrick may consider a CBAIT may not be what someone else does. That is, our criteria may be different, our idea of what is good, our taste, and so forth. Which is why, presumably, some end up winning prizes. That is, enough people on a particular award jury may have the same sense of what is good even if it isn’t what others think. And so they are going to give an award to a book they sincerely think is good not crappy.

And that gets to the heart of Patrick’s issue: what do people consider to be a good book? Many indeed think a book is good if it takes on an Important Thing and will dismiss questions about the quality of sentence level writing that would be something I’d be paying attention to . While Patrick and I probably would agree that something with painfully poor sentence level writing is crappy there are some who might feel differently. Not to mention what I might consider overwrought writing might be something someone else would think is wonderful, and vice versa.

That said, I do think there is a tendency for those of us who review and/or participate in selecting best books, award books, and such to pay a lot of attention to books that deal with topics that we feel need to be more known. And sometimes we excuse weaknesses in such books because we think they are so important. Because they are so few and because we so badly want young people to take in the topics, to know about these Important Things.

I think this has special resonance when considering the Newbery award. While the criteria are clear that it is for literary merit not popularity or didactic intent, I suspect most  of us can look back at the books that have received the medal and find one we’d call a CBAIT.

Thank you, Patrick, for pointing out that metaphorically children’s book award emperors sometimes have no clothes.

 

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