Newbery Award Winners - Librarian’s Comments Create Controversy

As I mentionned in my last post, Listening to Newbery Award Winners - My Magical Journey, I have a long-standing habit of regularly listening to Newbery Award Winning books on tape or CD. I can’t say I’ve heard them all, but I’ve heard a lot.

But I noticed a few years ago that not ALL Newbery Award books appealed equally to me. A few were, let’s just say, not particularly captivating. So I got in the habit of using lists of Newbery Award Winners as candidates for purchase. But before buying I would look at reviews, mostly on Amazon.  Occasionally, when I was still undecided, I’d Google for other reviews.  In doing one of these searches, I happened upon a post, Newbery Numbness, on the Kids Lit Blog of Menasha Public Library.

The blog entry references  an article in the School Library Journal, Has the Newbery Lost It’s Way. The article talks about how once people “rushed” to grab a copy of the latest Newbery Winner, because it was a guaranteed good read. But booksellers and librarians have noticed many of the recent Newbery Award Winners, don’t seem to appeal to very many kids at all. And Tasha Saecker on Kids Lit Blog agreed with this conclusion.

Wow, I thought, so it isn’t just me! A couple times in listening to the Newbery books, I had thought, “Gosh, this is kind of slow getting going.” Once, even after I’d heard the whole book, I thought, “hmmph, that didn’t really do anything for me.”  Usually another voice (also in my head) would snort, “like YOU are qualified to criticize a Newbery winner?”

And once, and I won’t name the book, I actually stopped listening and returned the book to the library, because I found it so dare-I-say boring, that I was getting drowsy AND I do listen to these while driving to and from work. Drowsiness is not a good thing.

The first couple pages should make a reader hungry for more. If librarians and teachers are commenting that the Newbery award winners don’t meet that test, then I would argue they are NOT the best books of the year. I know many Newbery Medal Winners or Newbery Honor Books that DO meet that test. Because of Winn-Dixie, Pictures of Hollis Woods, and Bud, Not Buddy, are the first ones that come to mind. I know there are many others. These books are just plain fun, maybe not a laugh a minute, but a great experience from when you turn the first page to the last.

A later post on the Kid Lit Blog, discusses whether there is a risk of Newbery winning books hurting reading. I think the risk exists, but it’s a very small risk. I believe there are parents who go into the stores to buy a children’s book and pick a Newbery winner assuming it will appeal to kids. These parents may recognize the Newbery medal symbol on a book and remember it from when they were growing up. Now, hopefully, the parent will also read the first couple pages and if it doesn’t grab them, they would try a different Newbery book, until they found one which was more appealing. Alternatively, they might ask the bookseller or librarian for some advice.

I hope that the people who give out the Newbery medal will look at the criticism and consider it.

These are children’s books. They don’t need to be filled with clever literary devices and they don’t need to address a difficult topic. It’s fine if they do, as long as underneath it all is still a fascinating story.

I want to thank the librarians and others who are raising this issue because I always applaud people who are willing to announce that the Emperor isn’t wearing any clothes.

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