Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The Newbery Award's latest plot twist

The literary world is currently debating the Newbery Award's value, questioning whether the latest winners are inspiring to children, or just plain obscure. In yesterday's Washington Post article, reporter Valerie Strauss cites an October article in the School Library Journal --- "Has the Newbery Lost Its Way?" by children's literary expert Anita Silvey as starting off the debate. According to Strauss,  "of the 25 winners and runners-up chosen from 2000 to 2005, four books deal with death, six with the absence of one or both parents and four with such mental challenges as autism. Most of the rest deal with tough social issues." Not exactly light reading. This year's winner, "Voices from a Medieval Village" is a series of monologues that would be difficult for a child to read on his or her own. And... do I dare say that it sounds really boring? Not that I should judge a book by its cover. 

Nobody ever said that Newbery Award winners are supposed to have mass appeal;  it's not a popularity contest. Still, I do agree with Silvey that "quality and popularity are not mutually exclusive concepts." In order to stay relevant and to encourage and inspire reading among more and more children, The Newbery Award committee could rethink their strategy just a little. I wonder if they've ever asked kids what they think about the finalists before they make their selections. Just a thought.

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