Thursday, October 2, 2008

State of the Newbery

Okay, so Anita Silvey wrote this article for SLJ about the Newbery award: Has the Newbery Lost Its Way? And everybody's talking about it. I happen to agree with both Carlie and Sarah who point out that the purpose of the Newbery is NOT to choose the most popular book or the book with the greatest kid appeal, but the book which makes "the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children."

Carlie asks why we care whether kids like the Newbery winners. After all, it is an award chosen by adults and the criteria QUITE CLEARLY STATE: "The award is not for didactic intent or for popularity."

Well, as a librarian, I care whether kids like the Newbery winners because at least once a year there is an assignment to read a Newbery book. Because parents and caregivers come in with no real knowledge about children's literature and ask for Newbery books because they have been told that those are "good books". And nothing warms my librarian heart more than handing a kid a book they will actually love (bonus points if it's for an assignment... triple bonus points if they don't normally like to read).

Now, if someone wants to check out a stack of Newbery award winners, of course I will help them find what they are looking for.

But if parents or caregivers (or teachers for that matter) come in looking for Newbery books because they don't know what other books might be good for their child, I might point them in a different way.

I've said it before, but I'm a huge fan of state book awards. In Illinois, we have the Rebecca Caudill Young Readers Book Award which has a list of 20 nominees each year. The books are nominated by school and public librarians and teachers. A committee comprised of school librarians, public librarians, and teachers from all over the state whittles the list down to a master list of 20 nominees. And kids vote for their favorite. Whether or not your school or library participates in the Caudill award, that is a great list of 20 books chosen for quality and kid appeal.

Definitely the Caudill list is one I turn to again and again when adults and kids come in looking for suggestions (especially when they're not really sure what they're looking for).

Another resource is our very own Cybils award. The winners and short lists are a great resource for finding quality books that kids will like.

So. If you're asking me whether The Higher Power of Lucky was my very favorite book of all time, I'm going to have to tell you that it's not. But it's not called the Books Abby Really Likes Award. It's the Newbery Award. And it has its own criteria. And if you're looking for high quality literature that kids will love to read, sure, take a gander at the Newbery winners and honor books. But also remember that if the Newbery winners aren't your cup of tea, there are other resources out there that might be more suited to your query.