(Again, I ask the Blogger gods: WHERE IS MY IRONY FONT?)
Today, The Washington Post takes on the topic of all topics in children’s literature with its article “Plot Twist: The Newbery May Dampen Kids’ Reading.” The article notes that, following the SLJ article, “the literary world is debating the Newbery’s value, asking whether the books that have won recently are so complicated and inaccessible to most children that they are effectively turning off kids to reading.”
The Post presents points from both sides of the issue, but any sense of objectivity is lost by the headline. For instance, the article doesn’t mention that in the blog of the same School Library Journal, Nina Lindsey wrote a rebuttal to the original article. Two Kid Lit Divas going head-to-head on opposite sides, and both of them know their sh... stuff. Truly, there is certainly some worthy debate in the Newbery arena, but I don’t think we need the Washington Post chiming in unless they’re going to start a Series of Obvious Debates:
Teachers Think “No Child Left Behind” May Be Leaving Children BehindEvery professional arena has its areas of debate and compromise, and the nuances of those topics are often lost in the mainsteam media. That’s why the New York Times annual article about Young Adult books or summer reading programs gets stuck in our collective craws. Because we realize that they don’t have all the information, that they’re throwing ideas out there almost randomly, and that they may actually reach people with these half-assed conclusions because they have the readership. It’s frustrating.
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It’s even more annoying as these same papers cut their reviews of kids’ and teens’ books. I almost laughed when I saw The Washington Post’s Best Kids Books section in Book World. This edition had credibility when the paper was reviewing a decent number of kids’ books. Now, the books are listed with “excerpts from the most favorable reviews of the year,” and I just have to wonder. Specifically, I wonder how many books they were looking at in the first place, and given that I’ve not seen many mentioned in the paper if every book they reviewed had to be included. Oh, and how they chose those few books that they did review. Having read more than two hundred picture books in the last three months, I can say with some authority that the Preschool selection is surprising random.
Anyway, my feeling on the Newbery Awards is that they are what they are, and perhaps it is less that the Newberys should change than that teachers, librarians and parents should change the way they choose their books. There are lots of resources that select good books with the ALSC Notable Children’s Books being a good place to start, as it includes all the ALA award winners plus other great titles. Personally, I couldn’t finish my yearly reading without the Best Books lists of School Library Journal, Publishers Weekly, and The Horn Book. (For more 2008 Best Books lists, visit Chicken Spaghetti’s amazing round-up.)
But perhaps most importantly for the kidlitosphere, this continuing debate emphasizes the need for the Cybils awards where literary value is balanced with kid appeal. I’m proud to be a part of that process, now more than ever.