The Dreaded Newbery

Lisa Von Drasek: Early Word Kids

Oh the horror – The Washington Post writes today that the Newbery Award winners are not only not kid-friendly but are also causing kids not to read.

Oh please. If teachers would stop forcing kids to read books that were developmentally inappropriate just because 15 librarians slapped a gold seal on it, this wouldn’t be a problem. Raise your hand if you ordered a stack of Wandering Star by the 2008 Nobel Prize winner J.M.G. Le Clézio? Did you really have expectations that tons of adult would want it?

“The books chosen for the Newbery don’t have kid appeal,” they moan. You want kid appeal? Then turn to the best seller lists – Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Twilight, and that new one by J.K. Rowling – not one of them is likely to be honored by a committee but there is no denying their kid appeal.

So don’t save your budgets for the announcement in January; buy more copies of Jon Scieszka’s Knucklehead, the funniest, kid-appealing, most-likely–not-to-win an award book published this year. It WILL get kids reading.

Knucklehead: Tall Tales and Almost True Stories of Growing up Scieszka

by Jon Scieszka

  • Paperback: $12; 106 pages
  • Publisher: Viking Juvenile (October 2, 2008)
  • ISBN-10: 067001138X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0670011384

6 Responses to “The Dreaded Newbery”

  1. Mark Says:

    You can say that again, Lisa, and should.


  2. Amy Says:

    So, the issue here is the teachers who force “kids to read books that [are] developmentally inappropriate just because 15 librarians slapped a gold seal on it.”? Why do you think teachers do that? Because, rightly or wrongly, they think that the Newbery award is an indication of quality and, yes, developmental appropriateness for children (the Newbery is, after all, an award given to children’s books. It stands to reason, especially for those outside the library world, that a book that wins a prestigious award for children’s literature would be kid-appealing and developmentally appropriate for children). If anyone is at fault here, I don’t think it’s the teachers (and parents, and even librarians) who use the Newbery lists as guides for recommending books for children to read.

  3. LisaV Says:

    Dear Amy,
    I see what you are saying. The Newbery Award signals excellence in children’s literature. That said the book that is developmentally appropriate for a 6th grader often is not for 4th grader. The expectation of many teachers and dare I say librarians is that if a medal is bestowed that the book, it is automatically good for an elementary literature curriculum. I cringe when I hear of a Newbery curriculum that all students in a fourth grade class are required to read “Newbery” books disregarding the actual content. Then parents complain that all the books on the required reading list are downers, or have dead parents or the themes are too sophisticated for their children. sigh.

    There are many guides for recommended reading that considers the literary quality as well child development.
    The CCBC has quite a few on their website. The Children’s Book Committee at Bank Street College produces a yearly Best Book Books of the Year list annotated and divided by age group.

    Lets look to the Newbery Award for its purpose which is to identify excellence (we can and do argue that criteria every year) and give up the absurd expectation that the book chosen is for every child reader or will appeal to a general audience.

  4. Steve Says:

    I appreciate your common-sense approach here, but I want to share that at my large urban library, we saw fairly long reservation queues build on Le Clezio. No, he won’t circ like James Patterson, but I don’t think people should always reflexively discount the highbrow or challenging – there are people interested.

  5. LisaV Says:

    Dear Steve,
    Thank you for your comment. I am happy to hear of the reserves. Of course I see your point. The question I have is would there be the interest in Le Clezio without the award attention? The purpose of the bestowing the Newbery is to get attention for exceptional children’s literature. Not to provide a required reading list for elementary school curriculum.

  6. Amy Says:

    Dear Lisa, Thanks for your excellent reply to my comment.