Newbery Article in the Washington Post

Today’s Washington Post has an interesting article about the direction of the Newbery Award. Must be the season for these, I guess.

A segment, as reported in Publishers Lunch:

St. John’s University John Beach “studied 30 years of book lists chosen by children and adults. He found that less than 5 percent overlap between the Children’s Choice Awards — named every year by the International Reading Association — and the library association’s annual Notable Children’s Books list, which includes many Newbery and Caldecott winners. Beach asserts, “The Newbery has probably done far more to turn kids off to reading than any other book award in children’s publishing.”

Pat Scales, president of the Association for Library Service to Children, defends the Newbery as follows: “It is about literary quality. We don’t expect every child to like every book. How many adults have read all the Pulitzer Prize-winning books and the National Book Award winners and liked every one?”

(Which makes me wonder, ‘Yes, but do you care if any child likes any of the books?’ Apparently not.)

Anita Silvey replies: “Quality and popularity are not mutually exclusive concepts. They can be found in the same book. . . . If you don’t think of children at all in the equation, what you get are books that work for adults.”

Bingo. It’s interesting to me that we talk about challenging young readers and trusting their skills to tackle difficult novels, which is admirable, but we don’t trust them enough to determine the quality of books for themselves. “Oh, if the kids like that,” we seem to say, “it can’t be any good.”

Perhaps we should just relabel the Newbery, ‘Best book for adults who like to read literary books about children.’ The debate is not likely to go away, but it is sad that things haven’t changed much since I was a kid, when I learned very quickly that the little gold sticker means, “Run away!” Oh, there are some wonderful exceptions on the Newbery list. It’s just too bad they are only exceptions.

Rick Riordan