Monday, January 12, 2009

So what would be *your* advice for the 2009 Newbery Committee?

I've been thinking about the Newbery a lot these days. I've read Anita Silvey (provocative) and Marc Aronson (historical/contextual) and Salon (op/edish) and Betsy (blogtastic) and Liz B. (cozy, smart) and Roger (sage). But where do the publishers stand?

I'll tell you where this publisher stands. We are damned lucky to have the Newbery and Caldecott awards -- to have any and all the awards from ALA. The only reason the Newbery has any coinage at all is because of librarians. And as librarians' recommendations, these awards are not designed to put books on bestsellers lists or to get them front-of-store placement in chain stores -- though they do do that. These awards are rather a way to say, Hey, here's a good book. Try it. Give it a read.

Betsy Bird gives a glancing reference to the Newbery Honor books in a recent column, and I agree with her that not enough attention has been paid to the Honors. Don't we all understand that the Newbery committees are citing a suite of titles with the Award and the Honor Books? Taken as a group, the Newbery name is attached to a books as disparate as Princess Academy and Hitler Youth. And does a child at the library or bookstore really make a distinction between one medal (above left) and another (above right)?

Many a long year ago I used to rail about the Newbery committee's choices. Why did they overlook this brilliant piece of literature or that groundbreaking new format? Usually, this was just a way of saying, Why didn't they pick a book I edited?

Now I'm more chill, as the kids say. What institution in this country other than the ALA has consistently bestowed a book award for eighty-seven years and counting? A book award that remains so relevant that people are still debating the committees' choices in the national press?

So I say, Good luck to you, 2009 Newbery Committee. You're under a bit of a microscope this year. Go into that windowless room somewhere in the mile-high city and pick whatever book strikes your fancy. It's your award, after all.

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