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Author Archives:Kate Tigue

Newbury-Medal

The Battle for the Newbery Award

Newbury-Medal“If something bad is happening to a child in a book, that book will win the Newbery”, a veteran children’s librarian complained to me once. And I can’t deny it. Next week, the Association for Library Services to Children (ALSC) will announce the winner of the John Newbery Medal, a highly coveted award for best contribution to American children’s literature in the past year on Monday, February 12, 2018. The winner is selected by a committee of children’s librarians from across the country and broadcast at the American Library Association’s Midwinter conference.

The original idea behind the Newbery medal was cited by Fred. G. Melcher as a way to boost publishers’ interest in producing children’s literature in the 1920s. At the time, there was a growing interest in stories for children that didn’t necessarily have a moral or didactic purpose. British authors like E. Nesbit (The Railway Children) and A. A. Milne (Winnie the Pooh) and Canadian author L.M. Montgomery (Anne of Green Gables) had begun to whet the public’s appetite for more humorous, child-focused stories. The award was named for John Newbery, a prominent 18th century British publisher and called the “father of children’s literature” for publishing the first book directed at a juvenile audience, A Pretty Little Pocket-book.

Melcher himself was the editor of Publisher’s Weekly, an industry trade magazine, and was well-versed on how to utilize publicity to boost the sales and peak interest. Today, we’d say that he created “buzz” around children’s literature by creating an award for it and asking its largest buyers, children’s librarians, to form a committee of judges to grant the honor. Since 1922, members of ALSC, then called the Children’s Librarians’ Section of ALA, have met on a yearly basis to decide which meet the award criteria.

At first glance, the three criteria seem deceptively simple: the Newbery Award can be granted to an American author who has written the most distinguished contribution to American children’s literature. The author must reside in the US and the book must be published in English by an American publisher. Seems pretty easy, right? Just pick the best book, right? Well, as the years have gone on and the committee structure has evolved, the three original criteria remain but definitions have been added in an attempt to tease out exactly what we mean by “distinguished”. What does it mean for a book to be the best? ALSC defines distinguished children’s literature as books that are marked by “eminence and distinction, noted for significant achievement, excellence in quality and are individually distinct”. I’m not sure if that makes things any clearer!

What has become clear in the past 20 years is a growing dissent among librarians about what kind of books SHOULD win the Newbery Medal. Many of us have observed that the Newbery Medal winners aren’t terribly popular with their intended audience: children! For those of us who work with kids on a regular basis, selling the most recent Newbery winners to kids as an enticing read is a real challenge. The settings and characters appear to be getting more and more obscure and the point of views are more seemingly adult rather than from a child’s perspective. This was not always the case. Many of us remember the golden era of the 1990s that produced classics like Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli (1997), Number the Stars and The Giver both by Lois Lowry (1990 & 1994), and Holes by Louis Sachar (1999). All of these are staples in any children’s literature collection and are frequently requested by actual children!

The 2008 Newbery Committee selected Good Masters, Sweet Ladies : Voices From a Medieval Village by Laura Amy Schlitz, a book that became a lightning rod for the controversy over “good books” winning instead of popular books. Schlitz’s book comprises of a series of individual narratives of fictional medieval village inhabitants, similar to Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. Certainly, this winner would qualify as “individually distinct” but left many librarians wondering if kids would be attracted to the subject matter.

Noted children’s literature scholar Anita Silvey wrote a controversial piece for School Library Journal, a popular review journal for school and public librarians, where she wondered whether the Newbery Award had lost touch with real kids. Silvey noted that many librarians, teachers, and book critics felt the same way, feelings that might possibly prevent them from purchasing the next Newbery winner. This seems to be antithetical to the original purpose of the award, to bolster public and professional interest in and sales of children’s literature. Finally, Silvey concluded that while the award’s selection criteria don’t include consideration of how children themselves would receive the winner, the concepts of popular books and quality literature should not be mutually exclusive.

I completely agree with Silvey’s point. I recently read last year’s winner, The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill and, while I thoroughly enjoyed it as an adult reader, I was left scratching my head over what type of child I could actually convince to check it out of the library. The story focuses on a magical village at the age of the forest that requires one child to be set out in the woods as a sacrifice for the local witch. Barnhill’s clever narrative alternates between the witch and one of the children left out in the woods. It’s a wonderful book and I highly recommend it…to other adults. I don’t think many children would stick with the first half of the book which follows the witch and her philosophical musings on her life’s purpose, her role as a parent, and her own impending death. While many children certainly have some understanding of these topics, I don’t think they could relate to it from an adult perspective.

The Newbery Award is an amazing opportunity to drum up excitement over reading for children. The current digital era provides ton of distractions for kids and furthers the the desire for instant gratifications. This makes the challenge of finding good books akin to finding good-tasting healthy food kids will eat instead of junk. If children’s librarians, educators, and parents truly want reading to be a preferred activity for kids, we have to feed them a diet of great but palatable literature to make them want more. Given that over 20,000 children’s books are published in America annually, we should be able to expect that the highest literary achievement in that field can reward an author that combines both well-written, insightful thoughts wrapped in a story to which kids can connect. By the time you read this, the 2018 Newbery Award winner will have been announced. Let’s hope it doesn’t disappoint.

Update: The 2018 Youth Media Awards were announced on Monday, February 12, 2018 at the ALA Midwinter Conference in Denver, Co. Hello, Universe by Erin Entrada Kelly is the recipient of this year’s John Newbery Medal.  More on the rest of the award winners here.

Kate Tigue is the Assistant Children’s Librarian at the Morrill Memorial Library.  Read her column in the Thursday, February 15, 2018 edition of the Norwood Transcript and Bulletin. 

Spring 2018 PJ Story Time

First Thursday of the Month
7:00 PM
All ages welcome!
No registration required

March 1 | April 5 | May 3

Join Miss Jean once a month for our evening story time! Kids will hear silly stories and get a small snack before bedtime.

Boston Bruins 2018 Annual PJ Drive

February 1 , 2018 – March 15, 2018
Drop off brand new PJs for kids at the library!

It’s time for the annual pajama drive! Every year, the Boston Bruins partner with Cradles to Crayons and the DCF Wonderfund to provide brand new PJs for children in foster care.  Please bring in BRAND NEW pajamas for any age between 0 – 18 and drop them off in one of our collection bins. To remind everyone about the PJ Drive, you might spot some of the library staff dressed up in our PJs on Friday in February.

This is the library’s 4th year participating in the PJ Drive. Last year, we collected over 400 pairs of pajamas and were recognized by the Bruins and the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners as one of the top donation sites in the state!  This year, we want to top that and collect 500 pairs!  The library has an anonymous donor who will match your donations up to 250 pairs of PJs!

Wonderfund and Cradles to Crayons have let us know that while PJs for little guys are adorable, they often don’t receive enough pairs that fit teenagers.  If you’d like to shop for PJs for teens but aren’t sure about sizing, try picking up pairs in XS (extra small) or S (small) in the adult clothing section.  If you have any other questions, please contact the library staff at 781-769-0200. 

 

March Books ‘n’ Bites : Adoration of Jenna Fox

Saturday, March 3rd
3:00 pm – 4:30 pm
7th – 12th Graders
No registration

Join us the first Saturday of the month where we discuss our monthly read, recommend books to each other, eat snacks, and make a craft.  This month, we’re reading The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary Pearson, a modern sci-fi thriller.

Copies of March’s book, The Adoration of Jenna Fox, are available at the Children’s Room desk for check out.  Here’s a brief summary of the book:

“Seventeen-year-old Jenna Fox awakens after more than a year in a coma to find herself in a life—and a body—that she doesn’t quite recognize. Her parents tell her that she’s been in an accident, but much of her past identity and current situation remain a mystery to her: Why has her family abruptly moved from Boston to California, leaving all of her personal belongings behind? Why does her grandmother react to her with such antipathy? Why have her parents instructed her to make sure not to tell anyone about the circumstances of their move? And why can Jenna recite whole passages of Thoreau’s Walden, but remember next to nothing of her own past? As she watches family videos of her childhood, strange memories begin to surface, and she slowly realizes that a terrible secret is being kept from her.”~School Library Journal.

Mini Golf @ the Library

Friday, February 23rd
10:15 am – 1:15 pm
Family fun for all ages!
No registration

We’re turning the Children’s Room into a mini golf course over February Vacation week!  Families can come to the library anytime between 10:15 am and 1:15 pm on Friday, 2/23 and play a round!  No registration is required but you may have to wait 10-15 minutes to allow groups to be spaced out along the course.

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