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Intended by whom?

In the comments to a recent Heavy Medal post, there is a discussion about the eligibility and/or chances of The Hate U Give for Newbery discussion. (In case you’re new here, The Hate U Give is receiving the 2017 Boston Globe-Horn Book Award for Fiction tomorrow night.) It was a Mr. H. who brought up the Newbery criteria, quoting the part about how any awarded or honored book “shall be a book for which children are an intended potential audience.” Wait, what? “Intended?” When did that word slip in there? I didn’t remember that being in the criteria when I served back in 1999 (Holes) but was I misremembering?

Nope. I emailed the master of all things Newbery K.T. Horning and she said that “intended” did not occur in that clause back in the 1982 committee manual  (that she had happened to have at hand; God, I love scholars); and back on Heavy Medal, Monica Edinger confirmed that it did not appear in the 2008 manual, either.

I’d love to know when and why it went. “Intended” by whom? The author? We can all think of examples, apocryphal and otherwise, of writers claiming not to know they had written a children’s book until an agent or editor pointed it out. Intended by the publisher? Again, we can all think of examples where a publisher’s named age-range for a book does not correspond with our own reckoning. I’m very curious to know how this intent is determined.

My fellow oldsters will remember my objection to the Printz Award going to American Born Chinese, not because of any deficiency in the book but because the award’s rules insisted that any winner be published as a book for young adults, and that book was published without any such specification–a policy that at the time was true for all books from the First Second publishing imprint. But the Newbery committee, until 2008, anyway, was always charged with figuring out for themselves just what a children’s book was–my favorite part of the discussion! The day we stop asking that question is the day we stop doing our jobs, in my opinion.

As far as I can tell, the biggest effect of this insertion is to limit the pool of eligible contenders to books from publishers who assign reading ranges to their books. This is common but not universal in American trade publishing, and potentially strikes for discussion books by publishers who don’t follow the rules.. And it thus takes part of the selection decision out of the hands of the committee and into those of the marketing departments. I don’t know if there’s another Incident at Hawk’s Hill or The Circuit out there, but both were published as adult books and received their definition (and award citations) as books for youth from the library community. I like to think we would want to keep ourselves open to those kind of surprises.

Roger Sutton About Roger Sutton

Roger Sutton has been the editor in chief of The Horn Book, Inc, since 1996. He was previously editor of The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books and a children's and young adult librarian. He received his M.A. in library science from the University of Chicago in 1982 and a B.A. from Pitzer College in 1978. Follow him on Twitter: @RogerReads.

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Comments

  1. I wonder if such wording would also have stricken The Book Thief (published as adult in Australia, YA in the U.S), from Printz consideration. If it is the author’s intent being considered, it clearly would, but obviously the U.S. publisher intended it for teens. The narrator, Death, is arguably an adult.

  2. KT Horning says:

    I am not sure what thinking was behind the decision to add “intended,” but I would guess it probably means that the book should be published by the juvenile division of a publishing house — whether intended by the publisher as children’s or YA. Newbery goes up through age 14 so that can include a lot of what is published as YA, and ultimately it’s up to the Newbery Committee to decide if a book likeTthe Hate U Give falls into the “up through age 14” age category.

    I think what they are probably trying to clarify with this rule is that the Newbery Committee shouldn’t be seeking out adult books children up through age 14 might be able to read and enjoy.

  3. Roger Sutton Roger Sutton says:

    I worry that the new wording, probably unintentionally, could restrict eligibility to the usual suspects. THE HATE U GIVE is said by the publisher to be for ages 14 and up so it sneaks in. But had it said 15? I’m guessing this book is all over the middle schools of the country and hope that the Newbery committee gives it a good look.

  4. That language was quoted in a 2010 Heavy Medal post: http://blogs.slj.com/heavymedal/2010/09/17/conspiracy-of-kings/

    It looks like it went in with the October 2009 revisions, though the version Nina linked to in that post has been taken offline. It’s certainly in subsequent updates of the 2009 manual (2012 is the earliest I can easily find online).

  5. KT Horning says:

    Roger, the Newbery Committee knows enough not to be swayed by publisher recommended age levels. They use their own readings of the book itself and apply the official terms and definitions to arrive at their decisions.

  6. Roger Sutton says:

    I agree, KT. But to my mind, this insertion is contrary to that independence.

  7. I agree with KT that Newbery Committee members would have better sense than going purely with publisher assigned age range or even Library of Congress or other CIP subject headings or suggested interest age/reading levels. After all, we are professionals who mostly work with and know many child readers from all across the country and can make that decision quite intelligently.

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