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>Not since . . .

>For those of you lucky enough to live in the Bay Area, the Oakland Public Library is again sponsoring its Mock Newbery discussion, this year at the Golden Gate branch. (I would love to be able to tell people I worked at the “Golden Gate Library.”) Librarians Sharon McKellar and Nina Lindsay have assembled a discussion list of eight titles (seven novels and one biography) of which I think five are ringers.

All the recent kerfuffle about the Newbery . . . well, it just makes me feel old. As I told a Boston Globe reporter on the phone yesterday, his was at least the third phone call I’ve had from his paper in the last twelve years on the very same topic. What galled me most about Anita Silvey’s original premise was the idea that her observation was something new, that the Newbery had been going downhill only since 2004 (possibly the fakest statistic I’ve seen since the one that allegedly demonstrates that Goodnight, Moon causes bed-wetting.) Way to take the long view, Anita. It reminded of me of the way sportscasters whip up excitement by proclaiming that so-and-so hadn’t hit such-and-such since, oh, last month. For people who think whining about the child appeal of the Newbery began with Kira-Kira, I have four words: A Gathering of Days. Oh, look, four more: A View from Saturday. And it wouldn’t be a party without Onion John.
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.



  1. >I just wrote a post TODAY about this very topic. Oh, the Newbery. . .

    And that last bit about the unpopular titles just made me laugh.

  2. >I never thought of this before, but we could actually argue about which Newbery winners are the most boring and/or without kid appeal. I haven’t look at it in years, but as a child I resolved to read all the Newbery winners and then stopped when bored by Invincible Louisa. And I wouldn’t touch Gay Neck: Story of a Pigeon just because of its title. But I read I, Juan de Pareja though I don’t even remember what it’s about. Also (I guess this is off topic, but what the hell, it’s the holidays) I was freaked out when that squirrel ate Miss Hickory’s head.

  3. Sarah O'Holla says:

    >Thank you! I’ve been waiting for someone to say something AGAINST that article. It seems the “cool” thing to do, to agree with it. The current SLJ issue has two letters praising it in their letters section. Did not one person write against it? Guess that person should have been me…

    Love the Newbery list. I’m hoping for After Tupac or The Underneath. I know actual, real life children who’ve read both and loved them.

  4. >Thanks, Sarah, for bringing up your own favorites. I’m hoping for My Dad: John McCain, but I suppose that’s a long shot. It’s probably a stronger contender for the Caldecott, or a Siebert Honor.

  5. >”… of which I think five are ringers.”

    Well, then, out with it — your own mock Newbery list would include what titles?

  6. Roger Sutton says:

    >Elizabeth, I don’t think the McCain endpapers are really strong enough for Medal consideration. A shame really.

    Nancy, this year was a definite challenge. Most of my favorite books were first published overseas.

  7. >Roger, I’m in the same boat overseas. I’m thinking of offering Terry Prachett my basement so he can be a US “Resident” and eligible. We could probably even swing him an office in the Golden Gate Library.

  8. Roger Sutton says:

    >I’m glad it’s not just me, Nina–I was afraid I had been possessed by the spirits of my Anglophilic HB forebears.

  9. >I think that the Silvey article was legitimate in the sense that she believed that what she had to say was valid and important, even if I think that she was wrong on both counts.

    I agree with Gail Gautheir though, that the subsequent articles, especially the one in the Washington Post, and on the Guardian Blog, seem more and more like ethic-less eyeball-mongering. They’ll stir any pot to get readers to their website.

    I don’t know if one should rise to the bait or not. On the one hand, I think we are being played by the scandal mongers. On the other hand, I’m afraid that if I ignore stupid people hoping that they will go away, they’ll get themselves onto the Newbery Committee instead, and rewrite the criteria so that Harry Potter can win.

    How resistant to change are the Newbery rules? Impervious? Slightly resistant? Not at all?


  10. Roger Sutton says:

    >I think it would be very difficult to change the Newbery rules, which is as it should be. I imagine the ALSC Board would appoint a task force, which would make recommendations, which would have to go through other committees, such as by-laws, then back to the board. I’m not sure if it’s something that would have to be put up for a membership vote or not.

    Hmmm. What WOULD we change, if we were King?

  11. >I’d change the age range, leaving the books for thirteen-and fourteen-year-olds to YALSA.

  12. >Let’s try to change Caldecott rules first, pretty please? As I’ve said a thousand times, it drives me nuts (and not just because I’m a writer–it drove me nuts before that) that Caldecott goes only to the illustrator. A true picture book is a miraculous blend (when it works) of art and text. Why does the Caldecott committee have to pretend they can separate the two? And believe me, I know the criteria inside and out.

    Laughed out loud at the McCain comment, Elizabeth. Hee. Still laughing.

  13. >Duh. All the candidates for the Committee would have to be vetted by ME!


  14. >And here’s the thing–everything that drove me crazy about Kira-Kira would have made me LOVE it when I was 12.

    And as a child, I was not a great fan of Charlotte’s Web.

    Joyful Noise though? I could recite large portions of it in my youth.

  15. >I thought I could recall Newbery complaints prior to the years Silvey talked about, too. I’ve only been actively following kidlit since the mid-nineties, and still I sometimes feel like the oldest person in the room.

  16. >The Caldecott is fine! Bless all authors, but it’s the illustrator who decides what to illustrate, and equally important what not to illustrate, and how to illustrate, and it’s the illustrator who must have the skill to do it well. If the result is a miraculous blend, it is 99 times out of 100 because the illustrator found a way to make it that, not because author and illustrator put heads together. Most likely they never even spoke to one another.

  17. Roger Sutton says:

    >It depends, Anon.–if the award is for “how good you draw,” sure, give it to the artist. But if it’s for “a picture book” then many minds are involved–artist, writer, editor, designer–to an extent that I would venture exceeds the similarly creative collaboration involved in preparing a words-only manuscript for publication.

    If anyone is reading today, I am unable to post new blog entries due to some screwup on our server. So Merry Christmas and Happy Hannukah if I don’t talk to you otherwise.

  18. >Will. . .not. . .be. . .drawn. . .into. . .this. . .discussion . . .again.


  19. >Let’s not talk about how riveting I found A Gathering of Days in middle school, but the fact that I grew up to be a librarian probably discredits its child appeal in kerfuffles like this.

  20. >Roger,

    You *do* get to the vet the committee members for the BG/HB award. How’s that working for you? Any memorable surprises from people you otherwise thought were perfectly reasonable?


  21. >I gotta say, illustrating is about so much more than how good (sic) you draw. You should know that, RS! Ever talk to an author about how their manuscript should be illustrated? They know words, yes, yes, but they know squat about visual narrative. They’ll never believe it if you tell them so, but that’s just part of their problem. They would never concede that an illustrator knows language and plot and words, but they’ll tell you what to draw, and where, and how. And they’ll be off base, nine times out of ten. That’s why editors tend not to let authors and illustrators speak to one another.

    Happy holidays!

  22. >OK, I am caving. Anon–you need to be careful about that Big Brush you are tarring all authors with. Some of us DO “know squat about visual narrative” and have been editors ourselves and know better than to tell an illustrator what to draw. Some authors are even artists themselves but don’t do their own illustrations. Granted, we are not the majority. Not even a significant minority, But enough that you have to be careful about implying ALL authors are visual ninnies or control freaks or whatever.

    Jane Yolen

  23. >Here’s another angle people seem to miss. Text is intellectual, painting is spiritual. The librarians/judges get off on making themselves special or “specialists” when they haven’t the foggiest clue on what goes into creating art for a picture book. It all seems like a horse race. And the only ones to win are the “specialists” who lack the talent to create that book they over-analyze (and for the most part) incorrectly to become special in the book world off the backs of the hard working, underpayed and not appreciated artists. Really, you chose a profession that is behind the scenes. Take some art classes if you want to be so celeb.

  24. Andy Laties says:

    >Hello Anon. You seem to be implying that “Celebrity Critics” are fakes. Do you include…say, Harold Bloom? What’s so bad about being a specialist literary critic? Are you really saying that all literary critics are idiots?

  25. >I am beginning to think that Anon in this case is Roger playing with us.


  26. >By the same token, Anon, illustrators can go write their own books to illustrate, if they don’t want to share the credit with the person who gave them the idea for the pictures in the first place. If you are a crack illustrator, and everything else is so trivial to the final product, then you’re golden. If you don’t want to share credit, don’t collaborate, with an editor, an author, or anyone.


  27. Roger Sutton says:

    >Jane, I never troll my own blog (or anyone else’s). Besides, I could not type “text is intellectual, painting is spiritual” with a straight face.

    h, although I do choose the judges for the BGHB awards, I am not privy to their discussions. Sure, there have been times I would have chosen other books, but I can generally see how they chose what they did, and in any case would not know which of the three to “blame” for a choice I didn’t like.

    Back to the spiritual anon–it IS true that children’s book reviews and awards are decided by people who, while they may demonstrate fluency and understanding of language, don’t necessarily have a vocabulary or eye for images. That problem has always been with us, but I don’t think it’s that these people don’t know how to paint, it’s that they don’t know how to communicate about visual images.

  28. >Jane,

    I also was beginning to wonder if Roger was manipulating a sock puppet just to watch lots of people go Wah!


  29. Andy Laties says:

    >OK I would say then that among the criteria for being a “specialist” judge of picture books should be a modicum (or maxicum) of training in (and love of) art history.

  30. >janeyolan: Point taken. I was generalizing. I’ll stick with my nine-out-of-ten formulation, but point taken.

    Anon2 (11:23): Yes, some illustrators do go ahead and do their own writing. As for text being what give the illustrator “the idea for the pictures in the first place” — it’s just not that simple. Text is a springboard; it’s not a set of directions. I don’t mean to belittle its importance. In fact I think a book with a great text and bad drawings has a better chance at being worthwhile than technically great drawings that are about nothing. I’m just trying to write about process here.

    Maybe part of the easy offense that we (or at least I) are/am taking here is due to the fact that we all work on books which to the outsider are often considered simply cute, easy, etc. It gets defenses up!

  31. >Thanks for the point taken.

    However, I hope anon, if you do work in books, you are not a copy editor. My name is spelled Yolen. (They always get Mikolaycak right.)


  32. >”Text is a springboard; it’s not a set of directions. I don’t mean to belittle its importance.”

    I’m glad you aren’t belittling it Anon. Have you ever seen a vaulter trying to operate without a springboard? It’s, well, it’s just… it’s sad really.


  33. Roger Sutton says:

    >”Text is a springboard” only to the illustrator; to the reader/viewer/critic, the text and pictures should be working together.

  34. >Roger,

    I could point out that you’ve wandered into dangerous metaphor territory before. Instead,I’ll ask if you think there’s any way to tilt the Newberys toward younger books. Anon’s comment about “spiritual” made me hiccup, but it also made me think about some texts that are so simple and yet so readable that you can go over them again and again with a three year old and not go right out of your mind. Helen Oxenbury comes to mind, so does John Burningham (dating myself and my child-rearing years).

    I suppose you could give texts like this a share of the Caldecott that they deserve, but is there any way they could get a share of the Newbery? Or would that make the Newbery less influential? I think that the Newbery has been a successful motivation to publish great books for readers and I really don’t want that to change. But it bothers me that great writing for 2-6 never gets any credit. Isn’t it covered by the Newbery criteria?


    ps. Willard got the Newbery. Anyone else for a book for the younger child?

  35. Roger Sutton says:

    >Because ALSC (the organization that sponsors the Newbery and Caldecott) is for librarians serving children aged 0-14, those awards follow suit. This probably presents a disadvantage, for the Newbery, to texts for the younger end, although they do pop up among the Honor Books–Tomie dePaola, William Steig and Arnold Lobel are three illustrators who have been thus rewarded.

  36. >I just have to respond to Anon, since Anon totally dissed my profession. Yes, I’m a librarian, but I’m hardly behind the scenes – I’m on the front line.
    And, I also happen to be a very talented artist, and would warn Anon against making such broad generalizations about any group of people, librarians or other. Isn’t that how wars often begin?
    ~ the artsy librarian

  37. >About the Newbery: I haven’t read most of them, and don’t have an informed opinion to give (preamble for: everybody back up, here it comes!).

    When it comes to awards, I believe conflict is good. In professional baseball, there is annual outrage over the MVP Award. What does it mean? The terms are vague, confusing; people seem to make of it what they will. So there’s passionate disagreement: How can Pujols be MVP is his team couldn’t win? So every year there are those who wish to tighten the rules, define it, dice it up, in order to prevent these “misinterpretations.”

    And I think: Conflict is good. The discussions are the best part of it. In that sense, I had no problem with the original article by Anita Silvey, which really just restated what people have been saying for a long, long time. It’s all good. Let the debate rage on! The day we stop arguing about these things is the day to begin to get worried.

    James Preller

  38. >A few years ago the Printz Award was instituted, the idea being it would get the edgy YA books to judge, and the Newbery would be given to the younger side. So Anon, your work here is done.


  39. Anonymous says:

    >Jane Yolen, are you conflating me with that other Anon? I know I should be able to get that at the top of my message, but I haven’t figured out how. I don’t have any ID.

    I think the Printz *does* get the edgy YA to judge, and I worry that the non-edgy, but very good, stuff will miss out. In the future, I wonder if people will look at things like Criss-Cross and say, “Not Newbery, but not edgy enough for The Printz.” I’m in a minority maybe, for loving Criss Cross, but I think it’s the kind of book I want the Newbery to promote.

    It’s just that I’d like to see it go to a picture book every once in a while. Because I’m greedy that way. I want my cake and I want to eat it, too. We are being King, here, after all.


  40. janeyolen says:

    >Well, you know, to a non anon all you guys look alike to me. Maybe I need a twelve step recognition program like they have in al-anon.

    Mea culpa.


    PS: For the humor impaired,I am trying for funny here.

  41. Anonymous says:

    >Is that “all anon” you mean, Jane? For those of us who never remember a face?


  42. >Roger, Hello! Are you aware of any mock Coretta Scott King discussions this year? I just started a thread on my blog, but would like to see what others are saying about the award. Thank you!

    Kyra Hicks

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