Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Quality and Popularity are Not Mutually Exclusive Concepts

The Newbery Medal was named for eighteenth-century British bookseller John Newbery. It is awarded annually by the Association for Library Service to Children to the author of the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children.
Soon, however, this medal may go the way of nativity scenes on government property, courteous drivers and Lance Armstrong's retirement.
Valerie Strauss, a Washington Post journalist who recently discussed this topic, included some critics' beliefs that the Newberry winners "are so complicated and inaccessible to most children that they are effectively turning off kids to reading."
Circle the wagons, folks. Everybody needs a dance trophy! Everybody needs a participation ribbon! Everybody needs a good sports medal! Everybody must read at the same level and not be pushed beyond it. Danger, Will Robinson. Danger. For more on the absurdity and danger of equality in everything read Isaac Asimov's short story "Harrison Bergeron"
In her article Strauss included insights from Deborah Johnson, manager of the extensive book section at Child's Play in the District. Johnson believes children need to be kept in mind when selecting books but also stated, "To choose books that people feel are going to stretch a young person's mind is not a bad thing."
Not bad at all.
How many times have I heard the incessant whining about Shakespeare, Hawthorne, Faulkner, Hurston and Cather? Challenging reads are good. Perhaps the latest Newberry winner, Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! Voices From a Medieval Village by Laura Amy Schlitz, will require parents to read, listen or explain the story to their young ones.
Oh, there will be none of that!
"There is no time" cry the frazzled parents. "Johnny has karate, basketball, gymnastics and etiquette classes while Suzy's schedule is crammed with hip-hop dance, classical ballet and jazz-hands followed by Brownies and then neo-classical-transcendental art techniques. We don't have time to sit down and read with our children or discuss what they are reading." I know this post is drifting from its original intent but it is related. Reading should challenge young ones. Reading should be intriguing. Parents must foster the challenge so the intrigue doesn't stop after Horton has heard his Who.
Some of my favorite Newberry recipients:
Bud, Not Buddy: 2000, Holes: 1999, The Giver: 1994, Maniac Magee: 1991 Sounder: 1970, Bridge to Tarabithia: 1978, Island of the Blue Dolphins: 1961, Johnny Tremain: 1944


Anonymous said...




JBrandt said...

I don't know what it is either, but it sounded ludicrous.

Andrew Fluegge said...

I'm with Mr. Felten on the Jazz Hands inclusion.

Johnny Tremain is one of my all-time favorites, I'm going to have to shoot that a reread.

I'm almost done with A Separate Peace; I will never read Twilight.

JBrandt said...

AFlu. Never say never. I thought I could resist the forces of Brodowsky, but his powers were kryptonite-esque.

Julianne said...

Twilight is a never on my list too :)