Heavy Medals

Friday, January 16, 2009


The Newbery Medal is awarded annually to the year’s most distinguished work of children’s literature. But there's some controversy over what “distinguished” means. Pat Scales of the Association for Library Service to Children discusses the award, its discontents, and the role of literature in children's lives.

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Comments [3]

Chris Gray from New Haven, CT

I can't say that I have been following the choice of Newberry Award winners recently, but the author of a Newberry Award winning novel, "A Wrinkle in Time", suggested to me by Mrs. Ewer, the North Haven children’s librarian when I was a child, Madeleine L’Engle, befriended me in her later years and I can testify that the book dealt with all the possible crisis mentioned but in a subtle and imaginative way which, perhaps, those on the committee may have lost sight of in their recent judgments. I suppose Francillia Butler, the former UCONN professor who founded the academic discipline of children’s literature, would suggest that the committee has to regain their child’s eyes when evaluating such books.

"A Wrinkle in Time" was a delight to read. New Newberry Award winners need to be good literature, but they should be wonderful to read, as well.

Jan. 22 2009 10:47 PM
Jeff W

I agree completely with Eric. Bob Garfield mentions that many of these Newbery Medal winners deal with death, absence of one or both parents, mentally challenged individuals and social issues. Pat Scales's response? "In regard to those subjects you just named, let me just say that's life. And it's life that kids today are exposed to. And what a good work of literature does is help [children] along and helps them deal with these things."

Sheesh, who says? What a pedantic, stodgy and narrow view of literature that is. My favorite children's book of all time is the 1948 Newbery Medal winner The Twenty-One Balloons by William Pène du Bois, which is the fantastic, delightful story of someone who ends up on a fictionalized Krakatoa where 20 fabulously wealthy families each run their own restaurant, invent fabulous contraptions, and enjoy life. How. Ms Scales, does that timeless Newbery Medal winner "help children deal with all those various issues"? How does it fit in with your criterion of "what a good work of literature does"?

Jan. 19 2009 06:06 PM

OTM, you missed the mark on this story. I was so excited to hear this story from the intro, but you failed to get the point of view of someone explaining the ways that the Newberry medal has disappointed kids over the years.

The Newberry medal does not represent a book kids would want to read, but a book that adults want kids to read. When I was in elementary school, that medal acted as a scarlet letter symbolizing, "this book will bore you" I was propelled into reading "bad" adult fiction before reading good children's "literature" To your guest, books about death, disability, abuse and broken homes speak to kids. I can tell you, it doesn't.

Jan. 19 2009 01:58 AM

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