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Reading Rockets' children's literature expert, Maria Salvadore, brings you into her world as she explores the best ways to use kids' books inside — and outside — of the classroom.
One child's Newbery goal
As I've already written, I was a member of the 2010 Newbery Selection Committee. This award has been given annually since 1922 to the "most distinguished American children's book published the previous year."
Anyway, because I was one of the 15 Newbery Committee members, this Spring I will have the honor of meeting a very special reader.
Laura is 4th grader from Indiana who has set a goal for herself: to read all of the Newbery Medalists. By my math, there have been 88 winners since the start. Not only is that a lot of books, a lot of them are very long and quite different than books written more recently.
Times change, tastes change, and some say children change (I'm not so sure about that but that's another conversation). It is true, however, that while there is a lot more competing for young people's time and attention, adults remain influential.
Laura is reading all of the Newbery books because her mom read them all when she was in middle school. But, as Laura says, (pardon me Laura's mom!) that was a long time ago and the list is now longer — and back then, middle school started in 7th grade!
I didn't touch some of the Newbery winning books until I was an adult (way past 7th grade!) and still struggled with some, but loved others. Laura's insight (noted on her blog) has inspired me reread and rethink some of the earlier winners.
I hope that Laura will revisit some of these books in a few years to decide if she thinks they hold up, if they're still gripping adventures, and if she'd continue to recommend them — if she thinks that they are indeed "distinguished."
But as a member of the 2010 Newbery Committee, I'm pleased that she likes When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead (Wendy Lamb/Random). That distinguishes the committee's work.
Book awards make good news
I'm writing this from Boston where I attended the American Library Association midwinter meeting and where the Youth Awards were announced. Actually, I was part of the process.
I was one of the 15 people on the 2010 Newbery Medal Award Committee. It's been an intense few days. Literally an entire year of reading, thinking about books, and considering what makes one stand out — frankly, how to decide which one book will receive this award — all culminating with with intense, focused, and amazingly stimulating discussion. Actually, hours of discussion from each of 15 very different (though all articulate) voices.
What emerged was one Newbery Medal (you know them by the gold seals on the cover) and four Honor books which now wear the silver. Most of these books are more appropriate for older readers.
The Medalist When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead (Random) is part mystery, part time travel, and thoroughly intriguing. The Honor books are equally intriguing but way different.
Phillip Hoose's Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice (FSG) (recommended on the www.AdLit.org and won the National Book Award as well as others announced today) is an eye-opening, thoroughly researched, and powerful look at a teen and a time in U.S. history. Jacqueline Kelly's first novel, The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate (Holt), introduces a girl who hopes to evolve into a scientist, not necessarily a typical aspiration in 1899. Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin (Little Brown) blends traditional Chinese folktales into Minli's exciting journey during which she changes as do all around her. And finally, The Mostly True Adventures of Homer P. Figg by Roderick Philbrick (Scholastic) is a gem of historical fiction in which humor is used to introduce the Civil War and its horrors.
Another committee, structured like the Newbery, awarded the Caldecott Medal to the most distinguished picture book. The Caldecott Medal was awarded to a truly remarkable book (which is also one of my personal favorites and perhaps one of the best books ever in my opinion) — The Lion and the Mouse by Jerry Pinkney (Little Brown). Three Caldecott Honor Awards were given as well. Marla Frazee illustrated All the World by Liz Scanlon (Beach Tree) and Pamela Zagarenski illustrated Red Sings from Treetops: A Year in Colors, written by Joyce Sidman (Houghton) were named Caldecott Honors.
Exciting time for the authors, illustrators, and those of us who had the privilege to work with these people. That's it from Boston. I'll be back home tomorrow and write more about the goings on here. But I do wonder if the 14 others I served with and I will ever quite see books in the same way or if we'll ever have the opportunity to focus so clearly on them. Either way, hats off to those people who make it their life's work to bring the best books to children — and each of us strives to be part of that community!
New Ambassador for Young People's Literature
I've been scooped!
The New York Times reported earlier today that the new ambassador was to be appointed today — at the Library of Congress. I'm not sour grapes, though. One of the reasons this posting is so late is that I got to attend the program at which Ambassador Jon Scieszka became emeritus and Katherine Paterson began her two-year term.
Both spoke. Both are passionate in their commitment to young readers, books, and the link between them. Both have been critically acclaimed. (Katherine Paterson is one of only five writers to have been awarded the prestigious Newbery Medal twice.)
It is also readily apparent that the current (or as Jon Scieszka might say, reigning) ambassador and the immediate past ambassador are polar opposites.
What amazes and delights me is that the very funny, quite irreverent, unpredictable Jon Scieszka and the thoughtful, considered, slyly humorous Katherine Paterson both write books that are widely read by a range of readers.
And notably, both are fine representatives in the field of literature for young people. I think this just goes to show how rich the literature really is and allows the promotion of books and reading beyond the ranks of those already engaged.
During Paterson's talk I chuckled and got weepy, once simultaneously, as she challenged readers of all ages to "read for life." Since Katherine Paterson is by far more eloquent than I could ever be, I ask you to consider the many meanings of this simple yet complex statement.
Finally, it's worth recalling one of Jon Scieszka's wishes for this ambassadorship; that is (and forgives me for paraphrasing!), some day may there be more — or at least as many — ambassadors as there are young readers.
It may happen if all adults and young readers themselves become ambassadors for books and stories — though perhaps without a large inscribed medal! Who knows?
Meantime, kudos to the Library of Congress and the Children's Book Council for backing the idea — and heartfelt thanks to our Ambassadors Paterson and Scieszka for their commitment. They are more than national ambassadors — they are national treasures.