Thanks for all the comments on my posting about The Underneath.
Several of you responded to my question wondering whether the mythology of Grandmother Moccasin is based in any Caddo oral history, by pointing out that the mythology seems pretty cleary ficitonal, intertwined with various cultures (there’s a lot of mention of selkies and mermaids, for instance). Darcy Pattison posted on her site citing justifiable frustration, as an author, at my question…but I need to point out that is was a question, and not–as Darcy called it–an "objection [of] inappropriately appropriating Native mythology." My question was: "IS Appelt’s "mythology" in The Underneath based in a real people’s oral history, and if so, is it represented accurately and appropriately for the intended audience." First I have to find out…and then if I think there is a weakness I have to decide how much I think it matters. Different peoples use their stories and mythologies in different ways, and I think it’s wise to be respectful of that. To ask the question, at least. I think we can ask the question and also be respectful of the author’s right to tell a work of fiction.
Barbara Kerley asks of the Newbery process "I understand that at some point in the process, cmte members often look at book reviews, blog comments, etc, but do they also do outside research on topics that might appear in a work of fiction? Or do you mean that you hope the cmte discusses this particular point as they share what they’ve gleaned from a careful reading of the text (only) itself. In other words, how far out is the net cast, when cmte members prepare to discuss a book?" This is left, to some extent, to each particular committee member. Surely there are factual items in fiction that–if wrong–undermine the story. Or at least create a wrinkle. Imagine setting a story in San Francisco and having the sun rise over the ocean. Now imagine getting a historical event wrong, in an historical fiction. And nonfiction is also eligible for the Newbery, remember. Committee members are not usually subject specialists, but if I get a red flag when I read a book (for the Newbery or for anything else) I try to follow up on it.
On the Newbery committee, no discussion between committee members on eligibile titles happens before the final, three days worth of deliberations at the Midwinter conference. And at that meeting, all points presented by a committee member must be that committee member’s opinion–they are not putting other opinions on the table. However, they have been working all year to make sure that their opinions are informed. A committee member could ask for an outside specialist to review a title for specific content. The committee member would then weigh that outside review along with, possibly, other critical reviews of the title they’ve read in the media, responses from kids who have read the book, etc., in order to form their own opinion of how well each title meets each of the criteria.
Of the Caddo folklore in my children’s section, I didn’t find any stories resembling Grandmother Moccasin’s. So if I want to find out definitively, I’ll have to track down an expert to ask. That’s part of the reason I asked the question.
Meanwhile, here are some other posts on The Underneath from people who commented on my posts. Thanks for the URLs!