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Heavy Medal: A Mock Newbery Blog
Inside Heavy Medal

Why don’t funny books ever win the Newbery?

I’ve heard people ask this question in the past.  "Why don’t funny books ever win the Newbery?"  I’ve been thinking a little bit about it.  First of all, I’m not sure it’s entirely true that they never win, but it is surely not the genre of book that tends to win.  When I have participated in Mock Newberys in the past it seems like the humorous books are often knocked out of the competition pretty early on.  Is it because humor is just so subjective?  Shouldn’t we be able to get past that in the same way we get past other personal taste issues in looking at books and Newbery criteria?  Or is it that humor is so subjective that it changes whether or not we can agree on if a book is or is not distinguished?  

I’d love to hear from people who have served on various committees and see if and how they’ve managed to get past the funny book issue in discussion.  I’m not looking for top-secret specifics, of course, but a general sense of how funny books get their fair shot.

1 Why dont funny books ever win the Newbery?

John Scieszka’s Knucklehead: Tall Tales and Almost True Stories of Growing up Scieszka made me laugh out loud and it’s pretty rare that a book does this for me.  I read it thinking it might be nice to find a great funny book that happens to be short, easy-to-read and non-fiction to discuss during the Mock Newbery.  I am having a hard time seeing this book as distinguished even though it was thoroughly enjoyable.  Does potty humor make something less distinguished?  I’m gonna have to check in with Nina on this one and see what she thinks.  I know it would make for a fun discussion either way.  But I hate to put a book on the short list that I know is going to be bumped right out of discussion quickly. 

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Comments

  1. Monica Edinger says:

    I think humor is tremendously hard because you can’t really tell someone how to fine something funny. I mean, either it is for you or it just isn’t. I wrote a piece for the Horn Book years ago, “Pets and Other Fishy Books” trying to understand this a bit from kids’ points of view. So if you can’t get someone else to find something funny how on earth are you going to convince an award committee? At best you get winning books that have humor in them — Holes, Despereaux, etc. Ones that are centered around humor are far more difficult to reach any sort of consensus on, it seems to me.

  2. Wendy says:

    The book on the list of winners that I think is funniest–The Westing Game–also happens to be one of the best, in my opinion. There’s no denying that people expect a certain amount of gravitas from a Newbery winner, and really, it takes a lot of skill to get both gravitas and a lot of humor into a book.

  3. Laurel says:

    I think A Year Down Yonder by Richard Peck is a good example of humor and distinguished writing. The humor in the book is not made up of wise cracks and one-liners, but is character driven and, at times, laugh-out-loud funny. Other times, the writing is serious and touching, but it is always true to the characters in the book. Never contrived.

  4. EVA MITNICK says:

    Christopher Paul Curtis manages to find an amazing balance between the hilariously funny and truly heartrending elements in his books. He is one of the few writers who makes me both laugh out loud and cry (within the space of a few pages!). As Laurel mentioned above, Richard Peck can do this as well.

  5. DaNae says:

    I would put Gary Schmidt in the same club. His most recent book Trouble has a pretty devastating premise, but I’

  6. DaNae says:

    I would put Gary Schmidt in the same club. His most recent book Trouble has a pretty devastating premise, but I’

  7. DaNae says:

    try again:

    I would put Gary Schmidt in the same club. His most recent book Trouble has a pretty devastating premise, but I’m pretty sure I laughed more than I cried. Last year’s Wednesday Wars was very funny.

  8. DaNae says:

    try again:

    I would put Gary Schmidt in the same club. His most recent book Trouble has a pretty devastating premise, but I’m pretty sure I laughed more than I cried. Last year’s Wednesday Wars was very funny.

  9. sharon mckellar says:

    I think everyone’s comments make great sense. There are certainly books with humor that are distinguished also outside of that piece of their personality. In fact, Westing Game is also one of my favorite Newbery winners and it certainly fits that qualification.

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