First of all, I really would like to talk more about Mocassin Trail which I still haven’t managed to get my hands on. But I’ll keep trying. I really enjoyed reading the back and forth between Leslie, Wendy and Hope about that particular honor book from 1953 and would love to provide a forum for greater discussion and to add my own (and Nina’s) thoughts. So I’ll work on that.
But when we get back to Charlotte’s Web and Secret of the Andes, I wanted to take a minute and make a post that focusses more closely on "specialness" and on how we look at specialness in different genres of book. I commented in my other post that:
I do agree completely with Leslie and Wendy that I think Charlotte’s Web was likely not chosen a winner for those exact reasons – too cute, too sweet, too hard to judge against more serious novels. Something worthy of so much more discussion, I think, then we’ve given it on this blog so far, although we have touched upon it here or there. How do we give those books their fair shot and how do we judge that style of writing against other styles?
I also think there is more to be said about popularity. We can go back to the Anita Silvey article also here, that we discussed back at the very beginning of October. Why is it that certain kinds of books seem to always win the Newbery? And was 1953 just another example of that?
As Wendy points out in a comment:
I wonder, too, if Charlotte’s Web just seemed ORDINARY to the committee. You have a book set in Peru, a book straddling Indian and white-settler culture, one set in Italy, a philosophical/academic book (and I have no explanation for Hemlock Mountain, does anyone?)–and next to all those, maybe Charlotte’s Web, about an ordinary girl in the modern-day US living on an ordinary farm and going to the ordinary fair, just didn’t seem special enough. *Special* is, of course, not an official criterion, but I think it was an unofficial one, and maybe it still is.
So, what do we know? We know that the Newbery Committee is not looking for *special*. The committee is not looking for most unique, most special, most likely to last throughout history. They are not judging on how ordinary the setting or story of one book is compared to another. But yet, it seems like perhaps this is something that unofficially is perhaps being considered when committe members are thinking about what is distinguished writing.
We’ve talked about how rare it is for a "funny book" to win the Newbery and about how hard it is to judge a book that is not your normal prefered genre. Is this an extention of that? Does it go deeper?
Any thoughts on this? Is there an inherent bias in the Newbery? Or is this something committees can and do get past?