“The Newbery is far and away probably the most important,” he says. “It means you are seen as being part of a group of books that are of quality and ensures survival over the years. You are part of some kind of strange literary canon, that maybe you’ve written a book that will outlive you.”
The Graveyard Book was awarded the Newbery Medal because of its distinguished literary value. It’s certainly good news that it also is popular. I’m happy for the Newbery itself that this book may answer some of the concerns brought up in Anita Silvey’s article…but I hope people don’t assume that somehow it was this article, or the book’s popularity, that garnered it the award. The book is simply outstanding, far and above any other this year.
I’ve heard some people complain about the episodic chapters and lack of character development. Yet I find the episodes build very purposefully to build an underlying sense of narrative tension and character development like a wave builds from the ocean floor: you only really see it in the magnitude of its final crescendo. The prose is lucid and surprising and elegant and natural. Characters and setting are instantly drawn. There is a subtlety in the delivery that is observant of a child audience without being patronizing.
I’m also appreciative of the breadth of quality represented by the committee’s choice of honor books. Though not a fan of all of them, and though I’m sad not to see The Porcupine Year up there, I think that the variety of genres, styles, audiences, and uses of language show that the committee has used the criteria well to find gold among both apples and oranges.
Despite the fact that I dispute many of the recent criticisms of the Newbery, I’m glad to see people’s attention turn to it, and glad that we are challenged to make sure we hold to its charge and keep it relevant. While I think that many will feel their criticisms are “answered” by this year’s selection—I also suspect that people who want to complain about it will still find plenty to complain about.
It’s ultimately the conversation, and the widening of the conversation, that compels me to run our Mock Newbery, and has been the fun of this blog. It’s why, in part, The Graveyard Book was not part of our discussion list…because not including it provided a part of the discussion. I’m perfectly happy being “wrong” under these circumstances. Predicting the awards has always been secondary to me. Understanding and celebrating them is the point.
The full press release text for the Newbery winners is up on the ALSC site, including quotes from the committee on why each title was selected.
And the full press release listing all of the awards is finally up here.
* [Updated: Sometime in the last hour the SLJ headline changed from "Finally!:" to "Surprise!" I’ll leave my post as is though. ]