October 9, 2009 By 11 Comments
THE EVOLUTION OF CALPURNIA TATE does have that nice Southern and/or country voice that we often associate with the Newbery, not to mention a spunky heroine, but . . . don’t you think it’s too long and boring to win the Newbery?
Several years ago Vicky Smith bemoaned the fate of Disappearing Children’s Books. I think one of the reasons that we’re losing those pure juvenile titles is that some of them are bloated. What should be 200-250 page books are now written as 300-350 page books, pushing them beyond the reach of many elementary age readers. More recently, Roger Sutton talked about the same phenomenon.
What does all this have to do with the Newbery criteria? Absolutely nothing. Length and pacing have nothing to do with the Newbery criteria (well, not necessarily). But the problem for THE EVOLUTION OF CALPURNIA TATE arises from comparison with other historical fiction titles, that have many of the same strengths, but half the pages, namely A SEASON OF GIFTS and RIOT by Walter Dean Myers.
Both CAPURNIA TATE and A SEASON OF GIFTS have strong narrative voices, wonderful settings, and fully realized characters. But less is more so I have to give A SEASON OF GIFTS the edge when it comes to plot and theme. By comparison, the extra words in CALPURNIA seem to dilute the power of the book.
I know, I know, I can hear some of you out there in cyberspace murmuring that you actually like the pacing of CALPURNIA TATE, that you like longer books. This is true, but the Newbery Medal is not given for what you like or for what I like, but rather for what is most distinguished.
RIOT is the antithesis of CALPURNIA, a very spare screenplay that will leave many character-driven fans of CALPURNIA feeling cheated and frustrated. So think of these three historical fictions as Goldilocks and the Three Bears. CALPURNIA: too long and boring. RIOT: too short and confusing. GIFTS: Ah, just right.