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Heavy Medal: A Mock Newbery Blog
Inside Heavy Medal

13 vs 14

As you know, the Newbery audience goes up to and includes the age of 14, but this spring the ALSC membership will have an opportunity to lower the age of service from 14 to 13 (while increasing it at the bottom end from preschool to birth).  If the proposed changes to the bylaws pass, there will be many implications, but for our purposes here, it seems likely that the award criteria will be revised accordingly.  You can read a couple of ALSC blog posts here and here for more background information about the controversial changes.

My question for you is this: Would lowering the age have any impact on the books that are chosen?  Do you think there are books in the Newbery canon that would not have been recognized if the award only went to age 13?  HOPE WAS HERE?  CARVER?  CRISS CROSS?

I actually think the Newbery committee is fairly conservative compared to some of the other ALSC awards and the proposed changes would affect them more greatly.  PEDRO AND ME (Sibert Honor), HOLE IN MY LIFE (Sibert Honor), and DAMNED STRONG LOVE (Batchelder Honor) all seem much more YA than anything in the Newbery canon, both in terms of the mature themes and the age of the audience.

If these books challenge our notion of what a book for a 13-year-old or 14-year-old looks like, BRAVE STORY (Batchelder Award) pushes the boundary of what they are capable of.  HARRY POTTER AND THE ORDER OF THE PHOENIX comes in at 257, 154 words; BRAVE STORY at 286, 176.   That’s 30,000 more words!  I have  been pondering the larger page counts of some of this year’s Newbery contenders, namely COUNTDOWN and KEEPER, but even darkhorses like THE BONESHAKER or THE CLOCKWORK THREE–all of which come up just shy of 400 pages.  But these are nothing by comparison!

So what do you think?  Are you in favor of lowering the age from 14 to 13?  And if so, what impact do you think such a change would really have on the books chosen for the Newbery Medal and Honors?

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Jonathan Hunt About Jonathan Hunt

Jonathan Hunt is the County Schools Librarian at the San Diego County Office of Education. He served on the 2006 Newbery committee, and has also judged the Printz Award, the Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards, and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. You can reach him at hunt_yellow@yahoo.com

Comments

  1. Sondy says:

    I don’t like it, especially for purposes of the awards. Today at the Horn Book Colloquium, I heard Megan Whalen Turner speak eloquently about having books available for those readers who are ready for them. She described her books as good for those children whose parents have prepared them by reading to them and acquainting them with books written before they were born. (Sorry, I’m not as eloquent as she was.)

    I think that defining the age lower would pretend there is more of a genuine cut-off between what “children” read and what “young adults” read. Can’t we admit those bright 4th graders are children, too?

    The fact is, both my boys were younger than 13 when I read The Thief aloud to them. (The older had already read it and insisted we use it as the next book to read together. — They are 6 1/2 years apart, so we needed books with wide appeal. So the youngest must have been about 6.) They both loved it.

    If ALSC lowers the age to 13, it seems like the same questions would come up. The age limit is a little bit arbitrary, but it would be easier to rationalize not considering a book if it’s for the upper end. I think it would only make it harder for worthy books like A CONSPIRACY OF KINGS to get the recognition it deserves.

  2. DaNae says:

    What makes a book ready for a reader at 14 but not 13? Is there some concrete set of criteria that is allowed in a book aimed at a reader one year older? Or is the designation as subjective as everything else in the awards process? I manage a K-6 library, making my oldest students 12. Naturally I have many books on my shelves labeled YA. For the most part they have that classification because the age of the protagonist is older. Not for, as Jonathan would call it, “earthy” content. Most of my students don’t bat an eyelash at the opportunity to discover the mysteries of teenage life. Many do have a difficult time with complex writers like Megan Turner, but I would never discount the ability of a precocious 10-year-old to understand Eugenidies. I don’t know CARVER but I have both CRISS CROSS and HOPE WAS HERE in our collection. And have found readers for each. What exactly would and would not cross that 14-year-old barrier? I think if they tried to drop the age by 2 years its distinction might be more finite.

    If this is a poll I would just as soon leave it at 14.

    Yay, for the mention of THE CLOCKWORK THREE. Let’s get that discussion going.

  3. Jonathan Hunt says:

    I agree that even moving the age range down to 12 might not mean much as I had 12-year-old readers for LIPS TOUCH and CHARLES AND EMMA last year (and the kids read stuff like Jane Austen and David Sedaris in their spare time).

    I read THE CLOCKWORK THREE after I saw it pick up some votes on the Goodreads Newbery page. I liked it, but I have a couple of problems with it. First, it’s too long. I have nothing against long books, but I don’t think the plot of this book called for it to be this long. It could have just as easily been 284 pages instead of 384 pages, and then it would appeal to even more children. I can make this same complaint of 2/3 of middle grade and young adult books published nowadays. Second, it’s a great story, and the style of the writing is okay, but it lacks theme.

  4. Elizabeth Bird says:

    The argument I’ve always heard is that lowering the age would cast adrift books written for tweens. That said, I’m all for the change. As a children’s librarian, the shelf sitters in my library tend to be those Newbery winners written with 14-year-olds in mind. Sad to say, Kira-Kira, Criss Cross, and even Hattie Big Sky don’t move. I certainly offer them when a fourth grader comes in with the “You Must Read a Newbery Book” requirement, but far more often they’re liable to angle towards books written on the lower end of the age scale. Do teenagers get the “Read a Newbery Book Assignment” in middle school? As far as I can tell, that tends to be an elementary school requirement.

    This, of course, begs the question of what the purpose of the Newbery really is. Is it to honor books that are the best written and devil take the readership, or is it to get kids reading the best of the best? I was no fan of the “Has the Newbery Lost Its Way?” argument, but I’m admittedly going to have a much easier time hand-selling something like “Keeper” or “A Tale Dark and Grimm” than “A Conspiracy of Thieves” to my ten-year-olds, and even my twelve-year-olds should such books win. And for my really good readers, we’re going to have Turner on our shelves anyway. Giving it a shiny award won’t change things one way or another. I say lower the age. I’d take it down to 12 myself, but 13 will do for now.

  5. As a newer librarian (only 3 years), I hesitate to jump into such a weighty discussion, but I definitely have an opinion on this topic. I also would like to see the age lowered, not to change the tenor of the books as much as to make them more accessible to children in the public library.

    Our books are drop-shipped with the cataloging already completed. When a book like The Graveyard Book arrives with a YA label, it’s whisked upstairs to the YA section and the typical Newbery reader never even sees it (unless I’m personally on hand to suggest it). Even our first batch of When You Reach Me copies arrived with YA labels, rendering them virtually invisible to “children” until new “J” cataloged copies arrived. In fact, since 2005, only The Higher Power of Lucky has been originally cataloged as Juvenile; most of the winning titles are still located in the YA section of the library.

    Moreover, if my branch is any indication of a greater tendency, then I agree with Elizabeth. Right or wrong, it is the lower grade students that receive the “Read a Newbery Book” summer reading assignment. I can’t say what the impact of the lower age will have on the types of books chosen. Perhaps it will have a “trickle up” effect on the Printz Award and funnel some books toward that award. I don’t know, but I’m willing to find out.

  6. Jonathan Hunt says:

    Betsy, I can appreciate that KIRA-KIRA, CRISS CROSS, and HATTIE BIG SKY don’t circulate too well among your average fourth graders; they may not even circulate too well with your average junior high students either. But there are also *plenty* of pure juvenile titles from the Newbery canon in recent years that do not circulate very well either. So I’m not sure picking younger books will necessarily make the Newbery books more popular with elementary age readers. You are hitting on some points here that I want to explore in a future post . . .

    Shelf-employed, I’m surprised that your recent Newbery books have come already processed as YA. The publishers designated CRISS CROSS, GOOD MASTERS!, and THE GRAVEYARD BOOK as being for ages 10 and up, while WHEN YOU REACH ME was for ages 8-12. If the publisher designations had been followed all of those Newbery books would have been labeled J rather than YA. Since the Newbery and Printz committees do not correspond there will not necessarily be a trickle up effect. Just as the Newbery often tends to go to a junior high book (i.e. 7th-9th) rather than an intermediate grade book (i.e. 4th-6th), so too the Printz often favors high school books at the expense of the middle school/junior high books.

    Betsy and Shelf-employed both report getting lots of elementary children requesting Newbery books, but my own impression is that middle school students get these kinds of assignments, too. Can we have some more people–teachers, public librarians, school librarians–chime in on this issue? I’m curious . . .

  7. Jen Baker says:

    Public librarian chiming in here – middle school for our area is 6th/7th/8th and those who come in looking for books for school tend to have lists that include “classics” (including Lord of the Flies and To Kill a Mockingbird for sure – I remember the first because I rarely recommend it having hated it myself when I read it in 6th grade and the 2nd because I often recommend it), but I’ve never had them request a Newbery book. I’m not sure in fact that our districts do a Newbery project, but instead do a more general “award winners.” Of course, I’m not a big fan of our local school districts’ assignments in general. My personal favorites: check out one book on ancient mesopotamia (this would be several classes worth of children, because of course we own/there exist 40 different books on ancient mesopotamia written for children) and 5th graders’ who need to read a non-fiction book that’s more than 200 pages long – a page limit that knocks out many of the Sibert winners and frustrates both kids and librarians. Our school liason has tried over and over to contact teachers and talk about these things but gets very little response. But to get back to the Newbery, I don’t get middle school kids asking for them much if at all (based on anecdotal evidence only) and honestly I think the audience that most requests them is adults. I currently don’t have strong feelings one way or the other about changing the upper age limit, but I’ll have to think about it some more. I do absolutely believe the younger age limit for ALSC service should be birth. Gotta start those readers off young!

  8. Middle school is typically 5th – 8th, and most kids do no turn 13 until 8th grade. So, when I mentioned “younger grades,” I was speaking of middle school. As for the cataloging, I can only say what I have seen, however, a quick WorldCat check of Criss Cross holdings in my NJ/NY area does show that Criss Cross is cataloged in YA at most of the public libraries in the area.

  9. Sondy says:

    This points out what I was trying to say — There is not a clear division between what’s a YA book and what’s a children’s book. So changing the upper age limit won’t really clarify anything.

    And I think the outstanding books that are written for that middle range should be fully eligible for the Newbery Award. They can still very well be the most distinguished contribution to children’s literature that year. They are still children’s literature. And the Printz Award has a tendency to ignore them.

  10. Mr. H says:

    What a great debate!

    I teach 5th grade. This is my 6th year teaching. I have had some truly gifted students to work with over the course of my teaching and I tell you what, I have never had a student actually finish THE THIEF. I’ve had many that I thought could but ALL have had bad experiences reading it. Personally, I LOVE it. Not very kid-friendly though.

    In the district I teach, 5th and 6th grade is still considered elementary. At the junior high level, in 7th grade, you immediately see book projects given to students on TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, THE HUNGER GAMES, etc. Not too many Newbery medals, if any.

    I would be in favor of lowering the age limit to not only 13 but 12. I know why, but I can’t put it into words very easily . . . maybe later.

    BTW, the CRISS CROSS narrators are both 14 years old, am I correct? How can that book possibly be aimed at 10 year olds? I would actually say it’s aimed at 14 year olds, but some 10 year olds may read it and understand it. There’s a difference . . . I highly doubt Lynne Rae Perkins wrote CRISS CROSS thinking “Wow, a lot of 10 year olds out there will really dig this message . . .” But that’s a publishing thing, not necessarily a Newbery thing.

  11. Susan Dove Lempke says:

    While it’s true that middle school teachers tend not to assign Newbery books, that doesn’t change the fact that most of the Newberys already given are aimed squarely at 5th-6th graders. Maybe we need to do a better job of communicating that to the teachers, since we have almost 90 years of winners and honor books already given.

    I’m a big fan of letting the tweens and young teens sort themselves out. Some of them are 13-going-on-30 and some are 13-and-acts-like-a-kid. I can’t see any clear reason for ALSC giving up 14-year-olds, who are still in 8th grade, as part of the group we work with. I think it serves the kids much better for ALSC and YALSA to overlap on this group and it increases our chance of not letting books for them slip away at award time.

  12. Mr. H says:

    Funny question . . . We worry so much about whether or not a book is “distinguished” enough for the Newbery medal, but is it possible that books can be “too distinguished”? Think about it . . .

    If the publishing company determines that A CONSPIRACY OF KINGS is appropriate for ages 9-12, yet 95% of 9-12 year old readers would have difficulty reading the book and following it, how can it be the “most distinguished” work for children if it doesn’t even register with the age range it’s aimed at?

    In essence, can a book be “too distinguished” therefore making it NOT the “most distinguished” work of children’s literature in a given year?

    For the record, what is A CONSPIRACY OF KINGS actual reading level? I’ve seen “ages 9-12″ and “grades 7-10″. That doesn’t quite add up!

  13. Nina Lindsay says:

    Thanks Susan for reminding, as we talk about the issue, that the ALSC vote that Jonathan mentions in not about the Newbery. It’s about the age-level that ALSC recognizes as “children” for the purposes of public libraries across the country. The Newbery criteria then become a corrolary of that. The online discussion at ALSC begins October 12 at ALSC Connect.

    While I’m sympathetic to teachers and librarians difficultly with “categorizing” Newbery winners cleanly by age… I don’t see that as a compelling reason to adjust the age limits on the award. The award is there to make sure that quality writing is published and recognized for children. How we get it to children is our responsibility, not the awards’.

    I share Jonathan’s perception that while some older-end books have been recognized, the results–given the 14 yr old range–are actually pretty conservative. Getting 15 members to come to a consensus vote on whether a book is a “children’s” book as defined by the award is quite a process, and I think is a good control and counter-balance for having as inclusive an age range as possible.

  14. Sondy says:

    To hear Megan Whalen Turner tell it (yesterday! I was super lucky and ran into her in the airport after the Colloquium.), she wrote her books for the sort of kids whose parents read to them all their lives and they regularly read books that were written before they were born. In other words, advanced readers. Just because this group is not the majority, does that mean this group should be underserved? Do we have to write to the lowest common denominator? And don’t the Newbery guidelines pretty clearly state that the books do not have to be written for the majority of the age group?

    My two sons were exactly in her target group. And my older son reaad THE THIEF at 11 or 12 and loved it and insisted that it be our next choice for family reading aloud at bedtime. So I read it aloud the first time I read it and my 6-year-old son loved it, too — though I’m sure he didn’t appreciate every single aspect.

    We also read QUEEN OF ATTOLIA aloud, and I think for KING OF ATTOLIA my older one was off to college, but I think the younger one was still under 13. His reaction at the end? “Eugenides ROCKS!” For both books, I had trouble with stopping and more than once finished reading the book after my boys had gone to bed!

    You also might check the ages of the avid participants on her fan pages on the Internet called Sounis.

    So kids under 13 are definitely included in her target audience. And those in her target audience LOVE her books. So just because that is definitely not the majority of under-13 kids does that mean books that serve them should not be eligible for the Newbery? That doesn’t seem fair.

    (I have a friend with daughters who are about 12 and 10, and recommended the books to them, and they loved them too. These girls are also in the target group.)

  15. Jonathan Hunt says:

    We can guess at a book’s potential audience, but it’s not an exact science. The publisher designates a range, and each of the review journals do likewise, but there is often disagreement. For example, Farrar labeled THE WALL by Peter Sis as being for ages 8 and up and many of the review journals followed suit, but Booklist labeled it for grades 7-10. Many things contribute to our estimation of a book’s audience, the age of the main characters being only one of them. Conventional wisdom says that kids like to read about characters slightly older than them. It’s not necessarily the age of the CRISS CRISS narrators–or perhaps I should say not *only* the age–that marks it as a more sophisticated book.

    I’m not sure there is such a thing as a book being too distinguished, but I recognize your argument as a variation of one that people try frequently with the Printz Award. While we would hope that the award has wide appeal, it is given solely for quality. Some have tried to argue that wide appeal among teens (or children, in the case of the Newbery) is a measure of a book’s quality. It’s not a very strong argument (circular reasoning) and it completely discounts the fact that while 99 of 100 teens/children wouldn’t touch a certain book with a ten foot pole, the 100th one, not only loves the book, but is completely changed and enriched in some fundamental way for having read it. Doesn’t the child who likes the unpopular book have just as much right to have her favorite book win as the 99 who want DIARY OF A WIMPY KID to win?

  16. Wendy says:

    It is news to me that the majority of Newbery winners are aimed at 5th-6th graders. (I don’t even know that that can be quantified, but I don’t necessarily agree.)

    …also that anyone has a “right” to have her “favorite book” win the Newbery? What do you mean?

    While–as a complete outsider to the library world–I don’t see a compelling reason for the change, if one were to be made, 12 makes more sense to me than 13. Let YALSA have the teenagers, if it comes to that. I think it makes more sense from both a child development standpoint and a societal-expectations standpoint.

  17. Mr. H says:

    Sondy . . . Jonathan asked for other teachers, librarians, and the like to chime in on the Newbery report thing, and what grade level they are being assigned. I gave my two cents and also threw in the bit about THE THIEF. Only because I love the book and have tried getting kids to read it every year. I’ll bet I’ve put that in the book of 20-25 truly advanced 5th graders over the last 5 years and none of them have took to it. Even boys who dig history!

    It’s just my personal experience though. I’m aware of the fact that there are 9-12 year old kids out there who could read the book and enjoy it. I guess I was just using what I’ve seen in my classroom as an example. I think it takes quite the 10 or 11 year old mind to truly capture what’s “distinguished” about those books. And that made me wonder, are they too much?

    I love the fact that you read the books to your boys. I have a 7 month old daughter at home and can’t wait until we can begin reading novels together. My wife and I want a set aside time every night to read aloud to her. We can’t wait!

  18. Jonathan Hunt says:

    Wendy, I mean that when people speak of the Newbery as if popularity were, in fact, a criteria they always seem to assume that we should honor those books which give the greatest pleasure to the greatest number of readers. If you’re going to open up that can of worms and say that child appeal ought to be a bigger factor than it currently is then you can’t turn around and discount the voices of children in the minority. Book A isn’t better than Book B simply because it’s more popular.

  19. Since the question is lowering the age for ALSC which encompasses all sorts of librarian work, not just the awards, I’m standing back and attending to those who are working in libraries — something I don’t do.

    As for the age range specifically for the Newbery, I’m mixed. On the one hand I feel that the noise about popularity of books marginalizes those kids who do read books that may not be crowd pleasers, the –ahem — Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! and The Thief readers. As Jonathan and others noted, why should these readers’ tastes be tossed to the side in favor of the masses? The criteria don’t give a minimum number of child readers for a book. (Mr. H, I teach 4th grade and very, very rarely have a kid who will read The Thief. Had one this summer though. And I gather the series is quite popular among 7th and 8th graders who are still within the current age range.) On the other hand, I have to admit I would like to see more books at the middle range, books that more of my 4th graders would read. The reality is that criteria not withstanding, kids know about Newbery and when a winner is appealing to a large group of kids the award is more meaningful to them. I’d suspect that the greatest potential audience for Newbery books is in the 4th -6th grade range. Lately there have been reports of studies that reading drops off for kids after this. I think this is the prime time agewise because at 4th grade kids are just getting reading under control and seeing it as a fun thing to do and by 6th they are being turned off to it and on to arguably more compelling attractions.

  20. Children's Librarian says:

    Chiming in to say that I agree with Monica about the greatest potential audience for Newbery books is 4th-6th grades. At my public library, those are the children who are given the assignments. 7th-8th graders are usually not given Newberry assignments because the award is seen very much as a children’s book award. I personally think ALSC should go to age 12 and YALSA should begin at age 13. The cut-off between 12-13 will always be fluid and I’m not too worried about tweens and young teens finding books that appeal to them. I know from personal experience that we have many in the 10-13 range that routinely read books from down in the Children’s Room and books from the YA section. But I think for the purposes of clarity and to help streamline the many awards ALSC and YALSA offer, the ages should be more cut and dried. And frankly, the majority of books that win the Printz are what I would consider high school books anyway– “Tender Morsels” anyone?– so I’d like to see more books for younger teens winning that award.

    I also share the frustration that many of the Newbery books are for older readers. I would dearly love a book for, say, 3rd-4th graders to win. We haven’t had a book that really appeals to the younger end of the middle grade spectrum for a long time. (I would venture to say that “The Tale of Despereaux” was the last truly young Newbery book.) Unfortunately– or fortunately, however you choose to look at it!– books for 5-8th graders are very strong right now, so that’s where some of the best writing and “most distinguished books” are likeliest to come from.

  21. Genevieve says:

    While books for 3-4th graders haven’t been winning the main award lately, haven’t some won Honor Book? I’m thinking of Where The Mountain Meets the Moon, last year, but I’m not positive about earlier years.

  22. I’m unconvinced (but still reading arguments) that the age should be changed. I would be more interested in hearing arguments for changing the residency requirement if changes are to be made.

    Going back to Jonathan’s statement:

    “Some have tried to argue that wide appeal among teens (or children, in the case of the Newbery) is a measure of a book’s quality. It’s not a very strong argument (circular reasoning) and it completely discounts the fact that while 99 of 100 teens/children wouldn’t touch a certain book with a ten foot pole, the 100th one, not only loves the book, but is completely changed and enriched in some fundamental way for having read it.”

    Yes, yes, a thousand times yes. I cringe when someone says that a book has no appeal to kids/teens. It’s one thing to say that a book may require some booktalking or handselling. It’s one thing to say that a book might not appeal to a broad audience. It’s another thing to declare that it won’t appeal to kids/teens. I’ve seen this in professional journals (not singling anyone out), and it drives me crazy. Especially if it’s a review of a book that I’ve had in my collection for a few weeks or months, and have already heard from a child/teen how much they really enjoyed it (this happened recently, which is why I’m going on about it). You’ve just dismissed that teen’s experience while reading the book.

    Critique the plotting, critique the characterizations, critique the resolution, but don’t tell me flat out that a book won’t appeal to kids/teens. Period.

  23. Roger Sutton says:

    Am I right, Nina, that the proposed change is to 13 because there was too much resistance to changing it to 12? And what actual changes are supposed to come about because of this change? Surely, the ALSC awarded books will be retroactively made “through age 13″ eligible–it’s not like they can take an award back. But what will ALSC do differently as a result of the change? I don’t know the answer to that, and in the absence of a good one the proposed change just seems like bureaucratic wheel-spinning. ALA staff have all had two weeks (if I have that right) of mandatory furlough this year: is debating the difference between 13 and 14 really how the Association should be spending its time?

  24. Nina Lindsay says:

    Roger, the “13″ debate is really such a bigger story that the Newbery slice that’s being discussed here. The age level would cover everything that ALSC does…. and so would, in many regards, change the definition of “children’s services” in public libraries in the nation, period. That’s really what’s at stake, and I’m not sure if anyone has a real sense of what the repurcussions would be.

    Debating the issue is how the *membership*, more than the Association, is spending its time. The Association already did it’s work by putting this on the ballot for a vote. At this point it requires a broader discussion by the membership, which is going to happen at ALSC Connect starting Oct 12. I’ll be there, and hope to see a lot of you there for the full discussion.

  25. Alison Hendon says:

    I agree with Children’s Librarian, who said “I personally think ALSC should go to age 12 and YALSA should begin at age 13.”
    I see practically no mention of YALSA in the posts above. The point to me is to not have the overlap! (And I think 12 is too young for YALSA.) We have several awards for YA books – the Newbery is not the only award!

    FWIW, I’m a member of both ALSC and YALSA, and buy the young adult books.

  26. Nina Lindsay says:

    Alison, the Newbery award isn’t the only award, but it’s also not an award for YA books. It’s an award for children’s books (defined through age 14); the Printz is an award for YA books (defined as starting at 12).

    ALSC and YALSA (I’m members of both too) are MUCH more than their awards. Whether or not there should be overlap is the issue…but it’s important to note that they are distinct organizations with distinct membership and charges. Personally, therefore, I’m more comfortable (from both sides) with an overlap. I don’t expect YALSA to cover children’s services. I don’t expect ALSC to cover YA services. I want both to do an adequate job at both, however.

  27. Vona Van Cleef says:

    I am a retired librarian who is currently teaching one section of Children’s Literature to prospective teachers at UTEP in El Paso, TX. The textbook I currently use defines “children” as ranging in age from birth to 13, so I think the suggested change is probably appropriate. But kids will read what appeals to them, and no two readers are alike. I have two daughters, ages 35 and 41, and now have the pleasure of reading to a 6-year-old grandson. Daughter #1 loved the Winnie the Pooh stories. Daughter #2 was a Dr. Seuss fan. And Grandson’s first favorites were Byron Barton’s “Car” and Kevin Henkes’ “Kitten’s First Full Moon.” His current favorites are Dav Pilkey’s Ricky Ricotta books, featuring such titles as “Ricky Ricotta’s Mighty Robot vs. the Stupid Stinkbugs from Saturn.” He’s also crazy about Mo Willem’s Elephant and Piggy books. This is why I was never very good at the “reader’s advisory” part of librarianship — aside from “Goodnight Moon,” there are very few universal favorites and the Newbery committee does the best it can. Some hits, some misses. My favorite decade of the Newberys was the 1990s: I just finished teaching “Maniac Magee” as an example of multicultural literature because it’s a fun book and a thought-provoking one about how ignorance of “the Other” leads to fear and hatred and how destructive attitudes can be turned around.

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