Follow This Blog: RSS feed
Heavy Medal: A Mock Newbery Blog
Inside Heavy Medal

What’s My Line?

Jonathan posted earlier this week about his 5 yr  deja vu.  But I’m feeling less deja vu than simply seasonal award-season syndrome…like bad weather, we just seem to forget about it each year.

This year, the first days of the award announcements felt different … not only did we have a surprise winner, but when we all tuned in to the Today Show to see her…we were stood up.  Monica Edinger was one of the first to ask “what the heck?” …a question that got picked up pretty quickly by PW and SLJ.

On the ALSC member listserv, the debate very quickly derailed into the  “popularity” “appeal” “quality” question that Richard’s also been stirring up here. It’s the question that gets asked every year, and it’s not at all a new question.  KT Horning’s online course on the history of the Newbery has a fabulous electronic reading list proving this debate is age old. (Registration for her course closes Jan 31st!)

What I find most interesting about this latest iteration is how Snooki became the focus of the maelstrom. (So far, my favorite take on it is over at Peter Sieruta’s Collecting Children’s Books).  Of course it wasn’t Snooki herself that “displaced” the Newbery/Caldecott winners, so why is she, of all the appearances that morning, the one that gets our goat? I tried to shift the jibe to Tiger Mom, but it didn’t take. And I guess that Oscar winning cancer survivors are simply untouchable.  But Snooki is, of course, perhaps the best parallel we have to the  “popularity vs quality” debate. For many of us, the Newbery/Caldecott announcements are the one place that we get to see public airtime focussed on “quality” in children’s literature.   Snooki is the epitome instead of the kind of popularity that is self-sustaining and doesn’t really seem to need any airtime…  except that, of course, airtime is actually the only thing that allows it to keep going. 

At the ALSC listserv, wise voices cut in to the “should the Newbery be popular?” debate to remind us that the Newbery and Caldecott provide publishers with the incentive to publish high quality work.   Beyond what actually wins the awards, the incentive nets us a pool of wonderful books every year to add to a body of literature from which kids can select what best appeals to them… and that body will be continually refreshed over time.  As long as we keep the awards alive and healthy. And I guess that includes having the popularity debate annually. My roses like a fierce attack every year too. … and every year I forget that I have to make time for them.

Back on the Today Show, Snooki concluded her interview by answering the question: “if you’re back here in 5 years what do you think we’ll be talking about?”  Her answer: “Hopefully my brands. I have my Snooki line out…my Snooki slipper line. Uh, my jewelry line.  And then my book, The Sure Thing. Also I’m working on my clothing line.  So hopefully I can still be known as a brand…I’m being smart about it.”

Nina Lindsay About Nina Lindsay

Nina Lindsay is the Children's Services Coordinator at the Oakland Public Library, CA. She chaired the 2008 Newbery Committee, and served on the 2004 and 1998 committees. You can reach her at


  1. Christopher Lassen says:

    I was curious as to whether the ALSC listserv debate (58 responses& counting) would make it onto this blog. It’s something that, unfortunately, does come up every year, especially when the winner is such a divisive one as this years book has proven to be. It was refreshing to not see this debate come up last year when the acclaim for “When You Reach Me” was SO universal. It gave everyone an opportunity to reflect on the excellence of the literature being awarded and not be bogged down in whether the most popular book at the time should be recognized.

  2. Nina Lindsay says:

    Christopher, “divisive” is an interesting word, because I think that a lot of the debate stems from the fact that people hadn’t *read* the book…or didn’t feel *prepared* for it to be a winner…as if that should be a quality of the award winning title. This happens in any kind of award giving I guess–the crowd wants to have that adrenaline rush of hearing the annoucement and feeling fulfillment. If it becomes a “huh?” moment, we feel let down…and I think it’s from that emotional state that a lot of the debate–at least the “popularity” debate–stems from.

  3. I get really impatient with this perennial complaint. It gets answered every year, and after you’ve been through a few rounds of it, it feels more annoying than interesting. I think one of the things that happens is that relative newcomers to the awards process have to have this debate aired before they can settle in and enjoy the Awards process for what it is.

    No one spends much time complaining that the National Book Award winners aren’t the most popular books that year, nor any of the other critically acclaimed titles. I think that those of us who’ve been around and heard it before perhaps react more strongly than if it were a new discussion. Or maybe not. It does seem like new voices whine and complain each year and new voices defend.

    For me, it’s really that these people are displaying their lack of understanding about how criteria completely determines results. No offense anyone, but if popularity is not in the criteria, then you can’t complain, really, can you?

  4. I would agree. I haven’t read MOON OVER MANIFEST yet but following all the discussion on it, I don’t know if “divisive” would be the word I’d use. I think Nina hit the nail on the head. People just weren’t prepared for it. It blindsided everyone. Maybe it shouldn’t have . . . it did have a number of starred reviews . . . but I think the jury is still out on whether this title itself is divisive. People need a moment to read the book first!

  5. Mark Flowers says:

    I just have to voice my agreement with Carol and Nina. The National Book Award is a really appropriate parallel, but because the Newbery is so famous, what people (and I’m using very fast and loose generalizations here) compare it to in their minds is the Oscars. They want to have a tidy list of 5 or 6 mainstream, popular books to choose from, and a winner that is preordained, or nearly so. People don’t want to be told: here’s a book you’ve never heard of, and its really the best book of the year. They want to already know the book. What we should be doing is celebrating that the Newbery committee found a really great book that many/most of us hadn’t found on our own.

    As I said in another post, I think the real outrages of recent Newberys have been When You Reach Me and Graveyard Book, which to me are great books but significantly poorer in terms of literary power than most of the Newberys of the century.

  6. Mark, I like your comparison to the Oscars, but would have to say that until the Oscars went to their new 10-picture structure, I don’t know if the 5 films nominated each year could always really be called “mainstream” . . . In fact, I heard one particular reason the academy went to nominating 10 pictures in the first place was to get in a few pictures that would draw the casual moviegoer in to Oscar night.

    And in regards to WHEN YOUR REACH ME and THE GRAVEYARD BOOK . . . to each his own!

  7. Sometime I think it would be nice to have a post titled “Upset about the Newbery? Read this first.” It would contain the rules, description of how the process works, and some past debates. Then maybe you folks wouldn’t have to go through this every year. But then I tend to get impatient…

    I’m always delighted when books I don’t know get a big award. I like to assume I’ll enjoy them when I finally get a chance to read them, and finding a good new book is a wonderful treat. I don’t, however, assume every book will be my cup of tea. And I don’t quite see why some people assume they should always agree with the committee, or rather that the committee should always agree with them. When in real life does that ever happen?

  8. Shoot… should be “Sometimes I think…”

  9. Christopher says:

    Maybe “divisive” was too strong of a word to use to describe the reaction. I agree with what you say Nina about it “blindsiding” a majority of people this year (me included even though I read the book before it was announced as the winner) and that being the reason why this debate came up in the first place. While I believe that this debate is an interesting one, I also feel that it takes away from the actual books that were honored this year with this distinguished award.

  10. Jonathan Hunt says:

    People have noted the difference between the general response to adult awards (or even other children’s book awards) and the Newbery Medal. But consider this, too. The Caldecott routinely picks Medal and Honor books which are just as lacking in child appeal and popularity as the Newbery does. But they NEVER get slammed for it! What’s up with THAT double standard? The Newbery somehow bears the burden of being the great Reader’s Advisory Award. It’s ridiculous!

  11. Mark Flowers says:

    One of my teachers in library school said that the Newbery Award is the only book award (at any age level) that significantly affects sales and length of time in print, etc. I have no idea if this is true or not, but it certainly seems that Americans in general are much more impressed by/committed to/interested in the Newbery than other book awards. (Quick – name last year’s Pulitzer Prize winner!) If that’s the case, then this discussion starts to make a lot of sense: more people with less knowledge about the criteria are interested, leading to more uninformed debate. Now, the question of *why* the Newbery is an interesting one, but I think we need a sociological experiment to figure that out.

  12. Nina Lindsay says:

    Christopher, I don’t think “divisive” is too strong a word, I think it accurately reflects some of the debate out there. I just found it interesting, because it made me think…how can an award-winning-title be “divisive” among people who haven’t read it? What is the divide about, if it’s not actually about the book?

Speak Your Mind