A little back and forth about what kind of writing lasts longer got me thinking about this frequently cited non-criteria for the Newbery. Nowhere do the Newbery Criteria say that a winner must be “lasting.” For good reason, I think, as there is really no way to tell, from our relative point of view in time, what will age and what won’t. We can make guesses, and there are some general obvious traits that may “date” a story within its time setting…but does that mean the story itself won’t last?
Yet, everyone seems to want and expect the Newbery to be a “lasting” contribution to literature. What does that mean? The first term of the medal states: “The Medal shall be awarded annually to the author of the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children published by an American publisher in the United States in English during the preceding year.” There is an intimation there that the work should be “canonical”…though, again, a canon is something created with hindsight. Once the book is awarded it is, by definition, of the canon. We know it will “last” because it has medal on it.
What is “lasting” in a work? What made the Honor-winning CHARLOTTE’S WEB more lasting than SECRET OF THE ANDES…and does that matter to the award? I’ve been thinking recently about a recent cohort of medal-winners and honors: …FEATHERS, KIRA-KIRA, CRISS CROSS, and OLIVE’S OCEAN. When I put those together I think you all recognize these as strong on interior voice (all female), and not much going on in the plot department. If you asked me to describe these books to you right now…I probably couldn’t. I can’t tell you what happened in the story, because, honestly, I can’t remember. However, what I can remember–intensely, wonderfully–is how each of those books made me feel. I can’t describe it to you, but I can taste it.
When you read a book that you know is incredible…doesn’t it leave you with a particular feeling when you finish it? Doesn’t it crawl inside and inhabit your body and memory…and change you, whether fiction, nonfiction, plot driven or not? Isn’t that what a distinguished work is supposed to do? That change–that is what lasts, and you carry it with you everyday.