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Heavy Medal: A Mock Newbery Blog
Inside Heavy Medal

What lasts?

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.

 

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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 ninalindsay@gmail.com

Comments

  1. Jen L says:

    I’ve recently been reading all the Medal winners, and have trudged through several non-fiction works from the early years of the award. That has made me consider “lasting” a little more pointedly than I had before. The older non-fiction pieces (particularly Davy Crockett and The Story of Mankind) are so notably a product of their times, with the author’s voice and opinions coming through so strongly that it hinders the actual story being told. I don’t *think* that more recent non-fiction books do this to quite the same degree, though I suppose it’s much easier to see in hindsight.

  2. Shoshana says:

    I think you’ve hit on something with the internal voice, for me at least; the books I remember most fondly, the ones I recommend for years afterwards, are the ones that made me feel like reading time was a visit I looked forward to with a friend. I know, though, that I’m a very character- and voice-driven reader, and I imagine that for other readers, the most “lasting” books are those that feel like a visit to a favorite place, or that keep them hooked with exciting plots. It’s just as necessary to be aware of bias about what lasts as about any aspect of reading.

  3. Sheila Welch says:

    I haven’t read anywhere near the number of Newbery winners or honor books that you, Nina, and Jonathan have, but you picked three of my all-time favorites with the ones you mentioned. And I haven’t read FEATHERS — guess I should.

    I’ve reread all of OLIVE’S OCEAN and parts of KIRA KIRA and CRISS CROSS. I’m not sure if these books changed me in any fundamental way, but they brought the world (mine and theirs) into sharper focus. They are like Vermeer paintings: small, exquisite, worthwhile, and rare.

  4. Sam Bloom says:

    Nicely said! There are several non-criteria that seem to come up every year, but the one that rankles me even more than the “lasting” one is this: “It didn’t feel like a ‘Newbery’ book.” What does that mean?! My idea of a Newbery book could be completely different than someone else’s! The actual criteria are cast aside just because book X didn’t remind one of HOLES or WRINKLE IN TIME or whatever classic Newbery winner one is using as a personal barometer, but what if I’m using IT’S LIKE THIS, CAT as my point of comparison? Anyway, you’ve articulated it in a much more elegant way than I have, Nina, but I agree!

  5. Alys says:

    I don’t know that I agree with the central premise that a distinguished book is one that changes you. I have certainly been deeply moved, or changed, or begun to think in a different way about the world by books that were otherwise absolute crap, so that description does not apply only to distinguished books. I have also read books that I felt were highly distinguished that did not move me in any way. I can appreciate beautiful writing or excellent characters without actually being moved by those characters, especially when I am clearly not the ideal reader of the book. Nonfiction has the ability to reshape your thinking about the world – but if you’re already extremely familiar with the subject, then the fact that your understanding is not fundamentally changed does not mean that the book was not distinguished.

    This discussion makes me think of Someday My Printz Will Come and the discussions they have there about the difference between “head” books – ones that you can look at objectively and see the many ways in which the books excels – and “heart” books – the ones that you LOVE, that move you deeply, or reformat your worldview, that you will read over and over in the years to come or ponder over for hours. Ideally all the Newbery books would appeal to both the head and the heart – but push comes to shove, the award goes to the book that is most distinguished, not the one that left you with the most emotional resonance.

    • Nina Lindsay Nina Lindsay says:

      Alys, thanks for looking at this closely. While I’ve described an emotional response, I think of the “change” as being not relegated to emotion–could be a change in the way you see the world, too. When you read a nonfiction book that confirms much of what you already know… if it does it extremely well, doesn’t that change you in some way…by giving you depth to your knowledge and convictions, and a sense of company with the author and other readers of the book? Also, in my description of “change” I”m thinking of the ideal reader being changed. So I too have read books that I can see are distinguished but don’t change me… but I can see how they change the ideal (in this case, child) reader.

      Your note about being changed by non-distinguished books is interesting. I guess that books that seem like “crap” to me make me so angry (because I feel so strongly about the importance of strong writing) that I don’t make room to be changed. I can’t think of one not good book that’s really lasted for me, honestly. I’m not disputing what you say, just saying that experience never occurred to me. Others?

  6. Meghan says:

    As someone else mentioned about “non-criteria”, I have to agree that a non-criterial “feeling” is arguably what makes a book last. However, I believe it has to be a feeling that resonates with children. I think that so much of it comes back to a book’s reception from the intended audience (predominately, middle-grade readers in terms of the Newbery). Popularity with children is no where mentioned in the Newbery criteria, yet, they are ultimately what makes a book “last” over time. They are the ones that most often check the books out from the library, recommend them to friends, select them for book reports, etc. Regardless of the amount of influencing adults attempt to have on a child’s reading selection (teacher’s assigning reading, librarians/parents recommending selections, etc), I believe that the impact of the child audience is far more substantial when it comes to a book’s endurance over time.

  7. Jonathan Hunt says:
  8. Carol says:

    This may be heretical, but I believe that kids are exposed to and choose from the books that adults like and recommend. Very seldom are Newbery winners ignored by the adult world, and thus very seldom are children allowed to ignore them. Most kids read fairly uncriticallyand enjoy almost all that they read– good and bad. I have such a hard time understanding the complaints about Newbery’s lacking child appeal– as almost any book is going to be hated by some and adored by otehrs. If I like a book particularly, then the kids I talk with will often give it a try and like it too. If I dislike a book, then I seldom recommend it.

    All that just to say that some books adults don’t like and those go by the wayside. Others we adore and I would guess HOLES, WHEN YOU REACH ME and WRINKLE IN TIME are some of those and so those get made into movies and are touted near and far. I think it’s time we admit we are the gatekeepers. It’s a big role to play in what is in bookstores, libraries and what gets awarded medals of all kinds. Which all play into what is lasting and what goes out of print and becomes unavailable to anyone.

  9. Meghan says:

    I certainly can see the point about children being exposed to more literature as a result of the decisions that adults make (we decide whether or not to purchase it for our libraries, classrooms, etc) and that was something I had not originally considered. However, there are books I don’t often recommend (example, most of the “wimpy kid” books) that are the most frequently circulated in our school library. The kids love them and talk about them with each other. Same goes for Nate books, Dork Diaries, and many others. Will they last? I don’t know. But they certainly are far more popular right now then many of the books I highlite each month which are Newberys and current contenders. Furthermore, I frequently have kids pick up a book, start it, and return it without finishing it, and find that most students are far more discriminatory than I expect them to be. Despite my best marketing tactics, even if my students do pick up a book and begin it, they simply do not enjoy everything (realistically, most) of what they read. They need a book to really hook them and have no problem setting a book aside they don’t enjoy for one of the many other options of entertainment they have- iPads, Xbox, television,etc. For that reason, I see a lasting book as one that has wide-ranging “kid-appeal”.

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