Tonight, the winner of the National Book Award will be announced. While I was disappointed that the longlist did not include more genre/audience diversity–Are 9 of the top 10 books for children in any given year really prose novels?–I must say this is one of the best shortlists in recent memory. There really isn’t a head-scratcher in the bunch, and you could make a solid case for any of them winning, which makes things kind of exciting. Three of the finalists–THE THING ABOUT LUCK, THE TRUE BLUE SCOUTS OF SUGAR MAN SWAMP, and FAR FAR AWAY–have fared very well on this blog, both in terms of discussion and nomination. Let’s turn our attention to the Newberyness of the remaining books: PICTURE ME GONE by Meg Rosoff and BOXERS and SAINTS by Gene Yang.
First of all, I should tell you that I have been underwhelmed by every single Meg Rosoff book that I’ve read (HOW I LIVE NOW, JUST IN CASE, THERE IS NO DOG), so it may surprise you that I like this one very much. Like COUNTING BY 7s, we have a twelve-year-old protagonist with a couple of young characters (her erstwhile BFF and a cute older boy), but the rest of the cast of characters are adult and their problems are arguably as much the focus of this novel as the juvenile concerns are. That will bother some people, but it doesn’t bother me. Nor does it bother me that Mila’s voice sounds mature and a bit wordly wise. There’s no question that the writing here is distinguished, but this will be a challenging title to build consensus around because (a) some people will see this as “too old” for the Newbery and (b) those who don’t see it as “too old” for the Newbery may be more inclined to vote for FAR FAR AWAY, not that there’s any limit to the number of “too old” titles the committee can recognize.
BOXERS and SAINTS, on the other hand, presents several different challenges. The first one is whether these books can be considered as a single entity. That is, can you vote for BOXERS/SAINTS or must you vote for one or the other? It’s not that I think the latter decision would split the voting bloc–I think most people could be convinced to vote for BOXERS–it’s that the intertextuality of the two volumes adds an additional element of distinction to the books.
The second challenge is the interdependence of the text and the illustrations. We revisit this discussion every year in some form or fashion, most recently with FLORA & ULYSSES. Last year, I tried to push the envelope a bit and consider a pair of graphic novel texts (HADES and LITTLE WHITE DUCK). We probably have a stronger group of graphic novels this year (BOXERS and SAINTS, MARCH: BOOK ONE, BLUFFTON, and THE GREAT AMERICAN DUST BOWL) and if people are willing to scrutinize these texts through the lens of the Newbery criteria, then I’m game.
A final challenge is the age issue. While I think we’d all be fairly comfortable with this in middle school, most people probably wouldn’t add it to an elementary library collection. Of course, the criteria allow for this, but it doesn’t necessarily make it an easy Newbery sell for many people.
Please give us your thoughts on PICTURE ME GONE and BOXERS and SAINTS–and hazard a guess for the winning title–in the comments below.