You’ve probably all caught the news by now, that Kate DiCamillo has been named the next Ambassador for Young People’s Literature. She is the fourth such Ambassador to be named for a two-year term, following Jon Scieszka, Katherine Paterson, and Walter Dean Myers. I was struck by something she said that was quoted in the New York Times article:
“It wasn’t until my fifth or sixth book where I realized I’m trying to do the same thing in every story I tell, which is bring everybody together in the same room,” Ms. DiCamillo said. “That’s the same thing that I want here: to get as many different people into the room as I can. I don’t know that I will resonate with a particular group of kids, but I want to get as many kids and as many adults together reading as I can.”
This is a wonderful sentiment to see expressed by an Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, and sets a tone for her tenure that should serve it well. It made me think about that conflicting feeling we can have about the Newbery… wanting each gold-medal book to stand for as many readers as possible…to bring as many readers “together in the same room” as possible… while knowing that is not what the award is about.
Or is it? Letting go of the idea that each single book bears that responsibility… doesn’t the body of all Newbery award-winning books together represent a “canon” of “the most distinguished contributions to American literature for children”? What is a canon supposed to denote? I see definitions for “most representative works” and “most important works” each of which can mean radically different things. In light of DiCamillo’s statement, I’m starting to think of the award-winning books together less as a “canon,” than as a “UN” of ambassadors. If each of those award-winning books is stands for its ideal readers … is the room as full of as many readers as possible? Who isn’t yet represented?
(Congratulations Kate! And thank you.)