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Heavy Medal: A Mock Newbery Blog
Inside Heavy Medal

Ambassadors

Despereaux 222x300 AmbassadorsYou’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.”

Dixie 230x300 AmbassadorsThis 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.)

 

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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. Elaine says:

    Nina, I totally love your idea of Newbery books as a UN of ambassadors. We don’t all love all the titles but we do accept that they are distinguished. We can be respectful of our diversity as readers within the fellowship that is Children’s Literature!

  2. Amanda says:

    “Who isn’t yet represented?”
    That’s such an intriguing question. Imaging each book personified and representing its ideal readers at a summit of the best books is a striking image, as obvious coalitions start to emerge. You have aging representatives of readers from the younger end of the spectrum, but little new energy in that group. Readers of fantasy and science fiction are underrepresented, and entirely missing is an “Aristotle and Dante” for the Newbery age range. There are seats open for more racial diversity in protagonists, particularly those representing a contemporary instead of historical setting.

  3. Wow, I’m another who loves your “Newberys as Ambassadors” analogy. I picture all these books lined up, smiling at kids, saying “We are good books! We’ll introduce you to the wonders of great literature!” and some of them connect to you more than others. I think of the– filmstrip, maybe?– about Newbery books I saw in third or fourth grade– early fourth, I guess– talking about all these different kinds of winners, and the idea that there was this book out there called A Wrinkle In Time that was apparently scary– that was all I really got from the filmstrip– but it stuck with me, so when I saw the book on the library shelf I checked it out even though the dust cover had disappeared and there was no synopsis to read– and that became MY BOOK. So it really does feel like My Particular Newbery Ambassador, somehow!

  4. Lynn V says:

    Thanks to Perma-Bound, we have two beautiful posters of all the Caldecott and Newbery winners. When we hang these posters side-by-side in our library in January, the kids delight in standing in front of the Caldecott poster and pointing out all the books they know. In contrast, the Newbery poster inspires very little interaction or conversation. Picture books inherently offer a shared reading experience, while novels are just so much more personal. It seems that so few teachers and parents ever read novels to their classes and children any more. Novels ask for such an investment of time, and with so many “Bestsellers” now vying for our middle readers’ attention, it is hard to “sell” a lot of what’s on the Newbery list, especially if it predates the 21st century. I do believe the Caldecott Award has unintentionally created a canon of early reading, but do not see the body of Newbery work having the same effect.
    Congratulations to Kate!

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