Subscribe to SLJ
Follow This Blog: RSS feed
Heavy Medal: A Mock Newbery Blog
Inside Heavy Medal

Give Riordan a Chance? Popularity IS “Quality Presentation”

magnuschaseAt the end of the Newbery Criteria document, there is a Note:

“The committee should keep in mind that the award is for literary quality and quality presentation for children. The award is not for didactic content or popularity.”

(I have always wondered what propelled the addition of this particular statement to the Manual.)

We have already addressed (in posts and comments) the “didactic content” portion of the note on Heavy Medal last month. I hope we have reached some level of clarity that a Newbery Committee member is not to evaluate a book by the author’s chosen theme, but to examine whether the author has “qualitatively” presented the theme.

As to what “literary quality” and “quality presentation” mean?  There are no real guidelines or definitions.

How about the proclamation that the award is not for popularity?  What does this imply?  Does it seed the notion that if a book has already been enjoyed by many young readers, it should not be considered seriously for a Newbery medal?  Is the implicit notion that since adults know better (and thus children “know worse”) when it comes to literary qualities, the widespread appeal of any particular book denotes its “lesser literary quality”?

Since “quality presentation” is open to interpretation, I would like to posit the idea that without some level of popularity, a children’s book cannot be considered qualitatively presented since this literature is defined in part by its intended readership. The unique skill set of a children’s book author that makes their works appealing to millions of young readers should weigh heavily in favor of the book’s “literary quality.”

This is why I nominated The Ship of the Dead by Rick Riordan.

One of the frequent complaints I heard from adult readers is that Riordan is not a “great writer” on a sentence level.  It seems to translate to the fact that his writing is not lyrical or nor is it too concerned with complex sentence structures.  Would Magnus Chase be waxing lyrical as the narrator of his own story?  He is perpetually 16, was once homeless, and has experienced great loss of loved ones.  Much of his observation is subjective and limited, although he is open minded and would learn a great deal through his friendships with a diverse cast of characters. As many teens would, Magnus uses humor and cynicism in times of grave danger or serious encounters.  And there is definitely a very healthy dosage of irony all throughout the narrative.

Magnus would say,

“I waited for the other shoe to drop, even though Njord did not appear to own any shoes,” (p. 117) or “I hoped the eagle in front of me would morph into a small, easy-to-defeat giant, preferably one who used Nerf weapons.” (p. 301)

He self-identifies as “Magnus Chase from floor nineteen, Hotel Valalla,” and when he finally gives the traditional hero’s speech in this epic tale, he attempts to sound grander by using a few “elevated” words like “triumphant,” or “in the midst of thousands.”

No wonder young readers resonate with this particular character who sounds and behaves so much like them, even if his circumstances are drastically different – being a “dead” hero and having to battle giants and confront the super villain Loki.

Young readers also react favorably to the tale’s pacing – something fresh and gripping always awaits in the pages ahead.  In The Ship of the Dead, all the events and experiences culminate to Magnus’ final realization of what his particular advantage is — as a healer, a devoted friend, and an optimist.  This is the major theme of the book — and how these “soft skills” could bring about the final triumph in the face of callus and ugly world domination power struggles.  Riordan presents and delivers the theme beautifully by bringing young readers along on the journey of self-discovery and camaraderie based on kindness and mutual respect.

So, I would reiterate that in the case of The Ship of the Dead, its popularity is part and parcel of its “quality presentation” for young readers. Not to mention the abundance of humor (yes, sometimes a bit cringe-worthy but that’s also so entirely fitting – for the characters and the book’s readers.)

I’ll just leave you with a few chapter titles to appreciate (or not) Riordan’s brand of humor:

2. Falafel Sandwiches with a Side Order of Ragnorak

16. Spit Man Versus Chain Saw.  Guess Who Wins

24. I Liked Heartstone’s Dad Better as a Cow-Abducting Alien

29. Don’t Ever Ask Me to Cook My Enemy’s Heart

46. I Win a Fluffy Bathrobe

Share
Roxanne Hsu Feldman About Roxanne Hsu Feldman

Roxanne Hsu Feldman is the Middle School (4th to 8th grade) Librarian at the Dalton School in New York City. She served on the 2002 and 2013 Newbery Committees. Roxanne was also a member of 2008-2009 Notable Books for Children, 2015 Best Fiction for Young Adults, and the 2017 Odyssey Award Committees. In 2016 Roxanne was one of the three judges for the Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards. You can reach her at at roxannefeldman@gmail.com.

Comments

  1. I’m on the Newbery bandwagon for this one. I actually think the writing is tight, witty, crisp and — as you point out with your examples — witty as can be. The sentences aren’t necessarily the savoring sort, but they are well-constructed and propulsive. I think Riordan excels at setting — the world building, to my mind, is outstanding. Whether Boston or Hotel Valhalla, he gives what we need in a snarky fun way. And then even more, his characters. They are so multi-faceted, major and secondary. And his weaving in of diverse characters is phenomenal. He rightly received the Stonewall award for his previous book in this series, presumably for his gender-fluid Alex. He develops them (though she prefers the pronoun that she is at a given moment — I’m doing female for now:) so realistically, sensitively, and without being overly earnest or, for that matter, didactic. There is a lot of content in this book and Riordan provides further backmatter for those interested, but it seems effortlessly done.

  2. Roxanne, I thought you made a typo but it’s in the criteria. Quality OF presentation, you lummoxes.

    • Hi, Roger — interesting observation. I had to check the dictionaries, of course. Both in print and online.

      According to the OED, the word “quality” could be used as an adjective to denote “Of high quality; excellent” — A couple of examples from the OED online:

      1960, “His plan was to raise the paper’s price and tip it decisively into the quality camp.”
      2006, “An ambition to deliver quality wines at the premium end of the market.”

      The OED further contains the following definition and examples:

      General attrib.

      With sense ‘of high social standing, of good breeding, noble’, as quality acquaintance, quality air, quality blood, quality end, quality friend, quality gentleman, quality horse, quality lady, quality living, quality pride, quality white, etc.

      1751, “The influence of Peregrine’s new quality-friends.”
      1784, “My Lady’s passion for quality living.”
      1908, “A quality gentleman, a gentleman by birth and education.”

      So, I’d say that the Manual creators used the phrase “quality presentation” to mean “presentation of the highest quality” or “excellent presentation.”

      Roxanne, not a lummox in this case!

  3. I never thought YOU were the lummox, Roxanne! And while I know that language standards have sufficiently lowered to allow “quality” as synonymous with “high quality,” the sentence in question is confusing because it uses the same word as a noun (“literary quality”) and as an adjective (“quality presentation”). There’s the lummoxing!

  4. Because “quality” can refer to something of “high quality” or something of “low quality,” thus the need to, er, qualify it. Plus, it’s a noun.

    • Aside from the quibble over the use of the word quality (which according to many dictionaries I just consulted, is also an adjective) — do you have any opinion on my plea for Popularity as evidence of an author’s unique talent and skill set to present for a child audience?

  5. Just tell me you won’t use it as a noun and again as an adjective in the same sentence. :-)

    How would you fairly compare the popularity of a book that came out in the beginning of an award cycle with one published toward the end? And how would you fairly compare the popularity of a long-established author like Riordan with that of a first novelist? So, nope, I would keep popularity firmly out of the discussion.

  6. Leonard Kim says:

    Roxanne, would it be fair to say that you are arguing for more consideration of books written in a “popular” style as opposed to actual popularity? If the latter, I agree with Roger there are too many factors external to “the text” such as marketing, name recognition, etc.

    I have nothing against a popular style — over the years on Heavy Medal I’ve nominated a PRINCESS IN BLACK book three times. But I would remind everyone that, as you quoted, “the award is for literary quality and quality presentation for children.” Even if Riordan has an argument for doing well on the latter, it’s the “literary quality” part that most people stumble with, as you point out yourself. Are you prepared to make that argument for this book? From your arguments and Monica’s, it seems you might highlight his handling of character, plot, and setting. Do they stack up against other contenders?

    I have stated a couple of times on Heavy Medal that I think there is conflict or at least an uneasy balance between “literary quality” and “quality of presentation for children.” I think a component of “popularity” is being easily consumed. This is not restricted to children. Dan Brown is easily digestible and popular, but he isn’t going to win any literary awards. If something takes attention and thought to consume, then it’s less likely to be popular. Anything deep and rich enough to have “literary quality” takes effort. I am currently picking through Tales of Glass Town, Angria, and Gondal: Selected Early Writings, a 600-page Oxford World’s Classics volume, to help my evaluation of THE GLASS TOWN GAME. And it’s an effort to read; I would never read it “for fun” even as I appreciate the literary merits of even young Brontë writing. Perhaps an alternative interpretation of “quality of presentation for children” is this: a quality presentation of a literary book is one that makes children want to make the effort to read literature, that enables that effort, that makes it seem attainable. Halloween has just past. It’s no remarkable thing for children to gorge on candy. It would be remarkable to create something nutritious and artistic that children would eat and appreciate. That’s a quality presentation. So I guess I’ve talked myself into concluding no, I don’t buy popularity as evidence by itself for quality presentation. We may be talking about the textual equivalent of processed food with trans fats and high fructose corn syrup. I think you still have to make the “great writer” case first, then demonstrate that it works for children.

    Finally, in my opinion, humor is hard. Wit is hard. Despite my reservations, I give full props to I’M JUST NO GOOD AT RHYMING for pulling off something difficult. I’m not so sure that “snark” is hard to do, and so I’m not sure what Riordan does shows a comparable level of achievement on the humor front.

  7. Great questions, Leonard. These questions definitely would help me further consider my views and perhaps by answering some of them, I’ll be able to make myself clearer!

    First you asked, if I was “arguing for more consideration of books written in a ‘popular’ style as opposed to actual popularity” — because “popularity” could be the result of other factors/manipulation. I see your point here, but no, I was not thinking of a particular style of presentation. Rather, books that have been genuinely embraced by young readers and inspired passionate following. I consider the special ability to tap directly to the psyche of young readers what makes a writer a “children’s writer” — and I always feel that children’s writer has more skills than regular adult writers: they have to say profound things and convey complex notions in ways that could be perceived by children who have limited life experiences but should be respected as thinking human beings.

    Instead of thinking that there is some prescribed form fitting standard of “literary quality,” I’d like to encourage everyone to consider literary qualities in diverse ways. I do think that Ship of the Dead stacks up quite solidly against some other titles from this year. For example, I am half-way through Glass Town Game, per your recommendation, actually and I find GTG tedious beyond tolerance: the many many many detailed descriptions of what could be “seen” by the characters in their surroundings stall the pacing of a story that has a stellar premise and obstruct the enjoyment of the reader whereas Riordan manages in this volume to give just the right amount of description to ground the readers in his creative world without throwing obstacles in the readers’ way.

    I also find the plainer sentences in The Ship of the Dead allow me to access the characters’ emotions more directly without feeling that there is a grand-manipulator who is “telling” me every step of the way how each character must be feeling and experiencing each other.

    You proposed that we “still have to make the ‘great writer’ case first, then demonstrate that it works for children.” I read that as saying that there is a formula to measure what “great writer” is — and I am very curious about what the ingredients are for you. For example, do you think Valente (Glass Town Game) is a better/greater writer than Riordan? Would you elaborate on the specifics?

    As to Dan Brown — a side note here — I can’t stand his writing — Sato said, “her tone angry now.” — Katherine turned now, looking angry. — she said, sounding almost angry now. *shudder* the angry + now is almost as annoying as J.K. Rowling’s “looking vague” and “vague look on his face.” But I do not find Riordan with this same flaw. He does not use awkwardly chosen adjectives or adverbs to modify his character’s speaking tone — instead, he uses the words in the dialog to convey, quite successfully and vividly, the emotions of the speakers.

    Finally, I must agree with you that humor and wit are very difficult. Yet, I disagree with you that Riordan is doing snark. (Also, I don’t understand why snark is easier to do? I know I can’t do snark well and always in awe and dread by those who can pull off being snarky.) I think Riordan manages to have a compassionate male first person narrator whose often self-deprecating humor is anything but snarky.

  8. steven engelfried says:

    I can’t say anything about SHIP OF THE DEAD because I’m still on the waiting list (because yes, he’s popular) and haven’t read it. But I love this topic. The discussion reminds me of recent comments in the Nominations thread about Andrew Clements. Mr. H. notes that Clements “does what he usually sets out to do very, very well.” And Sara Coffman shared her son’s assessment that “Andrew Clements is very good at what he does.” And I think most Clement readers (including me) would agree with that. Is Rick Riordan in that same category? If an author completely succeeds at what he’s attempting, exactly reaching the readers he’s writing for in just the way they hope to be reached, does that equal distinguished literature? I like the way Roxanne’s analysis identifies literary elements that contribute to the popularity, which is what you’d have to do to sway other committee members.

    SCAR ISLAND by Dan Gemeinhart is another book from this year that I might put into this category. It has a vivid setting, lots of action, and some surprising (if not always convincing) plot twists. Characterizations aren’t complex, but they are what they need to be to make the story engaging. It’s largely plot-driven, but also some discussable issues around honor and responsibility and friendship. I tried to convince myself that this one would merit Newbery consideration, but didn’t…though I’ve recommended it to kids and just last week booktalked it in fifth grade classes.

    I would love to see a book with Riordan/Clements level appeal win a Newbery. I think the last one I thought might have a chance was THE HUNGER GAMES, which of course didn’t win anything. I think I commented in favor of that one on Heavy Medal back then (9 years ago!) and failed to convince anyone. I do believe that extremely high child appeal and distinguished literary quality are not exclusive, but it is interesting how rarely we see them together. I look forward to trying SHIP OF THE DEAD with that in mind (but yes, it’s going to be a few weeks still….)

    • Eric Carpenter says:

      How would THE HATE U GIVE fit into this popularity discussion? Children (i.e. 13 & 14 year olds) love it, it’s been on the top or near the top of the nytimes bestseller list since the week it was published, and we could argue that Angie’s writing completely succeeds at what it’s trying to accomplish.
      I’d say that it has about the same level of popularity as the first hunger games book had when it was released.

      • Eric, I don’t know. I would venture to say that, for many 13/14 year olds, this could be their first or one of their first encounters of a gritty, realistic YA novel. There is also an almost scintillating sensibility to the premise of THUG. I overheard more than once a young reader recommending the book to others and offering the “hook” of “someone is shot dead by police!” Whereas, The Ship of the Dead sits squarely in the genre beloved by many children for years with the “same old, same old” premises and yet with fresh elements.

        In my limited neck of the children’s literature wood, I have not observed THUG having the same level of hype/following/excitement as Hunger Games — not by a long shot. I also doubt that it will have the kind of lasting power (not that Newbery should consider the length of popularity of any title) that either Hunger Games, or Riordan myth-retellings have enjoyed.

  9. I think Riordan is a really fine writer. As I wrote above, he puts together crisp clear sentences, creates delightfully complex characters, and does fabulous world building. As Roxanne notes, he doesn’t lean on adverbs, but shows through dialog and minimalist exposition. When reading his works I often marvel at a moment here, a sentence there. I’m never stopped by something kludgy as has happened for me with Rowling (those adverbs!) and others who write propulsive genre fiction. In fact, I just finished a forthcoming Riordan-wannabe and the writing was fine, but lacked the crispness of the original.

    I have had a similar response to Roxanne re GTG. I’ve tried again and again to read it, getting a little further each time. I liked Valente’s THE GIRL WHO CIRCUMNAVIGATED, but the later volumes just got too over-the-top language-wise, somehow and this current title suffers in a similar way for me. I think it is a good contrast to Riordan in terms of child appeal. Love to know of some who loved this one.

  10. Leonard Kim says:

    Roxanne and Monica, I’m sorry you are not enjoying THE GLASS TOWN GAME, especially if it’s on my recommendation. You are not the first people to tell me they are finding it tedious. I don’t think you need to force yourself to finish it. I think you’ve read enough to get the sense. I’ll wait until the book gets its own post and Steven shares his take before sharing my thoughts.

    For this comment, I had intended to answer Roxanne’s question about whether I thought Valente was a better writer than Riordan by doing a comparative passage reading between THE GLASS TOWN GAME and THE SHIP OF THE DEAD. Actually if I had to argue against THE SHIP OF THE DEAD, the book I would choose for direct comparison is THE WAR I FINALLY WON, which is also in (mostly) first-person past tense and characterized by crisp, plain writing. I had more or less randomly selected a page of text from chapter 3 of SHIP OF THE DEAD, then found a page from chapter 3 of GLASS TOWN GAME of almost the same length and proportion of dialogue vs. exposition. The problem was this project was rapidly turning into a long essay that was nowhere close to finishing. I don’t want to subject anyone to that.

    So I am scrapping it and salvaging a few general statements about my reading of the Riordan passage I chose (starting “I scanned the wall of photos” and finishing “But I decided this might not be the right time to start a book club.”) Hopefully this will still give some sense of where readers like me are coming from. Looking over the following, I think my over-arching difficulty is well-described by “purpose” and “efficiency” and this is why, unlike you two, this felt tedious to me and Valente didn’t (in that I felt almost everything she wrote, I felt I understood why it was there, and I was happier to have it there than not there, and so it didn’t feel tedious to me.)

    1) There is consistent placement of “snark” every couple sentences, always at the end of otherwise conventional declarations: “almost as if he actually cared about us” “or the senior citizens’ disco” “That might explain their confused, slightly cross-eyed expressions” “But I decided this might not be the right time to start a book club.” I would prefer more variety in structure and expression. I agree a character’s voice should have integrity, but I don’t want them to always express themselves in the same way. I don’t think these additions really add much to develop Magnus’ characterization.

    2) But if you take those bits away, I then have trouble seeing what is interesting or distinct about the descriptions of the family photos and the dialogue about books. I didn’t really see the point of including these at all. If writing in an unpretentious style, I think every sentence needs to have purpose. I think Bradley does this well in THE WAR I FINALLY WON. Riordan’s writing doesn’t strike me as “efficient” – I think you could edit out a lot of this and not lose much and maybe even gain some in a plot-driven “propulsive” book.

    3) I think this would have worked better in first-person present.

    4) It’s not Nico, but how does it serve the reader to reference The Left Hand of Darkness? Yes, it’s too-obviously an appropriate reference, but that doesn’t mean it serves story or character.

    Finally, I want to give a short personal testimony. 2-3 years ago, Rick Riordan was far-and-away the favorite author of my now 12-year-old. But by the time Sword of Summer came out, he’d moved on. (I bought him a copy, and I don’t think he read it.) I just don’t see Riordan being a life-long presence for him the way Lloyd Alexander is for me or Susan Cooper for my wife – authors we continue to revisit to this day. One of my very first-ever Heavy Medal comments was to answer Nina Lindsay’s query, “what is a Newbery book” with “one you don’t outgrow.” Laura Amy Schlitz put this better, quoted in Gidwitz’s “What Makes a Children’s Book Good?” piece in a 2016 New Yorker: “you’re really dealing with two questions here: What makes a children’s book good, and what makes a children’s book lit-ra-cha. . . . Some children’s books are like children’s shoes: they fit children perfectly, but they don’t fit adults, and in time children outgrow them. ‘Where the Wild Things Are,’ on the other hand, is literature. It has breadth and depth, and it’s beautifully illustrated and cadenced. I’ve read it hundreds of times to children, and every now and then I take it out and read it to myself. I never grow tired of it.”

    https://www.newyorker.com/culture/cultural-comment/the-goosebumps-conundrum-what-makes-a-childrens-book-good

    Of course Riordan (and Kinney and Stine and many others) are good and good at what they do and they deserve their success and their popularity and their fans and their love. But the Newbery Medal, as is repeatedly stated in its own Terms, is for literature.

    Gahhh, still over 850 words. Sorry!

    • Thanks, Leonard, for the LONG explanation :) Right now, I’m not going to respond point-for-point or finding passages in GTG that is filled with pace-stopping details that I do not find relevant either to the plot advancement or character building. (And the non-stop “telling” of how Bran is threatened by his own insecurity really gets on my nerves!) I would love to hear from other readers of and let us know which view is more aligned with yours.

      And, if we’re on the actual committee, Leonard, an efficient chair would have stopped us from getting into so much detail and so long winded (both of us) over one or two books. As I recall, each book usually does not receive more than 15-20 minutes of initial discussion time — and it has to be for all 15 people to have equal opportunity to express their opinions.

      However, I can see the Popularity discussion proposed by the Chair to establish a committee understanding / consensus prior to delving into book discussions. Steven – would you have done that?

      • steven engelfried says:

        Yes, I could see a discussion about popularity prior to discussions. That could even happen at the Conference meetings in summer, before we’re even actually doing real title discussion. I wouldn’t expect to reach understanding or consensus, though. It would be more to get those ideas out there, have members thinking about them and kind of assessing where they are themselves. Whether popularity is a specific focus, there would likely plenty of talk about the Terms and Criteria in the summer, and more in the winter. A chair’s goal may not be to get everyone to agree on how to interpret and apply the Terms and Criteria, but to make sure everyone is thinking hard about them and listening with open minds to what others are thinking as well….

  11. I’m shocked to see Rowling disparaged in favor of Riordan. Shocked! Okay, I’m kidding. But, really. Never is it clearer to me that the quality of art is subjective than when someone declares a writer like Riordan superior to a writer like Rowling.

    As the kids say, I can’t even.

    To be fair, I haven’t read SHIP OF THE DEAD. But I’ve read the entire Percy Jackson series and I read SWORD OF SUMMER. So I can say I’ve generally found Riordan’s prose pretty unremarkable. I wouldn’t call it distinguished in terms of style, that’s for sure. I completely agree with Leonard that Riordan leans so heavily on snark his books feel one-note.

    • I’m also a big Rowling fan. But her adverbs!

      • Monica, those adverbs are so out-of-control. I often feel like she needed to find some obstacle to deaden the brilliance of her books, just to keep them on earth for mere mortals. Why didn’t any one ever tell her that her abundantly, ingeniously, craftily, plot twists needed no embellishment?

  12. Carol Edwards says:

    I think the reason popularity can’t be a criteria is due to keeping an even playing field for all eligible titles. In my experience there are some authors like Riordan who automatically are read as popular books due to name recognition of the author. I’d posit that Shannon Hale is another. But the committee must look at every book for what it is not who wrote it. Some Newbery winners have proved to be popular even though they weren’t during their year of eligibility. I haven’t read some of the titles under discussion here, but a book published in September has little time to prove itself with the masses.
    Even though we aren’t to think about it, it’s hard to come afresh to a new authors book and a favorite authors book on an even playing field

  13. Hi Roxanne,

    Just to preface my comments. I started reading Rick Riordan as a high school aged kid, and continued to buy his books for midnight release on my Kindle through the end of college (this would be about when House of Hades came out).

    I would have loved if Rick Riordan had won a Newberry for any of the books from the first Percy Jackson series. I think those stories, had an originality of concept, a charismatic narrator with a well-written point of view, and a great plot. So there isn’t anything wrong with popularity per se.

    I am one of those people who would say Rick Riordan is no longer a great writer “on a sentence level”, but I think for your rhetorical purposes you’re inflating the level of expectation these adult readers are bringing to the text. Nobody is saying that Percy Jackson needs to be the Iliad or the Odyssey, nor are they demanding similar techniques. Grace Lin, Jonathan Stroud, and Melissa de La Cruz all write stories that are more plot-driven than character-driven, but I think their writing beats Rick Riordan’s by a country mile. I still read and derive immense pleasure from the sentence to sentence experience of Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief. But what has happened in the Heroes of Olympus and Magnus Chase series is that the conflicts have become less complex, you feel like you can anticipate the character arcs, and the strong narrative voice that worked in Percy’s case has become unfocused (in the case of the multiple P.O.V.s of Heroes of Olympus) and downright annoying in Magnus’s case. All of these issues have manifested because in the way the plot moves from sentence to sentence. My personal opinion is that because readers have read his books before and are familiar with their formula, Rick Riordan can elide parts of scenes. That only works because, in many ways, he’s writing the same book over and over again.

    And while I definitely believe in and support a child’s right to choose and like texts for themselves, I don’t think they’re unbiased arbiters of books. Like adults, they’re prone to moods, biases, the built in systemic inequalities of the society they grow up in. It’s why for instance many boys just won’t read a book with a girl on the cover. Given that, it feels grossly unfair to base literary judgments on popularity.

    My opinion is popularity shouldn’t count against a book, but it shouldn’t decide in favor of it.

  14. Sharat, thank you so much for your perspective! I’m curious as to why/how you find Magnus’ voice down right annoying. I didn’t like the Lost Hero sequence because I missed the jokes in the chapter titles and also because I did not like Piper as a character so each time encountering a Piper chapter, I sighed a little inside. So, perhaps that’s how you feel about Magnus? I find him a refreshing male “hero” who is interested in keeping peace and trying very hard to accommodate his friends’ quirks and needs.

    I’m still trying to articulate what I “really” mean — I will never base all of my literary judgments on popularity but I do think there is something special about authors who manage to appeal to a large readership which we should honor. An often refrain seems to be, “Those authors whose books are so popular are already ‘rewarded’ by selling a lot of books and making a lot of money. We don’t need to give them something additional.” I definitely don’t think that’s fair!

    So I guess, in the end, I totally agree with your sentiment that popularity should not be counted against a book. AND it should not be the only factor in “favoring” a book — but it definitely could be one of the many factors in evaluating books for children.

  15. Roxanne, you’ve twice now not answered the question most recently voiced by Carole Edwards about the “level playing field.” Very few books are popular right out of the gate. Are you saying that authors who have become popular over time should get a leg up on a first novelist and should also be credited for something established by his or her previous books, not by the book in hand?

    • Perhaps because I didn’t see it as a question from Carol but a well-reasoned statement? I am happy to address it, of course, and would even flip the situation around:

      Does a popular author have less chance at winning a Newbery due to their popularity and thus an automatic “not as literary” assumption? I have yet to do a serious study to see the percentage of debut or early career books vs late career books being given Newbery medal or honors. That would be a fascinating study, would it not?

      Carol wrote, “Even though we aren’t to think about it, it’s hard to come afresh to a new authors book and a favorite authors book on an even playing field” — I actually think the reality might be in favor of the “new authors” since we COULD look at that individual title afresh, without the burden of having preconceived notions and prior experiences and not having to put extra effort of warding off of those notions.

      • I def. think that popularity can work against a book’s chances. There’s the “it can’t be good if so many people like it” factor, as well as the (understandable) desire of an award committee to demonstrate its independence and brilliance.

  16. Ugh, my grammar.

Speak Your Mind

*