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Nonfiction Matters
Inside Nonfiction Matters

The Best Laid Plans

I Thought I was Going to Us this Space to Ask You About What Makes For Excellence in Books for Young Readers

That is because I has been asked to serve on an important award jury. While I didn’t think I should solicit your views of eligible books, I thought this would make a perfect forum for those broader questions that always arise — literary values, accuracy values, reading appeal values. But I live a complex life. This year, neither my wife Marina nor I have books coming out, so that was no problem. But I do have a couple of books I’ve edited that could come up for discussion. While I could have recused myself from those particular debates, in the end had either book won it would have raised eyebrows, while, as the editor of the books I could not handicap them — make it harder for them to gain acclaim. So I had to bow out. 

That was a very hard decision. I have long felt that people who work in publishing are some of the most discerning readers of our literature. Because we work on books, we have a sense of what makes them good, or better, or best. We also have a sense of the constraints, the art of the possible. So I have always felt we are a resource that, in an ideal world, could make for excellent book prize evaluators. And yet we all have personal and sometimes even financial stakes in which books win awards. So we cannot serve. Maybe some year an award jury could be made up entirely of people who work in publishing. All conflicts of interest would be public, and thus would also cancel out. 

Until then, perhaps we can return to the question I thought I’d ask you — what qualities make for excellence in childrens literature? Obviously those vary by age, so add that in. And since this is a blog about nonfiction, you can limit your responses to that — if you think there is a significant difference in the genres. But if you were a judge who had to consider both fiction and nonfiction, how would you weigh one against the other?