Monday, May 10, 2010

Childhood is calling

or at least the books are. It is no secret that I really enjoy children's and young adult literature. I am not embarrassed in the least to be seen reading a children's book in public, and I still consider Beverly Cleary to be one of my favorite authors. Way back in graduate school I took both a children's literature course and a young adult literature course (both of which I thoroughly enjoyed), and during that time I made the decision that I was going to try and read as many of the Newbery medal and honor books as possible.

Unlike some enthusiasts, I am not going to attempt to read all of them. For one thing, there are just too many. There are 89 winners so far, with 294 honor books. Why so many honor books? Well, they frequently select more than one book as an honor. For example, in 2010 there were four honor books selected and in 1931 there were 8. They were really honor happy from 1930-1959. At any rate, besides the prohibitive quantity of books there are many that I just have no desire to read, and I'm not going to force myself to read a book I'm not interested in just for the sake of having read them all. I might be persuaded to read Up the Road Slowly if you paid me a lot of money, but otherwise it is not going to happen. That being said, there are an awful lot of them that I stretched myself to read and found I really enjoyed, such as I, Juan de Pareja.

While I wouldn't go so far as to say that the award committees select books that are too difficult for children, or that they only select boring books, I do think that this award suffers from well meaning adult syndrome in the sense that they select books that they think children should like, not necessarily ones that they will. A good example of this is the book A Single Shard. I loved this as an adult, but I know that as a child I would not have appreciated it on the same level. I also think that the Newberys suffer from Oscar syndrome as well, where books about serious topics are deemed more worthy than say humorous books. And while I certainly wouldn't hand over the list to a reluctant reader as a finding aid, there are plenty of books on there that have long lasting and wide ranging appeal. A number of Little House books won honors, as did Charlotte's Web, A Cricket in Times Square, Mr. Popper's Penguins and Ramona Quimby, Age 8.*

But why am I rambling on about this? I stayed up late last night to finish When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead, the winner for 2010, and I loved it. It is difficult to write a review without giving away spoilers, but it is a great hybrid novel with a well paced and interesting plot, believable characters, and a nice mystery. Newberys that I haven't read is one of my categories for my 100 book challenge. So far I have read three of them, although I counted one in my recommendation section. This brings my total of Newberys read to 93**: 47 Medal winners and 46 honor. Interestingly enough many of the honors from the 1930s are no longer in print, which is a shame since generally that is where there is more variety in subject matter. My ultimate goal is to read at least half of the honors, and over 60% of the winners. Wish me luck!

*Like anything with voters, the results are subjective, and sometimes there are make up awards given (The Midwife's Apprentice comes to mind here. The author's previous book, Catherine Called Birdy was so much better than Midwife, yet Catherine got the honor while Midwife won the award the following year. Pretty much a make up), while other times personal politics interferes. The year Charlotte's Web won an honor a committee member happened to personally dislike E.B. White and admitted that he would never vote for his work to win the top prize so the committee had to compromise and awarded him an honor instead. In fact, a new award was created to recognize books and authors that never won the big prize because of this gross unfairness. How many of you have even heard of The Secret of the Andes, let alone read it? (That would be the book that won instead of Charlotte's Web). Hmm? That's what I thought.

**Edit: I have actually read 94, with 48 medal winners. I had forgotten that I had read It's Like This Cat by Elizabeth Neville. Doesn't speak too highly of it does it?

No comments: