Saturday, August 19, 2006

Singing my song

Rockstar Rick Riordan has a humdinger of a post at Myth & Mystery about his son's summer reading assignment. Bless little his heart. He HAD to read ... Ginger Pye. Hey, it was a Newbery winner, it oughta be good for his character or digestion or eye sight or something, right?

I know that the Newbery Award is not assigned to the most popular titles; otherwise Captain Underpants would be sporting a gold sticker on its cover. Committee assigned book awards are sorta like the Oscars. Most of the time my favorite movies are not even nominated (exception of course, Lord of the Rings.) They are tremendous fun to talk about and ultimately I am happy for the author and feel some satisfaction if I liked the book.

I know the committees are very earnest and serious about their work but sometimes their picks just make me go,"hmm..."

I've pointed out before that the winner of the Newbery Award in 1953 was that world-famous, often-cited, wildly popular classic:

Secret of the Andes by Ann Nolan Clark.

Huh? Who? What book?

One of the honor (sorry-you-only-rate-a-silver-sticker-on-your-cover) books that year was an obscure little title called Charlotte's Web by some guy named E. B. White.

If you check a library with an older collection you will find Secret of the Andes with a faded blue cover and the spine perfectly intact having NEVER EVER been cracked. I had copy in my collection that I kept for lessons on award winning books.

"How many of you have read or heard of this book?" (holding up Secret of the Andes) [crickets chirping]

"How many of you have read or heard of THIS book? (holding up Charlotte's Web) [wild exultations and cheers and waving of hands.]


My whole raison d'ĂȘtre for starting Book Moot over two years ago was based on that question EVERY school librarian gets from kids. The kids come in and look around the library and then walk over and in a half-whisper, ask "Where are the GOOD books, Mrs. P?"

That question always cracked me up because it implies there is a secret stash of books BESIDES the gleaming tomes on the shelves. Sometimes I would be tempted to answer, "Oh yes, I keep the GOOD books back here in the office. Thanks for asking."

Of course what the kids are really asking is "are there any books here I would REALLY like?"
(the answer to that question requires knowledge of your students and your collection.)

Honestly, besides Holes and The Tale of Despereaux there are not too many with gold stickers that would fill that bill with the kids I know.

As a reader and reviewer I am a practical sort. Other reviewers and academic types might evaluate and speak eloquently about the literary quality of the works or how it engages the process of language acquisition or... challenges the commonly held ideals of... or ... or ...

I read children's and YA books because I love them but I am also aware of an internal dialog that goes, "Oh wow, I know 5 boys who would love this book," or "hmmm...my fantasy kids need to read this one or "this would be so good for a social studies teacher." On occasion I am thinking, "I could not PAY a kid to read this!"

Riordan is singing my song as he winds up by saying,

"...And please God, grant me the wisdom to remember that I am writing for children, not golden stickers. If children don’t enjoy my books, I haven’t done my job."

4 comments:

MotherReader said...

Yes, BookMoot, yes, yes! Keep speaking on behalf of the books that children will like, not the ones adults want children to like. And I will do the same. I'm going to check out the article now, esp. with those last two sentences ringing in my brain.

Jen Robinson said...

I also wrote about Rick's post (in a larger post that I haven't actually put up quite yet), and highlighted the same concluding sentences that you did. Cheers to everyone who tries to find books that KIDS will enjoy. Like you, I read children's and young adult books because I love them, and my greatest wish is that more kids will find the right books that will cause them to love reading, too.

J. L. Bell said...

Hey, I should check in on Book Moot more often. I just posted about the Charlotte's Web/Secret of the Andes paradox at Oz and Ends myself. Could have saved myself some trouble with a little link.

Sheila said...

It's funny - I'm just catching up on the blogs, and I posted a comment on Big A little a in response to her Quills post, in which I said that I think the Children's Choices award may be more important than the Newbery, because it reflects what children like to read. Then I came here and found your post! Seems like there's something in the air in the kidlitosphere. We're all on the same wavelength!