Sunday, January 11, 2009

Newbery Appeal--The Conversation Continues

Lots of talk about Newbery appeal this week that I think needs to be addressed.

Monica at Educating Alice says, in her post today, 
"In two weeks and a day, the 2009 Newbery Awards will be announced.  There will be delighted cheers, shocked silences,  and polite clapping at the press conference.  Criticism will be cautious as, of course, no one will want to insult the winners or the hard-working committee. But it will be there, I'm sure.  Is there ever a winner of any award without it?"

We all have our Newbery stories. Favorites that actually won.  Disappointments about what didn't.  Children who have never finished a book but who fall in love with OUT OF THE DUST.  Mary Lee and I actually started this blog after years of trying to figure out which title would win.  For me, it is the conversation and anticipation is as fun as the announcement itself.

When Kira-Kira won the Newbery a few years back, I was disappointed. I had had my favorites and had not heard of this title.  Because my 5th graders at the time were anxiously awaiting the news of the winner and to see the new winner, I picked it up, read it quickly and brought it into the classroom.  I thought it was good, but not "Newberyish". I shared it with my students--said that I had read it, it was good but not my pick for the Newbery and offered it up for anyone to read.

Katie picked it up immediately.  The next morning she came to me with the book filled with sticky notes. She said, "Mrs. Sibberson, this book is amazing. I think you must have missed some lines when you read the book.  Listen to this.." and she proceeded to read me a brilliant line from the text.  She continued, "This definitely deserved the Newbery and I am marking places in the book so that you can see what I mean. Obviously you missed some of these when you read it."  And she had--she had marked line after line of unbelievable writing--things that I had missed because I was unhappy that the books I loved had not won the award. She was clearly disappointed in the fact that I hadn't given the book a chance and wanted me to see that it did, in fact, deserve this award.  A book I thought was lacking "kid appeal".   KIRA-KIRA went on to be quite popular in the classroom--making its rounds as Katie talked it up.  I also came to love the book and it is now one of my favorite Newbery titles. (How could it not be?)

I learned a lot about the Newbery that year.  First of all, who I am to say if the winner will have "kid appeal"?  Just because it isn't my favorite or just because I may not have appreciated the book as an 11 year old, doesn't mean anything.  I think sometimes, we are so hoping that our very favorite book will win, that we don't actually give the winner a chance.   Lucky for us, the kids do.

Susan Patron in today's LA Times writes about this issue in "Don't Discount the Newbery". In the article, she states, (my favorite line of this whole child appeal debate!):  "Were these librarians looking at a demographic such as income level and determining that none of "their" children would respond to the challenge and reward of what I thought were generally excellent books?  That would be a terrible disservice, this undervaluing of kids' intelligence and curiosity, a devastating insult."

I think we all have Newbery stories like my Kira-Kira story. I think this conversation is a good one --just because it makes me think hard about my own work--putting books in kids' hands. This year, I will give the Newbery a chance. I will certainly be cheering for my 2008 favorites but I won't discount the winner  as I have before.  


  1. I have read Newbery books, but have never been sure of the criteria on how these books are chosen. Is there somewhere that explains it? As a reading teacher, I too want to put good books into my students' hands. I have enjoyed this post.

  2. Insightful post! How fortunate we are to have this community of readers -- colleagues and the young people in our lives -- to bring the light! As Anokaberry published our Best of 2008 list this week, I recalled the dozens that I did not list -- so many tremendous books this year, the list could have easily been 60 or more! Let's continue share what we read - those precious lines that move us.

  3. I like what you have said here, Franki. I appreciate your honesty. I think I have felt this way often as well.

  4. I loved Susan's article.

  5. What a great post, Franki! Love the Kira Kira story...

    Barbara O'Connor

  6. Good discussion here and thanks for the outside links too.

    I am beginning to think that questioning the Newbery is an annual ritual that we all must go through.


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