Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Reflection #5: The Politics of Book Awards

For this week, we were required to read three children's books: Dead End in Norvelt, The Lock Artist, and Tuesday. These are all award winning children's books. It is obvious why they are award winning. Dead End in Norvelt is absolutely hilarious and the characters are very real. The Lock Artist leaves you wanting to know more about Mike and his past. I didn't want that book to end. Finally, Tuesday is a very well done picture book that won the Caldecott. I actually use pieces of this picture book to teach my 7th grade students how to analyze a text.

The articles, however, were the more interesting pieces for me this week. One piece of information that caught me about the Caldecott winning books were that the authors are overwhelmingly male. The only time that the number of females outweighs the number of males was in the 1960s - a time devoted to women's rights and other controversial issues. That surprises me. I would have assumed that anything related to picture books would have been more female than male. I'm not sure why I was under that impression, but I was dead wrong.

This trend continues into the books themselves. Only 17 (or 23%) of the award winning Caldecott books have a strong female leading character. That means that 77% of Caldecott books are written with a male leading character and, on top of that, the majority of them are written by male authors.

My thought: WHAT ABOUT MY FEMALE READERS?! I know that you can identify with a male character if you are a female, but why should you have to? Why doesn't this seem like a fair competition? Hmmm...just food for thought, I suppose.

Moving on to the Newbery Award.

Patricia Gauch wrote an article called "What Makes a Good Newbery Novel?" and used it to try to define what makes a book Newbery-worthy. Her first thought: a remarkable character. Yes. Yes, yes, yes. An award winning book must have an award winning character. Stereotypical response. I wanted more. On top of a character, Gauch says that "the stage of a Newbery book is key" and that this stage must be right for the hero/heroine. Sure. Setting and situation are important. Then, she said the thing that makes it different: "one of the surest marks of a Newbery is its last moments of story. Last scenes." So you need to have a remarkable character, a stage that fits the hero/heroine, and something pivotal happening in the story's last moments. This information made me want to attempt to write a Newbery-worthy story ;)

Then, I read the last article.

So many good points were made in the article "Has the Newbery Lost Its Way?" Basically, it echoed my original thoughts on award winning books. Just because it has won an award doesn't mean it is a good read. I have always struggled to love these award winning books. Growing up, my parents would buy the Newbery winners for me to read, and I would hate them. The only one that I can remember loving was Bud, Not Buddy and I had to read that for a class assignment. So, reading this article didn't shock me at all. I'm not surprised that librarians are not vouching for these newer winners.

There needs to be new, fresh criteria for selecting what books receive the award. I'm just not sure what that criteria is.

Bibliographic Information:

Crisp, T. and Hiller, B. (2011). Telling Tales about Gender: A Critical Analysis of Caldecott Medal-Winning Picturebooks, 1938-2011. Journal of Children's Literature, 37(2), 18-31.
Gantos, J. (2013). Dead End in Norvelt. Harrisonburg: Square Fish.
Gauch, P. (2011). What Makes a Good Newbery Novel? Horn Book Magazine, 87(4), 52-58.
Hamilton, S. (2011). The Lock Artist. New York: Minotaur Books.
Silvey, A. (2008). Has the Newbery Lost Its Way? School Library Journal, 54(10), 38-41.
Weisner, D. (2011). Tuesday. New York: HMH Books for Young Readers.