The Last Four Newberys

As predicted, our time in the US has meant increased access to Newbery Medal-winning children's books, and this has meant some good headway on our goal of reading and ranking all 91 of them (at least between the two of us, this being a joint goal and not a race).  Our list is up to about 75, and you can see our ranking here.

There is an ongoing controversy surrounding the medal.  Since getting the medal means that you will likely be required reading for enormous swaths of the upper-elementary schoolchildren in the US, it also means the selection greatly influences kids' attitudes towards reading.  For a while now, Newberys have tended towards having a social message of some kind.  In fact, some of our favorites, such as Maniac Magee and The Giver have definite social messages.

Then Harry Potter came on the scene, and the world of children's lit was reminded how much a well-told tale can set afire a general love of reading.  And the criticisms of Newberys increased, saying they should just focus on a durn-good yarn, instead of a social agenda.

And we agree with that, generally, though we think some of the "social" books are also excellent tales.  All this to say that it's always interesting to see what the new selection will be.  And the newest ones are the hardest to find in Africa.  So, by the time we returned, there were three new ones we hadn't read, and another came along in January 2012.

2009, 2010, and 2011:  Awesome.  The Graveyard Book, When You Reach Me, and Moon Over Manifest, respectively.  All three are just excellent books with great twists, plots, and characters.  We couldn't put them down, and I would think kids would feel the same.  The Newberys are on the right track.  So, we're naturally excited about 2012.

Enter Dead End in Norvelt by Jack Gantos.  I just finished reading it, and I have to say that I was quite disappointed.  The one big thing in his favor was his excellent penning of the needlessly graphic mind of a pre-teen boy.  But that's about where it ends.  The story saunters along without much direction, develops a very understated murder mystery, which resolves without anyone caring that much that many people were murdered.  Then it ends abruptly with next to no resolution.

I don't get it.  I'm sure this medal is political and they have competing agendas or whatever, but in the end, take the good tale.  And I have a hard time believing this was it.  Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick was a much better book.  And I know that Selznick's unique style of combining illustration and narrative makes it hard to judge for a Newbery (the same author as The Invention of Hugo Cabret, i.e. the movie Hugo), but still.  Which one will spur fifth graders on to love reading?


Clayton Ingalls said...

I loved The Graveyard Book and pretty much everything I've read by Neil Gaiman, minus Batman comic he wrote. I apparently just don't like comics. If you can pick up any of his books for your library, do. They are all good.

ACES Wild said...

We read the Tale of Despereaux and Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of Nimh to the boys over the summer. They loved them. Looking forward to our next Newbery. I am sure I will use your list as a resource. Thanks!! Great to see you before you left. Many blessings on your new adventure.