Newbery Class: What I Learned

This weekend, the six-week online class I took from ALSC, the Association for Library Service to Children, finished up. The class was called The Newbery Medal: Past, Present, and Future. I thoroughly enjoyed the class, and highly recommend it to anyone like me, fascinated with the Newbery Medal.

The Newbery Medal has been given since 1922 to the “most distinguished” contribution to American children’s literature. In the class, we each read a book from each decade the award has been given, as well as some Honor Books. Our instructor has been a past Newbery Medal Committee Chairperson, and we had guest speakers of other Newbery committee members and a Newbery winning author and publisher and other such guests.

One thing I learned is that Newbery books make good reading. No, I wasn’t as enthralled with some of the older books, but they all had something good about them. A past committee member said that she was comforted when her year’s chairperson told them that they were going to choose one of the best books of the year. Yes, they try for the most distinguished, but of course that is an elusive goal. The nature of the word assures that no committee will ever be able to please everyone. However, in their attempt, they will surely come up with one of the best books of the year.

I was reassured by stories of how hard the committee works and how seriously they take their charge. I was pleased to learn that no one can be on a committee more than once in five years, so if one year there is a prejudice against certain types of books, the next year different people will be selecting.

I learned that the committee is not supposed to take an author’s previous work into account. They are simply supposed to compare with the other books published that year.

I learned that the award is for books that appeal to “children,” which can include up to age 14. The choices tend to skew toward the older end of the spectrum, despite what elementary school teachers may wish. Newbery Medal winners are most often works of middle-grade fiction, but there are notable exceptions, and that is not a requirement.

All of us in class have certain Medal winners that we read as children that still resonate with us today. A side effect of choosing the most distinguished children’s book of the year is that over the years the committees have chosen a list of books that, for the most part, stand the test of time.

I will be looking forward to next January’s announcement more avidly than ever.

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