December 28, 2008

literary taste

It needn't be Dav Pilkey vs. Ellen Raskin.

I want to start a 4th/5th grade book club where the kids do something like the librarian in this article:

Kristi Jemtegaard, coordinator for youth services for the Arlington Public Library and a former member of a Newbery selection committee, has recruited youngsters at 12 public schools to review books. At Long Branch, about 15 fifth-graders volunteer to skip lunch and recess once a week during the fall to evaluate books that she believes have a chance to win the Caldecott Medal, the picture-book award. They will vote soon -- and learn next month whether they agreed with the real Caldecott committee.
I often wonder about the Newbery selection criteria - not because I think the books are inaccessible per se (but then, I haven't yet read Good Masters! Sweet Ladies!) but because I think appeal to kids should factor in. And in my neck of the library, the kids read what they want to read - which is a few Newberys, a lot of Captain Underpants, and that insipid The Invention of Hugo Cabret (which, incidentally, won the 2008 Caldecott, distinguishing it as a picture book). And on accessibility - what I assume means some degree of relatability to one's own life - I agree that children treasure books whose characters and situations they can relate to, but I disagree that familiarity and literary quality necessarily go hand-in-hand.

I also think that you can look at a plot from one angle - Lois Lowry's The Giver, for example, a book about a fictional dysfunctional utopian society - and say that there is no way kids could "relate." However, what are the things in that book that kids can identify with? Well, the lack of "sameness" in our lives. And maybe the underlying/perceived value of standardization in school and corporate communities. Possibilities for reflection are endless. The Giver would also be a gateway to Kurt Vonnegut, via "Harrison Bergeron" (whose Diana Moonglompers, according to Huffington Post's Gerald Bracey, triumphs with NCLB. A good read.)

Lois Lowry, whose Number the Stars won the award in 1990, is also a gifted writer on the "other side" of the Newbery, having written such treasures as Anastasia Krupnik and Gooney Bird Greene. Books, I would argue, of high quality, but not Newbery material.

So, Winter Break is here, which means 1) more sleeping, 2) more eating, and 3) more reading. Left: Christmas presents! OK, some were presents to myself, but still and all.

By the way, I never did read The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin. It belongs to the same YA canon as From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg, and The Egypt Game by Zilpha Keatley Snyder - both of which I never read till Sherry Rose's class in grad school. Add that to my Winter Break / Last Reads of '08 list, I guess.

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