The mass quantity of awards for children’s literature stresses me out.
There are so many awards that their original purpose – to highlight high achievement in writing for the young AND help point children, parents, readers to those books – has been lost.
This bothers me.
I have published two children’s books. I read kid’s books every day. I attempt to keep up with industry news. I write every day. I am a (mostly) informed reader and writer and mother and the sheer number of awards for kid’s books seems like just another mess in my life that I need to tease apart.
A recent industry publication listed winners of 34 awards with no explanation as to the meaning of the awards. I guess they expect their informed readers to know what the awards mean. But, I don’t.
To that end, I am beginning (here & now) an effort to illuminate some of the most important awards for kid’s books. My coverage won’t be comprehensive (if it were, I would be writing a book about this topic, not a series of blog posts), chronological ( because this isn’t particularly relevant in this case), or perfect (because perfect is the enemy of good). But, I hope, it will be helpful. And that seems like enough.
So, let’s start with the Big Daddy of children’s literature awards: the Newbery Medal.
We can all thank Frederic G. Melcher for the creation of the Newbery.
Melcher had his fingers in many literary pies: he was a bookseller, coeditor of The Publisher’s Weekly, secretary of the American Booksellers Association and by 1921, he represented the National Association of Book Publishers at his first American Library Association convention where he took part in a program promoting Children’s Book Week.
When the categories for the Pulitzer Prize were announced in 1917, Melcher was disappointed, though not surprised, when children’s literature had not been included as a category.
On the day after his scheduled talk at the ALA convention, Melcher asked for the chance to speak to the audience again. According to Leonard S. Marcus in Minders of Make-Believe, when he spoke, “Melcher told a rapt audience that the time had come for children’s literature to have its own Pulitzer Prize as a vehicle for encouraging – and publicizing – high achievement in writing for the young, and that librarians, having no commercial stake in the fate of any particular book, constituted, ‘the jury which could give value’ to it.”
He proposed they name the award the John Newbery Medal in commemoration of the 18th-century English bookseller-printer-publisher who had popularized the notion that children’s books should offer their readers delight and instruction in equal measure.
The response to his proposal was wildly enthusiastic. When the American Library Association’s Executive Committee met later that same day, they voted to authorize the awarding of the first Newbery Medal at the next year’s (1922) conference in Detroit.
The Newbery Medal is awarded for “The most distinguished contribution to American literature for children.”
The list of winners (also known as a reading list) can be found on the ALA’s web site.
However, I am a girl who loves a list. So, let me shine a light on my very favorite Newbery winners that I think you’ll like:
Interestingly, as I was reviewing my “best of” folder, I noticed that the majority of my favorite chapter books are not Newbery Medal winners. There are many Newbery winners that I don’t even like. So, keep that in mind. Or heed the words of Jim Trelease, author of “The Read-Aloud Handbook.” He said, “Don’t be fooled by awards.” Wise words.