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Posted at 12:49 PM ET, 01/18/2010

2010 Newbery winner named

By Valerie Strauss

Today the newest winner of the Newbery Medal--the gold standard in children’s literature for more than eight decades--was tweeted to a waiting world before it was officially announced. Oops.

The winner was “When You Reach Me,” by Rebecca Stead, chosen at the American Library Association’s Youth Media Awards ceremony being held in Boston. Author Jerry Pinkney’s “The Lion & The Mouse” won the Caldecott Award for the year’s most distinguished American picture book for children.

According to the School Library Journal, someone at Random House quite eager to get out that news that one of its books had won the Newbery tweeted it about 17 minutes before the official announcement.

The 2010 Newbery winner, “When You Reach Me,” had been picked in number of mock competitions as the winner, and was the one novel that had generated interest before the actual award, so it isn’t a big surprise. Now bookstores are sure to sell out of the book nationwide, teachers will add it to their lesson plans, and libraries will try to buy copies.

(Here’s the “When You Reach Me” description from the library association: “Twelve-year-old Miranda encounters shifting friendships, a sudden punch, a strange homeless man and mysterious notes that hint at knowledge of the future. These and other seemingly random events converge in a brilliantly constructed plot.”)

(Here’s the “The Lion & The Mouse” description from the association: “The screech of an owl, the squeak of a mouse and the roar of a lion transport readers to the Serengeti plains for this virtually wordless retelling of Aesop’s classic fable. In glowing colors, Pinkney’s textured watercolor illustrations masterfully portray the relationship between two very unlikely friends.”

To many parents checking the list of Newbery winners has been the best way to find quality literature for their children. But there has actually been a debate in the literary world for some time about the value of the award.

Some critics have argued that many of the winners have been so complicated that they are inaccessible to most children and effectively turning off kids.

Of the 25 winners and runners-up chosen from 2000 to 2005, four of the books deal with death, six with the absence of one or both parents and four with such mental challenges as autism. Most of the rest deal with tough social issues.

Eligible books -- fiction, non-fiction and poetry -- must be by an author who is a citizen or resident of the United States and written for "ages up to and including 14." Too often, library have said, some parents and teachers mistakenly think the Newbery is aimed for children ages 8 to 12 and give children developmentally inappropriate books

The folks at the Association for Library Service to Children, a division of the American Library Association, have said in the past that the Newbery isn’t about popularity, but rather about literary quality. Not all adult readers love every Pulitzer fiction winner.

Critics have said that the Newbery has a special responsibility because it is so influential and should choose books that are irresistible to kids as a way of fostering a love of reading.

How much does the Newbery winners list affect your choice of books for your children? Have you or your children read the 2010 winner and if so, do you agree with the choice?

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By Valerie Strauss  | January 18, 2010; 12:49 PM ET
Categories:  Reading  | Tags:  Newbery Award, children's literature  
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I think the real issue is that the folks at the ALA mistake unpleasantness for literary quality. A well-written book is a pleasure to read, no matter the subject. Just because something is dark or obtuse doesn't make it a good book.

As for the Caldecott, after they gave the award to that book about the pigeon driving the bus I stopped paying attention.

Posted by: floof | January 18, 2010 2:06 PM | Report abuse

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