Monday, January 12, 2009

Are Newbery-Winning Books Too Challenging?

The buzz that the Newbery Medal Award for the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children makes these books inaccessible to children is all over the blogosphere according to this article in the Washington Post. For instance from the past twenty-five 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.

There are many pros and cons. “The criterion has never been popularity,” says Pat Scales, president of the Association for Library Service to Children, a division of the American Library Association. “It is about literacy quality. We don’t expect every child to like every book. How many adults have read all the Pulitzer Prize winning books and the National Book Award winners and liked every one?”

Winning books become instant bestsellers and almost a guarantee of future success for the author. Also some Newbery winners have become classics, such as Louis Sachar’s “Holes” in 1999 and even some runners-up like “Charlottes Web” by E. B. White in 1953.

To get a more in-depth view and other opinions go to this Washington Post article “Plot Twists: The Newbery may Dampen Kids’ Reading” by Valerie Strauss here.

The Newbery is very prestigious and books that are awarded this high honor are expected to stretch children’s minds and thought processes not to mention introduce them to a variety of real-life issues. Does this criticism of the award hint of jealousy by other organizations or just another point of view?

Of course a child wants to read stories that reflect their lives and that is why some critics of the Newbery believe it to turn kids off to reading. Some critics may think Newbery Medal winning books are far too mature for young readers under twelve.

What do you think?

Write it down,


  1. oyed your article on the Newbery, and went on to link to the article in full.

    And I do think that many of the winning books do not have the kid appeal that would hook young readers.

    I just wish that literary genius and kid appeal could find a way to marry more often for the judges?

    Margot Finke
    "Rattlesnake Jam" + more!
    Manuscript Critiques

  2. Thanks for the thoughtful commentary on the Newbery awards.

    Some of the books might be too ahead or deep for younger readers, but then maybe the parents could be involved in the reading process with them. That is how it worked in our home.


  3. Hi Margot,
    It is good for children to learn how to stretch their reading and comprehension skills but sometimes adults get too caught up and forget it is children's literature.

    Out of the 10 Newbery winners that I read recently, I found that most of them were for the 12 to 14 group or above. Some people may think that children's literature is for the younger set only so this may cause the question.


  4. Yes Judy I agree. It is good for parents to get involved and read along. It is a great way to encourage reading.