Archive for the ‘Awards’ Category

After stalling on the Newbery Challenge for quite some time (The White Stag of 1939 was an offensive read), I decided to dive back in with the 1940 winner, Daniel Boone by James Daugherty. Let’s just say it rivals its predecessor in terms of offensiveness.

Billed as a biography, Daugherty spins the yarns of Daniel Boone’s life with the artistic license of a tall tale teller. Or a biographer who lack objectivity. Boone’s arrival into this world, not to mention chapter one of this book, doesn’t even come with a date. (A quick visit to the History channel reveals Boone was born in 1734.) Instead, we get snippets of Real Historical Events (without context) at sporadic times. And an allusion that compares Boone’s boyhood home of Yadkin, North Carolina, to “the kingdom of a man in a world almost as new as Genesis.”

Indeed, Daugherty all but props Boone up as a god, or at the very least as someone instated by God to do whatever the heck he pleases. “The splendor and the brightness came upon his spirit like the rushing of mighty wings,” writes Daugherty, “and the voice of mighty thunderings [said], ‘Enter into a promised land such as no man has known, a new born creation all your own; drink deep, O Daniel, of the mysterious wine of the wilderness.'”

Even worse is Daugherty’s depiction of Indians as “savages,” “dogs,” and even “varmints.” When Boone uses deceit and treachery to outwit the Indians in one of their many violent conflicts, he is praised as clever and wily. When the Indians employ the same tactics, they lack common decency. Ironically–and I’m quite sure, unintentionally–one of the few first-hand accounts included by Daugherty shows the Seneca Indians to be one of the most reasonable and kind characters in this book.

I suppose Daugherty’s folksy writing style could be considered a plus, but that’s negated a hundred times over by his troubling content. And he structures his story with all the focus of a puppy teased by squirrels. Honestly, I’m completely baffled why the Newbery committee thought this book was “distinguished” enough to deserve a medal. I guess they didn’t learn from their epic failure (excuse the pun) in taste the year before.

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Lisa’s thorough study of the “Newbery Curse,” a phenomena that seems to strike Battle of the Kids Books out of contention before they’ve even had a chance to warm up, got me thinking: how can I quantify this?

In statistics, there is a way to measure the efficacy of a test–for example, mammograms as a screen for breast cancer. It’s called the predictive value positive (PV+), the probability that a someone who tests positive for a disease actually has the disease. The closer a test’s PV+  is to one, the better it is at predicting a certain outcome based on a positive test result.

To see whether the Newbery sticker–in gold or silver–affects a book’s ability to proceed through the first round, we’ll let the sticker be our test.

I tallied up the outcomes of Battles from years past and here’s what I came up with:


What I found was that a Newbery sticker of either gold or silver predicts that the book won’t advance past round 1 71% of the time. Of course, these values depend on how I determined if a book was middle grade or not (I did it by age, content, and included non-fiction), but if the rate for “won’t advance” rate for all middle grade books is 56% and the “won’t advance” rate for Newbery winners and honors is 71%, maybe there is a curse after all….


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3_9_BKTS_1RND_alljudgesThe Newbery Curse strikes again! Every year during SLJ’s Battle of the Kids’ Books, we joke about how Newbery books always fare badly. And indeed, both Newbery-stickered books in this year’s tournament (The Doll Bones and Flora & Ulysses) were defeated in Round 1. I don’t think either has a chance of coming back from the dead (my bet is on Eleanor & Park or Rose Under Fire), so it looks like they’re out of the running for good.

What about previous years? I took a deep dive to study the Curse’s power:

In 2009, the event’s first year, The Graveyard Book (Newbery winner) and The Underneath (honor) lost in Round 1.

In 2010, the Newbery winner (When You Reach Me) and honor book Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice went down in Round 1. But The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate made it to Round 2 before being defeated by Charles and Emma. We have our first (semi) winner!

In 2011, the only Newbery book–One Crazy Summer–lost in Round 1 to The Odyssey.

In 2012, Dead End in Norvelt lost in Round 1, but Newbery honor book Inside Out and Back Again won once before being vanquished by Drawing From Memory in Round 2.

2013 is special, because all four Newbery-winning and honor books made it into the tournament (what eerie predictive powers you have, Battle Commanders). Three Times Lucky and The One and Only Ivan lost in Round 1. Surprisingly, Bomb and Splendors and Glooms made it to Round 3 before losing out–to The Fault in Our Stars and No Crystal Stair, respectively.

The verdict? No Newbery winner has ever made it past Round 1, or been selected as an Undead Winner. In that sense, the Newbery Curse is omnipotent (0/5). Once you consider the nine honor books, two made it to Round 2, and another two to Round 3. Not a great record, but far from a complete loss. Clearly the Curse has its weak spots. I wonder how the books would fare if BoB occurred before the ALA Youth Media Awards? Does the Newbery sticker create a subtle bias on the part of the judges, who want to highlight books that didn’t get Official Award recognition? I suspect there’s more at work, since the hallmark of BoB is to pit books in different categories against each other. It all comes down to the judges’ personal preferences, and that’s why we spend so much time scrutinizing their publishing history to search for clues. What do you think?

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floraLisa: Hello! So, Newbery reactions!
It was a good year for squirrels
Jen: and a good year for Floras!
Lisa: yes. I haven’t read Flora and the Flamingo but I could see Ulysses’ Flora attempting to dance with a flamingo
Jen: really? I think she’d be too cynical
Lisa: well, if her mother stuffed her into a tutu…
and there was a pink bird nearby…
soooooo, anything surprise you about this year’s ALA youth media awards?

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bo ballard creekThe announcement of the newest Scott O’Dell Award winner, Bo at Ballard Creek, was another reminder that I should really pick up the pace. I’ve read six O’Dell winners this year, and at this rate it’ll take me more than three years to finish the remaining 21 books.

So my goal this year is to read the next 10 books (I suppose this counts as my new year’s resolution?). That will take me past Bo and Chickadee (last year’s winner), and old favorites like Sarah, Plain and Tall and Out of the Dust.

To help push me along, maybe Jen could pledge to read 10 Newbery Challenge books too?

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Five Ways to celebrate Kate DiCamillo’s appointment as the new National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature:

The_Tale_of_Despereaux1. Drink soup when she’s inaugurated on Jan 10th.

2. Vacuum up an errant squirrel and enjoy some holy unanticipated occurrences!

3. Throw a party with egg-salad sandwiches, Dump Punch, pickles, dog pictures, Littmus Lozenges, paper bag lanterns, and crepe paper in the trees.

4. Visit a carnival with your best friend, and don’t skip the fortune teller!

5. Go to the toy store and give an old china rabbit a new life.

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Maybe because I’ve been in graph-making mode at work and because Thanksgiving was merely a week ago, but when I saw this year’s goodreads popular choice awards, I immediately thought: pie chart!

Granted, a pie chart is probably not the best format to represent the data because I have no way of knowing the total number of votes cast, but looking solely at the votes which went to the top 20 most popular children’s and middle grade titles, here is the breakdown:


By far and away, Rick Riordan’s The House of Hades blew everyone else out of the water, being 3x more popular than the runner-up. Also, if you tally up the fine print, you’ll see that 65% of the winners are sequels. It don’t take no pie chart to tell you that publishers love sequels.

Rather than exclaim, “but where’s this book” and “why isn’t that book on the list?”, I’m curious as to who actually votes in these things. Answer: at least 98,807 people, if your vote counts only once. (People’s Choice Awards, I’m looking at you.)

That said–very pleased that Rose Under Fire and Out of the Easy garnered enough votes to make it onto the YA fiction list.

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I was going to review the 1937 and 1938 Newbery award winners separately, but I was so unenthusiastic about these books that I can’t be bothered to write them individual posts.

roll1938: Roller Skates by Ruth Sawyer

When Lucinda’s well-to-do parents travel to Europe for a healthful vacation, Lucinda enjoys her newly “orphaned” status–and the freedom that comes with boarding at the Misses Peters’ house–by befriending the less rarefied folks of New York City she wouldn’t otherwise meet. Naturally, her transportation of choice–roller skates. While Lucinda is spirited and kind and bubbly and resourceful as she skates through the city, there’s no clear direction to her story. (Spoilers: instead, there’s an incredibly ill-handled murder resulting from domestic violence that Lucinda is witnessed to. The hotel manager’s advice: just pretend the victim went on a very long trip abroad and isn’t coming back. And that’s exactly what Lucinda does. At least the other death in this story is well handled.)

white stag1939: The White Stag by Kate Seredy

About the westward migration of a horde led by the forefathers of Attila the Hun, Seredy decided that a romanticized version of this people group’s history would be far more interesting than their actual story, so that’s exactly what she wrote. Like with The Story of Mankind, she was rewarded for her efforts. RUDE.

“Not so long ago I was leafing through a very modern book on Hungarian history. It was a typical twentieth-century book, its pages an unending chain of FACTS, FACTS, FACTS as irrefutable, logical, and as hard as the learned pens of learned historians could make them… Well, I closed the book and I closed my eyes….Those who want to hear the voice of pagan gods in wind and thunder, who want to see fairies dance in the moonlight, who can believe that faith can move mountains, can follow the thread on the pages of this book. It is a fragile thread; it cannot bear the weight of facts and dates.”   –Kate Seredy in the foreward

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I’m thrilled to be participating in this year’s YA non-fiction panel for Round Two of the Cybils! I’m especially looking forward to some great reads and stimulating discussions with fellow panelists Terry Doherty, Brenda Kahn, Teri Lesesne, and Susan Van Hecke, as well as YA non-fiction organizer Gina Ruiz.

Last year, the very worthy Bomb: The Race to Build–and Steal–the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon, was declared the winner. Who will take home the prize this year?

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I have been looking forward to reading Caddie Woodlawn ever since I started the Newbery Challenge almost three years ago. It was a favorite of mine growing up, and I dangled Carol Ryrie Brink’s book in front of me like a carrot to motivate myself through some of the less than stellar Newbery winners of the twenties and thirties. But when I finally reached 1936 on the Newbery list, I found myself unwilling to start. What if I started reading only to find a cherished book of my childhood just doesn’t measure up anymore?

Fortunately, I enjoyed revisiting Caddie, albeit for different reasons than my childhood self. Caddie Woodlawn, sandwiched between two brothers in a family of seven children, is as spirited a tomboy as I remember. When her family moved from Boston to western Wisconsin, her father struck a bargain with her mother: Mom can have her way bringing up all the other kiddies, but let Caddie run free for the sake of her health. It works, and Caddie is spared from womanly duties to go on all sorts of adventures. Along the way and without shoving this theme down our throats, Caddie learns that people can be much more than they first appear, whether it’s the bully with no regard for education that saves the schoolhouse from a brush fire; supercilious cousin Annabelle (she of the eight and eighty buttons) who’s a lot more resilient to Caddie, Tom, and Warren’s merciless pranks than they’d imagined; delicate fainting Kate who’s bold enough to touch the gruesome scalps on Indian Joe’s belt; Caddie’s father, who may just be English nobility; even Caddie, a tomboy who has the makings of a real lady.


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