2022 marks the 100th anniversary of the Newbery Medal, and an author’s life will be changed. In celebration of this impending celebration, ALSC once again offered their continuing education course on the Newbery Medal with KT Horning. Over 20 librarians, library professionals, scholars, and library science students participated in the 6-week course from early July through mid-August for a chance to explore the Newbery medal from 1922 til now. And wow, has this medal been on a journey.
Each week, the course focused on a different swath of time within the Newbery’s history: the 1920s and 30s, the beginning of the award; The 50s and 60s, as the award moved towards realism; and the 00s and 10s of this century, as the award got even more diverse. Along the way, we read acceptance speeches, criticism, interviews with readers and librarians, and more!
Here’s what we learned:
The early Newbery winners–the books that helped solidify this award as IMPORTANT and also got a lot of flack from others–were very male, and very into history or other cultures. The first book to ever win the Newbery–The Story of Mankind–might be better suited as a textbook in a social studies course than in the hands of an eager young child. Outside of the medal winners, the class explored the pushback on the Newbery, from librarians and readers and outside observers.
The Newbery Finds Its Stride–But Upon Reflection…..
By the 60s, the Newbery Medal had gained even more prestige, and the selection process had been refined. The Newbery seemed to be finding its stride in picking books that resonated with readers, for the most part, and even picking some titles that have had a lasting legacy in libraries. There were, however, many notable titles that, upon reflection in 2021, don’t hold up to the aims of libraries and ALSC, in general. Our class had a robust discussion, in particular, on the title Sounder, which is the story of an unnamed Black family as told through the eyes of their dog, all written by a white author. On the other hand, you have Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, which is still taught today and resonated heavily with all of us.
As contemporary readers of all ages, we all had different favorites in the course, but found that our opinions on books from the 50s-80s varied as widely as the selections did. Some of us found the books charming, others found them dated, and many of us commented on how hard it would be to sell some of those titles to young library patrons in 2021.
Our class was very excited to foray into the Newbery winners of the past 20 years, many of which we already had a familiarity with through personal or professional pathways. In particular, we noted the success of recent winners, especially Crossover, in circulation amongst our libraries. We also talked about the Newbery winners of the early 2000s and their low circulation rates in comparison. Was it the passage of time, or the content of the books? What role did covers play in getting these books off the shelves? We had great, robust discussion about some of our recent favorites, and even discussed titles that we thought would be in hearty consideration for the 2022 Newbery.
By the end of the 6-week course, we were all much better educated on the history of the Newbery, and we have our esteemed teacher to thank for that. KT Horning is a verifiable expert on this sort of thing, so having her not only join the discussion but curate this syllabus was a gift to us all! Her readings were well curated, and so many of us saved the “suggested” reading for later reading, in an ongoing quest to learn even more.
As we ended the course, we kept coming back to the question of the Newbery’s role in the library as a space for books that not only matter, critically, but as a space for books that circulate. A preview of my own library’s catalog found a disparity in stock and in circulation between the recent Newberys and the “classroom classics” like The Giver and A Wrinkle in Time with the early Newbery awards.
I cannot wait to celebrate 100 years of the Newbery Medal with my library and my patrons this coming year. More than anything, I’m now eagerly awaiting this year’s announcement. Will it be another ground-breaking win, like New Kid? Will it be a picture book? A non-fiction title? January can’t come soon enough!
In the meantime, please consider how you and your library will celebrate 100 years of the Newbery. Will you hold a Mock Newbery election? Will you book talk lesser-known winners and honor books? The opportunities are endless when it comes to celebrating the Newbery. Share your successes here at ALSC, and be on the lookout for the next time this Newbery class is taught—you don’t want to miss it!
Join ALSC for a #Newbery 100 Symposium and upcoming webinar, Problematic Award-Winning Texts: Daniel Boone, the Newbery Award, and Children’s Librarianship.
Today’s guest blogger is Aryssa Damron. Aryssa is a youth services librarian with DCPL. She holds a BA in English from Yale University and a MSLS from the University of Kentucky. She is the author of “The Path to the Ivy League Leads Straight Through the Public Library,” a chapter in the book Hope and a Future: Perspectives on the Impact that Librarians and Libraries Have on our World. Her ongoing scholarship focuses on Louisa May Alcott, mindfulness, and underrepresented women in children’s literature, among other things. She currently serves on the 2022 Andrew Carnegie Medal Committee.
Please note that as a guest post, the views expressed here do not represent the official position of ALA or ALSC.
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