Moderator Edith Campbell of this past week’s ALSC webinar, “Problematic Award-Winning Texts: Daniel Boone, the Newbery Award, and Children’s Librarianship,” concluded a terrific program by noting that there is no go-to list of problematic texts. It is the responsibility of all to “formulate our understanding,…to educate ourselves.”
This webinar is one opportunity to do just that. The ALSC Board has always been clear that while we celebrate the Newbery’s 100th anniversary, we must also educate ourselves, reflect on the award’s history, and work to implement changes that align with ALSC’s Competencies for Librarians Serving Children in Libraries. Campbell reminded us that books can “deepen, refresh, change, or crush” a reader’s world view and asked the panel members to consider how privilege is accessed, what barriers exist, and how the process works – or doesn’t work – in regard to the Newbery Award.
Dr. Rob Bittner (LGBTQ Youth Literature Specialist), Megan Schliesman (Cooperative Children’s Book Center at University of Wisconsin-Madison), and Dr. Junko Yokota (Center for Teaching through Children’s Books at National Louis University) had much to share in a rich conversation that lasted an hour but could have gone on all day. Many ALSC members, including K.T. Horning and Debbie Reese, shared their expertise through the Chat function. Topics included who has served, who has been left out, and how the interpretation of the award criteria has evolved over the years.
Junko Yokota remarked that it is critical for evaluators to diversify their own thinking and not to rely on diverse members of a jury to do that work for everyone. Rob Bittner said that education is needed around the texts of older books, some of which reflect the time while others perpetuate the ideas of the time. All agreed that research collections might contain all Newbery winners but circulating collections should not include books which are now known to be racist, sexist and/or homophobic.
The older Newbery titles were written for a default white reader, said Schliesman, and Campbell agreed. There was a thoughtful discussion around the meaning of “distinguished” and the many perspectives of literary excellence. Yokota noted the importance of contextualizing books beyond simply having them on a shelf. Ideas were shared about changes that might make the award process more inclusive.
This was an extraordinary group of ALSC leaders in conversation for an audience of over 350 unique viewers. It is not to be missed! It is available now, free of charge, here on the ALSC YouTube Channel. Many thanks to Sarah Polen for organizing this webinar and to all who participated.
If you’re interested in learning more about the Newbery and its history, consider signing up for the Winter 2022 course “The Newbery Medal: Past, Present and Future” with KT Horning. More information, including a registration link, is coming soon!
Today’s guest blogger is Susan Polos. Susan is the Chair of the Newbery 100th Anniversary Celebration Task Force. She has taken K.T. Horning’s class on the Newbery Medal multiple times and is always learning. She is the middle school librarian at Greenwich Country Day School.