In about a week, the American Library Association will name what it considers “the most distinguished American children’s book published the previous year.” Of course, those of us who care about such matters have been coming up with Newbery shortlists throughout the year. Unfortunately, no matter how much you care, it’s impossible to read everything. However, one thing I’ve noticed from the books I have read is that none strike me as truly magical or distinguished.
A few months ago, it occurred to me that some things my favorite bloggers – Tom and Lorenzo of Project Rungay – have said about fashion and “Project Runway” also applies to Newbery books. For instance, they have said that a great designer should propose a new way of how a woman should dress. And that the designer should know his/her client. For the former, think of Diane Von Furstenberg’s wrap dress. Or Dior’s “New Look.” (Of course, the fashions aren’t completely new, but perhaps present a sea change at the time.) As for the latter, consider Michael Kors and Calvin Klein – they know whom they are designing for.
Last year’s Newbery winner met these qualifications for me. I loved Rebecca Stead’s When You Reach Me. It felt new to me. And it was intelligent. I’ve recommended it to many children in the library and not one has said they didn’t like it (I asked when I could). The “Harry Potter” books also meet these requirements. Think too of Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time and, for me, the “Flora Segunda” books by Ysabeau Wilce.
This year, I’m not so sure I’ve found that book yet. And in looking over several blogs and shortlists, I find others feel the same. Yet, in the style of bloggers everywhere, I plan to offer my unsolicited opinions on several books and try to predict a winner. Stay tuned.
(See Jonathan Hunt’s blog on School Library Journal’s site for his shortlist.)