Perusing my twitter feed today, I saw this from @TheDaringLibrarian:
My response was that J.K. Rowling isn’t American, thus her work is excluded as per the Newbery rules, and that it was too bad that some parents see award-winning books as automatically being better reads than those that haven’t won awards.
@Sophiebiblio then added:
And that’s the problem, isn’t it? Books that are popular (Hunger Games, the Harry Potter series, Twilight, Percy Jackson series, etc.) are often discounted by parents simply because there’s no award attached to the book but – and this is really important – often the rules mean that really great books aren’t eligible or are considered and set aside for various reasons (like the consensus rule, or the limits on numbers allowed to be nominated/named).
As a librarian, I get to read Booklist and School Library Journal and VOYA and other review sources and see starred reviews. As someone interested in finding great books for my students, I read book blogs (like the SLJ Newbery and Printz blogs, as well as others devoted to great YA reads) so I can get different opinions about the various books. It’s difficult keep on top of all this, because over 4,000 YA books were published in 2010 alone (the exact number is in dispute), so I need help.
Parents need help, too. Too often I’ve had parents tell me that their child isn’t ready for [genre or title], when I’ve seen that the child really is ready for it. Or that the parent would prefer that their child stay away from [genre or title or series]. Or that the child should only read “award-winning books” because clearly those that have won awards are better than all the others that haven’t won an award. While it’s not my place to tell them that their child has the freedom to read anything they want (ALA’s Rights aside, it is not my place to overrule a parent!) it is my place to help parents understand the collection and that an award - or lack of an award – doesn’t determine what books go into the collection.
Every January we do big displays of that year’s award-winning books… we do Newbery and Printz and Caldecott units… we run mock award groups. We purchase those books we don’t already own that are on the various awards lists. Perhaps it’s time to stop doing that? Maybe we’re contributing to the problem by highlighting all those past award winners and stressing the criteria and the potential winners for the upcoming years.
And maybe we need to be more proactive about promoting the idea that it’s not all about the awards.