Monday, February 5, 2007

A Bit O' History

Julie's experience with The Story of Mankind got me thinking about this whole Newbery award. Who was Newbery? Why did they start the award? What are they (who are they?) looking for in a Newbery book?

Inquiring minds want to know. (At least, my inquiring mind wanted to know.)

So, to save you all the legwork, I did a bit of it myself.

John Newbery (1713-1767) was a jack of all trades, mostly involving books. He operated a bookshop in London called The Bible and Sun (love that name!). He published books, he commissioned books, he founded magazines. He even wrote a book in 1744: A Little Pretty Pocket-Book. This became the first in a series of books aimed at entertaining and educating young people. By the end of his life, he'd written several more.

But he didn't found the Newbery award.

That honor goes to Frederic G. Melcher, a co-editor of Publisher's Weekly in the early 1900s. In 1920, he started publishing issues devoted to children's books, and in 1921, he proposed to the American Library Association in 1921 that they give out an award to honor children's books. In his original proposal, the purpose of the Newbery was
"To encourage original creative work int he field of books for children. To emphasize to the public that contributions to the literature for children deserve similar recognition to poetry, plays or novels. To give those librarians, who make it their life work to serve children's reading interests, and opportunity to encourage good writing in this field."
(As an interesting side note, Melcher also came up with the Caldecott medal idea, too.)

The award criteria for a Newbery Medal is as follows: The committee members need to consider the interpretation of the theme or concept; the presentation of the information; the development of plot; the delineation of characters; delineation of setting; an appropriateness of style. (Though not necessarily in all of the elements, but it should be excellent in all the qualities pertaining to the book -- the reason why poetry and biography books can win.) They need to consider excellence of presentation for a child audience. They need to consider each book as a contribution to literature. And, my favorite part: "The award is not for didactic intent or for popularity."(I found this information here.)

So. There you have it. I thought it would clear up why The Story of Mankind won. It doesn't, though, does it? All I can do is assume that standards of excellence and presentation for a child audience were different in 1922 then they are today.


Bekah said...

Thanks for doing that research. I've been wondering the same thing....still plodding through TSOM. :)

Sandy D. said...

Uh oh. I'm skipping through TSOM.

I'm really glad to know all of this. I wonder if the people who gave the award that first year just had very different ideas about what the award-winner should be - because I noticed 1923 was Dr. Doolittle, which is definitely more in line with what I expected.

I think just the *length* of TSOM floored me. Although I've noticed that my edition has some stuff that was added (by Van Loon's son, I think) after WWII.

Sandy D. said...

And by "skipping", bekah, I mean not reading portions I don't find interesting ;-) - not that I think it's like skipping in the park or anything. Plodding does rather describe it well.

Corinne said...

Sandy, ha! Your comment about "skipping" made me let go of a little chuckle out-loud. Thanks for sharing!

Julie said...

Thanks, Melissa! I was wondering about it too. Interesting that they didn't name the award after an American.

Moni said...

That was extremely interesting! Thanks for doing the legwork :).

Betsy said...

i just found your blog. i recently decided to read all of the newbery winners too! I just finished The View from Saturday and Sarah Plain and Tall. I have put off The Story of seems like you guys didn't like it so much? Is it only because of the length?

Melissa said...

It is interesting that they named it after an American. I need to find out if there's a decent bio on Melcher. Wickipedia and Encarta didn't have much on him at all.

Betsey -- I think Story of Mankind flopped because it was dry. It's just not fun to read a history book for pleasure (unless it's well written).

Bekah said...

>>And by "skipping", bekah, I mean not reading portions I don't find interesting ;-) - not that I think it's like skipping in the park or anything. Plodding does rather describe it well.<<

LOL. I can't say I dislike it, but it is not the page turner that the other Newbery books I've read are.