The award brings fortune (or what passes for it in the children's book world) as well as fame. Although the award itself does not include a monetary payment, it can double the sales of the book, as well as increase sales of the author's other books. It will also keep the book alive. The average shelf life (time in print) of a children's book today is eighteen months. But of the seventy-seven Newbery medal books, seventy-two are still in print today, including the second recipient, The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle, published in 1922.What do you think?
The Newbery winner is selected by a committee of fifteen members of the Association for Library Service to Children. Competition to get onto the committee is fierce. Seven members and the committee chair are elected from a ballot of twice that many candidates, and the President of the Association appoints the remaining seven, with an eye to achieving ethnic, gender, professional and geographic balance. Although the ALSC is itself a division of the American Library Association, membership is not restricted to librarians. Parents, authors, booksellers and publishers are members and have participated on the awards committees, barring conflict of interest.
E.L. Konigsburg, Joseph Krumgold, Lois Lowry, Katherine Paterson, and Elizabeth George Speare have all received the medal twice.
What does it take for a book to win? The official criteria state that it must have "conspicuous excellence" and be "individually distinct." It must be age appropriate as well. A good book for a fourth grader dealing with, say, racial prejudice, will be very different in style and presentation from a book on the same subject intended for eighth graders. The majority of winners have been novels, but other genres have been represented as well.
The award criteria declare that the award "is not for didactic intent." But to receive a Newbery, it helps to have a serious theme. Death, loss, injustice, and hard decisions have figured in winners throughout the history of the awards. There have been lighter books, including a recent winner, The Whipping Boy, a romp in which an appropriately nicknamed Prince Brat, accompanied by his whipping boy, discovers what life is like outside the castle. But, although it is difficult to generalize among so many books, it seems that many of the more recent winners display a decidedly more serious tone than the majority of the earlier books.
The award criteria also state that the award is not for popularity, and Ellen Fader acknowledges that a well-written book could be a serious contender for the award even if it didn't have a lot of "child appeal."....Which raises the question of the role of children in the Newbery awards, and in the world of children's books generally. Children's books are an anomaly -- they are for children, but they are written by adults, purchased (generally) by adults, and judged by adults.
Between this article and Flusi's recent post, I'm picking up The Whipping Boy soon!