Some rather significant publishing-related anniversaries are coming in the next week.
First, the Harry Potter book series turns 25 years-old on June 26. After a dozen publishers declined the first book, Bloomsbury Publishing saw some potential in it and published Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. The rest is history. Next time your writing is rejected, just remember: A dozen people can make mistakes regarding the same thing.
Then, on June 27, The Newbery Award celebrates its 100th birthday. The award is named after the 18th-century publisher and bookseller John Newbery, of Berkshire, England. It is part of the American Library Association’s (ALA) celebration of literature for children. In 1922, the first Newbery Medal was given to Hendrik van Loon’s The Story of Mankind.
From early on, a criticism levied at the Newbery medal winners was children would have a difficult time reading many of the winners and finalists. As adults choose the winners, they tend to select slightly more complex stories and ones that definitely are more literary in nature than what many children would pick.
Overall, the award probably illustrates the difference between the books adults choose for children and books children choose for themselves. I have a feeling this tension will never end.
A quick scan of some winners over the last 100 years shows the variety and complexity of children’s literature in the English-reading world:
1923 – The Voyages of Doctor Doolittle by Hugh Lofting
1931 – The Cat Who Went to Heaven by Elizabeth Coatsworth
1938 – The White Stag by Kate Seredy
1940 – Daniel Boone by James Dougherty
1944 – Johnny Tremain by Esther Forbes
1951 – Amos Fortune, Free Man by Elizabeth Yates
1957 – Miracles on Maple Hill by Virginia Sorensen
1963 – A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle
1970 – Sounder by William H. Armstrong
1972 – Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert C. O’Brien
1978 – Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson
1984 – Dear Mr. Henshaw by Beverly Cleary
1986 – Sarah, Plain and Tall by Patricia MacLachlan
1999 – Holes by Louis Sachar
2013 – The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate
2022 – The Last Cuentista by Donna Barba Higuera
Six authors have won the medal twice, the most recent being Kate DiCamillo in 2004 and 2014.
Laura Ingalls Wilder was a finalist honoree five times between 1938-1944 but did not win the medal. More recently, Jacqueline Woodson was a finalist four times between 2006-2015.
There is no question books for children in the broader publishing market are much more diverse in style, theme, and story than those in the specifically Christian publishing world. Certainly, some of the Newbery Medalists over the last one hundred years were written from a Christian worldview, but many were not.
Glancing through the themes of those books and authors honored by the ALA shows an amazing creativity and literary spark which hopefully inspires Christian writers who are crafting their next great story for kids.
But it is still adults with the money making decisions for kids. Not certain those two groups will ever be on the same page.