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.
Very rare is the adult
(with good intentions styled)
who can truly catapult
mind back to that of child,
for all the intervening years
leave overlays and mist
and, perhaps, a sheen of tears
that one cannot resist
in building grown-up constructs
that take the form, presciently,
of future knowledge that obstructs
childhood’s frank immediacy
and makes futile the enterprise
of a young world seen through ancient eyes.
I don’t know about that conflict you state, Dan.
As a girl I read most of the Newbery winners from the 1960’s, and my kids read at least half of the winners from the 1990’s and 2000’s, and they were consistently books that we all loved. Though I think we enjoyed as many Newbery Honor books as much or more than the winners, particularly in the early 2000’s.
Guess it depends which kids we’re talking about.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Newbery_Medal for the full list of medal and honor winners.
Kristen Joy Wilks
Yes, this reminds me of when I walked into the children’s section and asked the librarian to recommend some good children’s books, some books children liked to read. She snapped out her answer, “Well which one do you want?” I stuttered out that I would like some of each. She said, “The Newberry winners are here, and there are the Hank the Cowdog books.” Now, I happen to love both! Hank is so charming and some of the Newberry winners blow me away. My sons seem to like a mix of both as well.
This was interesting Dan. I didn’t know Laura Ingalls Wilder had been a finalist 5 times. I’ve read quite a few of the Newbery’s, and some do seem to have been chosen with little regard to what children really like. I’ve read that the BBC once took a poll asking people who was the great author of the 20th century. Critics were angry when J.R.R.Tolkien and his Lord of the Rings trilogy was chosen!