Mmmm…it’s awards time.
Know how I know? Because debating the merits of kiddie lit’s most prestigious honors has started.
I always peek my head up during awards season, if only to hear the buzz. And the recent article in the Washington Post, Plot Twist- The Newbery May Dampen Kids’ Reading, is particularly interesting to me.
I know it’s not what teachers want to hear, but I’ve long been one of those parents/authors/people who believes that required reading is among the reasons so many young readers turn away from books or in some of their cases, never turn to a book in the first place.
The argument, that Newbery selections are usually more appealing to the Newbery committee of adults rather than to the audience the book was meant for, only reinforces my belief that adults can sometimes be the biggest hindrance to kids reading.
However, the Newbery and its counterparts are still important to literature. They honor books that exemplify the best and as subjective as “best” may be, making every award about the most popular would damage the literary field. But what we need is a way to embrace literary and commercial/popular books so one isn’t seen as more valuable than another.
Let’s face it, if a young person isn’t much of a reader, handing them one of the award winners is not going to convert them. And if they’re an avid reader, what do we care if they bypass the selections of the literati?
But I’d like to see books uplifted more within pop culture outlets, reminding young readers that the literature they like is as important as those with a silver sticker on them.
I believe Nickelodeon’s Kid or Teen Choice Awards has a category for best book. Sure, it usually goes to whatever is uber popular at the moment…but that’s the point.
It’s to show that kids are diverse – they may go screaming like mad over those Jonas boys, but that doesn’t mean they don’t like curling up with a good tome.
The perception is, books remain on the edge of youth popular culture or that young people who read are one-dimensional and that’s too bad. Where are the award shoes that uplift literature – they certainly can’t be any more boring to watch than the Grammy’s.
Books need to be right there with music as something to celebrate. We have a better chance of converting non-readers into regular readers if books were seen as something fun to do instead of something only associated with homework.
The main problem with the established lit awards is, the selections often perpetuate the myth that books are meant only to preach and teach. At the very least the awards emphasize that the books adults would rather see kids read should preach or teach.
Can we find no merit in a few popular books?
It’s not about pushing out the literary for the popular. But there is a sense of change that must come about in literature. Popular and commerical fiction should be considered on its own merits instead of being belittled or worse, demonized.
I don’t forsee a time when the Harry Potters and Twilights will be honored by the Newbery or Printz.
But, I’ve gotta be honest, receiving one of those little orange Nick balloon award thingies while millions of teens scream as your book is called as Best Book is probably sweeter, anyway. Because…well, it is about the reader.