November 21, 2008

Great Minds Think Alike

By sheer coincidence (I swear!) yesterday Stephen Krashen sent out some remarks in his e-newsletter about a study he and Joanne Ujiie did regarding the Newbery Problem:

Anita Silvey ("Has the Newbery lost its way?" October 2008) notes
that current Newbery winners, as compared to winners in the 1990's,
are not popular among children. Our research confirms that current
award winners are not popular: We found that Newbery and Caldecott
award winners and runner-ups for 2003 and 2004 were far less likely to
be checked out of Southern California public libraries than young
reader books on bestseller lists.

Prize-winning books were not particularly popular before the 1990's,
however. Linda Lamme, in a study published in 1976, reported that the
middle school children she studied “read few Caldecott or Newbery
medal winning books and few books on a standard list of good
literature …. Only in the sixth grade was even 5 percent of their
reading in medal winning books ….". Lamme also found that those who
read more "quality" books did not read any better.
We did a statistical analysis of this data and confirmed that
prize-winners had a lower than average rank on the popularity lists
for 24 of the 25 years studied.

So again I ask, what's the point of the awards anyway?  And I'm not just talking about Newberys here. I mean awards in general.  Oscars, Emmys, Teachers of the Year.  Who really cares?

Just askin'.  Thanks.


Podblack said...

Having a look over the list - I can say that 'Louis Sachar's Holes' for 1999 and that book is fantastic. I keep meaning to get Dicamillo's
'The Tale of Despereaux'. And I can honestly say that Konigsburg's 'From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler' changed my life.

As for prizes - I can speak of my experience of winning one? It enabled me to study Psychology for a year and led me to doing further research. I became more committed to contributing to the field I was interested in and allowed me to convince my then-Head of Department (and probably more importantly, myself) that I could do more for education outside of being a teacher, at least for a while.

Although my award was never recognised by my Principal (and kind of came across as an embarrassment to the 'powers that be', really - a good humbling thing to recall!), I guess it kind of says something about the encouragement it can at least give to the recipients. I sometimes wonder what difference some recognition might have made to many artists and writers out there.

Besides, nearly ten years later, I teach Holes. Some things are perhaps like a proverbial wine; takes a teacher who finds it intriguing, to blow off the dust and serve it up for the tastes and critique of a new generation (once this 'I sleep with vampires!!' craze dies out...). ;)

Teacherninja said...

Thank you for your thoughtful comments! My argument, though, is that we would have found Holes and Mixed Up Files (love it!) on our own--we didn't need the Newberys for that. An I'm not trying to confuse all "awards" and "prizes." I understand that recognition and scholarship awards are essential. But stickers and statues and these"horse races" to see which is "best" seem silly.

Podblack said...

...perhaps. But I'm in Australia. It helps to get the attention of librarians when they're getting stock in and (as someone else pointed out - love your comment round-up!) to discuss the notion of a 'great book' or a 'classic' by getting into 'why there's an award on a book'. Particularly when the book is from a different country ('why would this be relevant to me? I live in downtown Ballarat; what's some American book got to show me??').
I will say this - we have a Book Award week and it always confused me as to why they'll put a huge pile of books and in the end only choose the Australian ones, despite there being a mix of UK/US ones in the bunch. I think for a while, we didn't have much of a groundswell (I'm talking more about the 80s here). Now there's more and more Australian kids books I can recommend, but I still pull out best-sellers to 'hook' children into reading...
I guess I go back to what Loretta Marron says when there's something you think is wasting time and money - complain. Let's start getting into questioning and joining in as a judge for competitions if we don't like the standards. I've met a former librarian who does that... perhaps I should look into it a little more...

Anonymous said...

Do you think that quiet well written literature would ever be published if Publishers weren't shooting for a prize that would bump the sales enough to make the book worth publishing? They make more money on Captain Underpants, why would they print Octavian Nothing? I think the Newbery and NBA serve an important purpose--they provide a little bit of incentive to publishers to publish books that may be brilliant, but will never have wide appeal.

Yes, it's a crap shoot who actually gets the gold sticker, but everyone shares equally in the prize-- books that wouldn't otherwise be published.

You say that we would have found Holes and Charlotte's Web without the Newbery's, but I think most of us can point to a book we thought was brilliant that sank without a trace- no award, no readers. Good readers generally find good books, good books often don't find good readers.

God bless the Newbery Committee that gave Laura Amy Schlitz the prize-- because I loved A Drowned Maiden's Hair, which got zip the year it was published. Now, it will have a place on a lot of shelves because it's author won the gold for Good Masters Sweet Ladies.