November 20, 2008

Questioning Awards

Before the comment challenge ends, I thought I'd throw out a controversial idea--giving up on awards.

Anita Silvey had a great shot across the bow early last month with her "Has the Newbery Lost Its Way?" article in the School Library Journal.

I agree to an extent, but then I started thinking about the books she calls "good" picks. Bud, Not Buddy; A Single Shard; The Tale of Desperdeaux; Out of the Dust; Number the Stars; Holes; Maniac McGee; The Giver.

Excellent and popular books all. But wouldn't they be just as popular without that shiny sticker? She bemoans the jilting of Charlotte's Web in 1952. That thing is always selling.

So who needs the Newbery, anyway? Who needs any award anyway?

Yes, there are popular, good books with awards. Yes there are unpopular, good books with awards. There are also popular crappy books with awards...

Sorry. And remember those nutty "Children's Choice Awards" in the spring? Who put those out? They were either no duh picks like Diary of a Wimpy Kid or they were complete head-scratchers.

I'm not seeing the point of these or any awards, frankly. Think about those goofy Oscars. Alfred Hitchcock never won one. He's considered by many to be one of the best and his film are continually popular. It's not sad that he never got one--it was never needed.

I guess that's the only good thing about these awards. It's great for arguments. Someone should do a book like Alternate Oscars for the Newberys. Show the winners and other worthy books from each year with alternate picks when needed. It'd be fun.

Many will say there is a bump in sales due to these awards. That may be true on occasion, but Silvey's article points out the lackluster sales for many winners with little popular appeal.

No, I say we don't need them at all. Lord of the Rings and Titaninc would be doing just as well, thank you very much, and Cimarron would still only be rented out by film students.

How to tell the good books from the bad ones? That's what we have critics and bloggers and reviewers like Anita Silvey for! Oh, and don't forget the kids. They have something to say about this stuff as well...


Kyle said...

I need award winning books! I use them to teach my students that only the best are award winning. (of course we can all make a LONG list of award winners that we think what were they thinking) In Colorado we have the Colorado Children's Book Award where kids nominate and vote on the books. It is the voice of the audience.

The comment challenge is fun. Another fun blog to read!

Teacherninja said...

The state awards are nice, and it's great to go to those conferences, but if the kids are nominating (not true in all states) and voting for the books then what's different than looking at the list of most sold/checked out books for the year? The lists would probably be identical. And if only the best are award-winning, then what about Charlotte's Web and poor Alfred Hitchcock?

The comment challenge was more fun than I expected, and I'll be checking out The Boy Reader again soon! Thanks.

Kathy said...

I used to like the GA children's picture book awards until they started making goofy choices that were bad read-alouds (in MY opinion) and when they started making sure they had all cultural/racial and social situations covered in the award nominees - just give me a GOOD book, I don't care what color/nationality/social situation the main characters are. (getting off my soap box..)

Now I am all for the Oscars - although I rarely get to see the nominated films, I love to watch what everyone is wearing (yes, I am such a girl!)

Kim Kasch said...

I love awards and can you guess who got a boatload of Oscars between 1932 and 1968 - oh wait, I'll make that a Thought for Next Thursday. And, I think you're brilliant - even if you get a little help from your friends - like Fancy Nancy ;-)

kiri8 said...

Awards are a way of reminding people that art has value. Books have value, and are worth getting excited about. And TEACHERS have value. So what if only one teacher gets the teacher of the year award? At least people are paying attention to a teacher for once.

And while I may think their acceptance speeches are on the boring side, I'm glad that so many people behind the scenes get recognized at the Oscars.

But most important: I like teaching a room full of four year olds to recognize Caldecott medals, and to hear them exclaiem "Cow-di-cot!" when they see one on a book I'm holding.

Teacherninja said...

Ok, you got me on that last one. That IS a great reason.

Nancy said...

I've never been a fan of the Oscars/Emmies/Grammies, etc. because I hardly ever agree with their choices. I never questioned book awards, though. Hmm. I've certainly read a lot of Newberry award winners, and have rarely been disappointed. As a mom, when I take Anthony to the library, I am definitely overwhelmed by the choices - so many books I know nothing about. Once we've raided the shelves for the Arthurs, Berenstein Bears, Charlie & Lolas, and Dr. Seuss we haven't already read, we just pull random stuff off the shelves. Many are actually duds - maybe more appealing to parents in their artsy illustrations or multicultural sensitivity than to kids, or at least my kid. Of course, we found one of the most AWESOME books EVER, Mary Ann Hoberman's The Seven Silly Eaters (has Harper read that? Because, AWESOME!) by pulling it randomly off the shelf. (Anthony wants it back at least once a month.) But if I saw a selection of Caldecott winners, I would be grateful for the filter, and would definitely look through them. So, it's a way of bringing attention to certain books. And yes, I'm sure awards ignore some excellent ones as well - I wish our library did more to highlight the gems we can so easily miss.

Christine said...

My favorite project when teaching high school lit. was to throw an awards show for all the characters in all of the books we read during the school year. The kids came up with the categories, wrote paragraphs nominating the characters and then voted. I believe Macbeth won "Most Likely to Murder" more than once. It was always fun and a good review, and each year a few students became passionate about how arbitrary awards for art, like the Oscars, are.

Teacherninja said...

@Nancy--I agree about the need for filter, but there are so many year-end "best of" lists, I don't see where the awards add much.

@christine--Now THAT sounds fun. Actually, state Children's bk awards are pretty cool. I was even on the nominating committee for ours once.