Friday, February 1, 2013

Magic Time, or We Heart Notable Books

The Notables are up! The Notables are up!

Can I tell you a secret? I love the ALSC Notable Children's Books list even more than I love the Newbery.

It's like Season 7 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. (I'm going to go out on a limb here and assume that there there is significant crossover between children's lit aficionados and Buffy fans. If not, just bear with me for a sec.) Every week, the opening narration told us, "In every generation, there is a chosen one. She alone shall stand against the vampires, demons, and forces of darkness. She is the Slayer." It's a heavy burden to bear, being the chosen one. She gets all the glory and ballyhoo, yes, but also the sole responsibility for holding the Big Bads at bay.

In Season 7, however, we are introduced to the potential slayers: the girls who may find themselves appointed the next slayer if Buffy is killed. And at the end of Season 7, Buffy and the rest of the Scooby gang do something unprecedented: they work a magic spell that turns every potential slayer into an actual Slayer. Buffy is no longer alone.

The Notable Books are like an army of Slayers.

An ongoing problem with the Newbery (or rather, with people's misunderstanding of the award) is that the winner is expected to be everything to everyone. It's supposed to appeal to every child. It's supposed to be teachable. We want to give it to five-year-olds, fourteen-year-olds, and everyone in between. The book has not yet been written that can live up to those kinds of expectations (though I have to say, The One and Only Ivan comes close).

But in aggregate, the Notables can. Take this year's list - we've got excellent poetry (Water Sings Blue), picture books for older readers (Each Kindness), concept books (Hippoposites), and weird stuff that's difficult to categorize (Twelve Kinds of Ice). We have the kinds of beautifully designed books that tend to fall through the cracks of the other awards (Chuck Close: Face Book). And, thankfully, we have all of the excellent middle grade fiction that didn't quite make this particular Newbery committee's list (Starry River of the Sky, Liar and Spy, Wonder).

The Newbery Medal was established in order to "encourage original creative work in the field of books for children. To emphasize to the public that contributions to the literature for children deserve similar recognition to poetry, plays, or novels. To give those librarians, who make it their life work to serve children's reading interests, an opportunity to encourage good writing in this field." It continues to do all of those things, and it does them well. But it doesn't have to stand alone.

"So I say we change the rule. I say my power, should be *our* power. Tomorrow, Willow will use the essence of this scythe to change our destiny. From now on, every girl in the world who might be a Slayer, will be a Slayer. Every girl who could have the power, will have the power. Can stand up, will stand up. Slayers, every one of us. Make your choice. Are you ready to be strong?" (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, "Chosen," 2003)

We are, Buffy. We definitely are. So say we all.

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