On January 10, 2011, the children’s book world learned the winners of this year’s awards for children’s and young adult literature. But are these really the best books for children and teenagers? And what does that mean, anyway?
The two best-known awards are the Newbery Medal, given for the “most outstanding contribution to children’s literature,” which went to Moon Over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool; and the Caldecott Medal, for the “most distinguished American picture book for children,” won by A Sick Day for Amos McGee by Erin E. Stead and Philip C. Stead. Read the complete list of prize winners and honor books here.
There’s some surprise over these winners. Moon Over Manifest and Sick Day are debut books by author Vanderpool and illustrator Erin E. Stead. Many influential children’s librarians and commentators didn’t consider Moon Over Manifest in the running – and it’s not the first time that the Newbery has gone to a book that nobody expected, which brings up an old debate of quality as judged by a few versus popularity.
So, what are the best books for kids or teens? If you go by popularity, probably something like Captain Underpants or the Gossip Girls series, which we can probably agree won’t get any literary awards. On the other hand, some say any book that gets reluctant readers to read is a good book. And the 2010 Caldecott winner The Lion and the Mouse is gorgeous, but can kids learn to read from a wordless book? Or doesn’t that matter? Do adults and kids like or want or even see the same things in books, anyway?
Here’s what I think: we all have our own opinions, so go read some children’s or young adult literature. Take your time; we’ll wait. Get a recommendation from your local child or teen, or a librarian, or teacher, or bookseller; or check out a review, or choose at random. Read, and see what you think is good.
And while you’re at it – please consider making a donation to the East Bay Children’s Book Project. We stock Captain Underpants and award winners. And we need your help so that we can keep giving out books of all descriptions to people who serve children who need books.