Tuesday, November 25, 2008

"Were award-winning books ever popular?"

Published in the School Library Journal, November 2008, vol 54, 11.

90's anomaly (Were award-winning books ever popular?)

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.
In 1980, researchers Nilson, Peterson and Searfoss assembled a list of books “highly acclaimed by critics” from the years 1951 to 1975, books that were on various lists of “quality literature” as determined by adults (including the list of the Best Books of the Year complied by the School Library Journal and winners of the Newbery and Caldecott awards) and found that these books ranked near the bottom on lists of books librarians considered to be popular with children. 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.
It may be the case that young readers have always tended to ignore books that adults think are “quality” literature. The popularity of a few Newbery winners in the 1990's noted by Ms. Silvey may be an anomaly.
Joanne Ujiie
Stephen Krashen
Anita Silvey article available at: http://www.schoollibraryjournal.com/toc-archive/2008/20081001.html


At 1:53 PM, Blogger Jack Kriss said...

I would have to agree with Steve, I reviewed the list of Newbery winners from the mid to late 70’s when I was in elementary school, and don’t remember reading any of the ones which were awarded during my elementary school years. However, I do remember reading Island of the Blue Dolpins (1961 Winner), The Mixed Up Files of Mrs Basil T. Frankweiler (1968 Winner), Sounder (1970 Winner), Summer of the Swans (1971 Winner) and many of the honor books from earlier years. I also remember reading The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, Stuart Little, many Hardy Boy and Lewis L’Amour Westerns, none of which appear on the Newbery list, these were most likely my free choice selections. So a question arises: Is Krashen ignoring time, perhaps years, in his analysis and the need for a book to be understood and consumed by others before it achieves its full potential? Do teachers select books which they read and enjoyed in elementary school and then direct their students to them as well as those that they discovered in their formal teacher education? That could possibly be the case in my experience many of the books which I read in elementary school were published 8 – 10 years before I was of age to read them. What about the increase in the amount of quality children’s literature? Surely with technology improvements and increased capacity the number of eligible books for consideration has increased correspondingly making the challenge of selecting just ONE great book more difficult.

As parents, Laura and I wanted our daughters to have a rich experience in Newbery Award literature, so we attempted to direct their reading and to select some Newbery books when we read to them. We also appreciated teachers who attempted to do the same. Probably one of the best examples of a great book which I did not pickup in my youth and my daughters would have put down quickly or would have struggled with because of the wealth of new vocabulary with which they were not familiar is William Stieg’s Abel’s Island a 1977 Newbery Honor Book. We read it to them, but often had to stop to define words, so that they could receive the full meaning and pleasure of its contents. We all enjoyed and benefitted from that experience.

If you made it this far, then I will share with you a young reader’s book which my family enjoyed reading together and which I have not seen very often in schools, but I found in Laura’s classroom library: Homeless Bird, by Gloria Whelan, about an Indian girl and her difficult life, it is informational and well written. If you are not familiar with it, you can find out more at: http://www.gloriawhelan.com/bird.htm


At 8:47 PM, Blogger FIS Comp Sci - Mulkey said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 8:49 PM, Blogger FIS Comp Sci - Mulkey said...

I would guess that the actual content of the books mentioned is not the issue. Rather the writing style might be a valuable experience, as well as some encouragement to read more.

As Ian points out in an earlier post, reading improves reading. If the major goal is to improve reading by encouraging more reading, I suspect children need to be reading something that interests them. That means that recommended books should be at their level and cover topics that are meaningful for them. That's going to be different in different countries, as well as varying across ages and according to each child's abilities and experience. Variation in the readers is evidenced by the thousands of titles available in a single book store.

My main point is that, although awards might correlate with suitability, it's probably a mistake to use these awards prescriptively. There are lots of awards and lots of lists. It's probably best to make lots of suggestions available to children. If they don't choose the award-winners, that's no problem as long as they choose to read SOMETHING.

Dave Mulkey


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