By way of introduction, here are some pertinent points from the Newbery criteria:
“Distinguished” is defined as:
- Marked by eminence and distinction; noted for significant achievement.
- Marked by excellence in quality.
- Marked by conspicuous excellence or eminence.
- Individually distinct.
Committee members need to consider the following:
- Interpretation of the theme or concept
- Presentation of information including accuracy, clarity, and organization
- Development of a plot
- Delineation of characters
- Delineation of a setting
- Appropriateness of style.
And here is a portion of the Printz criteria:
What we are looking for, in short, is literary excellence. Depending on the book, one or more of these criteria will apply:
- Design (including format, organization, etc.)
Finally, the criteria given to the judges for this battle:
Choose one book to advance and write a response as to why you chose it.
I kept the instruction vague deliberately. I look for literary excellence in everything I read, too, but the term “literary excellence” seems to suggest a simple, objective system in which points for writing and character and plot are tallied and the most distinguished book wins. This strikes me as restrictive in two distinct ways.
First, what is literary excellence, anyway? Both the Newbery and Printz criteria mention aspects to consider, but the definitions of “character growth” and “plot excellence” and “plausibility” and even “quality of writing,” to name just a few, will vary from person to person. Objectivity seems impossible.
Second, part of the magic of reading is the emotional punch it can pack, the passion it can inspire. And while that’s usually a result of literary excellence, novels that evoke a passionate response are often more than the sum of their parts. In fact, I don’t want to admire books from afar: I want them to reel me in, to use brilliant writing and characterization and plot to involve me. To make me care.
I’ve always loved the way the SLJ battle encourages subjectivity both in examination of literary elements and in acknowledgement of personal biases and emotional responses. Unlike committee results, there’s no compromise or consensus required. Because judges can make decisions based on personal reactions of all kinds, the battle embraces the inherent individuality each reader brings to a book.
That’s the focus of this battle, too. The instruction is vague because everyone reads differently – because the judges will have different reactions to these books than I did, and that’s what I want to showcase.
So here’s to a celebration of individuality and idiosyncracy. Here’s to background and bias, analysis and discussion. Here’s to a celebration of reading.