Smoky Mountain Family Historian

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Thoughts on Newbery Book Rankings

Allen County Public Library created a ranking of Newbery Medal Books based on how much enjoyment their biased group of readers had from reading them. The top book was Lois Lowry's The Giver. I don't think that would have been my first choice, but I'm sure it wasn't the top choice of each of their biased readers. Russell Freedman's Lincoln: A Photobiography was number three. This book was all the rage about the time I was studying in library school. It's nice to see that it has lived up to all its hype at the time. Lois Lowry's Number the Stars came in at number four. I really enjoy Holocaust fiction, so I'm glad to see this one with such a high ranking on the list. Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time from 1963 came in at number six. This one has certainly stood the test of time. Katherine Paterson's Bridge to Terabithia came in at number seven. This one was a favorite of a professor of mine in library school although we were well aware of the controversy surrounding the book which often made it a "banned book." Mildred Taylor's Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry came in at number eight. It deals with African-Americans in Mississippi during the 1930s. It was a difficult book for me to read when I read it about 20 years ago. I think my biggest problem with it then (which is still a big problem for me today) is that it seems that Mississippi is ALWAYS portrayed as prejudiced against blacks. Almost all the books and even scholarly research seem to be centered on the Civil Rights era. I'd love to see some other depictions about the state in which I grew up. I am not denying that this existed, but it seems that literature ignores everything else about the state of Mississippi and gives people a lasting bad impression of the state. I was a bit surprised that Patricia MacLachlan's Sarah, Plain and Tall did not rank higher than twelve. Of course, I've always enjoyed a good frontier story. This one is set a little later than that, but it still evokes a simpler time and place. Linda Sue Park's A Single Shard is in my to be read pile. I hope I can get to it soon. It came in at number fourteen and deals with a 12th century Korean potter. I wish Joan Blos' A Gathering of Days: A New England Girl's Journal 1830-32 had ranked a bit higher than thirty-four on the list, but some of the biased reviewers probably don't like history and genealogy as much as I do. I was surprised that Elizabeth George Speare's The Witch of Blackbird Pond only came in at number forty-six. It's such a classic. Another one that I'm surprised ranked as low as it did is Scott O'Dell's Island of the Blue Dolphins. It came in at fifty-nine. I have to agree with their assessment of Caddie Woodlawn by Carol Brink (#61). It is a bit dated for today's audiences. I remember enjoying, but not being blown away by Miss Hickory by Carolyn Sherwin Bailey (#68). As someone who used to collect dolls, I had to read Hitty, Her First Hundred Years by Rachel Field. It's #72 ranking doesn't surprise me. In fact, I'm surprised it's not a bit lower. Apparently the group considered it a miracle that they made it through Virginia Eggertsen Sorensen's Miracles on Maple Hill (#74). I honestly don't remember it being that bad. I have to be honest about Invincible Louisa: The Story of the Author of Little Women by Cornelia Meigs (#80). The librarian at our public library thrust this book at me when I was in about the second or third grade. I didn't like it then. I never tried to read it again although I loved Alcott's books. Maybe I should re-read it and see if I agree with the group's assessment of it. The lowest of the 89 books that I've actually read was #85, Thimble Summer by Elizabeth Enright. I don't remember that much about it, so it left no lasting impression.

It's certainly an interesting list. It's really no surprise that my personal favorites are probably those which are more in the category of historical fiction or set in times in the past.

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