Saturday, October 18, 2014

What I've Learned from Newbery Award-Winning Books

The Newbery award was established in 1922 as an award for outstanding American children's literature. In May 2013, I began a quest to read ALL the Newbery winners. My intent was to learn more about writing middle-grade fiction, having already penned Otter and Arthur and the Sword in the Stone (2012) and, at the time, writing its sequel, the now-out Otter and Arthur and the Round Table.

Having read nearly every winner from the last 35 years, I've learned a little something about how to win a Newbery in the modern era:

1) Write realistic fiction.
2) The main character should be a human, most likely a child from age 10-12, and an orphan.
3) Don't write down to kids.

Anyone who's followed my posts on the Newbery winners is well aware of my opinion regarding #2. It seems absurdly formulaic, but about half of the Newbery winners over the last 35 years have centered around a character who has lost one or both parents. Certainly this is rich territory to explore for an author - but it would be nice to see the Newbery committee branch out a bit in acknowledging more of the vast repertoire of other traumas faced by the under-teen set.

Having said that, #3 is still a very valid point. When I set out on this endeavor, I was slightly concerned about reading "books for kids." However, these are generally books which, while they center around kids, are good reads for any age. Still, in considering point #1, it is surprising that more of these books haven't tapped into a more imaginative spirit generally associated with children's books.

For a list of the Newbery winners and links to reviews of those I've read, click here.