Sunday, January 04, 2009

Is the Newberry Medal Politically Incorrect?

I really get sick of this kind of thing but decided to mention it strictly because I find the whole premise to be so absurd. According to the Detroit Free Press, most Newberry Medal winning titles have featured white boys and that is wrong (for the same reasons we've junked all those dead white men we used to study in university lit classes):

Characters depicted in Newbery winners are more likely to be white and male and to come from two-parent households than the average U.S. child, according to a Brigham Young University study. The trend has accelerated even as the United States has diversified, with fewer black and Hispanic main characters in the past 27 years than in the civil rights era of 1951-79....
To be sure, only about 10% of new children's books published last year focused on minorities, according to the Cooperative Children's Book Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, a library that serves the university's School of Education.

The number of books about minorities has remained around 10% since 1992, said Kathleen Horning, the center's director.
"The Newbery is given for literary quality: Ethnicity, gender, nothing of that is necessarily taken into consideration," said Pat Scales, president of the Association for Library Service to Children, which runs the Newbery award for the library association.

"We certainly want children's books to mirror society," Scales said. "It's not as magic as whether there is a boy main character or a girl main character or an African-American or Latino or Asian character. We owe kids good stories that reflect their lives and give them a more global view."
Likewise, since 1982, the library association has given the Coretta Scott King Award to black authors and illustrators depicting a sense of the African-American experience in their work.

"Pura Belpre started in 1996 and was originally given every other year because there weren't enough books by Latino authors and illustrators," Scales said. "That's changing, and starting in 2009, the association will give the award annually."
I'm sorry but when 90% of all the books written for children feature non-minority characters, what does anyone expect to happen? This sounds to me, frankly, as much ado about nothing - something that will take care of itself as books featuring minority characters become more and more common in libraries and classrooms.

It's not that I'm unsympathetic to the point being made in the article - it's that I'm sick of people who try to send me on a guilt trip in order to get their own way instead of doing the constructive work to right what they see as a wrong. I realize that I have the kind of big mouth that does not lend itself to political correctness but this really bugs me.


  1. it's that I'm sick of people who try to send me on a guilt trip in order to get their own way instead of doing the constructive work to right what they see as a wrong.

    Indeed. I can think of a couple dozen places to apply that sentiment right off the bat.

  2. You're dead on about the percentage of books featuring minority lead characters as the real problem here.

    I was suprised by this article, because it seemed like most of the recent Newberry winners were about kids in single parent families or kids without parents.

    So few books with minority characters just seems like a really bad marketing plan to me. May be one reason why book sales are down.

  3. Somebody needs to slap this guy to remind him the Newbery is older than he is, and the list has gotten better over the years. Just scrolling through I saw WINNERS not honors Bud, Not Budddy, Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, Julie of the Wolves, Walk Two Moons, Holes, A Single Shard, Kira-Kira, and Sounder. All books from 1970 to today and I did not add the holocaust/war with different religious theme books.

    I am very proud of the ALA Newbery committee and I would be honored to serve on the panel. :P

  4. Speaking of awards, I posted a Butterfly Award for you on my blog at

  5. C.B., this seems like the perfect time to remedy the problem if enough good material makes its way to the right publishers.

    If that happens and books featuring minorities don't win more awards, they might have a case...

  6. Great examples, Maggie. It's just so easy to complain in the belief that we are all so brainwashed that none of us would dare check the facts, isn't it?

    Thanks a bunch for the titles you listed.

  7. Thanks for the butterfly, rhapsody. I appreciate that.