Researching a Children’s Literature Award, GCSE Coursework Example

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GCSE Coursework

One of the most significant awards in children’s literature is the Newbury Medal. According to the Association for Library Service to Children, it is awarded for “the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children”. The main purpose of the award is to encourage quality and creativity in children’s literature primarily by praising authors that stand out above the others. Typically, children’s literature that is awarded the Newbury Medal is used in classrooms for educational and entertainment purposes to enrich children’s literary knowledge. As a consequence, these books are made very common and the winner of the award can expect to sell many copies.

According to the week 5 lecture “Children’s Book Awards”, books who win recognition in children’s literature are selected on the basis of varying qualities depending upon the specific award that is being given (Children’s Book Awards 1). Unfortunately however, many books that deserve recognition are overlooked as a result of this; since many librarians and literary professionals must come to an agreement as to which book should receive the award, many runner-ups are ignored and contribute less significantly to children’s literature than they deserve.

An example of a book that has not received the recognition it deserves is discussed as a banned book in chapter 6 in the textbook. Unfortunately, many people fail to appreciate the contribution of Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret? to children’s literature because some people claim that it touches too much upon adult themes (Stahl 859). The “Moral Majority” claims that a woman reaching maturity is too sexual of a topic for young children while others argue that it is a useful way to educate young women about the bodily changes they will experience in a manner that is relatable. This division in opinion has prevented this book from the recognition it deserves in terms of literary awards. The Newbury Medal is awarded for creativity in literature and I believe that Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret? does just that because it provides a unique approach to explaining one young girls experience with becoming a woman. The theme is unique and the story is engaging, which is certainly criteria for at least a nomination for a prestigious children’s literature award. Unfortunately, the personal bias of some literary professionals has prevented this from occurring, which may discourage this type of creativity in children’s literature in the future.

Despite the failure to recognize all books who can significantly contribute to children’s literature, the books that are selected to receive the Newbury Award are typically deserving. The award has been distributed since 1922 and allows some books to receive honorable mentions. An example of one such winner was Shiloh written by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor in 1992. I selected this specific book as an example to discuss as a significant Newbury Award winner because I recall being required to read this book in elementary school and now I realize that it was likely selected due to its award winning status.

Shiloh stands out compared to other children’s books that were authored at this time because it follows the story of a boy and his relationship with an abused dog. The main character, Marty Preston, finds Shiloh in an abused state and attempts to care for him even though his family is poor and it’s difficult for them to afford to. However, as Marty’s bond with Shiloh thickens, he convinces his mother to keep the fact that he is hiding and feeding the dog secret. When this backfires, Marty tries to convince the dog’s owner, Judd, to let him have Shiloh. Judd decides to agree if Marty works for him, although he goes back on his word. However, Marty wants to save Shiloh so much that he continues to work for Judd anyway, which causes Judd to open up to him about why he abuses animals, and he eventually lets Marty take Shiloh.

While the book itself is written in simple language so that child readers of various levels are able to read the story, the tale itself covers many complex themes that are unique to children’s literature. This book deserved the Newbury Award because the author takes a story that is deep and full of meaning and made it into a format that children can both relate to and enjoy. Many authors of children’s literature aim to entertain rather than to teach a lesson, and avoid dark themes that will educate children about the facts of life because these a touchy subjects. However, Phyllis Reynolds Naylor ignores this completely and instead wrote the story as she wanted it to be written. As a consequence, this resistance to conforming to literary convention was well deserving of the Newbury Award.

While many books that receive the Newbury Award certainly deserve it, I have encountered numerous other books that I’ve enjoyed but that I don’t believe deserve this prestigious title. An example of this is Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine and was awarded a Newbury Honor in 1998. Like Shiloh, I read this book while I was in elementary school and enjoyed it immensely because I was a big fan of fairy tales and books with strong female characters. However, I don’t think that this book is deserving of a Newbury Honor because it lacks the creativity and originality I expect from an award winning book.

Ultimately, the story is just a retelling of the classic story Cinderella using mythical creatures and events. While I respected Ella’s character because she was portrayed more a little more strong willed than the Cinderella we often hear about in various versions of the story, the story as a whole basically contributes nothing new to the literary world. However, I do give the author credit for finding a way to masterfully retell the tale of Cinderella in a way that is engaging to an audience who already knows the story and it is an interesting twist on the tale, but the characters themselves are too familiar for this book to have received an award. Furthermore, the book didn’t teach any new moral lessons that the story of Cinderella didn’t already teach, so the story didn’t add to this aspect of uniqueness either.

Ultimately, I believe that children’s literature awards are a necessary component of children’s literature because it encourages respect of young readers and creativity in books. It is important for authors of children’s literature to recognize that children aren’t lesser beings and it isn’t acceptable to publish just anything without thought in order to make profit. As a consequence, these awards recognize those who go beyond the normal expectations of children’s literature and write pieces that invoke thought from their readers. I do think that the selection system is somewhat flawed, however, because it is clear that some books are given awards that do not deserve it while excellent works go ignored. However, it is important for librarians and educators to recognize this and think more critically about the books that they both recommend and assign to children.

Works Cited

“Children’s Book Awards”. Week 5 Lecture. Children’s Literature. AIO. 1 January 2014.

Levine GC. Ella Enchanted. New York: Harper, 1997. Print.

Naylor PR. Shiloh. New York: Aladdin Paperbacks, 2000. Print.

Stahl, J D, Tina L. Hanlon, and Elizabeth L. Keyser. Crosscurrents of Children’s Literature: An Anthology of Texts and Criticism. New York: Oxford University Press, 2007. Print.

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