The Newbery Medal has been the gold standard in children's literature for more than eight decades. On the January day when the annual winner is announced, bookstores nationwide sell out, libraries clamor for copies and teachers add the work to lesson plans.
Now the literary world is debating the Newbery's value, asking whether the books that have won recently are so complicated and inaccessible to most children that they are effectively turning off kids to reading. Of the 25 winners and runners-up chosen from 2000 to 2005, four of the books deal with death, six with the absence of one or both parents and four with such mental challenges as autism. Most of the rest deal with tough social issues.
An article in October's School Library Journal —"Has the Newbery Lost Its Way?" by children's literary expert Anita Silvey—touched off the debate, now in full bloom on blogs and in e-mails. The Association for Library Service to Children, the organization that awards the Newbery—and several other book prizes, including the Caldecott Medal for best American picture book for children—defends its methods and its record. Read more in The Washington Post online.