le plus loin le plus serré

le plus loin le plus serré
mourning art

in memoriam

"yet I tell you, from the sad knowledge of my older experience, that to every one of you a day will most likely come when sunshine, hope, presents and pleasure will be worth nothing to you in comparison with the unattainable gift of your mother's kiss." (Christina Rossetti, "Speaking Likenesses," 1873)

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

a lack of interest

Short post, I hope, but a Call To Action!!

On Monday morning, the 2011 ALA Award Winners were announced. This is always an exciting moment for those of us who care about children's books. This year, I didn't have any real skin in the game (so to speak, borrowing the phrase from Merlin Mann), since I haven't read any of the Newbery or Caldecott nominees. But I will, eventually.

The big winners were Moon Over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool (Newbery) and A Sick Day for Amos McGee, illustrated by Erin E. Stead (Caldecott). The complete list of winners and honor books is online, and is worth a look. I'll be hunting up the Newbery and Printz titles soon, though getting them through the library is always tricky after the awards are announced (an hour or two after the announcement, Moon Over Manifest had almost 50 holds on it for the Pittsburgh public library system).

The real reason for this post, however, is the very unwelcome news that NBC's Today show is breaking its 11-year tradition of inviting the Newbery & Caldecott winners on to the show the day after the announcement. Today evidently told YALSA, the young adult library organization that conducts the awards that they would not be hosting the award winners and a YALSA rep to discuss this year's winners, "citing a lack of interest and scheduling problems."


Are you kidding?

The Newbery and Caldecott awards are THE prizes in American children's literature. Winning either of these - but especially the Newbery - is a virtual guarantee that the book will never go out of print. Because so few adults spend enough time in the children's book world, the Newbery is a hugely important marker of quality - adults will choose Newbery titles as gifts for the children in their lives, based solely on the fact that the book is a Newbery winner. The bookstore where I worked, a Barnes & Noble, has a special section where Newbery winners are shelved. Most libraries I've been in either have a Newbery section, or lists of Newbery winners posted prominently.  Schools, districts and teachers will select Newbery books as part of their curricula.
Newbery winners are marked for life - for eternal life, in a way - as representative of the best of children's literature. They become the go-to set of books for younger readers.
In a country with something like 75 million children, it is hard to believe there is a "lack of interest" in books those children are almost certain to be exposed to.

But evidently, Today feels that scheduling and interest are amenable to Snooki Whatsherface from that televisual abomination, Jersey Shore. The lesson Today conveys is pretty clear: for all the lip service NBC and other media pay to concerns over education in the US, books and literacy will always be displaced by fake tans and low intelligence.

There's room in this world for Snooki and the Newbery books (alas, Snooki herself is not likely to know much about the Newberys), and Today ought to know better than to privilege one over the other. Especially in the current climate of anxiety and finger-pointing over the perceived failings of the American educational system.
The reason why education and intellectual achievement are devalued in this country isn't just because of poor parenting or bad teachers. It has a LOT to do with the culture at large, a culture to which the Today show is a huge contributor and reflector. Books don't matter, especially books for children, especially great books for children, is what Today's decision tells me. Being an exhibitionist tart with an artificial tan and no conspicuous skills or abilities gets you more attention than a book that will likely be read to and/or by millions of kids.

It's completely disheartening. And it's infuriating. I am composing an email to Today, and I may even follow it up with a real paper letter. I encourage other people who care about children's books, who care about literacy and education, who care about literature to also contact Today and let them know they have made a very poor decision.

You can email the Today show at: TODAY@nbcuni.com.
You can write to them by post at 30 Rockefeller Plaza New York, NY 10112.
You can place a telephone call to them at (212) 664-4602.

Let them know that there is, in fact, a great deal of interest in children's literature. Let them know that, by their failure to include the award winners and their books, the show is contributing directly to the culture that devalues education.

It'll only take a few minutes of your time, and who knows? Perhaps, if enough people contact them, Today will find room in their busy schedule of reality "stars" and celebrity gossip to squeeze in a piece on the books the children of America are going to be reading.

1 comment:

Library Diva said...

I agree. I Facebooked this and will send off an email shortly. One of the things I like best about my job is that I do get to glorify real people who've accomplished something in the community, whether it's going to Haiti for a medical mission, writing a children's book, or creating the most spectacular non-professional garden I've ever seen. (Those people gave me a gardening hat!) It annoys me that the national media can't do more of the same, although I think NBC's "Making a Difference" segment on the nightly news is a decent start.

You're right, too, that it's seen as not cool to be smart. I often made similar arguments when talking with people about the situation with the library and cultural institution funding in Erie County. Funding the arts makes the statement that society believes in them. The floor of popular culture is sinking rapidly. In 20 years, Snooki will seem smart and tame to people.