Awards and Generalizations

7 10 2011

We’ve been talking about awards a lot lately — at least I think we have — and so I thought I would talk about how people describe award winners.

Usually people say one of three  things:

1. IT’S REALLY GOOD

2. IT MADE ME CRY

3. IT SUCKED

Occasionally they say two of them, but most of the time it is one of them with either a bright grin or a grumpy face. But most of the time, it seems that they say one or the other. So I tried to do research for this topic, and found well, no articles that say that people express the same feelings as me.

So instead, it is story time.

In sixth grade, we read quite a few Newbery books and Newbery Honor books. Our teacher seemed to like them for some reason, so we read them. On Newbery books, the seal is imprinted onto the cover. You can run your hand against the seal and feel the bumps, as well as the imprint on the back of the front cover. And of course, the main purpose is to tell you, Hey! You’re reading a Newbery Book!

I sat with one boy all year. For privacy purposes, we’ll just call him P. P was awfully smart, and a really nice kid. He loved to read, and our teachers would always get mad at him for reading during class. We would do novel units, and so I expected P to get excited.

But this happened instead:

When we read A Single Shard by Linda Sue Park:

P looked right at me and said, “There’s a medal on the cover.” (He also occasionally was very obvious.)
I rolled my eyes and said, “Yeah, there is.”
P nodded and said, “That means someone’s going to die and it’s going to suck.”
“No way,” I said. “Newbery books are always really good.”
“Nope,” P said, “someone always dies.”

I thought it was weird, since I’ve always liked Newbery books and have quite a few of them. I’ve never really cried at one of the books, but they’re always very interesting and usually very good books. The the conversation disappeared from my mind until a few months later.

This time we were reading my personal favorite book of the year, Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli:

I grabbed my copy of the book and said, “This should be good.”
P nodded, and I was surprised.
“I thought you hated the books in LA,” I said.
P nodded again. “Yeah, but this one doesn’t have a sticker on it.”
“So?”
“So it won’t suck and nobody dies.”

So that made me wonder. I moved away at the end of sixth grade, and I asked P just before I left if he liked Stargirl (we had just about finished the book when I moved). He paused and told me, slightly confused, that it didn’t suck. I asked him why and he told me it was because nobody died.

And that got me wondering. (The following section is a spoiler for all of these books,  so don’t read the descriptions if you prefer not to
but I think the message doesn’t work otherwise.)

In A Single Shard, Crane-man dies.

In Moon Over ManifestJ inx nearly dies (I count this because the reader believes that he has died for a substantial amount of time)

In When You Reach Me, the laughing man dies 

But through my small amount of research, I discovered that this rule can apply to other award-winning books as well. For the YA angle, I went with the Printz Award (which I discussed recently).
In How I Live Now, Aunt Penn dies, along with a hoard of animals

In Looking for Alaska, Alaska dies and death becomes the central scene of the novel

Death is also important in Jellicoe Road, which has the biggest wammy of deaths I found: Fitz, Tate, Webb, and Jonah’s father, all sadly pass away. Jessa and Chloe P. also almost die as well.

So what does that show? I don’t know if it really proves P’s point, but the truth is there are a lot of deaths in Newbery and other award-winning novels. Sometimes the death even becomes the central point of the novel.

And the truth is, people say “Newbery winners will make you cry”. It’s a broad generalization that most people know, and when the award winners are announced in January people always comment that the books seem depressing. But the truth is, a lot of books now focus on “depressing” themes, whether it’s death or tragedy or a broken family or relationship.

So really, I’m just going back to the original point I made a few days ago: books win awards because the people who read them love them. And the truth is, a LOT of them involve deaths. But that’s just how it goes.

It’s really just a broad generalization, and most of the kids in my sixth grade LA class hated reading novels because of that. Our teacher was always a bit confused, since she’d always praise the books and say that we would adore them and the rest of us would roll our eyes (admittedly, myself included).

So there are a lot of generalizations for awards. And I think really that is what this post turned into: people believe in the generlizations for award-winning books, like this book will suck or someone will die or it will be amazing. Because that’s what they’ve heard, based on experience, even if they have never bothered to read the books.

So everyone has different opinions, and we all have different generlizations about books, both good and bad.

To end the post, I’ll give you something P told me when we read Stargirl:

“What do you think the literary definition of ‘stargirls’  should be? I think it should be NOBODY CARES GIVE UP TEACHERS.”


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