May 01, 2003

Newbery Dud

Tonight I'm off to a girl's night in with Sandy, Dorothy, and Hai Nhu. We're going to be eating white chili and watching Secretary. That should be fun.

I just finished reading this year's Newbery winner, Crispin: The Cross of Lead by Avi. Wow, what a dud. I can't believe it won. The Newbery award is an annual award given to the most distinguished children's or young adult book. Crispin is set in 13th century England. When the title character's mother is killed, a price is put on Crispin's head. He flees his tiny village, hooks up with a traveling performer, and goes to the Big City. Oh, there's also a mysterious cross of lead that belonged to Crispin's mother. The cross has something writing on it but that is a Big Secret because Crispin can't read. Anywho, the plot stumbles along in an entirely predictable way and when the Big Secret is finally revealed I was too busy yawning to appreciate it. The ending sounds like the author said to himself "oops, I'm out of time--let's wrap this up." And I'm not even mentioning that the name "Crispin" sounds like a snack cracker.

Surely there were better books from which to choose. I'll have to read the Newbery Honor books from this year. It occasionally works out this way, where a stinker gets the award while an excellent book is merely honored. A classic example is 1953, when the winner, Secret of the Andes beat out one of the finest children's books ever, Charlotte's Web. I mean who's ever heard of Secret of the Andes???

The Newbery committee (actually it's the American Library Association that gives out the award) must be trying to push historical fiction on our young people. Last year's winner, A Single Shard is set in 12th century Korea and is also a plodding, predictable book. Readers interested in historical fiction would do well to stick with Karen Cushman's work, especially Newbery winner The Midwife's Apprentice. I fear books like Crispin will turn children off to historical fiction forever.

Posted by Shelby at May 1, 2003 05:43 PM