When I was a child, I remember reading many Newberry Award winning and honor books. I loved Cynthia Voigt's books, including Dicey's Song which won the Newberry Award. But, I lived a life very different than the one my children are living. I was public schooled, watched television (which at the time wasn't filled with crass humor and cuss words as it is today), read books new and old alike, and grew up. For some reason, I gravitated even then to older books. I loved the Nancy Drew books, Anne of Green Gables series, Betsy book series (both the series by Carolyn Haywood and the other series by Maud Hart Lovelace). I read a few Sweet Valley High books, but read more Canby Hall books, which weren't as caught up in the popularity and romance parts of high school. My mom didn't filter what I read. Unfortunately, my grandmother introduced me to adult fiction books as a teenager that I shouldn't have read. The likes of Danielle Steel and Barbara Taylor Bradford are ones that I never want my girls to read and expose their minds to.
I don't consider myself that extreme when it comes to what my children read, but I know I am concerned that they read things that are encouraging. Bob Jones Press is often seen as extremely conservative. But, I think it's wise to think critically and listen. I received an email this week from Bob Jones with a review of the latest Newberry Medal winner. Here's a link to the review: http://www.bjupress.com/resources/christian-school/articles/newbery-book-reviews/2012-dead-end-in-norvelt.php. I was struck by several things about this review. The writer mentions the review being subjective, but there were several things she mentioned that would have alarmed me no matter what. She mentions that there is crass language in the book. She also mentions that the young boy's lying and disobedience isn't directly addressed. Is this important?
Let me a share a story from our local paper a few weeks ago. 9 year old boy dies due to fatal gun shot from his 8 year old brother. The boys had found a gun in a neighbor's shed a week earlier. They snuck out without their grandparents permission and went to find the gun because they were curious. The death was ruled accidental, though the younger brother accidentally shot his older brother with the gun. Gun play is a serious deal. In this novel, Dead End in Norvelt, the main character shoots his father's gun at the drive-in screen. He wasn't supposed to be playing with the gun. You can read the scene on Amazon in the preview.
Rather than take another reviewer's word, I wanted to read it for myself. There isn't any consequence. His mom corrects him--barely. She's more concerned about his nose bleed. And his working for the old lady down the street has nothing to do with the shot. No consequence.
Would I want my children to read this book? Nope. Would I recommend it? Nope. There are so many good books out there, but I don't think this book is one of them. I enjoyed Joey Pigza swallowed the key by Jack Gantos (the author that wrote this book). I think it gave a lot of insight into an ADHD child and as a teacher it helped me better understand one of my students. But, this book is of a different vein. I don't see the value in it. One of my friends who taught middle school English (she was a wonderful teacher!) once said that Goosebumps and the likes were not allowed in her classroom. She didn't just want kids to read something, she wanted them to read some thing Good!
When I was growing up, I always thought that the Newberry Award winnng books were reliable, good literature. As I've watched what books have won the award and been honored over the past fifteen years, that confidence I used to have has diminished. Just because a book wins an award, doesn't mean that it's worth reading.