March 24, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Building Better Collections; Diversity in YA | SLJ Feedback

SLJblog Heavy MedalWhen librarian, SLJ blogger (“Heavy Medal”), and former Newbery Committee chair Nina Lindsay mused recently about the frequently cited non-criteria for this prestigious award—that a winning title must be a “lasting” contribution to children’s literature—it sparked an interesting online conversation. What qualities make a book a good one for kids? A memorable one?

I think you’ve hit on something with the internal voice, for me at least. The books I remember most fondly, the ones I recommend for years afterward, are the ones that made me feel like reading time was a visit I looked forward to with a friend. I know, though, that I’m a very character- and voice-driven reader, and I imagine that for other readers, the most “lasting” books are those that feel like a visit to a favorite place, or that keep them hooked with exciting plots. It’s just as necessary to be aware of bias about what lasts as about any aspect of reading.

Shoshana Flax
Children’s Bookseller
Brookline Booksmith
Brookline, MA

I don’t know that I agree with the central premise that a distinguished book is one that changes you. I have certainly been deeply moved, or changed, or prompted to think in a different way about the world by books that were otherwise absolute crap, so that description does not apply only to distinguished ones. I have also read books that I felt were highly distinguished that did not move me in any way. I can appreciate beautiful writing or excellent characters without actually being moved, especially when I am clearly not the ideal reader for the book. Nonfiction has the ability to reshape your thinking about the world—but if you’re already extremely familiar with the subject, then the fact that your understanding is not fundamentally changed does not mean that the book was not distinguished. Ideally, all Newbery books would appeal to both the head and the heart—but when push comes to shove, the award goes to the book that is the most distinguished, not the one that left you with the most emotional resonance.

Ann Carpenter
Youth Services Librarian
Harwich, MA

This may be heretical, but I believe that kids are exposed to and choose from the books that adults like and recommend. Very seldom are Newbery winners ignored by the adult world, and thus very seldom are children allowed to ignore them. Most kids read fairly uncritically and enjoy almost all that they read—good and bad. I have a hard time understanding the complaints about Newbery books lacking child appeal, as almost any book is going to be hated by some and adored by others. If I like a book particularly, then the kids I talk with will often give it a try and like it too. If I dislike a book, then I seldom recommend it. I think it’s time we admit we are the gatekeepers. It’s a big role to play in what [gets into] bookstores, libraries, and what gets awarded medals of all kinds.

Carol Edwards
Denver Public Library
Denver, CO

Diversity in YA

diversityinya-TBI adore Diversity in YA literature (“Embracing Diversity in YA Lit,”) and have enjoyed contributing to it, and I love Lee & Low and Tu Books as well. But as far as major publishers are concerned, I’m really tired of them talking about how much they care about diversity and being fluffy about it, but then doing nothing but publishing the same old stuff, plus maybe one “diverse title” each season. Until publishers take the time and care to establish writers of color and stories about PoC and publish them widely, perhaps even at the expense of a just-as-decent book about white people, and then stop promoting them as “multicultural” or “diverse” and instead just as “books,” they’re just going to continue to ghettoize them and to imply that these books are different and special. If you care about diversity, do something. Make your frontlist reflect that in a way that says, “I don’t think of this as weird or different. I think this is natural, because I think books should reflect the world.” Otherwise, in my book, these editors don’t have the right to claim to be allies. If you’re not acting, you’re not an ally.

Sarah Hannah Gómez
Castilleja School
Palo Alto, CA

Judging Judaica

with_mighty_handI have reviewed Judaic children’s books for SLJ in the past, and I am also on the board of the Association of Jewish Libraries. I wanted to take issue with a comment by the reviewer of the book With a Mighty Hand: The Story of the Torah by Amy Ehrlich (October 2013, p. 140). It was given a starred review, and there is no denying the beauty of the translation and of the accompanying artwork. However, I needed to point out that the book is not appropriate for many Judaic libraries, even though the review states that it “deserves strong consideration” for Judaic collections. As Ehrlich mentions in her explanatory notes, the tetragrammaton (the four letters of the Hebrew name of God–YHWH) is forbidden to be spoken aloud by traditional Jews and it is also forbidden to be written. The entomology of the word is quite interesting and the history of the prohibition goes back to the beginning of rabbinic Judaism. Erlich has chosen to translate this word to “Yahweh” throughout the entire text of the book and therefore, starred review notwithstanding, this title is probably going to be an unacceptable purchase for Judaic libraries. This should have been noted in the review so patrons would not be offended by its purchase. Jewish families simply do not use that term to refer to God.

Lisa Silverman, Library Director
Sinai Temple Blumenthal Library
Los Angeles, CA

Our Reviewer Replies

I must point out that Amy Ehrlich’s book is written entirely in English. The word “Yahweh” is not the equivalent of the Hebrew letters that could be transliterated into English as YHVH. In this retelling of the Biblical stories of the first Israelites and the beginnings of Judaism, the name “Yahweh” seems an appropriate, classical way to refer to the God of Abraham and all the generations that followed him. The name itself can be spoken in any way, just as many Jews today pronounce God’s name as “Adonai” or “HaShem.” What makes this book so special is Ehrlich’s beautifully written retelling of the stories that make up the Torah, and the terminology that she uses is an integral part of her writing. I believe the information I have offered in my review is reliable and that I have included enough detail to allow both public and Judaica libraries to determine whether or not to add this outstanding book to their collections.

Susan Scheps
formerly Shaker Heights Public Library
Shaker Heights, OH

This article was published in School Library Journal's December 2013 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.