Awards win readers, but do they grow lifelong readers?

Like many people, I like lists and I like awards. A list of award recipients gives me the chance to take stock of my reading which is cause for some pats on the back followed by, “Oh My!” How many of these notable books have I read is followed by the nagging question: “How many of these books have I not only not read but also hadn’t even heard of?” What does that say about the kind of reader I am?

Which brings me to the rub* of awards. Do award-winning books turn children into lifelong readers? I think not. The real workhorses of children’s literature are books that are passed from child to child, word of mouth, out of love and affection.

Two things we know about children becoming lifelong readers:

• They only read for story. As I .B. Singer said in his 1978 Nobel Prize for Literature acceptance speech: “Children read books, not reviews. They don’t give a hoot about the critics.” (See Musing dated 12.10.10)

Readiness is a key factor in making sure a child is reading the right book at the right time. What I call a “home run book.” As E.M. Forster said: “I suggest that the only books which influence us are those for which we are ready and which have gone a little further down our own particular path than we have yet gone ourselves.”

A couple of questions I like to ask when the awards are announced:

~ What books turned me into the reader I am today?
~ What prods my reading— amusement, entertainment, enchantment, or curiosity?

But far be it for me to take the thunder away from the 2011 award winners. This past week, the Newbery and Caldecott medals went to two debut authors. A Sick Day for Amos McGee, by Erin & Philip Stead won the Caldecott Award and Moon Over Manifest, by Clare Vanderpool, won the Newberry Award.

A sentence that became my “souvenir” (a line I want to share and remember) from Moon Over Manifest is an interesting thought to ponder: “The person you encounter is often more than the person you see.”

A terrific website for children’s literature is

Full of information and book recommendations—and of course, those wonderful and tantalizing lists of the award books!

FYI: A new award this year: the Stonewall Children’s and Young Adult Literature Award, for an English-language book of “exceptional merit relating to the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered experience,” went to Almost Perfect By Brian Katcher.

* Shakespeare created the phrase, “the rub” which Hamlet spoke in his soliloquy: “To die, to sleep– To sleep–perchance to dream: ay, there’s the rub.”


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