2000 Blue Ribbon Dissents
Sigh. They're an ethical lot, those Bulletin Blue Ribbon committee members. Their opinions cannot be swayed by love, money, or homemade cookies. Sometimes, despite passionate argument and total committment, heart-held titles fail to make the final cut. In 1997 we began a yearly tradition of going on record with the one book each of us most regretted omitting from the list. In keeping with the unofficial motto of the Bulletin website ("It's Our Website, and We Can Do Whatever We Want"), we would like to welcome you to the 2000 Bulletin Blue Ribbon Dissents.
-Janice M. Del Negro, editor
"1) The customer is always right; 2) The cook is always right. 3) If the customer and the cook disagree and you can't settle it, your tip is history." Hope Yancey and her aunt Addie move from New York City to Mulhoney, Wisconsin, where Addie has a job as head cook at G.T. Stoop's Welcome Stairways Diner. Hope's first glimpse of G.T. captures the cadence of this community center of a diner. "He was moving with the rhythm of the short-order dance--popped four pieces of bread in a toaster, slipped onions onto the side of the grill, and poured batter into a waffle iron." Despite Stoop's recent bout with leukemia, he. has decided to run for mayor. His clean-government reform campaign is based on a practical vision for what the town of Mulhoney could be if not entirely dominated by the town's single business, a dairy plant owned by the greedy and ruthless Eli Millstone (definitely the boss you love to hate), and who is, incidentally, also running for town mayor. The mayoral race takes on a spirit reminiscent of Frank Capra's _It's A Wonderful Life_ as G.T. (the kindly George Bailey, played by Jimmy Stewart) battles to keep from the ruthless capitalist played by Lionel Barrymore from foreclosing on Bailey's building and loan business in the town of Bedford Falls. This quirky and engrossing story is told by Hope, a reluctantly resilient 16-year-old who plunges whole-heartedly into the world of Welcome Stairways Diner, and the reader plunges right in with her.
Dissent: Whippo, Walt Little White Duck Who could resist Walt Whippo and Bernard Zaritsky's classic children's tune highlighted with vibrantly colored cut-paper collage that sports ducks, frogs, and other pond folk? The title page introduces the cast of characters for this jaunty musical tale, adding a narrator (in the guise of a mouse) to the familiar cast: Little White Duck, Little Green Frog, Little Black Bug, and Little Red Snake. A page of musical notation is included to assist with the tune. The mouse narrator begins his tale, singing from the limb of a tree over the pond, as the reader is struck by a crisp white duck illuminated by soft greens and blues. An orange bill matches the orange of the narrator's guitar, creating a visually balanced two-page spread. The next page focuses on the duck's action ("He took a bite of the lily pad,"), wile the final duck scene finds the fowl happily quacking ("Quack! Quack! Quack!"). Each subsequent animal is given the same treatment, climaxing with the appearance of the red snake who eats the bug, and scares the other animals away, leaving the narrator only to lament, "Now there's nobody left sitting in the water, / Nobody left doing what they oughter... BOO! HOO! HOO!" A final spread finds the characters giving their bows to an appreciative audience ("Bravo"). So often, it is difficult to find a text and illustration that can effectively assist in creating a dynamic and inviting experience for listeners of a wide range of ages in a large group setting. Bright colors, bold graphics, zippy lyrics, and a catchy familiar tune will engage the audience, as you belt out the lyrics, and encourage the audience to join in. Keep this title handy for those last minute group visits, and as a perennial favorite for storytime.
Elaine A. Bearden
This piece isn't quite your classical Blue Ribbon dissent: I'm not speaking to a particular title here, and comments during the Blue Ribbons process indicated that I'm not the only one with this particular concern; nor is it a concern only for Blue Ribbons.
Look at our list, our proud distillation of months of effort and deliberation. Now look at it as if you were a third or fourth grader who liked novels. Suddenly it's a barren desert. This dearth isn't unusual in a short list (when was the last third-grader's book to win the Newbery?), which provokes an obvious question: are these kinds of books falling short of the highest standard, or do we unintentionally adhere to a critical standard thet punishes these kinds of books while favoring others? More and more I lean towards the latter belief (though it's not as simple as that, since more celebrity for these kinds of books would probably attract more authors, too); more and more I think that we simply haven't managed to reconcile the ideals for literature with the limitations of middle-grades reading.
It's not entirely surprising, since it's a constant struggle to balance limitations and creativity in all literature for children. The succinct lyricism of picture books and the greater scope of longer novels seem to be more readily appreciated, however; we acknowledge the tight constraints of early readers and fete them within their limits; and we seem to be able to applaud nonfiction, especially biography, for a variety of age groups. Perhaps the problem isn't the difference of novels for middle-graders but the similarity--these books look so much like novels for older readers that we're blinded by the possibilities of fictional narrative in general; we're so accustomed to the comparative complexity of novels, the subtlety of the interior world that they explore, that it's hard for us to assess novels that offer a more restricted, closely guided tour.
I don't, unfortunately, have any nifty solutions to the problem. I'm encouraged, however, by a wise colleague, who asked me, when we were discussing this problem, if there was a book I would suggest as a standard; that way rather than flailing around in search of a Platonic ideal we could look to concrete reality for a a measure. Therefore, as recompense for a light spot in the list and to remind us all of what can be achieved for readers with a long way to go until junior high, I offer you the following varied and wonderful selection:
Cameron, Ann. The Stories Huey Tells.
Dickinson, Peter. Chuck and Danielle.
Hill, Kirkpatrick. Toughboy and Sister.
Hopkinson, Deborah. Birdie's Lighthouse.
McKenzie, Ellen Kindt. Stargone John.
Quattlebaum, Mary. Jackson Jones and the Puddle of Thorns.
Williams, Vera B. Scooter.
Deborah Stevenson, Associate Editor
This page was last updated on January 1, 2000.