I have a few questions about the Newbery Medal: (1) In general, how representative is the Newbery titles as “American children’s literature”? (2) How does prizing “keep above the taint of commercialism”? How is this possible? Isn’t that the book is always, to some extent, complicit in this particular phenomenon it attempts to critique as it does seek to benefit from the cultural capital it accrues? (3) Given how some persist in considering books like The Story of Dr. Dolittle as children’s classics, I wonder if there is any improvement on Newbery Medal’s politics to adapt to social change?
*the particular passage I have in mind: “This is what Newbery founder Frederic Melcher had in mind: Librarians’ professional neutrality would keep prizing above the taint of commercialism, benefiting publishers’ bottom lines and also, of course, children’s minds and spirits. The prize was about building a junior American canon, books that cultivated readers and inspired the highest ideals of democratic citizenship in the nation’s youth. But the result was a canon that is overwhelmingly white and often marked by a colonialist worldview. Today, the Newbery’s mission increasingly encompasses an awareness of past failures to think about all children as future leaders.” 

-I was particularly struck by how material The Story of Dr. Dolittle is, as a piece of children’s literature. Although Dr. DoLittle doesn’t seem to care about money, it is a source of empowerment for him (and the animals). What is Lofting trying to convey? That even though one shuns capitalism and materialism, money is an indispensable part of our life? Not to mention how Dr. DoLittle uses pushmi-pullyu to make money. How will story like this inform children’s value system? And how does this affect the way they look at the world? Also, if considering this specific detail with the goal of the Medal, does Lofting’s story necessarily “keeps above the taint of commercialism,” challenging the capitalist aspect of the world (prize system)?

One thought on “3/16

  1. Carrie Hintz

    Hi Sophia,
    I share your fascination with Dolittle’s crass materialism! And I am so glad that we talked so much about the Newbery last week…while there is so much going on in children’s literature OUTSIDE of the Newbery, it is undeniably a shaping force! CH

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