A purple dinosaur, a grinning cat, a cow jumping over the moon. Children’s books use irresistible cover art to lure customers, but there’s one sure sign of a quality book: The metallic Newbery Medal seal. For 86 years, teachers and parents have relied on the wisdom of the Newbery judges to separate the ordinary from the awesome.
Judges for the 2009 medal include Sarah French, head of WSU’s Brain Education Library. She is among 15 librarians who will be reading piles of books recommended by their peers in order to determine the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children in the previous year.
“It’s huge,” said French. “This is the most prestigious award given to what is perceived to be the finest piece of children’s literature in a given year—though that doesn’t necessarily equate to the most popular.”
In other words, many best-sellers don’t bear the Newbery seal. So while author Anne Brashare’s “Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants” series was flying off the bookshelves, the 2008 medal winner was “Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! Voices from a Medieval Village” by Laura Amy Schlitz.
French was “totally surprised” by the appointment to the panel, which followed her participation in a workshop on how to evaluate children’s books. “The speakers were internationally known experts, people whose articles I’ve read. It became clear they were evaluating us, handing down their knowledge to less experienced librarians.”
The daughter of an English professor and an artist, French started reading at age 3 and grew up surrounded by books. After working as a child and family therapist, school counselor, talented and gifted coordinator, independent school administrator, and early childhood researcher, she added a graduate degree in library and information science to the mix.
She joined the WSU Libraries faculty in 2006. Her responsibilities at Brain Library include collection development, library instruction, research and reference assistance—and the occasional book reading for visiting youngsters.
“Sarah is at the top of her profession,” said Judy Nichols Mitchell, dean of the WSU College of Education. “Her appointment to the Newbery panel confirms the high quality of the assistance she provides to our students and faculty. She’s a great asset to our college.”
The John Newbery Medal is a literary award given by the Association for Library Service to Children, of the American Library Association (ALA), to the author of the Outstanding American book for children. The award has been given since 1922.
Together with the Caldecott Medal, it is considered the most prestigious award for children’s literature in the United States. It is named for John Newbery, an 18th century publisher of juvenile books.
The Newbery Medal was designed by Rene Paul Chambellan in 1921 and depicts on the reverse, an author giving his work (a book) to a male and female child to read.
For a list of Newberry Medal award winners, click on the following link.