Posted by: Kerry Gans | June 27, 2013

Newbery Picking

I decided as part of my continuing education in YA & children’s literature to read all the Newbery Award winners. The award has been given since 1922, so you can image the breadth of genre and writing styles encompassed by this list.

I’m nowhere near done the list, but I have been enjoying the adventure. I’m reading books I might not otherwise have picked up, and I can say that I have not been disappointed in any of them so far.

While I am enjoying them as a reader, I am also noting craft as a writer. I am always trying to improve my writing, so looking at how the best of the best wrote is a good education.

So far, three things have jumped out at me:

1)     In the Chronicle of Prydain series, Lloyd Alexander wowed me with his ability to have each character sound so unique that I didn’t need to read the dialogue tags to know who was speaking. This is something I struggle with—making them sound different and making the difference sound natural. I have not been captivated by a series so completely in a long time, and Alexander’s characterizations were a large part of my enthrallment.

2)     In Out of the Dust, Karen Hesse’s description of Dust Bowl Oklahoma blew me away. I could feel the dust smothering me, gritty in my eyes, mixed in my food. When I looked up from the book and out the window, the green grass and trees shocked me—I had almost expected dunes of dust. She wrote the novel in verse, so it is hardly surprising her descriptions are poetic, but I don’t think I have ever felt a novel so physically as this one. I have improved a lot in my description, but Hesse has set the new goalposts very high.

3)     Finally, all of the books could tell a story well. Obviously. But to read book after book where the structure is so solid and complete is a great way to “feel” structure. Some books had many action scenes and a breath-taking pace. Others not much “happened,” and the pace was leisurely (but never plodding). But with every book I feel confident and sure as a reader, safe in a skilled author’s hands, trusting them to lead me to a satisfying ending. And they all have. I believe my story-telling ability is strong, and although in my early drafts the beginning and end don’t always connect cleanly in the middle, I get there by the time I’m through.

This is homework I enjoy doing, and I look forward to learning much more from the remainder of the list.

What books have you read that stand out for you as stellar examples of some part of our craft? (I’ll add them to my reading list!)

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