Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Quality and Quantity

In the nearly ninety-year history of the Newbery Medal, five authors have been fortunate enough to receive the award twice.


Katherine Paterson in 1978 (BRIDGE TO TERABITHIA) and 1981 (JACOB HAVE I LOVED.)

And Lois Lowry in 1990 (NUMBER THE STARS) and 1994 (THE GIVER.)

It's not surprising that these three are Newbery double-dippers. After all, they are among our finest contemporary authors. Each has produced a long list of extraordinary books praised by critics and loved by children.

However, it is somewhat surprising to consider the other two-time medalists, Jospeh Krumgold (...AND NOW MIGUEL, 1954 and ONION JOHN, 1960) and Elizabeth George Speare (THE WITCH OF BLACKBIRD POND, 1959 and THE BRONZE BOW, 1962.)

Although they are also distinguished novelists, Krumgold and Speare differ strikingly from the other two-timers in that their overall body of work is extremely small. In fact, I can count Speare's children's books on my left hand, Krumgold's on my right hand, and still have a finger left over to type this blog about them.

Mr. Krumgold won his first Newbery right out of the box with ...AND NOW MIGUEL. Six years later he won for his second children's book, ONION JOHN. In 1967 he published his last major novel, HENRY 3, followed by a slight storybook, THE MOST TERRIBLE TURK, in 1969. Although he lived another eleven years, he never published another word. So it's pretty amazing to think that out of only four children's books, he ended up winning the Big N twice.

Elizabeth George Speare's first children's book, 1957's CALICO CAPTIVE, was a notable debut. THE WITCH OF BLACKBIRD POND came just a year later and won the author her first Newbery. Three years later she was back at the podium accepting her second Newbery Medal for THE BRONZE BOW. Having published three superb books in five years, Ms. Speare appeared to be both a wonderful and a wonderfully-prolific author. However, after the nonfiction volume LIFE IN COLONIAL AMERICA in 1963, it would be another twenty years before she published her next -- and last -- children's novel, THE SIGN OF THE BEAVER. Incredibly this book was named a Newbery Honor. Pretty cool stats, huh? Five children's books. Two Newberys. One Newbery Honor.

This has gotten me thinking about the concept of quality vs. quantity. Not that those two terms are mutually exclusive, of course. The prolific Jane Yolen and Phyllis Reynolds Naylor have published literally hundreds of well-received books.

Other authors, including the aforementioned E.L. Konigsburg, Katherine Paterson, and Lois Lowry, carve out long, distinguished careers, consistently releasing a new volume every year or two to great acclaim.

Then there are those rare authors, such as Joseph Krumgold and Elizabeth George Spare, who publish relatively little...yet win children's literature's highest honors for their contributions.

I imagine that both Mr. Krumgold and Ms. Speare were under tremendous pressure -- from both publishers and readers -- to produce more books after their double-Newbery wins. One wonders what would have happened if they actually had gone on to publish a book every year or two for the rest of their lives. Would they have been able to maintain the high level of quality that distinguished ...AND NOW MIGUEL or THE WITCH OF BLACKBIRD POND? Might they have racked up several more Newberys? Or would future books have diluted and ultimately diminished the reputation of their early award-winners?

Who can say?

If you watch the Olympic track and field events, you know there are some athletes who specialize in long distances and others who excel in sprints. The gold medalist in the marathon doesn't have the speed to participate in the hundred yard dash, nor does the winner of the dash have the endurance to run the marathon.

Perhaps the same is true for authors. Some have the gift of writing a wide range of books over a long corridor of time. Others have a different set of skills that result in a body of work that is smaller -- but no less remarkable.


Laya said...

I've been following your blog for a while now; just have to say that I love reading it.

I was born and grew up in a remote area in the Philippines, but thanks to aunts who were school librarians and who often brought home good books, I was able to read many of the Newbery Award books. Reading your blog about them is such fun because I rediscover old friends and learn more about them.

Elizabeth George Speare's The Witch of Blackbird Pond is probably the first Newbery Award book I ever read, and until now I still can't forget that moment when Prudence read the Bible aloud during Kit's trial and astounded even her parents. Because it is such a good book, I often recommend it or give it as a gift. Been looking for more of her books in second-hand stores (the only ones I can afford), but so far Calico Captive's the only one I found. Now I found out why... because she wrote only a few. Shall concentrate on looking for The Bronze Bow now.


LaurieA-B said...

Since Lowry won the Newbery for two extremely serious books, many people have know idea that the woman is a comic genius. The One Hundredth Thing About Caroline, people! Anastasia Krupnik! I personally prefer those two over her Newbery winners, any day of the week.

Bybee said...

I hope Linda Sue Park wins again one of these years.

Anonymous said...

I read your blog often. I enjoy the things you write about, and often add the books to my to read list.
I just acqured The Velvet Room by zilpha Keatly Snyder, surprisingly I'd never read it! I prefer Lois Lowry's Anastasia series to her Giver books.

julissa said... focuses on people who have created a side business by giving them the resources they need to develop their new endeavor - including customers. connects people who have something to offer the market with clients who need to contract those skills on a project basis.