professornana (professornana) wrote,

Why do we keep doing this?

Things like this become viral on Facebook: And the people posting this link out pay little attention to the flaws of creating lists like this. So, let's look at this one more time.

When I talk to classes about lists and awards, I caution them to ask some questions about the lists.

1. Who is judging the awards and/or putting the list together? What credentials do they bring to the task?

When a list is drawn from Goodreads, the people "judging" books are hundreds of thousands of people. Not all are educators (teachers and librarians) and not even all educators are critical readers. I used to use Goodreads as a central location for recording the books I had read. I left Goodreads after reading some 1 star reviews of authors such as Ray Bradbury. Of course, I am not overly fond of using stars to rate books either, so Goodreads is not a Goodfit for me.

2. How many books are honored or make the list?

The list is 100 books. This is not an exclusive list, of course. Goodreads decided NOT to include picture books and to focus on chapter books instead. To call this list the 100 Top Children's Books is a misnomer.

3. What is the criteria used for judging/including the books?

Here is the criteria directly from the blog post: "We looked for the best reviewed books, all with average ratings above a 4.0 (a high bar that cuts out giants like Ramona and Huck Finn). This time we also decided to focus our search on chapter books and middle grade books for that magical time when a child has graduated from picture books and is reading alone, but isn't ready for YA favorites such as The Hunger Games. "

There are other considerations, too. Some have pointed out the lack of diversity in the books on this list, and I concur. Kids need mirrors that reflect them and their culture. They need windows through which they can view the larger world outside of their own. And they need doors, doors they can open for themselves and for others. This list has mirrors for some, windows for some, doors for some.

I am not saying that making lists is wrong. Each year, I present dozens of workshops about new books to share with kids. With 6000 books published, though, even the fact that I have read more than 300 books this year does not preclude the fact that I cannot possibly read all the books. And not all books that are honored yeah year were books I loved myself. But as I read, I do try always to keep in mind that this might be THE book for a reader.

When called upon to narrow down a list for a presentation, I agonize over the books I cannot include. This year Karin Perry and I posted a bonus video of picture books we could not include in our TLA presentation. This is hard work. However, when we see lists such as the one from Goodreads, we owe it to ourselves and our students to examine the list with a critical eye. Ask those questions we should ask about lists and awards. Add titles. Suggest that others might not be the "top." Let's be critical readers of lists as well as books. Here are words I keep in my head as I put together my presentations:

“But books do not simply happen to people. People also happen to books.”

Louise Rosenblatt, 1956
Tags: awards, lists
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