Wednesday, March 07, 2007

The Dingleberry Swings Again

I've carped about the Newbery Awards before. (I affectionately call them the Dingleberry Awards.) Since I can no longer find that post (easily), here's a summary: The Newbery Awards consistently give awards to the very books you might not want your children to read, as they are filled trauma, loss of parents, violence, death, abuse, identity politics racial hatred, and other unsavory topics that don't necessarily belong in children's fiction.

There's a new scuffle because a recent (heh) "winner" talks about genitalia on the first page. See, in The Higher Power of Lucky, by Susan Patron, this orphan girl (ah ha! parents dead already!*) overhears boys talking, and one informs the other that he saw a rattlesnake bite his dog on the scrotum (ooo, pet violence, child witnessing the act, and a nutsack reference). Using a quote from the article which quotes the book: "Scrotum sounded to Lucky like something green that comes up when you have the flu and cough too much," the book continues. "It sounded medical and secret, but also important." (And we have a clean sweep with a gross-out moment. You can see how they could not pass up giving this gem the award.)

Other Dingleberry award winners are (both made into movies):
Bridge to Terabithia - Where a main character (a child) dies on said bridge to magical, imaginary land. All the kids say (about the movie), "It's good, but very sad." Do kids need to go to a flick to be bummed out?
Holes - Where orphans and "bad kids" are forced to dig holes looking for treasure on a property owned by adults who are abusive to the kids. My whole family loathed this movie.

The beauty of the Dingleberry Award is that it clearly delineates the mine-field of possibly inappropriate children's fiction out there. They do the work for you! Any book that wins the award prominently displays it on the cover, so it's not even necessary to look it up on the Award's web site. Could that be any handier?

Now, as with all things, it's not black and white because some books (and subsequent movies) that got the award have been good. For instance, Ella Enchanted was a runner-up, and the movie is one of the better kid's movies out there. (Obviously honored because of Ella's identity politics activism work fighting discrimination against Ogres, who eat people.) I've not read the book, so I don't know if they sanded off any edges from the book. One of Beverly Cleary's "Ramona" books, Ramona Quimby, Age 8 made the list, too. (And I wondered why, as they are usually sweet and funny, so looked it up on Amazon. Ah ha, poor Ramona vomits during class. You've gotta have at least one mind-numbing children's fear played out in a Dingleberry winner.)

Also, when I originally gave the Dingleberry a wedgie here on my blog, Syaffolee said she's read many that were good, and I trust her judgment.

Therefore, I use it as a warning, not as a complete guide to pusillanimous pustules of plottitude. For instance, I now ask every the teacher at the beginning of each school year which Dingleberry award winners she's going to use, so I can preview them and be ready when my child asks what felching is.


*TLD: One of our family favorites is the live action version of Peter Pan. In it, one of the pirates is all excited because he's ended up in one of Wendy's stories. He glows, "You hear that Capn.? I'm in a story!" Capn. Hook promptly shoots him. We cut to Smee, who says, "How exciting! Two dead already!" It's a fabulous laugh line. Even if you don't have kids, you should treat yourself to this version of Peter Pan if you've not seen it. And then, if you haven't seen it either, make it a double-feature with Finding Neverland, the story of J.M. Barrie, the playwright who wrote Peter Pan, and his inspirations for the same. You'll probably dial through the entire range of emotions by watching both movies back to back, so I recommend that you not operate heavy machinery directly afterwards.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

But "A Wrinkle in Time" won a Dingleberry Award. OK, that was 30-some years ago. But still.

You Know said...

Dang, I've been toying with blogging on this for weeks.

I've had a severe hatred since childhood for the school of children's literature that says you've got to expose children to the harsh realities of the world through prize-winning books. I was handed a Newbery Award books with a particularly harrowing scene in it--I'm not going to say which one--which was something really, really, really bad that had actually happened to me (and which only my husband and one priest has ever heard me speak about). You know what? I so much didn't need to read about it happening to another child. It so much didn't make me think "Gee, this book prompts me to discuss the horrific experience with an adult." And I had to write an effing *report* on the book.

Yahmdallah said...

You Know - exactly my point.

I read once somebody defending these kind of Dingleberry choices by saying, "It exposes kids who might not realize there are other kinds of experiences out there."

Only a person who'd had nothing really bad happen in their childhood would say that. Anyone who had would say, "Geez, let's spare everyone we can from horrors like this. For starters, don't include it in a children's novel."

And if you do a post on it, please leave a link here so we can read it.

Anon - it would be interesting to do a survey and see if the Dingleberrys once awarded truly good fiction, and then suddenly identity politics English profs started to seep in like sewage, making a mess at some point. But then you'd have to read a lot of crep.