Gladys Hunt on Award-Winning Books

Editor’s Note: On Monday, the American Library Association announces its annual Youth Media Awards But how many of the honored books will still be read 10 years from now?


Originally published on the Tumblon website on September 1, 2009

Do you remember the hilarious story in Homer Price* about the doughnut machine that kept spilling out doughnuts faster and faster, a gadget with no shut-off button? It’s a favorite chapter in the book for most readers. Thinking of it makes me smile.

That’s the way people feel if they want to keep up on children’s books—there is an endless supply of new ones. Someone recently sent me an email, suggesting that it would be really helpful if I would produce an email list each month recommending the best newly-published children and young adult (YA) books! She had no idea of what a super-human effort she was suggesting.

Close to ten thousand children’s and YA books are now published each year. (That was the figure Horn Book gave in 2006.) We’re drowning in books! You could say we are over-booked! Are all of these good books, you ask? Someone along the way decided on each published book; thus we can assume that every book has somebody out there who thinks this one is good—even if it’s only the author or her friends or relatives. How does one decide between good, better and best?

The writer of the email was profuse in her thanks for the lists of good books in Honey for a Child’s Heart, and told how she uses it in the library to find the best books for her children. It is a list she says she can trust. But the fourth edition came out in 2002 and there are many new books since then. So why didn’t I………

You may wonder what I told her. It’s simply this. All of us have to learn what makes a good book, the best book. Children deserve the best. Life is short! “Read the best” is my motto. That’s why there is a long bibliography at the back of my book. The accumulation of reading “the best” trains both the parent and the child to understand what makes a book good. You may not be aware of it, but if you’ve been reading good books, you simply know when a book is special. It leaves something in your heart. When you meet the new stuff, you will quickly know whether it measures up or not.

Most of these ten thousand books will not be “the best.” They may present a good story, but you still know that these are not the ones you are going to share with other parents as “must-reads” or have forever on your shelves to re-read. Most of the new ones will sink into oblivion as the next ten thousand arrive. Tragically, some of the books that should be on a long-range memorable list will have trouble making it because there are just too many and they don’t get the attention or publicity they deserve.

If you have been reading “the best” to your children, you already know more than you think you know. You may have picked up some winners that are not on my list because another parent has found a good one and given a rave review. Word of mouth is always helpful. Or you may recognize new books by authors you liked. Even your children can tell you what the best is! In some ways deciding what is really good is a highly personalized issue, but there is a basic core that rings a bell in a child’s heart and in yours as well.

As I said, children know. I think of the little boy who was sad when he heard that E.B. White had died. He said, “I was so hoping he could come and stay in our extra bedroom and tell us some more stories.” He was remembering Charlotte’s Web, Stuart Little and The Trumpet of the Swan.

Recently a conversation with a mother of four young children alerted me again to the necessity of reminding parents to help their children choose the best. She spoke with pleasure about how her children all loved to read, but that they had trouble finding books. Talking with each of the children about what they were reading filled me with some alarm. I know the mother has a copy of Honey for a Child’s Heart, but she wasn’t using it. No suggestions of “Oh, this is a favorite. Try this one!” She didn’t show the children how they could use the list. The kids simply went to the library and picked up a book. I don’t want to imply that they were frying their brains or their character by what they were choosing, but they were missing the really good books. Had they read My Side of the Mountain or The Wheel on the School or Caddie Woodlawn or Mr. Popper’s Penguins or Blue Willow? No, they asked, are they good books?

Good books last. They rise to the top and stay around a long time. Many of the should-reads have been in print for sixty years or more.

You may want to notice award winners, but I have been disappointed in some of the recent Newbery Medal and Caldecott Medal choices. It’s not just me; I’ve noticed articles by other writers who have been on some of these committees and they feel the criteria for choosing sometimes gets mixed up with various agendas rather than looking for the “best” for the young readers.

We certainly do not suffer from a lack of choices. That is what makes a library such an awesome place. Where does one begin? It’s confusing. Use the lists in the Honey books–Honey for a Child’s Heart; Honey for a Teen’s Heart and Honey for a Woman’s Heart. It’s a good place to start.

*At Redeemed Reader, we love Homer Price!

© Gladys M. Hunt 2008-10, reissued in 2022 with minor adjustments with permission of the Executor of the Literary Estate of Gladys M. Hunt (4194 Hilton SE, Lowell, MI 49331). Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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Janie Cheaney

Janie is the VERY senior staff writer for Redeemed Reader, as well as a long-time contributor to WORLD Magazine and an author of nine books for children. The rest of the time she's long-distance smooching on her four grandchildren (not an easy task). She lives with her equally senior husband of almost-fifty years in the Ozarks of Missouri.

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  1. Meredith Burton on January 21, 2023 at 3:48 pm

    What a wonderful post! I have become disillusioned with “Best Of” lists and awards. Like Ms. Hunt says, it seems that so many agendas are taking priority over what truly constitutes good literature. I will be curious to know what the committees choose, but I will not be surprised if I disagree with their choices. 2022 was a strange year for children’s books, it seems to me. i’m fairly sure the one I would recommend probably won’t be considered. We’ll see.

    • Janie Cheaney on January 22, 2023 at 2:07 am

      Stay tuned, Meredith! We’ll be reporting on the Youth Media Awards the day after.

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