I am a new school librarian in a Pre-K-8 school. I have inherited a fairly large collection that has been well maintained. The collection was actually one of the reasons I accepted the position. I was so excited to work in a school that has supported a large library collection over the years!
I started to weed and build my list for this year to purchase. I noticed that the former librarian built up a collection of Newbery, Caldecott, and Laura Ingalls Wilder. Although I am a huge fan of the Youth Media Awards, I am wondering if I should continue to maintain the collection of award winners. Particularly, past award winners that date back to the early years of when the awards began. I know the Laura Ingalls Award recently was changed to the Children's Literature Legacy Award. Should all awards be modified to reflect the times? Should I keep books in the collection if they have a shiny award sticker even though they might meet the criteria for weeding?
Doubting the Sticker
Awards hold power and can make or break an author's career. For most recipients, receiving the Newbery or Caldecott can put them on a trajectory for stardom. In my many years as a librarian, I have attended numerous Youth Media Award ceremonies and banquets and listened to heartfelt speeches focusing on an author or illustrator's struggles to the top grateful their work was finally recognized and their voice heard.
Nonetheless, award winners should still be looked at critically and readers (especially librarians) should understand the time in history of when the award was given. Awards acknowledge books in a moment in time. Committees are made up of professionals representative of the world they live in and with that bring their own timely bias, knowledge, and experiences to the table. The books published in the year(s) for consideration are also a reflection of the times. Both should be considered when looking at the shiny award sticker on the cover. Just because a book was awarded a sticker in 1954, doesn't mean it would receive that same honor in today's world or even be published in the first place.
With that said, each book should still be evaluated against your current collection development policy. If there are books you choose to keep in the collection because they have been recognized and honored with an award, then there should be a balance of literature and children should be encouraged and taught to read through a critical lens if these books are read in a classroom. For example, if a decision is made to teach the Little House on a Prairie series, there should be instruction provided to offer a critical historical context. There should be a level of understanding, knowledge of historical facts, and sensitivity. If there's an older edition on the shelf and you decide to keep it, replace it with an updated version with the most current cover. Many of these books may have depicted minority and indigenous people in a derogatory light. Be mindful of the presence and impact on students of racist language and beliefs that were commonplace in the time it was written.
The first Newbery winner was The Story of Mankind by Hendrik Willem van Loon. The book was nonfiction and about mankind from prehistory to current day which was 1921. Obviously, mankind has changed slightly. Even the title "mankind" probably would not be politically correct today. However, the book has been updated several times since the original publication by van Loon's son and most recently by Robert Sullivan in 2014.
Continue to build and update your collection for today's student. Keep award winners in mind, but be cognizant of the copyright date and the time the book was published. There is a reason librarians weed and for the criteria we follow. Don't set it aside because there is a sticker on the cover.