More Than the Parts

It sounds like it should be a simple question: what makes a good Newbery novel? Patricia Lee Gauch tackles this question over at the Horn Book. She comes up with a few key criteria:

  • a remarkable character
  • the right stage (the character’s world)
  • a story arc (the journey the character is on)
  • a question (the character’s need)

Gauch goes into great detail examining all the facets here, using wonderful examples from Newbery winners to illustrate her points. Even just the examples make me giddy with excitement or ache remembering painful moments. All of these books are alive with character, plot, setting, motivation, etc.–the key word being alive. The Newbery books stay in your heart the way most other books don’t. As Gauch says, “I am convinced that the embassy selected these books because they are powerful stories of humanity behaving humanly on powerful stages. It is our culture at its best that we want to share.”

The list above looks so simple, but Gauch’s article indicates that what makes these books stellar is that they’re more than a sum of their parts. Because they work so well on all those levels, they can create an intense emotional experience for the reader–whether that’s joyful or sorrowful or a combination of both. I think all authors strive to hit all items on Gauch’s list, and the ones that really do are the ones we remember for a long time.

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