We’re all excited about the upcoming Newbery, Caldecott and Printz awards. So why aren’t we excited about the Alexander?
Because it doesn’t exist of course … but it needs to.
The Alexander is given to a SERIES of worthy books. It is bestowed only when the last book of the series has been written.
It is named, of course, for Lloyd Alexander who wrote perhaps the greatest series of mid-grade fantasy ever concocted: The Prydain Chronicles. (Better know to me, at least, as the Taran books.)
Alexander won the Newbery for the final book in that series, the High King. But I’ve yet to find anyone who says the High King is their favorite of the series. The Black Cauldron stands out for thrills. Taran Wanderer stands out for literary merit. And the Castle of Llyr has an winningly oddball charm.
I’ve always believed that Alexander won the Newbery for the SERIES and not really for The High King. For one thing, I don’t quite see how it can “stand alone.”
And why should a book have to stand alone? If it’s part of a series it need not. Perhaps it SHOULD not!
If we are telling a story that spans several books, why should the individual “chapters” stand alone? If we are watching a kid grow up, then the ringleted hair she pulled in kindergarten is part of her story when she squeezes all the toothpaste out of a tube a few years later. An author should be rewarded for creating a character like that, not penalized.
So if the Newbery marks a book down for that trait, there should be an award that awards bonus points for creating a multi-book tale that builds, grows and matures the way Taran does.
So which series should win the award?
Looking to the past….
An obvious winner is The Great Brain. Individually, the books are collections of great stories — clever, infuriating, sometimes scary or funny. Put together they are a remarkable portrait of a time, a place and two brothers.
The Tripod Trilogy by John Christopher. (The Alexander will dispense with those antiquated US residency requirements.)
And, OF COURSE, Ramona from her first appearance in a Henry Huggins book all the way to the end.
And in the future?
Well, I think May Amelia would be perfect for it… when Ms. Holm finishes it.
And word is that Kirby Larsen is writing a new Hattie book!
How about my friend Michael Buckley’s Sisters Grimm? Individually the books contain too many farts to win a Newbery. But together … do they not add up to a symphony?
I think the Wimpy Kid is a perfect contender. Each book seems like such a jolly good yukfest. But seen from a distance, the series is creating one of the most realistic, unflinching, unforgiving portraits of a kid every attempted.
While none of the brushstrokes gain serious Newbery consideration, the final piece of art may be a masterpiece!
And this year’s Alexander … I nominate a rigorous adventure set in our own country’s folkloric past — not Europe’s for once! — when the sons of John Henry and Little Bill fought a desperate, fantastical battle for the soul of America.
Let’s put a shiny Alexander sticker on The Clockwork Dark Trilogy by John Claude Bemis. This year he wrapped up his tale with The White City, an action-packed ending to a series which any self-respecting middle school book nerd would wolf down eagerly.
Personally, I liked the second book in the series best (I often do). But it is just part of a story.
Which is the reason we should recognize a whole series, give it an award and get all the books in a row on the library shelf and thus into the hands of kids.
(Full disclosure: I have to admit to being friends with all of the present and future writers mentioned. And two of them are from my publisher, Amulet. And all are really nice.)
And now I look forward to hearing who the rest of the Nerdy Book Club would choose….
Oh… and did I mention the Marshall award for best writing for a Picture Book format?
Tom Angleberger is the author of Origami Yoda and Fake Mustache, husband of author/illustrator Cece Bell and honored to be the doodler of the NerdyBookClub logo.