Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Deep, dark midnight of the soul

There are always reasons why I feel like a bad librarian, but here's one I would really like to hear input on:
Do students really care about literary merit of books?

When my children were young, I had a friend who fervently disliked Little Golden Books, claiming they had no "literary merit". Our favorite books? The Color Kittens, and just about any other Little Golden Book. So I'm a bad mother, too!

This came up in the Cybils discussion, and while it's always a pleasure to see students enjoying books that are well written, it's something that they never seem to ask for, nor do they care when that is offered as a selling point. (I use this particularly to pitch The Phantom Tollbooth, which is brilliantly written.)

I think I can tell if a book has literary merit or not, and certainly I try to find the best written books that will interest my students. But in the end, I will choose to have two copies of Vampire Rising at the expense of having a copy of Moon Over Manifest. Those two copies have had to be glued back together; Heart of a Samurai has been checked out three times despite my frequent pleas to read it.

How do others balance the guilt? And the library collection? (Other than getting more sleep?)

The Cybils middle grade fiction committee did a great job navigating the difficult terrain of this decision. Remember that the shortlists come out on New Year's Day!


  1. One of the few book talks that bombed for me last year was Heart of a Samurai. It's a great book, but I also have had trouble selling Richard Peck books.

    Tawny Scrawny Lion was a favorite at our house.

  2. My 13 year old daughter is finally reading Twilight -- after I wouldn't let her in 5th grade and then she lost interest until she and her friends swapped favorite books -- her Hunger Games for her friend's Twilight.

    Anyway, though I've never heard her talk about "great writing," she has mentioned many times that Twilight is SO poorly written (though the plot satisfies even though she hates the characters).


  3. I think the most compelling books grab you by the throat and don't let you put them down. And, for me, the most successful of these do not draw attention to their style. And "style" more than anything, seems to be the touchstone for what people call "literary merit."

    I don't think, as I kid, I ever thought about "literary merit." I was big on it though in college. Now I've reverted to being a kid again!

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