So for good measure, I went to ALA's website and looked up the criteria considered for the Newbery. And found the following:
Interpretation of the theme or concept
Presentation of information including accuracy, clarity, and organization
Development of a plot
Delineation of characters
Delineation of a setting
Appropriateness of style...
[E]xcellence of presentation for a child audience...
The award is not for didactic content or popularity.
And yet, it begs the questions. Should it consider popularity?
If the JNM were awarded solely on popularity, The Adventures of Captain Underpants would have won. The Diary of a Wimpy Kid would have as well. But they didn't. They didn't win, because while they are fabulous in getting a child to read, I have yet to meet a single person who thinks that they are REALLY WELL WRITTEN. Are they popular? Yes. Do they get children to read? Absolutely. But are they well written enough to stand the test of time to become some of the great classics in children's literature? I doubt it.
But then again, there are several Newbery winners that don't measure up to that either. A couple of years ago, I put the book Smoky the Cowhorse (it won in 1927) on display on the end of a bookcase. Where it sat for over a month. Several months later, I put The Wheel on the School (winner in 1955) out on display. A month later, I could make fingerprints in the dust that had gathered on the top.
There are plenty of winners out there that have stood the test of time and are still quite popular, ten, twenty, thirty plus years after they won (A Wrinkle in Time and Bridge to Terabithia are two really great examples). But as the previous paragraph illustrates, there have been some real flops as well.
For the record, my definition of a good book is one that I will recommend to children, and that is still being read and checked out five years after it's published. Does popularity, whether fleeting or enduring, make a book good? No. But should we consider, in addition to all the other criteria, the potential for enduring popularity when handing out awards?
This year's Newbery winner, btw, is Moon Over Manifest, by Clare Vanderpool.