Wednesday, January 30, 2019

On Newbery Honor Books

Gold stars. Photo by Creativity103, used under Creative Commons license.

FIRST OF ALL, a hearty congratulations to the winners and honorees of the 2019 Youth Media Awards, announced Monday in Seattle. I'm pleased to say that I dragged my two roomies out of bed to come with me to the live announcements (they are NOT morning people). 

I have to say that I am especially pleased to see The Night Diary by Veera Hiranandani win a Newbery Honor because that was a book of my heart this year, which means it was one of my own personal favorites. And it is always pleasing to see your favorites win an award and get an acknowledgement that others see the good in it, too. 

Now. We librarians get super excited about the Youth Media Awards. And we all have our favorite titles. And we LOVE IT when there are lots of honor books. The more the merrier, right? 

But I need to set the record straight on one thing. If there are only a few honor books selected for an award, that does NOT IN ANY WAY MEAN that there were no other books worthy of distinction. It means that these books selected were the ones that a diverse committee of 15 different people, people from different kinds of libraries, from different areas of the country, from different types of experiences and backgrounds, could all come to a consensus on. 

Have you ever tried to get a group to agree about anything? 
Have you ever tried to get a group of fifteen people to agree about anything? 

I guarantee you that every single person on the 2019 Newbery Committee had additional books that they would have loved to see get an Honor sticker. I guarantee that every person on that committee had at least one book that broke their heart a little bit when it didn't make the final list. 

My 2015 Newbery Committee was also a committee that "only" had two honor books. And yes, we heard the disappointed sounds from a room of thousands when the number was announced (especially on the heels of the 2015 Caldecott committee announcing SIX honor books). All I can say is that the winner and two honor books announced were the three books that our committee could come to a consensus on out of a field of dozens of wonderful books. 

That's how the process works. And it works that way to make the awards mean something. If I got to give a Newbery honor sticker to every book that I personally found amazing, that would be super fun for me, but it wouldn't mean much to the rest of the world. It's the consensus that makes the award mean something. It's why the committee ballots and re-ballots until a book meets the required score to be declared a winner. You can read more details about the process in the John Newbery Award Committee Manual and I highly recommend that you do so if you're curious about how it all works. 

One last little thing before I step down from my soapbox is this: 

Just because your favorite book didn't get a shiny sticker on it this weekend doesn't make it any less a favorite. I call these "books of your heart". Don't stop loving that book. Don't stop sharing that book and pushing it into the hands of children. Ultimately, it's not a shiny sticker that's going to get that book into the hands of every child who needs it. It's you, the gatekeeper. It's you the librarian, the teacher, the parent, the friend. Keep matching up your favorite books with their readers. THAT is what makes those books shine, not a sticker.