Thursday, October 16, 2014

Read All the Things: What the Newbery Committee Does

Image by Stuart Miles, from
I have not been around on this blog much lately. And that is partly because work has been crazybusy with an exponential increase in our school-age outreach, but it's also because I am serving on the 2015 Newbery Committee and that, my friends, is a big commitment.

Now, if you are like me before I started my Newbery endeavor this year, you may have a vague idea of how the Newbery Medal is awarded, but you're not really sure of the specifics. (If you are like my boyfriend's father, you may even think that the Newbery Medal is awarded to the Committee member who reads the most books. This is not true. But it's awfully cute.)

I'm here to hopefully shed some light about how the Newbery Committee works.

The Newbery Committee consists of 15 members, including a chair. To serve on the Newbery Committee, one must be a member of ALSC. Half of the committee members are elected in the ALA annual elections; the other half of the committee members are appointed. SLJ had a great article about what to do if you're interested in serving on the Newbery or Caldecott Committee, so check that out if you're so inclined.

Much about my particular Newbery Committee's process is confidential. I can't post about the books I'm reading this year. I can't tell you how many books were suggested or nominated by our committee. I can't repeat anything that committee members say.

BUT the Newbery Committee manual is NOT confidential! Everything I'm posting about today can be found in that manual. (But c'mon, who is actually going to click through and read it?!)

Okay, first of all, there are specific criteria for the Newbery Medal.

And nowhere in the criteria does it say that the book must be known and beloved by children and teachers and librarians. The age range to be considered is from 0-14. Nowhere does it say that Newbery Medal-winning books must ALL be appropriate for fourth graders (no matter how much teachers want to assign kids to read a Newbery book!).

We are looking for the "most distinguished contribution to American literature for children".

There are 15 people on the committee. Have you ever tried to get 15 people to agree about something? Every committee member comes to this work with different experiences and different tastes and a different reading history. This is a GREAT thing. That is what makes this award mean something. It's not (necessarily!) Abby's Favorite Book of the Year. Nobody cares about that (except Abby). This will be the book that the entire committee decided was the most distinguished this year. And it's a lot of work. But it means something and that makes it worth it.

So, what has the Newbery Committee been doing all year? 

We have been reading everything we can get our hands on. Publishers have sent us books for consideration. We have also been frequent library patrons, checking out books that haven't been sent to us. We've been reading deeply, thinking critically about each title, taking copious notes.

And we have been suggesting titles. As you can (but probably won't) read in the John Newbery Award Committee Manual, the committee chair solicits suggestions from committee members on a regular basis (usually monthly). These suggestions are anonymous. We can suggest as many titles as we want or we can suggest no titles in a particular month. Committee members read all suggested titles. We can suggest something that someone has already suggested - this may help us gauge support for a particular title.

So, we read everything we can get our hands on and this includes books that have been suggested.

And then in October (that is now), committee members start nominating books. Nominated books are the books we will discuss at the Midwinter Meeting (along with any late-published suggestions). Each committee member nominates SEVEN BOOKS and we do it in three rounds - 3 nominations in October, 2 in November, and 2 in December. Seven books! That's it! From the myriad of books published (we read as many as we possibly can), we each get to nominate seven books.

More than one committee member can nominate the same book, but each committee member nominates seven distinct titles. So, ostensibly, we could have as many as 105 books (if every member nominated completely distinct titles, more with late-published suggestions!) or as few as 7 titles (if every member happened to nominate the exact same books).

And I can never be more specific because the number of nominated titles is confidential forever!!! 

And what will the Newbery Committee do at the Midwinter Meeting? 

The ALA Midwinter Meeting is usually held in mid- to late January.

We are scheduled to meet all day on Friday and Saturday (literally our meeting rooms are booked from 8am-10pm) and then Sunday morning. Will will discuss the books that have been nominated. As I learned at the 2014 Morris Seminar, committees often follow the Cooperative Children's Book Center's Discussion Guidelines, calling for positives about the book in question to be discussed first and then concerns.

After our discussion, we will take a vote. I'm gonna quote directly from the manual here about balloting:
  • Committee members list first, second, and third place votes for the award on a selection ballot.
  • In tabulating ballot results, the tellers assign four points to each first place vote, three points to each second place vote, and two points to each third place vote.
  • There is a formula to determine the winner. A book must receive at least 8 first choices at four points per vote for a total of at least 32 points, and it must have an 8 point lead over the book receiving the next highest number of points.
After the vote, we may have a winner or we may not. If not, we will re-ballot according to however our committee decides to.

I can never reveal any information about how the voting went, how many ballots were held, the points distribution. That is all strictly confidential.

But on the Monday of the ALA Midwinter Meeting (this year, it'll be Monday, February 2), the Newbery winner will be announced as part of the ALA Youth Media Awards announcements.

And that's what I've been up to all year and what I'll be up to until February.

Do you have questions about the Newbery Medal? Ask away and I'll try to answer! (Just don't ask me what I've been reading this year!)