The Wild Rumpus
"Some years ago the cover of The Horn Book was an illustration by David Macaulay of what I think was supposed to be the Newbery committee "discussing" books. That would be "discussing" in the sense that violence had either just broken out or was just about to. It has been one of my cherished mental pictures for years – a committee of people so passionate about which book they each think should win that they’re throwing around insults and coffee cups and rulers.
"Is there even a teensy bit of truth to that picture? Or is everybody all calm and businesslike and bland? It would be so much more fun if the deliberations began with the announcement, "Let the wild rumpus begin!" "
Well, no insults or coffee cups or rulers were ever thrown in my committees, but the passion you describe was certainly there. "Calm, businesslike and bland"? I don’t think you could find a Newbery or Caldecott committee in history like that.
Picture this: 15 members show up 8am on a Friday morning, with nothing but a confidential shortlist, a year’s worth of notes, and some snacks. By Sunday noon they must produce a press release. There are breaks scheduled, but the discussion starts off with a bang and hurtles along at an unbelievable pace…probably spending no more than 8-15 minutes on a title, circling back round to others… The table is laden, with books and binders and junk food. There isn’t a square of tablecloth visible. Members get up to stretch in the corners, taking care not to trip over the power and extension cords snaking through the room. The room starts to get a little musty, like an airplane. Is it day or night? Hard to tell often, and the meetings do go late: scheduled until 10pm, but often going later. My committee set up a coffee/tea bar in the room (electric kettle, cone and filter) so that we barely had to leave…and we did pretty much bounce off the walls!
The energy is the room palpable. Certainly as the deadline approaches, passions flare in comparing favored titles against each other. Some of us have inklings of rumors of committees where the "flares" weren’t always civil–but I’ve never experienced it myself, and everyone who’s done it will tell you that "MY committee was THE BEST."
Pictures inside the committee room are tricky…b/c just seeing the book covers themselves is a breach of confidentiality. But some of you out there must have "Wild Rumpus" photos of your committee on Flikr that are ok for public consumption. Give us a link!
(A sidebar about schedules. Even though Newbery/Caldecott may meet in the afternoons if all goes according to plan, they are NOT technically scheduled then, because Notable Books for Children meets 1:30-4:30. In the event that someone from Newbery/Caldecott cannot attend the Midwinter deliberations, someone from Notables is selected to step in, as they are (hopefully) well-read on all the pertinent titles. Newbery/Caldecott cannot progress without a full committee. That person on Notables has to attend BOTH sets of meetings. It happens, and not all that rarely, sadly. Last year, Micki Nevett died on Dec 17th, and within a few days Kathleen Isaacs was asked to join the committee. Thanks again Kathy.)
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About Nina Lindsay
Nina Lindsay is the Children's Services Coordinator at the Oakland Public Library, CA. She chaired the 2008 Newbery Committee, and served on the 2004 and 1998 committees. You can reach her at email@example.com
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