Voting on Apples, Oranges and Lychees
Here’s a little more description of the content of our deliberations…at least my table’s half of the discussion.
Jonathan notes that while THE DUNDERHEADS was well praised at his table, only he cast a vote for it in the first ballot, and that the group then pulled it out of discussion in order to focus more on the titles that had more support.
DUNDERHEADS was also well praised at my table, so much so that we had a hard time finding fault with it. We liked the use of language, the structure, the tone, the presentation. There were concerns about having too much left out of the text in parts, and what reliance on the illustrations that forces the reader to. (This would be, I think, the "fault" that some would find in it.) I myself found the ellisions in the narrative to heighten the effectiveness and appeal. (To me it doesn’t matter how Wheels transports everyone, for instance).
Some asked how to compare it to, say a novel like WYRM or CALPURNIA or an "important" work of nonfiction like CLAUDETTE or MARCHING…all of which may give more to readers, simply because there’s more to them. I asked members to consider DUNERHEADS for how well it achieves what it sets out to do.
In the first ballot, DUNDERHEADS got 2 first place votes, 2 second place votes, and 3 third place votes, putting it in "second place," where it stayed strongly throughout the voting process.
While we found DUNDERHEADS "nearly flawless"…we discussed a lot of the weaker or confusing points in WYRM, and acknowledged that while it’s a broadly appealing book to sell to an audience, it may actually work best for a very particular type of reader, who appreciates the complex and speculative leap of faith. In comments on the Race Card post in particular, it’s clear that this is a text where the reader must make a lot of inferences. Some people seem uncomfortable with the possibility that some readers might not make a certain inference….but I think that it makes the book richer. It’s a book that’s respectful of its audience, and challenges them to understand the story at more than surface level. I pointed out that no book is flawless…that even if we weren’t seeing the flaws in DUNDERHEADS, it just meant that we hadn’t found them yet, and that no Newbery winner is without it’s flaws or weak points. I personally (who voted for WRYM 1st place, and DUNDERHEADS 2nd), felt that WYRM is slightly more remarkable, more evident of excellence in the variety of criteria applicable to it, more distinguished than DUNDERHEADS, qualitatively (not in quantity of distinguished elements, but in how distinguished they are). But: slightly.
Interestingly, when we got to WHERE THE MOUNTAIN MEETS THE MOON, our comments seemed to fall on the "flaws outweigh strengths" scale, but I feel like we were just lacking the right champion for this book at our table. It fell out of contention as early and easily as THE DUNDERHEADS did for Jonathan’s group.
Something else about our particular voting process that bears discussion here. We had 10-11 voters ranking 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place choices for 8 titles. 8 titles is kind of a limited field to be doing that kind of voting (but 8 titles is what I can get everyone to read)…and ends up often encouraging the kind of split fields that Jonathan and I saw in both our groups. If you have a list of 20 or 30 or 40….then a lot of single votes spread out, and let the titles around which there IS a little more consensus rise to the top. Generally the committee wants to be careful about knocking too many titles out of contention for voting, because you want to retain a wide field for subsequent ballots. That is…you might have several titles with very few votes on the first ballot, but keep them in the running, not remove them prematurely, so that the votes continue to gel towards a consensus. If you get too slim a field, then you could end up with the awkward situation where a member doesn’t HAVE three titles they want to vote on, yet they must. That happened in our final Mock ballot for the Honor books. It ended up, I believe, muddling support for some of the books in the middle.
I also think our split fields were due partly to the variety of books on the table…that when faced with such difference types of titles, many of us voted with our gut. Though the gut does guide the Newbery committee at times…recall that they have a year–with several days of discussion at the end–to chew before they swallow.
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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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