A Top Three? Already?
Some time in October, Newbery Committee members will each submit three official Nominations. They’ll do two more each in November and December, for a total of seven. Nominations are not ranked, just submitted as a group. Up until now, members have been submitting monthly Suggestions. This is how they share titles of the books they feel other members should read. You can Suggest books that you rate very highly, but you can also add them for other reasons: maybe you Suggest a book in a genre or age range that isn’t well represented so far, even if you don’t think it’s a contender yourself, for example. Suggestions are submitted without any justification; it’s a running title list that builds over the course of the year. By the end of September there may be 80 – 120 suggested titles (or more or less…even the number is confidential).
Nominations are different. This is your first chance to select books for the selection discussions that will happen at the Midwinter meetings. All nominated titles start off on the table when Midwinter discussions begin. It’s also an opportunity to share your reasons for nominating a book in written form. So members typically spend a lot of time deciding which books to put forward. Once the October Nominations are compiled, it’s also the first time the Committee can get a sense of what titles might be strong contenders in the minds of their co-members. A very rough sense, since there are still many unread books at this point, but it’s still pretty exciting.
Members typically consult with no one as they make Nominations (from the Manual: “members must maintain confidentiality about the books that are nominated by committee members”), but we don’t have that restriction here. So the three of us will share some thoughts about Nomination titles and strategies, then invite you to put some titles forward yourselves, as well as any thoughts or questions you might have about the process. Roxanne and Sharon, what’s risen to the top of your lists so far?
I am a slow reader and have always relied on other members’ suggestions and played catch-up all the time. I also have a terrible time to not finish books so even if something is not to my liking, I have to read it to the end. This further reduces the number of books I can get through at any given time frame. So I spend my time reading the books themselves and almost never read reviews during the Committee year. However, since I know that Sci-Fi, Fantasy, non-traditional genres tend not to receive as much fanfare (even within the committee itself,) I try to be the first reader for certain titles. The first round of nomination in October is always such an exciting moment. As Steven pointed out, as a committee member, I get to see how many others feel similarly as me regarding certain titles. It’s also quite telling to see how many people have nominated the same types of books. Of course, there are always those complete out-of-the-left-field nominations that make me scratch my head: what was this person thinking?
Right now, my favorite books include: Real Friends by Shannon Hale, Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor, See You in the Cosmos by Jack Cheng, Patina by Jason Reynolds, and Clayton Byrd Goes Underground by Rita Williams-Garcia. But since I am still playing catch-up, these might change greatly in the next two months. Depending on what you and Sharon and others suggest. I am about to read Wishtree, Tumble and Blu, Schomberg, and All’s Faire in Middle School, and some 15 other titles on our shared Google Doc of 100-plus entries.
It’s always a battle for me to decide what to nominate first. I want to make sure the “important” books make the table – the ones that everyone is talking about. At the same time, though, I want to ensure that personal favorites get discussed and these are ones maybe less likely to be nominated by others. I think for October nominations, I’d go for slightly oddball nominations, assuming that the Hello Universes and Clayton Byrds and Beyond the Bright Seas will have plenty of champions.
Of course when I say oddball, I don’t mean not worthy. I mean titles that I think are potentially the best of the best and deserve discussion, but that I don’t necessarily know have the eyes of others on the committee.
I feel like I still have so much to read that my favorites may still be yet to come! I definitely recommend checking out All’s Faire in Middle School, Roxanne. It moved high on my list quickly and remains there. I also am a big fan of Clayton Byrd Goes Underground. The Hate U Give, which we still need to talk about, is up there for me. Beyond the Bright Sea, too.
Steven, please remind me: is the list of October nomination anonymously compiled by the Chair and then disseminated to the committee members or are our names attached to the nominations/write-ups?
I’m not positive, but I believe that is up to each year’s committee or its chair. In my two years the nominations did have names attached and that makes most sense to me. Monthly suggestions are typically anonymous, so with nominations you can put your words and your name behind a book for the first time. When I read other people’s nominations I don’t know that it helped to know who wrote what, though. There was always so much to think about with the titles and the words about them, that I was never also able to track who wrote it.
During my Caldecott year, we didn’t attach names to nominations. It was interesting that way, and I was OK with it! We claimed our nominations during discussion, for the most part.
This is also a chance to gauge and start thinking about strategy. If many people have put their precious nomination quota on a particular type of books, and that happens to be something I do not particularly care for, I will start making particular notes on ways to point out why those titles are NOT distinguished or eminent. It’s always wonderful to see a strong support of a title that I personally feel very positive about — but some might make the mistake by thinking that no more efforts need to be made to convince other committee members to vote for that particular book when the time comes. Things change and shift so much during Committee discussions that nothing is for sure.
Steven and Sharon, do you pick the ones you think you are the sole supporter for first? Or do you wait for the second/final round of nomination to ensure that an oddball title gets on the table? What are your nominating strategies?
I’m always torn between finally being to say, officially: These are my top three books! And the more strategic approach, which for me is to nominate titles that I fear may not be ranked as highly by others. So looking at the list of suggestions can be helpful. This year I’d guess VINCENT AND THEO would have a lot of suggestions and GIVE BEES A CHANCE hardly any. So I might pass on V AND T, assuming it will get on the list, and go for BEES. In November or December I might chime in with V AND T, especially if I feel like I can add new insights that haven’t been mentioned on other nominations. I think I’ve generally split those two: two top titles and one wild card in October, and maybe one of each in November and December. But it’s tricky, because you might read several great books in the next month or two and find yourself unable to fit in a title that you strongly support.
Exactly what Steven says, and what I alluded to above. It is such a decision! I think, also like Steven, I’d start with the ones I feel no one else is likely to nominate. Especially for the October nominations, where this strategy feels safe.
I find reading the written nominations pretty fascinating. Members will have different comfort levels with written communication, and there is no required format or word length (unless the chair or consensus sets these…my committees never did). So you get quite a variety of approaches. Roxanne or Sharon, have you found that the written nominations of others had an impact on how you viewed the books?
Definitely! I mean it’s even happening here, just on the blog, where we don’t have formal nominations, but I’m reading two respected colleagues opinions. I mean, I always value respected colleagues’ opinions, but in this case we are talking about other people who are doing the same quantity of reading and with the same criteria in mind, so it is really quite different than reading regular book reviews or combing goodreads for what people think. I don’t think a written nomination has been a total mind-changer, but it definitely helped me look at books differently when I went back for a re-read.
I must confess that I don’t really find those nomination write-ups too helpful to me. I will read them and print them out and attach them to my notes and files to refer back to while we have our in-person discussion but it is the latter that really makes a true impact on my ballot decisions.
If I were to nominate right now I think I’d go for THE HATE U GIVE to make sure it at least got good discussion and wasn’t passed over due to perception of age of reader, ALL’S FAIRE IN MIDDLE SCHOOL (a long shot), and CLAYTON BYRD GOES UNDERGROUND.
If I had to nominate three titles today, I’d go with VINCENT AND THEO (likely contender) and GIVE BEES A CHANCE (long shot), as mentioned above. And I would add WELL THAT WAS AWKWARD (long shot #2) and guess/hope that MIDNIGHT WITHOUT A MOON will have other support. Anyone else willing to put forward a top three so far?
Filed under: Process
About Steven Engelfried
Steven Engelfried was the Library Services Manager at the Wilsonville Public Library in Oregon until he retired in 2022 after 35 years as a full-time librarian. He served on the 2010 Newbery committee, chaired the 2013 Newbery Committee, and also served on the 2002 Caldecott committee. You can reach him at email@example.com.
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