Frequently Asked Questions: About the Newbery Committee Experience
During last week’s live Zoom (which you can watch here), we received many thoughtful questions about the Newbery experience. There wasn’t enough time to address them all, so here are some FAQ’s, answered by Emily.
How do you get on the committee? Newbery committee members must be members of the American Library Association and the Association for Library Service to Children. Each committee is made up of fifteen members including a chair. ALSC members elect eight members to each committee on the ALA spring ballot. The ALSC President appoints the chair and the remaining six members to the committee and tries to balance any demographical gaps.
How do you get the books? The books are mailed to the address given to your committee and at the beginning of spring the boxes really start piling up. I had to get extra bookshelves for all my books and those still were not enough! Many publishers do send potential Newbery books to members for free, however some titles members track down on their own at their own expense.
How do you decide what to read? Committee members are expected to read as many of the eligible books as possible, including all books suggested by other committee members and by other members of ALSC. I tried to “evaluate” every book I received, didn’t necessarily always even start reading it. Then I would try really had to only finish books if I thought it had potential. Suggestions were really nice because I would reevaluate books I missed the first time. It really takes the pressure off to know you have 14 other committee members with different backgrounds, reading and evaluating. I still found myself feeling the pressure and scouring review sites, blogs and bookstores to make sure I didn’t miss anything.
Do you have a chance to do much other than reading during your committee year? Do you listen to audiobooks, or read (or listen) to ebooks, since that is such a different experience?
My chair highly discouraged audiobooks (but I still listened to them) and just made sure I read it a print version too. I did some ebooks, but not many. I’ve heard of some committee members that gave up TV or sewing or other hobbies during their Newbery year, but I still needed my hobbies.
Do you get to keep the books after your year is up? Yes, members keep the books and can use them however they choose. Many donate to their own library, or to other libraries more in need or to schools. I probably kept about a dozen of my books for myself (including all the award winners and my hot chocolate stained copy of “Merci Suarez”. I had all of my young friends come over and go “shopping for free books,”, donated to my library and used a lot as presents.
How do authors find out they won? In Steven and my years, we called the authors the morning of the award. It is an exciting phone call with 15 committee members cheering on the author. In the past two years I believed the publishers helped set up “fake Zoom meetings,” where the authors were “zoom bombed” by the committees. Everyone is highly cautioned to keep the secret until the results are announced.
How is the shortlist decided? Committee members submit a total of 7 written nominations in September, October and November. Any nominated book is discussed during deliberations before balloting. Technically if everyone nominates 7 unique titles, more than 100 books would be discussed but I highly doubt that’s ever happened…
How are the honor books decided? Once a winner is chosen, the committee decides whether to name honor books and how many. It could be zero… it could be 100? My chair put it very well, that any of the honor books should be of a high enough quality that they could have potentially won the award.
When does the committee meet? For mine and Steven’s years, we met in person at the ALA conferences- an initial meet and greet at Midwinter (now LibLearnX) before our committee year, practice discussions at Annual and then the main discussions in person at Midwinter (now LibLearnX). The past two years the final discussions and balloting took place on Zoom and the timing has changed. With Zoom, Committees have started their discussions earlier and have chosen a winner well before the usual time (which is the Saturday night before the Monday announcement).
Are you worried about not choosing the best title? Steven answered this very well in a previous e-mail. “I wouldn’t say I worried, but as a member and as a Chair I felt a heavy responsibility, and I believe all members do. Following the process of reading, thinking, and discussing, while always keeping the Newbery Criteria in mind, really should result in only books of the highest quality winning. The final discussions are so intense and rigorous, it would be very hard for a less than excellent book to emerge as a winner. That doesn’t mean everyone will agree, just that the winners have made it through a very serious process applied by 15 very serious children’s book people. ” And Emily would just like to ditto that with something her chair would say- “read the manual, follow the criteria, and trust the process!”
If you have more questions, we love talking about our experiences (what we’re allowed to talk about at least), so feel free to reach out! Also be sure to find Emily in 2069 when she can let all the secrets loose.
Authors Note 2/11/2022- A previous version of this blog post had an image of the Newbery Award Seal without proper permissions. The image has been removed.
Filed under: Newbery History
About Emily Mroczek-Bayci
Emily Mroczek (Bayci) is a freelance children’s librarian in the Chicago suburbs. She served on the 2019 Newbery committee. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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