That’s Classified: Newbery Committee Inside Insights
Today is the second post in our series of Inside Insights from our experiences on the Newbery Committee. The idea is to give an inside view of some of the nuts and bolts of being on the Newbery Committee. We’re glad to answer questions and would also love to hear from others about their own Committee experiences. You can view our first post about ALL THE BOOKS we received here.
In this post, we’ll discuss confidentiality and keeping information TOP SECRET.
EMILY: When you agree to be on the Newbery Committee, you agree to keep a lot of information classified- what books are discussed, specific numbers, any specific information etc. etc. This can prove difficult especially when you blog about the Newbery Medal like Steven and I do. The hardest thing for me was keeping a secret after the committee made our decision (I can’t tell you when exactly we made said decision) and Monday morning at the announcement press conference. What was the hardest part for you Steven?
STEVEN: I actually loved the keeping a secret part. Just walking around the exhibits or whatever on the Sunday, knowing that you have information that everyone wants to know, but nobody gets to except you and the Committee. Hardest for me is when I’m talking about books to readers, kids or grownups, later, and really wanting to say: “and this one was almost a Newbery Honor book!” Especially if it’s a book that hasn’t had much attention since, and could have benefited so much from the award.
EMILY: KT Horning wrote a great post about the history of secrecy behind the Newbery Medal which you can read here. The highlights I found were: that the beginning votes (1922) were done by mail, without a committee discussion and that once there was a committee they made the decision in March and had to keep it secret until June. FOUR MONTHS! There was a lot of controversy about the winners getting leaked… possibly even intentionally. I think it all boils down to the fact that secrecy helps build the anticipation for the decision. But thank goodness we only have to keep things secret for 36 hours now!
EMILY: Speaking of KT Horning, she was a big campaigner for the ALSC board voting for a statue of either 25 or 50 years of confidentiality limitation. After a pre-determined time period, one could find out more information behind the discussions.
STEVEN: ALSC changed that rule in 2016, so members of any committee after that are free to divulge anything they after 50 years. There definitely needs to be an SLJ interview with surviving members in 2066. Not everything used to be this secret. I was surprised to learn (probably from KT Horning) that the list of nominations was published, up into the 1970’s. Several years ago the late Peter Sieruta shared the list of nominated titles from 1973 – 1976 on his wonderful Collecting Children’s Books blog. Many old favorites (FREAKY FRIDAY! SOUP!) and many more that I’ve never heard of. You can see those lists here, scrolling down about ⅔ of the way down his post.
EMILY: Is there any Newbery room that you would have loved to be a “fly on the wall” for their committee deliberations? I know a lot of people are shocked, Charlotte’s Web only won an honor. (Fun Fact- one can tell that Charlotte’s Web placed second in 1953, because honor books were listed in order of how many votes they received. Now it’s alphabetical.) Personally, I would like to hear what went down in Last Stop on Market Street’s year. Were people nervous about a picture book winning it all? Was anyone not in support of that decision?
STEVEN: Yes, it’s those surprises that I’d love to hear about. It’s tricky because while the Committee makes the decision based on literary quality, members can’t help but be aware that the book they wind up selecting will be a surprise (or not). I think the double-honors for Christina Soontornvat in 2021 would have been fun.
STEVEN: Along with confidentiality, Committee members also need to declare any conflicts of interest that might impact award selection. The Newbery Manual states that “no person should obtain or appear to obtain special advantages for themselves, their relatives, their employer or their close associates as a result of their services on a committee.” That would have ruled me out from this year’s committee, because my sister Sally published her first kids’ book this year. I’ve even heard (but can’t confirm) that if you are mentioned in an author’s dedication (or maybe author’s notes?) it might appear to be a conflict.
EMILY: I’ve heard of committee members having to step down because of an unforeseen conflict of interest, or because of giving too much information out on social media. It is a really hard balance because you want to share information about the process and spread the love of the Newbery but don’t want to breach any confidentiality issues. That being said, ask us all the questions you want in the comments and we’ll answer the ones we can!!
Filed under: Newbery Experience
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 email@example.com.
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