How to Pick the Last Two: Ideas and Strategies for the Final Mock Newbery Nomination
We’ll be calling for December nominations on Monday. This will be the last chance for readers to name two titles that we should consider as strong Newbery contenders. For the real Newbery committee, the titles nominated by members are the only books that will be discussed and eligible for their ballot. So the December picks can be the hardest of all.
I haven’t yet decided which titles I’ll nominate and some of you might be in the same spot. So let’s look at a few different ways that committee members might approach this very difficult decision:
Add your support to a title that already has nominations
This can apply if you just haven’t read any truly outstanding books. But also it can be a strategy. On the real committee, all nominated books will start out on the discussion table. But the group has the option of removing any titles before discussion starts in order to leave more time for stronger contenders. A second or third December nomination might just push a book that may have seemed kind of iffy into higher prominence.
VIOLET & JOBIE IN THE WILD fits this scenario for me. It only has one nomination so far, and I’m pretty sure it’s a top seven title for me. Do I just let it sit there with one, or should I add my support and hope that helps others take it more seriously as a contender? I’m also considering THE DOOR OF NO RETURN, another single nomination title so far, but I’m more confident that this will garner nominations from others.
Go strictly by your own personal ranking, regardless of the nomination totals to date
This one appeals to the purist in me. I like the idea of everyone just putting forth their own top-of-the-list, most distinguished books of the year, and seeing where it all falls out. Practically speaking, though, it could mean using up one or more nominations on books that really don’t stand a chance.
For me, the example book might be BIG AND SMALL AND IN-BETWEEN. I mentioned it as one of my top two titles earlier in the year, but I really think this more of a “Steven’s-kind-of-book” thing. Though it does have one nomination so far, I fear it won’t get the widespread support it would need to go far (though I’d love to be wrong…)
Pick a title that might not be your top choice, but has the strongest Newbery potential
This is a tough one, where you really have to honor your critical side over your plain old reader side…very hard for me to do. But committee members are charged with finding the “most distinguished book,” not their personal favorite. It’s possible to admire a book and identify its excellence, even if you don’t really enjoy it that much…I was an English major, so I did that a lot.
I think about AIN’T BURNED ALL THE BRIGHT in this case. Though I didn’t connect that strongly with it, I can see how this book might resonate powerfully with many readers. Exploring such complex subject matter through an illustrated poem is a big challenge, and the author (and illustrator) tackle it head on in unique and creative ways. Even though it’s not exactly the right book for me, I could see it winning and would respect that choice.
Choose a book that hasn’t been nominated yet to make sure it gets considered
This option could wind up as an empty gesture if you’re the only one to nominate a book and it turns out no one else sees its virtues. On the other hand, you might be ensuring that the best book of the year doesn’t get left off the table. At least one person must have struggled with this last year, when A SNAKE FALLS TO EARTH, which was published on November 23rd, surely must have been nominated in December for the first time…and wound up with a Newbery Honor. I have several zero-nominations-so-far titles that I’m looking at:
- BUZZKILL could be my top book of the year, but I fear its length and age range might mean limited support.
- A ROVER’S STORY has a clever premise that’s very well executed. I’m fairly confident others will nominate based on some comments on the blog, but real committee members don’t have that luxury: they’re not sharing what they’re thinking with each other during the year, and they only learn what others have nominated after everyone’s sent theirs in.
- I still think THE SHEEP, THE ROOSTER, AND THE DUCK is so fresh and fun that it should be in the discussion…but it’s not in my top seven, so I may not be able to justify using one of my seven nominations on it.
- I just finished SEEN AND UNSEEN: A very impressive book. The illustrations and photos play a big role, but Elizabeth Partridge’s writing supports and expands upon them expertly. I’m thinking hard about this one.
- And I just started SPARROWS IN THE WIND, which I have high hopes for. Although in a way, it would be better if I end up not liking it: I really don’t need another book contending for my last two precious nominations….
Our December nominations will be open from November 28th to December 3rd. We’re scheduling them a bit early so that we can use the results to help us finalize our Heavy Medal Book List fairly early in the month.
Readers, what are you thinking right now? Are you torn between two books (or three…or more)? Titles you’re scrambling to read? Have you seen books with strong buzz that aren’t on our nomination list? Let us know in the comments. And remember, this is not our official nomination post- so you can name anything and you aren’t stuck with it!
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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