The Final Month: Newbery Committee Inside Insights
Today Emily and I will share one more conversation about our experiences on the real Newbery Committee. We’ve touched on confidentiality rules, the influence of “buzz”, and how members manage all those books in previous posts. As the announcement of the award comes closer (it’s one month away!), we thought we’d share how the focus shifts for Newbery members during the last 1+ months of their terms:
STEVEN: Some time in December, Newbery Committee members receive the results of the last round of nominations. The final nomination list triggers a big shift in the committee’s focus. You finally have a finite list of books that you’ll be considering, and the rush to read everything disappears. Emily, do you remember how that felt for you?
EMILY: I remember being so happy to be able to let go of books. I was able to move all the nominated titles to a certain (undisclosed) number of shelves (which I covered up with a blanket for secrecy haha) and then I made a detailed schedule for books I was going to reread each day until deliberations. Of course I didn’t follow that schedule but it was still nice to have! What about you?
STEVEN: Yes, that shift was huge. Such a relief to be able to put all of the books you need to care about sitting on a single bookcase…and box everything else up. Finally the task you’ve been struggling with all year seems do-able.
EMILY: For me I had a different type of countdown going on too. My first child was due the week of deliberations in Seattle, and I NEEDED to make it on an airplane. So as soon as it was safe for the child to be born, I was trying to “evict him,” so that I could make it to Seattle. It was all highly dramatic and I definitely was listening to audio of The Book of Boy while in the delivery room… but the baby made it safely, I made it to the Newbery and I NEVER want to go through that anticipation again!
STEVEN: Great story, Emily! Well, it sounds great now…probably not so fun at the time. And it’s crucial to make it to that meeting. If a member cannot attend,, for whatever reason, they cannot participate in the discussion and balloting. At that point, the ALSC President appoints a last minute replacement; typically someone who is also on another committee that has read a ton of books (like ALSC Notables) and that person would jump in and participate. If no fill-in can be found, the committee must operate with 14 instead of 15, according to the Newbery Manual (p 20).
EMILY: Rereading titles was something I never did much of before the Newbery. But titles that made it on our final list I read between 3 and 5 times. Even during discussions I didn’t reread full titles but I was definitely skimming through pages to see what I missed. And scouring Twitter, blogs (cough Heavy Medal) etc. to see if there was anything that I needed to know!
STEVEN: Rereading really is the key. I clearly remember re-reading and comparing two of our final choices on the train from Portland to Seattle in 2013. Probably my third time for each, but there I was, still making notes and discovering new things about both titles. The other thing about re-reading is that it kind of levels the field in terms of publishing date. I first read THE ONE AND ONLY IVAN (our Medal winner) very early in the year; SPLENDORS AND GLOOMS (an Honor book) was likely September. But re-reading both (and the other nominated books) in December/January put them all equally fresh in my mind.
EMILY: My chair did a thing on our committee where we all were supposed to bring snacks from our home area. This provided good fodder during long and intense discussions and was fun to get to know people better. I need to dig up the photo… but I remember some very intense chocolate snack cakes… Garrette’s popcorn from Chicago… and some crab tasting chips….
STEVEN: I think we did that on my committees too, but I don’t remember details (I’m not really a food person). But it is a good way for people to get to know each other beyond just book talk. Most members only see each other briefly at the two previous conferences, and it’s really helpful to have that informal camaraderie. Especially because the book discussions can be so intense and serious.
EMILY: After all the individual reading and all the time spent reading those books it was a huge reversal to be in a room with all these people talking about books. The dynamic really changed and the energy really was electric… so much build up jammed into one weekend… one book marathon.
STEVEN: And exhausting. In my 2010 year (Boston) our chair let us know which hotel the meetings would be in as soon as she knew and suggested we stay there if possible. I was so glad I followed her advice and switched. Between meetings I could use the gym, grab a regular snack (I’m not so big on the exotic choices from different states…that’s just me), and even take a quick nap. Just what I needed to recharge.
EMILY: My committee was really into rallying; ordering meals in and continuing with the process… but my chair made sure that we took breaks or got outside at key moments before making our big decisions. As she said, people can get a little “punchy,” after being enclosed and together for so long.
STEVEN: There were scheduled breaks too, and people used those in different ways. In Seattle I remember some members talking about squeezing in a visit to the Space Needle during a break of a few hours. I was so impressed! All I could manage was to walk to my hotel room (several blocks from our meetings this time) and watch Friends reruns. We all unwind in our own ways. But however we did it, we were all 100% ready to go when we re-convened.
EMILY: During most conferences I had a lot of time to go to social events, roam the exhibit hall, or meet up with friends from other states. But during the Newbery we were basically locked in our room all day. And my chair discouraged us from hanging out with others, so that we didn’t spill any secrets. We had the time free Sunday after we finished the press release, but were encouraged to stay away from the exhibit hall.
STEVEN: I didn’t do social stuff after our decisions were made, but I finally took time to go to exhibits. I took great pleasure in wandering around among so many people, knowing this big important secret that nobody else knew. I kind of wanted someone to interrogate me in hopes of dragging out the slightest hint, just so I could show how resolute I was. Nobody ever did, but I was ready. This year, though, like almost everybody else, I won’t learn the Newbery winner until it’s announced at the Youth Media Awards on January 30th…and that’s exciting too.
Filed under: Newbery Experience
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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