Looking for some juicy inside gossip on the secret discussions that took place at this year’s Caldecott Committee meetings? Sorry to say you won’t find them here- or anywhere for that matter. Members who serve on ALSC award committees sign an agreement promising not to reveal details of the discussions, the titles of books that were considered (other than the winners, of course) or any specific information on the balloting. This vow of silence lasts a lifetime. I could be 101 years old with great-grandkids on my knee and *still* I could not reveal the content of my committee’s Caldecott discussions. And that’s part of the magic and power of these awards.
The ALSC awards for children’s literature have a major impact not only on the lives of the winning authors and illustrators, but on the publishing world and the curriculums of teachers around the country- not to mention the budgetary decisions and collection development of public and school librarians everywhere. But why all the secrecy? According to K.T. Horning, the tradition of keeping the winning titles confidential until the press conference began way back in 1922 with the request by Newbery Committee founder Frederic Melcher. Being a publisher and bookseller, Melcher understood the market forces and how a bit of secrecy would increase the cachet of these newly created awards. In the early days of the Newbery-Caldecott, a handful of committee members chose the winners in March and had to keep them secret until June!
Nowadays, thankfully, committee members need only hold their tongues on the winners for a day or so before the Youth Media Awards Press Conference at Midwinter. Yet the confidentiality surrounding the discussions leading up to those choices remain private forever. Over the years librarians have come to question the sanctity of those discussions and even suggest that the committee meetings be recorded and stored for posterity. Who wouldn’t love to be a fly on the wall during those intense and passionate discussions? But creating buzz and anticipation is not the only reason for secrecy. It also allows for a truly free and uninhibited discussion and debate. Committee members can speak openly and honestly about the books on the table without fear that their comments will one day fall under criticism of fellow librarians, editors, authors, or illustrators. That honesty and openness is essential to ensuring the success of the selection process.
This confidentiality also ensures that the winning title and the honor books are presented and embraced as the result of consensus. To reveal which titles had X number of votes, which ones did not make it to the table, or which committee members voted for particular titles would sully the final decisions and detract from the honor and weight of the awards.
The mystery surrounding the awards discussions is in large part what makes them so special. There is magic in that mystery and for that reason…..my lips are sealed.