The Space Needle? The Experience Music Project? Pioneer Square? I didn’t see any of that stuff while I was in Seattle this ALA Midwinter, though the five Starbucks between my hotel and the Convention Center became very familiar indeed.
Nope, much of my ALA was spent in a conference room with my 14 fellow 2013 Newbery Award Committee members, discussing the best in children’s literature published in 2012. Fueled by chocolate, popcorn, nuts, crackers, cookies, smoked salmon and a LOT of coffee, the conversation was funny, intense, detailed, informed and enlightening. Take it from me, the 2013 Newbery Committee members are some of smartest, wittiest and most dedicated people with whome I’ve ever had the pleasure to be stuck in a room for hours on end.
Sometimes, the process reminded me of jury duty. We had our criteria, rules and guidelines to adhere to – much like jury instructions from the judge – and we reminded each other occasionally when discussion veered to such forbidden things as making comparisons to books published in previous years. As when on a jury, we had to come to a strong consensus on our winner – though not a unanimous decision (phew!).
Serving on the Newbery Committee was something like training for a marathon. We started the year slowly, reading those surprisingly few books we could get our hands on in January and February 2012. Our training began in earnest in March, and over the next few months we built up our endurance, lengthened our reading sessions and began to hone our note-taking and organization techniques. In fall, we began truly to feel the euphoria and pain of our commitment, as we read hours a day and made Newbery a priority in our lives. By January, we were at the peak of our Newbery prowess and positively quivering to hear the starting gun marking the beginning of the race – our book discussion at Midwinter.
And like a marathon, all the reading in the world can’t quite prepare you for the actual experience of a Newbery book discussion. Or rather, it was simply a vastly different experience from the lone reading, thinking and note-taking we’d been doing all year. Some of us conducted mock Newberys during the year, some of us blogged – but none of us shared with anyone off the committee what was being read, suggested or nominated. And I, taking things to a somewhat obsessive extreme, didn’t even feel comfortable telling folks what books I loved personally, settling for “yep, I read that” or even just a cryptic nod.
Our book discussion took us to the limits of our knowledge and abilities, but the dedication we put into our training all year paid off. Our reading and re-reading and underlining and note-taking and pondering all led to some of the most exhilarating hours I’ve ever spent talking and thinking about books.
Best of all, all that work led to the truly distinguished (and just plain awesome) 2013 Newbery Award winner – The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate – and three fabulous Honor books – Splendors and Glooms by Laura Amy Schlitz, Bomb by Steve Sheinkin and Three Times Lucky by Sheila Turnage. The intricacy and depth of our discussions ensured that these books are truly worthy of the Newbery Award – and having been a part of the process, I’m more assured than ever that it really works.
In fact, it will be fun to go back and read every Newbery winner from the past 20 years again, just to enjoy them in light of the Newbery criteria that have now been burned into my very soul.
But first I have some YA and adult books to catch up on!