By Suzanne W. Hawley, MLS
“The suspense feeds the crowd’s anticipation, which is palpable — it’s almost as if we are all holding our collective breath.”
-Kathleen T. Horning, “Secrecy and the Newbery Medal,” School Library Journal, July 6, 2011
The year I was fortunate enough to be a member of the Newbery Committee, we all agreed that we were inundated with a remarkable number of very fine titles. Our debates went on for hours; so many fascinating perspectives shared about so many wonderful titles. In the wee hours of the morning before the Newbery Award announcement, the committee had whittled down the prospective honors to about 20. At the gentle prodding of our wise chairwoman, we finally settled on four honor books. We could have chosen 16 more!
At the time, and often since then, I wondered how we could promote all the other titles that we found so compelling. Due to the secrecy surrounding the Newbery Committee’s discussions, committee members are not allowed to say what the other books were that rose to the top. Unfortunately, this means that librarians may miss these titles when they are building their collections. Budgets are small, and most of us rely on medal winners, lists of favorites like the Children’s Notables, reviews, and some word of mouth to help inform our choices. I can’t help thinking that some of those titles that were “off the table” would add richness to collections and provide opportunities for students to stretch their proverbial wings in the world of reading.
After the 2019 American Library Association awards were presented this year, Barbara Langridge reminded us on an LM_Net post that “shortlists” are announced for non-fiction finalists. Others chimed in by mentioning that shortlists are also announced for Carnegie and Morris awards. The question “Why not have finalists announced for Newbery and Caldecott as shortlists?” was asked by several people in that series of posts.
This is not a new idea. In 1972, the Children’s Library Division began publishing the list of committee nominations twice a year in Top of the News, as well as in School Library Journal and Booklist.
This practice, originally intended as a one-year experiment, was so successful that it continued for the next five years. Giving in to complaints, primarily that the lists invaded the beloved secrecy surrounding the Newbery discussions, the practice was discontinued in 1977.
I like the idea of announcing the list of finalists for Newbery. However, I would suggest that the list be announced after the awards presentations at ALA Midwinter. Even though committee members correspond frequently throughout the year with suggestions — a process that culminates in seven nominations each — new titles released in December (as in my committee’s case) don’t have the opportunity for a real “vetting” until the committee meets at ALA Midwinter. Possibly, one or more of those would end up as a genuine contender for the award. But if the list were announced prior to the ALA Youth Media Awards announcement, such books would be missed on the list. Also, the committee hasn’t really determined the top titles until they decide on the award and the honor books. Usually, that doesn’t happen until the night before the ALA Awards are announced.
I believe that a list of the 20 or so contenders would be a valuable list for librarians and libraries to have at their fingertips. It gives them another resource for finding important titles to add to their collections and, often, there are titles that students wouldn’t discover unless they were “hand-sold.”
A counterargument might be that surely those titles would be in the list of Notable Children’s Books for that year. However, that list is often over 100 titles and librarians’ budgets are notoriously small. If they can purchase all the Notable Children’s books for that year, then lucky they are. If not, a good resource to draw on would be a list of the top 20 final contenders for the Newbery Award.
What do you think? Please share your thoughts!
In addition to selecting children and young adult materials for library collections, Suzy Hawley spends her days interfering in her children’s lives as much as possible, wheedling her husband into cooking dinner just one more time, and walking on the beach. Click here for more.