Newbery Award Final Contenders: Who Are They? Inquiring Minds Want to Know

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

Group sitting_1133218661The 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!

 

suzanne

Suzanne

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.

A New Color-Coding System for Children’s Books

By Suzanne Hawley, MLS

shutterstock_448281532.jpgBefore joining Brodart I was the librarian at an elementary school in Fairfax County, Virginia. At that time, Fairfax County’s School System had a robust, active library community. We met regularly to share information and best practices with each other, and sometimes hear from guest lecturers.

During one session, a PhD candidate from one of the local universities told the group about a project she was working on for her doctorate. Specifically, she was trying to develop a unique method for organizing picture books to help children find titles on their own without supervision. The concept included using numbers and colors, both of which are appealing to youngsters. After being introduced to this concept, I began thinking about how I could adapt and implement a similar system in my library.

I knew that revising the categorization for all of our picture books—nonfiction as well as fiction—would be labor intensive and time consuming. I did a lot of begging for help and managed to secure commitments from several volunteers to assist with the effort. We developed a plan and made the change during the summer months when school was out. Staff and parents looked upon the project as a labor of love.

We decided upon a classification system with 10 color-coded categories and 10 numbered sub-sections for each category (with the exception of the Easy-to-Read Titles). Shown below is a rundown of the categories.

table

 

On the title page of each book I placed the number of its predominant subject. We purchased small, round, colored labels for each of the eight overall subjects. The correct number for each book was written on the label with a black Sharpie. Then the label was applied to the book’s spine and covered with clear tape. For example, both Martha Rustad’s nonfiction All about Christmas and Karma Wilson’s fiction Bear Stays up for Christmas had tan labels with the number 38 on them. We also changed the corresponding location of each title on the computer record.

poster

Large, prominently-displayed posters served as directional aides. There was a poster for each of the eight colors with the corresponding numbers and their subjects. The title of each poster was the overall category. For example, “General and Reference” was the title on the white poster. On the side of the poster were the 10 numbers with their matching subjects. Here’s an example of a poster:

The new organizational structure for nonfiction and fiction picture books was an instant hit with students. In fact, it was so successful that I instituted it in two more libraries in Florida schools—again with the help of staff and parents. In all three schools, teachers, kids, and parents frequently mentioned how glad they were to be able to find books so easily.

I’ve been gone from the schools for a while and I’ve often wondered if subsequent librarians reverted back to the traditional classification system: by author’s last name for fiction picture books and Dewey classification for nonfiction picture books.

shutterstock_746904463Recently, I ran into a couple of primary grade teachers I used to work with and asked if the revised system was still in place. One asked, “You mean the colors and numbers for elementary kids?” When I nodded, she said, “The teachers would mutiny if they changed that system. Makes it so easy for us to do our units. When I do the community helpers unit, I go right to the red section!” I laughed and asked, “Well, how about the kids?” “They love it. Really cuts down on their frustration over finding the right book,” she replied. “Of course, it means that every little boy knows that the dinosaurs are in yellow 41 and spends lots of time there.” That’s what changing the traditional approach was all about!

Although I implemented this particular system in a school library, it could easily be adapted for public libraries as well. Do you use an alternative system? If so, I hope you’ll share.

 

suzanne

Suzanne

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.