March 27, 2017

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Let Book Awards Committee Members Blab | Up for Debate

Ed Spicer

Ed Spicer

When I signed on to the Caldecott Committee, it was with the clear understanding that our deliberations were confidential. I fully intend to honor this promise—and wonder whether all other committee members will be as faithful. There are rumors out there!

Despite my pledge, I would dearly love to talk about my experiences. Now, the Association for Library Services to Children (ALSC) is considering a proposal that would allow me to do just that. I support this!

Opening up the process after so many years would help new members see the range of possibilities more fully. The general public doesn’t know that on any given Newbery or Caldecott committee, some members may not agree at all with the choices, since votes don’t have to be unanimous. Books can and do fall under the bus each and every year—and nobody but committee members knows about them.

Also read:

Why You Don’t Want To Know More About the Newbery and Caldecott

Dan Santat, 2015 Caldecott Medal recipient for The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend

I Could Tell You About the Newbery and Caldecott Committees. But I Can’t.

Kathleen T. Horning, director, Cooperative Children’s Book Center of the School of Education at the University of Wisconsin-Madison

I hope that we can end the confidentiality requirement primarily because it would allow members to discuss those authors and illustrators who truly did fabulous work, but whose books weren’t winners or honorees. Dan Santat and other illustrators have spoken of the magic of mystery as reason to keep the confidentiality regulations in place. However, I believe that this now-secret information has the potential to save careers. I know of illustrators who doubt their ability and wonder whether they should keep plugging away. Some of their books are out of print. Maybe open discussions would have publishers reprinting some of these.

I’ve had way too many conversations with non-committee members in which this person or that wonders why my Caldecott committee did not consider this book or that. I hear, “They must not have received it because there is no way they could have and not given it the Caldecott or at least an honor!” There is nothing I can say. But I so want to tell them, “Yes, we did receive it! It did not win because it wasn’t eligible or because it was a horrible mess.”

I am also swayed in favor of removing the confidentiality restriction by simple curiosity. It would be so cool to know, perhaps, how close Jacqueline Woodson’s Show Way came to beating out Criss Cross for the Newbery. Did the committee talk about Julius Lester’s amazing Day of Tears? Why there were only two honors in 1964? What other books were considered 25 or 50 years ago?

So what about those who made comments expecting them to remain confidential? Is there a time limit on how long that potential embarrassment should seal the work of a committee?

I suggest that ALSC begin collecting releases from former committee members like me who wish to share their experiences. There must also be a way to protect the privacy of those who don’t share my blabbermouth tendencies. Certainly, the historical value of such information is enough to begin planning for a day in which committees are elected with the full knowledge that after ten years (or more), their nominations, vote totals, and other deliberations will serve the next generation of committee members and literature scholars.

A good compromise could be to begin a new policy for future committees and decide on a time limit that would allow others to share experiences. I could easily speak of contending books without violating anyone’s privacy. These conversations could potentially renew interest and sales of books that didn’t make the final cut. I am very proud of the books our 2009 committee selected. This consensus-driven process works quite well. However, future committee members, children’s literature scholars, and others would benefit from learning about the entire process. I want to blab!


Ed Spicer (@spicyreads) is an educator whose students have ranged from graduate students to kindergarteners. He will retire from teaching first grade in the summer of 2016 and hopes to publish his own writing. Spicer has served on the Caldecott, Printz, and many other ALA awards committees. He is a Cool Teacher winner in Michigan. Spicer has also published curriculum guides for Penguin, Random House, Houghton Mifflin, Scholastic, Simon & Schuster, and Eerdmans. Friend him on Facebook (spicyreads) and visit his website (currently under construction), www.spicyreads.org.

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Comments

  1. Julie Corsaro says:

    I think one thing (of many) to keep in mind is that individual members of the award committees can always talk about their “experience” in the sense of being free to discuss what they personally liked and didn’t like and why. However, individual members cannot speak on behalf of other committee members or the committee as a whole. Another thing to keep in mind is why the confidentiality policy was instituted in the first place, revised, and is currently being challenged. As a former ALSC President who inherited the policy, my understanding is that one reason for the policy has to do with the enormous payday for winning authors, illustrators and publishers and the association’s core value of integrity (i.e., we can’t be bought). As far as the written request to the ALSC Board to change the policy is concerned, I was told that the reason was for research purposes. If that is the case, then ten years seems sorely insufficient for both privacy and integrity, as careers last much longer than that. As a former member of several ALSC book award committees, I would be concerned with such a short time span regarding written nominations, particularly if they are signed, but, perhaps, even if they are not. One wonderful aspect about serving on the Newbery or Caldecott is the award committee process and the great sense of professional camaraderie that comes with being part of these privileged groups. While I understand the temptation to talk, it seems that exposing the process after a mere decade would undermine it and be a way to potentially put the individual over the group (“You see,” says X to a publisher or author, “I really liked your book. It was Y who hated it”). Lastly, ALSC is, first and foremost, a library association, not a children’s literature association.

  2. KT Horning says:

    In my appeal to the Board, I suggested 25 years minimum, 50 years maximum. And yes, for research. But I’d love to see committee members, if they so desired, write or record oral histories that would then be sealed for the designated number of years.

  3. Donald B. Reynolds, Jr. says:

    Oh, for heaven’s sake, can we please stop worshipping at the the altar of the Newbery-Caldecott Awards? The bottom line -> these awards were designed to promote and sell children’s books, to make money for publishers, authors, and illustrators. Having the incestuous relationship that publishing and librarianship does, Frederic Melcher cleverly snookered librarians into being unpaid shills for this process of children’s book promotion under the guise of literary quality.
    Now Kathleen, Ed, get a grip, who cares what the discussions were? Do we really need to see how the sausage is made? Although, if printed and/or video records about the deliberations were made public, perhaps the mystique of these awards might bring them to an end. Do you think Oscar and Emmy are going to release how they decide nominees and winners? Authors, illustrators, and editors who worry about award committee deliberations will never create an authentically good read: genuine books are not created by committee.
    Perhaps ALSC should let the Children’s Book Council handle the promotion and sale of children’s books, which is what these awards were intended to do. Unfortunately, ALSC makes so much money from these awards that they will never let them go.
    As a three-year member of the CSD Children’s Book Evaluation and Newbery-Caldecott Committees (1973-75), I became acutely aware that the good-intentioned and sincere librarians who served on these committees decided more from their personal opinions, likes and dislikes, than adhering to any literary standard(s). Interpersonal relationships, yeah friendships, with editors, promotion staff, authors, and illustrators often influenced opinions in incalculable ways more than any other criteria. The simple truth -> most of us were looking for good reads that children would enjoy. Select another group of people in any given year, and you’d get a different list of results.
    Reports about committee deliberations will always be shaded by the biases of individuals, not to mention how memories fade about the reality of what happened, Gerhardt and Sullivan not withstanding.
    There are no vital lessons to be learned here, except maybe for how folks from varying backgrounds and experiences interact while working together (speaking of sausage making).

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