How is this year different from all other years?

The Sydney Taylor Award turned 50 last year, but this year saw another major milestone. For the first time, the winners were announced at the American Library Association (ALA) Youth Media Awards (the YMAs) along with the Newbery and Caldecott Medals. We worked for a  year to prepare for the big event, but all our preparation didn’t quite get me ready for the enormity of the moment. Here’s a behind-the-scenes look at the weekend of ALA’s Midwinter conference in Seattle and the big announcement on January 28, 2019.

 

The story of a broom, a potato and a butterfly

The Youth Media Awards on Monday have amazing energy, enthusiasm… and props. When the committees are asked to rise and be recognized, a lot of them hold up objects that represent their winners. I was determined that if we were going to be part of the YMAs, we were going to do it right. And that meant finding props. In Seattle. With only an hour of free time to accomplish the mission.  My quest began with trying to find a Victorian London chimney sweep broom for Sweep. Where does one locate such a thing? Target, of course. Then onto Pike Place Market where I wandered around looking for anything that might have a butterfly on it to represent What the Night Sings. After a lot of dead ends, I found a butterfly change purse. Finally, a potato to symbolize the latkes in All-of-a-Kind Family Hanukkah. I went to a vegetable stall in the market and asked for the largest potato they had and left with a very sizable russet.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What we accomplished while sitting on the floor

Now that I had everything I needed for Monday morning, I went to the press conference meeting for the award committee chairs on Friday night. It was exciting to be in the room with the chair from every award committee and feel part of the group. I was handed a folder with all the Sydney Taylor information. Late on Friday night, Sylvie Shaffer (one of the Sydney Taylor committee members) and I were both at a publisher party at the Seattle Public Library.  Instead of mingling, we sat on the floor of the library; deep in the stacks, proofreading the press release and script for our part of the webcast while the party swirled around us. The weekend went on, the events of ALA took over and suddenly Sunday night arrived. The year of careful prep work seemed to fade away and it felt like there was still so much left to do before the next day. I truly began to panic, but incoming chair Rebecca Levitan had arrived and helped me through it. We needed lists of press contacts. Final press releases. Social media posts. A million and one things. Rebecca and I sat on the floor of our hotel room, and went through one thing at a time, with wonderful people from the Association of Jewish Libraries helping us on email from other time zones. I think I finally went to bed at 1 am. It was a relief to get off the floor.

 

 

 

 

The number of pictures we took

Sleep was short, since we got up at 5 am. And then the picture taking started. Sylvie, Rebecca and I wanted to capture the moment as fully as possible. First the official ALA press photo. Then pictures in the hallway outside the press room. Pictures inside the empty ballroom (truly a thrill to be let in before the doors opened.) More pictures as our friends arrived. Moment-by-moment pictures during the actual announcement. So. Many. Pictures.

What a feeling

Despite all the work leading up to it, I don’t think anything could have prepared us for the actual moment when the Sydney Taylor awards were announced. We laughed. We cried. It was way better than Cats. It was so emotional, standing in front of over a thousand people, with our broom, potato and butterfly. I was expecting the moment to be big. I told everyone it would be big. It turned out it was huge. Enormous. Gargantuan. My phone lit up with congratulations from around the country- even while the announcement was happening. All of a sudden, everywhere we went at ALA, people knew about our winners. Publishers were waiting for us in their booths to affix Sydney Taylor stickers on the winning books. There were hundreds of likes and retweets on social media. The awards appeared in national publications for the first time. It was amazing.

 

 

 

Gratitude

Thank you to all the fantastic winners for the wonderful books you wrote. There are three people in the pictures in this post, but it’s the whole Sydney Taylor committee that I would like to thank: Rena Citrin, Shoshana Flax, Rebecca Levitan, Sylvie Shaffer, Marjorie Shuster, Rivka Yerushalmi and past chair Ellen Tilman. So many people helped at the Association of Jewish Libraries including Heidi Rabinowitz, Dina Herbert, Kathy Bloomfield, Michelle Chesner, Sheryl Stahl, Emily Bergman, Elissa Gershowitz, Nancy Sack and Elliot Gertel. Thank you to the amazing staff at ALA. I am so impressed by the village it takes to put on the Youth Media Awards. Thank you to Jo Taylor Marshall for your support of the awards. Thank you to all past Sydney Taylor committees. I felt that we were standing on your shoulders and am grateful for all the amazing work you have done. 

 

Everything ended well, except for the potato. It met a tragic early demise… and got eaten.

 

 

 

 

 

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We’re getting to that time of year… predictions and buzz for the Newbery and Caldecott medals.

We start to see all the Best Of the Year lists. Schools and librarians hold mock Newbery and Caldecott events. Blogs such as Heavy Medal and Calling Caldecott have discussions and begin voting.

In a simpler time, (before I had served on the Caldecott committee) I took all of this very seriously. I followed which books got the most stars. I paid attention to which books tended to win the most mocks. I thought the important books were the ones everyone was talking about.

But now…. I think about buzz very differently. It’s the same reason I’ve stopped making predictions.

The only opinions that count about who will win the Newbery and Caldecott are the people on the Newbery and Caldecott committees that year.  I know everyone knows this intellectually but it bears repeating. And even their opinions can change dramatically during the two-day award discussion which takes place right before the medals are handed out.

Let’s break down each kind of buzz.

Best of Year lists: these are usually given by review journals such as The Horn Book, Publisher’s Weekly and School Library Journal. Sometimes regional publications such as The Washington Post or The New York Times make lists too. These can be great lists, but they are not necessarily predictors. The publications pick the best of what they have seen and reviewed, which can be very different depending on what kind of publication they are. They are judging the books (and giving stars) according to their own standards of what makes a good book, not according to the Caldecott or Newbery criteria.

Other awards: just like many people look at the Golden Globes to see what will win the Oscars, early awards are often scrutinized to see what will win the Newbery and Caldecott. But once again, every one of these awards have different criteria, receive different books, have different procedures and different judges. It’s comparing apples to pineapples or kumquats.

Mock winners: I love Mock Caldecotts and Mock Newberys. I have been delighted in recent years to start seeing Mock Geisels, Siberts, Coretta Scott Kings and more. I think they are terrific and lots of fun. There are usually two different kinds- those done with adult library and book professionals, and those done with children. The ones done with adults can generate some wonderful discussions and the ones done with students can be terrific teaching moments. But they both have flaws from being compared with the real committees. One, the selection of books is curated and small and usually books that are already well known are the only ones considered. Two, the time for discussion is short and goes into relatively little depth. Three, a discussion done by first graders just isn’t the same as a discussion done by the award committee. The results of these groups can’t begin to compare with the work and study done by the actual committees.

Personal blogs: These are personal opinions. And no matter how brilliant and amazing the person writing the opinion is, they have not had to study all the books, defend their opinions, discuss it with fourteen other people and come to a compromise.

Award blogs: I love these blogs and read them and vote for their winners. Again, only a curated selection is available. Rightly so…. there is no way anyone would want to read, analyze or vote on the hundreds and hundreds of books the committees receive. But since usually, only the best known books are available to be selected from, those are the ones that win. And voters usually do not read every single book available, but vote for the ones they are the most familiar with.

Discussion groups: I’m a member of an online award prediction group. It amazes me how many participants discuss books that are ineligible, or they refer to things that are not part of the award criteria. They can be as passionate as they like about a book, but if the artist is a resident and citizen of Canada, the book will never win the Newbery or Caldecott.

What happens is that since we typically see the same books over and over, we think that those are the important books. But those are the books that are generally by famous authors, have gotten a lot of publicity, won other awards or gotten a lot of stars. If you look in the pile of books received by an award committee, you will see so many other books: books by first time authors that have gotten little publicity, books by smaller publishers and many more that do not show up in any of the buzz mentioned above.

Take buzz at exact face value. A best of year list is a publication’s favorite books. Another award won is just that… the winner of that other award. A mock Newbery is a group of people having a fun discussion.  None of it adds up to real predictions.

If you have a book that’s been getting a lot of buzz this season, maybe I’ve taken the wind out of your sails with this post. But I don’t mean to at all. If your book is showing up again and again and again, it means that a lot of people have noticed it is a quality book. And if they have noticed, the Caldecott and Newbery committees have probably noticed it too.

If you have a book that no one has mentioned this season, this post is for you too. The committees see and consider everything, and that includes your book. The committee may be talking about your book, even if no one else is.

I can’t even imagine how hard it must be for creators and publishers to tune all of this out. Especially, now that social media makes it possible to tag an illustrator on Twitter every time they win a class mock Caldecott. Imagine what it must be like to get dozens or hundreds of tags as the awards get close and then not getting a phone call. I feel for all of you.

Stay strong.

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Welcome to my new website and my new blog! It’s wonderful to have one place online to talk about all the things I do. I’m very excited about my debut picture book The Passover Guest and am looking forward to sharing more about that process as the 2020 publication date gets closer. 

It’s a little bittersweet to say goodbye to my blog Wizards Wireless which I started in 2007.  I’ve met so many amazing people through the blogging world. I also had an incredible chance to write forBooklights, a group blog at PBS.

I now present you with Blog #3. It’s a new year, a new site, a new book and a new beginning. Goodbye to Wizards Wireless and hello to new things. Thank you for joining me. 

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