I’ve been deeply involved with the Newbery award for years, mostly by reading and speculating during a given year and once as a member of the Committee itself. I’ve enjoyed tremendously advocating for my favorites on this blog, participating in the Heavy Medal discussion, making my own goodreads list of possibilities, and so forth. Because being on the committee itself gave me a better sense of things, last year I wrote a post for the Nerdy Book Club to help others better understand the process behind the award and recently I was interviewed for this article about those who serve on the various award committees. So I feel I’ve been on that side of things for many years. I know it pretty well. I know, for instance, how personal the committee process is. That is, each committee is a collection of individuals and they will come together and interact in a particular way. A different collection of people will most likely act in a different way. This, to my mind, more than anything explains the variety of choices. And it is why I applaud and celebrate the decisions every year whether my favorites were selected or not.
This year…well, this year was oddly different for me. I wanted to do what I usually do — champion my favorites and so forth, but then there was this: my very own debut book for children was being touted as a contender. This was unexpected, thrilling, and totally marvelous. Because I felt it was wild and I wanted to avoid thinking too much about it, I tried to keep going as usual. However, I couldn’t completely. Yes, I did keep my goodreads list and yes, I did comment on Heavy Medal, but I did barely anything here. No post about my Newbery druthers, for example.
And then came this past weekend. I was at Midwinter networking as usual. I looked at forthcoming books, talked with friends, and enjoyed myself as usual. We talked about what we’d like to see win awards and so forth. And mostly there was little mention of the elephant in the room — my book that is. But every once in a while there was. Someone would say they would be rooting for me on Monday. Someone else would suddenly connect that I was the author of that book and gush. One of the best comments made to me was an editor who reminded me that just being considered a contender made my book a winner.
Now I have to confess that I had fantasized quietly this year about getting the call, figuring it a harmless game. I imagined going down to my hotel’s Starbucks early Monday morning, getting the call, and keeping it a secret so as to surprise my roommates at the announcements. They were kind and didn’t say a thing, thank goodness (other than suggesting the night before that I should take a sleeping aid which wasn’t actually necessary:). And when it didn’t happen I was absolutely fine. I mean, for all my fantasizing, I really didn’t imagine it could possibly really happen. And so I was excited as always as we went to the announcements and delighted when titles I’d especially liked were honored for various awards. It was a happy day as always.
But then I went home. And while I respected greatly the Newbery choices, especially the winner which I’d read aloud to my class last year (and will again this year), I think perhaps I was feeling a tad disappointed that none of my favorites had been recognized. I was tired Tuesday morning and a bit cranky. At school I fussed about a missing adaptor for my laptop, dealt with various small issues, worried about a doctor’s appointment that afternoon, and was all in all a little off. By the next day with some sleep and distance I was fine again. And it made me wonder — did my grumpiness have something to do with something I was trying very hard not to think about — how my book fared at the awards? I can’t quite say because I don’t want to go there in my thinking. I’m still thrilled at the reception my book has gotten. I’m thrilled it was even being mentioned in this way.
But it also makes me even more sympathetic to all those children’s book creators out there when it comes to this time. Those who were winning Mock Newberys and Caldecotts, who were getting huge amounts of buzz, and then were shut out from the real thing. I hope they can feel as happy as I do now, happy to have been so seriously considered. And happy for those who were honored — those are good books too.
This is a rambling post, I know. But I think I’m an unusual case as someone who, after so many years being deeply involved in the selection side of things suddenly was on the other side. And so I just want to say thank you to those who saw Africa is My Home as an award contender. And congratulations to all involved in the winning titles — the authors and illustrators and editors and publishers and designers and copy editors and marketers and publicists and editors and agents and friends and family members and everyone. Lastly, bravo to all those hard working committee members. You did a great job.