Thoughts on Newbery: This Year

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.

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12 Comments

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12 responses to “Thoughts on Newbery: This Year

  1. Thank you for this, Monica. Your book was surely a true contender. It’s beautiful, and it highlights a little-known moment in our national history, an important history. It’s an important book. And thanks too, for shining an honest light on the thrill and the disappointment that goes with even being considered for these shiny medals. We’re all of us–authors, illustrators, librarians, booksellers, teachers–in this together. But the bigger truth, the one that is most important, is that whenever a good book lands in the hands of a young reader, that is a winning day.

  2. What a wonderful and honest post. I loved reading the part about how you imagined the morning would be, starting with Starbucks. Who doesn’t imagine how they’d react when winning something?
    I’m looking forward to reading your book and congratulate you for writing a book that was close to winning! It’s what so many of us hope for.

  3. I love this post. Thank you!

  4. Monica. Truth be said, authors tend to feel we need external affirmation of our work. But nowadays participating in awards is more a means to an end: marekting, getting the word out. So, participating in awards is not seeking validation, but rather it’s about how much that press will actually influence sales. From that point of view, I think lots of people heard about your book and will be interested in checking it out.

  5. I am going to get your book to read…for myself:) also for my daughter. It sounds like a great read!!

  6. This is a lovely, thoughtful post that sheds an interesting light on what it is like on both sides of things. Thanks for the honesty and sharing it with us.

    It was lovely meeting you on Monday!

  7. I appreciate your willingness to share this. It’s so easy to tuck disappointments away from sight, and not reveal too much of ourselves, but yours is really such a human experience. I loved your book and featured it on my blog just a couple days after the medals went out. Thank you for all the work you put into it.

  8. Thanks,everyone, for your kind responses. I do hope I didn’t come across as too sad as I really am not at all. I just wanted to unpack my feelings as they seemed to be partly because of my somewhat unique place in this world as a former committee member and person who is used to being on the critic side of things. I’m thinking it was probably easier for me than others.In fact, right after I wrote this I learned of Don Tate’s moving post on his experience a couple of years ago: http://dontate.com/2014/01/medal-worship-how-i-stuck-my-head-in-the-clouds-and-got-crushed/

    Thanks again!

    • I gotta tell ya, it would seem like sour grapes under the circumstances – lots of recognition these past two years – for me to go, “Well said, I know exactly what you mean!” But believe me, I have been there MANY times and I know the feeling all too well. I think it is very brave of you to express it, and you’ve done it with elegance and humility. Don Tate’s article also resonated with me. Here’s another that came up this year, this one by Katherine Kirkpatrick, a dear friend of mine who also happens to be a YA novelist. She speaks from the heart but it really hits home partly because she uses me as an example – but mainly because she says so much that I wouldn’t dare!

      http://katherinekirkpatrick.wordpress.com/2014/01/07/ala-award-envy/

  9. I’m late chiming in here, but this post is so honest and thoughtful. Thanks for sharing it.

    I have to say, too, that the longer I spend in the children’s lit community, and the better I get to know everyone in it, the more I want everyone’s books to win. It’s really an excellent bunch of people who all deserve good things.

  10. Thank you, Monica! I love this post. I look forward to reading your book.

  11. Pingback: Monica Edinger and Robert ByrdSmart Books for Smart Kids

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