Though it may have been postponed a week thanks to a winter storm last Thursday, nearly one hundred children’s literature enthusiasts still showed up last night at 6:00 pm at Simmons College for Children’s Books Boston’s second event, “Why did THAT book win?”, a panel discussion about the 2014 ALA children’s book awards. The panelists — who have each served on multiple award committees, both ALA and non-ALA — were Horn Book Magazine executive editor Martha V. Parravano; Cambridge Public Library youth services manager and Simmons College GSLIS and Lesley University children’s literature instructor Julie Roach; and Kirkus Reviews children’s and teen editor and Simmons College instructor Vicky Smith. Horn Book editor in chief Roger Sutton moderated the discussion.
To start things off, the panelists shared the things that surprised them the most about this year’s selections: Martha’s choice was the lack of recognition for Cynthia Kadohata’s National Book Award winner The Thing About Luck; Julie was happily surprised that an illustrated book, author Kate DiCamillo and illustrator K. G. Campbell’s Flora & Ulysses, won the Newbery Medal; Vicky rejoiced that Brian Floca was “no longer a bridesmaid” with his Caldecott win for Locomotive; and Roger shared his disappointment that Kirkpatrick Hill’s Bo at Ballard Creek went unrecognized. They went on to discuss misconceptions people have about the awards; the reasons for such dedication to the rules and watertight secrecy by the committees; what rules, if any, they would change (which then prompted a discussion of how short- or long-lists would affect the ALA awards); and finally an explanation of how the honor awards process works.
A lively half-hour question and answer period followed, during which concerns were raised about the vocabulary in the award guidelines (what does “literary excellence” mean?) and the necessary vocabulary a committee member needs to cogently talk about the books they are judging. There was also an interesting conversation about diversity, or lack thereof, within the major awards, whether “niche awards” (CSK, Pura Belpré, etc.) are used to ghettoize books, and what we can do to get diverse books more widely recognized. Can CBB play an active role?
The panelists offered keen insights into the awards process, along with some entertaining insider backstories (Do you know the name of the only Newbery Honor book actually published for adults? Roger’s hint to the audience: it was a Little, Brown book.), and it was a great follow-up event to the kick-off party last September.
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