Editorial: Don’t Speak!

What’s an award without the occasional scandal to make sure everybody’s paying attention? Marisa Tomei winning the Oscar. Wicked not winning the Tony. Rush Limbaugh being named Author of the Year.

That last should not have been a surprise, though. The Children’s Book Council’s Author and Illustrator of the Year awards, part of their Children’s Choice Book Awards program, are chosen by amateurs. I say this not to deride Mr. Limbaugh’s win but because it is literally true: the five candidates for each of these two awards are chosen on the basis of how many books they have sold; the winner is determined by an online free-for-all vote. It really is a popularity contest.

I’m confident enough in Horn Book readers to believe they can dismiss this as just so much gimmickry and nonsense that means nothing. We watch the People’s Choice Awards on TV because we like to see celebrities in fancy clothes, not because we think the awards themselves are actually important. (Not that we necessarily think the Academy Awards are important, either, but they do have demonstrable effects beyond one starry night.) Does anyone remember who won last year’s Author of the Year award? No offense intended to that winner — Jeff Kinney — but the fact that we don’t automatically think, “Ah, yes, the 2013 Author of the Year,” when we hear his name means that the award is superfluous. (We already know he sells a lot of books.)

Not so the distinguished Newbery and Caldecott medals, whose prestige and influence we honor in this, our annual ALA Awards issue. These awards generate gossip and parsing and debate and drama — all good things — but have remained admirably if boringly scandal-free. But I am afraid that ALSC’s recent attempt to keep the awards that way is only going to bite itself in the butt.

While previously content to merely caution award committee members not to violate the confidentiality of committee discussions, at ALA’s Midwinter Conference earlier this year the ALSC Board of Directors approved revisions to its “Policy for Service on Award Committees.” The policy now states that “[committee] members should not engage in any print or electronic communication outside of the committee regarding eligible titles during their term of service.” If this seems little to ask, remember that any book with text is an “eligible title” for the Newbery Medal and that “any print or electronic communication” means not just The Horn Book and SLJ, etc., but also blogs, Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, and professional listservs. Oh, and your e-mail.

Of course I have a vested interest here. I’m sorry that I and the other Horn Book editors may no longer serve on ALSC award committees. By swearing to refrain from public commentary on the books we read, when such commentary is exactly what the public is counting on us for, we are being asked to stop doing the job that presumably brought us to the attention of ALSC in the first place. But the larger problem is that ALSC is asking all of its award committee members to neglect their professional responsibilities for a year in favor of an awards program that needs more fresh air, not less. No librarian worthy of the name should ever put herself in the position of not being able to promote good books.

This is lawyering up with a vengeance, and it does the awards no good, putting them in a critical vacuum. And as far as keeping the discussions untainted by outside pressures goes, it is laughable, given that committee members are allowed to publish unsigned opinions — the perfect basis for a whisper campaign — and remain free to revel in the attentions of publishers eager to wine and dine them. ALSC is fixing a problem that isn’t a problem with a solution that is only going to create problems of its own. That’s a scandal just waiting to happen.

From the July/August 2014 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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Roger Sutton About Roger Sutton

Roger Sutton has been the editor in chief of The Horn Book, Inc, since 1996. He was previously editor of The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books and a children's and young adult librarian. He received his M.A. in library science from the University of Chicago in 1982 and a B.A. from Pitzer College in 1978. Follow him on Twitter: @RogerReads.

Comments

  1. All judges should be sequestered, perhaps kept afloat in tepid isolation baths.

  2. One complaint w/this article – Marisa Tomei was not awarded the Oscar in error; she was, in fact, the actual winner that year.

    • Roger Sutton Roger Sutton says:

      The scandal was that many people thought she didn’t deserve it AND Rex Reed started a rumor that Tomei’s name was called in error.

  3. I would think the closest to a “scandal” was the year SMOKY NIGHT won the Caldecott. I love the book, and don’t question the win myself, but in some more conservatives bastions it was questioned in some strongly worded terms as I recall.

  4. And not just ALSC– YALSA’s board is looking to approve a similar policy this weekend:
    http://www.ala.org/yalsa/sites/ala.org.yalsa/files/content/SocialMediaUpdate_AN14.pdf

    It’s not just bad for the awards, but for all of us. Both for the broader reasons you mention, but our professional trade journals (including Horn Book) rely on librarians to review. How will review quality suffer when some of the most qualified people to review are muzzled? And how will collections then suffer because we all rely on those reviews to help our decision making?

  5. lisa kropp says:

    So this new ruling would mean that if I was ever selected to be on an awards committee I would have to:
    stop reviewing for SLJ for the year I was on said committee?
    stop reviewing books on Goodreads for work?
    stop reviewing books on my work blog?
    LOTS of librarians review professionally and personally. Who would be left to serve on so many varied committees if ALSC and YALSA continue with this new policy?

    • Roger Sutton Roger Sutton says:

      It would depend on the committee. If you were on Sibert, for example, you could review no nonfiction. Caldecott, nothing illustrated (I’m guessing). Newbery, everything published in the US by a resident or citizen.

  6. Nina Lindsay says:

    So…Roger, you *could* serve on an ALSC award committee if you reviewed non-eligible books. The policy does absolutely put professional reviewers, who depend on the income, in a corner. But most professionals who write book reviews could manage a year without, with no harm done to their professional pocketbook or rep (which will be served well by award service). Many award committee members electively did this already, without the policy in place. It makes it easier to focus on the award. It’s not “neglect,” and it’s not removing you from the position of promoting good books. And it doesn’t stifle fresh air…..all the air is going to the committee discussion, and committee members are listening, and participating in discussions with others, even if you don’t know they’re doing it. I understand why this would be a frustrating decision for Horn Book staff, but I just don’t buy those particular assertions.

    • Nina, you already heard me on this issue.. But this comment is perhaps different from what I said before: when I was told that could not, after the fact, revealed my own Top 40 choices of the year on my own blog after the announcement of Newbery the year I served on that wonderful committee (2002) when each of the titles is on my top forty so there should not have been even whispered doubts, I did feel that I failed to serve MY public: both with in ALSC and without. There were at least 36 other extremely worthy tirles to be promoted… As I really would have known better, being one who thought so so so carefully and I hope critically and intellectually because I WAS on the committee. I wanted to promote those wonderful books and not merely highlight the four winners that already won and were spotlighted to the utmost degree. But my hands were quite firmly slapped and I complied. But did I feel that my professionalism was respected? Sorry to say… Nope.

    • Oops… The year was not 2002. It was 2013. 2002 was my first service.

  7. Starr LaTronica says:

    Thank you all for your interest and attention to this discourse. For more conversation, please see blog posts from ALSC Leadership at the links below.

    I look forward to seeing you in Las Vegas,
    Starr LaTronica
    ALSC President

    Response from ALSC President Starr Latronica:http://www.alsc.ala.org/blog/2014/06/in-response-to-the-award-committee-conversation-alaac14/

    Response from Andrew Medlar, ALSC Board Member and ALSC Awards and Social Media Task Force Chair: http://www.alsc.ala.org/blog/2014/06/alsc-response-to-horn-book-julyaugust-2014-issue-editorial-alaac14/

  8. I am on an award committee now and I completely agree with Nina. Personally, it is a relief to take a break from reviewing and put my attention towards the award. I can still make book recommendations to my students and teachers, just not online or in print. I believe I am still fulfilling my professional responsibilities and then some. There is no scandal here.

  9. Roger Sutton Roger Sutton says:

    Nina, the new policy does not restrict itself to reviewing: [committee] “members should not engage in any print or electronic communication outside of the committee regarding eligible titles during their term of service.” While I wouldn’t go so far as saying ALSC was trying to restrict committee members from typing in their book orders, the Association is trying to stop ANY kind of comment from any committee member about any eligible title in any print or electronic venue. The example I used on Facebook was an annotated booklist for a newspaper or for distribution in a library of “Ten Great New Titles for Summer Fun.” (This is hardly hypothetical; librarians do these all the time, or they should.) That’s against the rules.

    Rather than try the impossible task of silencing every committee member in fear of one person’s opinion being taken out of context, wouldn’t it make more sense for ALSC to educate publishers and the public about the difference between an opinion and a committee decision? You and I both know that committee members minds’ are changed all the freaking time once the discussion is underway.

    If this was just about reviewing I would grumble but not object. Your association, your rules. (But I would damn sure still scream about how reviewers for Kirkus and PW should be included in the ban.) But these guidelines go far beyond that.

    • Nina Lindsay says:

      If your newspaper wants a signed annotated summer list…is there not another librarian or professional in your community who might take a crack at it this year? You can always advise them, in private conversation. And what an opportunity to pitch an article about the award.

      I do think that public education about the awards and process is MORE important than this policy, but I don’t think it needs to be either/or.

  10. Roger Sutton Roger Sutton says:

    Oh, and the ALSC official response linked by Starr above accuses the editorial of taking quotes from the new policy out of context. if someone would like to come over here and explain just how, I’d love to know.

    • Nina,

      In some small communities, there might not be someone else who works with children’s books who would be able to submit such an article. I suppose you could ghostwrite an article and have a staff member from another area submit it, but that doesn’t seem to be in line with the spirit of policy. It seems to me that this policy creates a greater burden on librarians who operate in small communities. It’s already difficult for librarians at smaller libraries to participate in conference activities and committees. This seems to add an extra layer of difficulty for them.

  11. At first thought, the response of “wouldn’t it make more sense for ALSC to educate publishers and the public about the difference between an opinion and a committee decision” seems like the logical one, but I’m sure we all know how difficult it is to get people to understand even the basics of how the Newbery and other awards work. Even people who ought to know–school librarians, for instance–get it wrong all the time.

    But I think (as a complete outsider), the second response, from Andrew Medlar, unintentionally suggests what would seem to me the obvious answer–really, DOES it matter at all? Do we need this elaborate veil of secrecy? The response says, after surveys, that of course we do, but doesn’t explain WHY–exactly what the secrecy adds, as well as what it might take away. It has seemed to me (again: outsider) that committee members sometimes glory in the secrecy, and that seems a little distasteful. Neither does it stop gossip about what is being seriously considered, even if there aren’t always sources for those opinions.

    • The question remains: even with all the rules, who’s to guarantee no rumors or gossips? And words exchanged verbally between friends? I would rather take printed and verifiable opinions with a firm disclaimer on a blog or a signed review than unverifiable heresay when it comes to the potential damage (still scratching my head over what damage we are really talking about here… even after these many years since KT Horning first brought it up in casual conversations) of ALSC members’ professionalism. If we start hearing someone mentioning an award committee member’s private thoughts about certain titles exchanged between friends and that somehow makes the publisher, the author, or the consumer, etc. have a certain impression of the chances of a book’s chance at winning or losing the Award, will there then be another revision of the guideline to forbid personal conversations about eligible books: last time I checked, committee members are not discouraged to express personal critical opinions about the books as long as it is done with a firm disclaimer. Why can’t we do the same with online or print opinions (formal reviews or not)? This seems to be showing somewhat “behind the time” mentality, an inability to grasp that conversations about books are no longer the small scale business in the pre-internet/pre-blog time… and that it could actually be a grand thing to have large and public discourse about books with those who are most immersed in the selection front and most qualified to engage in such discourses. In public eye, if a committee member is “misbehaving,” wouldn’t it be quite obvious?

  12. Beth Saxton says:

    The issue I have with the policy is not with the review portion. It’s with the banning of any mention of an eligible book on social media. Yet, as the FAQ on the YALSA document says face to face discussion (even participation in mock awards!) is fine. I can sit next to you and answer a reader’s advisory question and that’s fine, but if you ask me on twitter that’s not okay.

    It’s not about reviewing or even writing articles for most of us. It’s that you as a reader cannot communicate about books (and in the case of Printz that’s every book published as young adult) at all. Not everyone is blessed with a number of local colleagues to discuss books face to face. Nobody realistically thinks that the latest Lisi Harrison is a Printz contender, but it’s covered under the ban.

    Now, would I put up with all of it to have my Printz experience again? Absolutely. That doesn’t make it reasonable.

  13. Ruth Gordon says:

    I have long been of the opinion that reviewers for library media should NOT serve on media awards committees. They sit with two (2) votes because they may already have expressed an opinion. When I was a new librarian , I sat with some pretty impressive ‘names’ in the book world. I may
    have been impressed by their reputation and I had read their reviews, opinions, essays, etc.,
    In time, I learned to differ with the ‘famous’, as those who know me will attest. I carried only
    one vote, not two.-Big Grandma

  14. Roger Sutton Roger Sutton says:

    Big Grandma! How nice to see you!

    I do see the argument for excluding reviewers from the committees, or rather, I could have seen it twenty or even ten years ago. But the new policy is not aimed particularly at reviewers but at anyone who discusses books in any kind of print or electronic forum. That’s most of the potential pool for committee members. The main point of disagreement with my editorial seems to be whether it is a burden to ask committee members to recuse themselves from such public discussion (of books that are eligible for their particular charge); I think it is.

    But the larger point, for me, is that ALSC has not proven the need for this recusal, so debate about its effects puts the cart before the horse. I have been responsible for two ALSC Award gaffes, both embarrassing but neither helped by the new rules; there will always be screwups. Given that we all agree that committee members must remain mum forever about committee discussion and voting, what is the harm in the public knowing, during the year of deliberation, that Member A really likes Book B? That’s the question I don’t think ALSC has sufficiently addressed.

  15. KT Horning says:

    Roger, are you being intentionally thick or do you really not see it? Have you ever considered that ALSC has not “proven a need” for this recusal out of respect for the privacy of committee members who can’t seem to follow the rules? They choose to deal with the miscreants privately to spare them from public humiliation, and they put the members’ feelings and reputations ahead of your right to know. Would you write about internal Horn Book personnel issues on your blog?

    If you attended the Newbery / Caldecott Banquet, or if you read the acceptance speeches printed by Horn Book, you may have noticed that Brian Floca unwittingly gave an example of exactly the sort of thing that is happening. Just because you aren’t paying close attention to all the online chatter and aren’t reading into all the subtweeting that’s going on doesn’t mean that others aren’t — most especially publishers, authors, illustrators, and their mothers.

    ALSC experimented with the kind of openness you crave in the early 1970s, when all of the titles nominated for Newbery and Caldecott were printed in School Library Journal for a few years. Lillian Gerhardt, who was on the ALSC Board at that time, told me the experiment was a failure because it raised so many false hopes on the part of authors, illustrators and publishers, causing more trouble than it was worth.

    This is hardly a case of putting the cart before the horse. ALSC has had this policy in place as recommended rather than required for the past ten years (during which time you yourself have served on two ALSC award committees, so I’m surprised you don’t know this). Obviously, it wasn’t working to ask committee members to police themselves, and no one in ALSC or YALSA has time to follow all the blogs and twitter, tumblr, Facebook, and GoodReads accounts of all the committee members. They shouldn’t have to but unfortunately, some just can’t keep their fingers from flapping.

    YALSA has adopted the same policy, though the people who are only informed by your editorial would never know it since you don’t cover the young adult scene. But you must at least know enough about ALA to know that YALSA is the rebellious teenage division of ALA, guided by hip, young librarians and love bombs, rather than the stuffy old Dragon Ladies of ALSC, as you so endearingly call them. The fact that YALSA has also adopted the policy, when they haven’t yet found it necessary to adopt selection guidelines for the Printz Award, suggests that this is a much bigger problem than you are leading your readers to believe.

    • I guess I was one of those “privately dealt with” former Newbery members because I revealed my favorite 40 books of the year after the award announcement on my blog and was told to delete that post. I complied. I am making my position quite public here … not sure whether I should worry about my future chances at selection committees due to this misdeed and my disagreement with the Division’s position. (And I thought I served with full integrity and helped select amazing books: A Single Shard, Carver, Everything on a Waffle, The One and Only Ivan, Bomb, Splendors & Gloom, Three Times Lucky… with no complaints from fellow committee members, publishers or authors….)

    • KT, why would ALSC care if authors and illustrators’ hopes were raised and dashed? If the whole idea of us being super professional is to not let our potential emotional ties with creators of children’s books get in our way of evaluating the materials? I am very puzzled.

  16. Roger Sutton Roger Sutton says:

    Jeez, KT, you sound like Homeland Security defending itself on the grounds that actually giving evidence for “threats” would in itself be harmful. If your example from Floca’s speech of “exactly the sort of thing that is happening” is a blog post “asking, among other things, whether a nonfiction book like LOCOMOTIVE had a shot at Caldecott recognition,” I would suggest that such a question is not out of bounds, even from a committee member, although that would indicate a self-defeating lack of diplomacy. Or maybe you are just mad because Floca told his mother.

    In fact, I have not seen any disregard for committee confidentiality on social media but I’m the first to admit I don’t follow such with any regularity. Can anyone give me an example of the kind of posting to which KT is referring? Change the names to protect the guilty, but if by guilt we mean a disinterested onlooker expressing a hope for a book winning, I don’t see it. If by guilt we mean a committee member expressing like or dislike for an eligible book, that wasn’t against the rules until now. I know that ALSC recommended against committee members making their likes known but I thought–and think–it was a stupid recommendation; in any case it wasn’t a rule.

    YALSA is hardly the hotbed of radicalism it used to be, and I believe the reason for the looseness in the Printz criteria has more to do with laziness than any bohemian bent. (Have they even proofread the damned thing yet?) I did not take on YALSA in the editorial because they had not finalized their new rules at the time of my writing. And if Facebook (the one social medium I have more than passing facility with) is any evidence, YALSA’s members are plenty pissed off, too. At THEIR dragon ladies.

  17. Christiana C. says:

    If I ever saw a committee member discussing books online all that would do is get me excited for the AWARD, not arouse suspicions of foul play. Social media, when used correctly, fosters interest and excitement for various topics and that seems like something ALSC should want to do for readers. This gag order gives me the impression that ALSC awards aren’t used as tools to promote reading, but rather, serve as insider pats on the back for professionals. I don’t know, it comes off as very self-important which can be off-putting to readers.

  18. In having just read all of this, I want to ask two simple questions:

    1. Can’t it just be restricted by committee members not being allowed to publicly reveal they are ON the committee?

    2. And can’t they be restricted as far as revealing, in any form, anything discussed by or happening among committee members since that should all be confidential anyway?

    If the world doesn’t know they are on the committee, they can’t be manipulated in a direct way as to how they would vote by anyone with a vested interest in winning the medal (like the Oscars, in which votes and attention are generally bought through advertising directly). If they keep committee-related discussion under wraps, confidential info isn’t “out there.” In what other ways would any of this matter? Books are discussed ALL THE TIME within book-loving communities. Opinions are to be had EVERYwhere. There’s nothing secretive or confidential about that, as far as I can figure.

    • The responsibilities of the award committee members include promoting the award and the award process, championing for quality books for children, and many others that will make anonimity impossible: not to mention that all publishers need to have the information in order to submit books.

  19. I think this policy goes beyond even commenting. After being bumped from an appointment for the Sibert Award committee I was left somewhat perplexed. The fact that I arrange author appearances for a few authors evidently disqualified me. Never mind that the authors I represented had no books in the non-fiction field being published for the year of the consideration. Does a conflict of interest include even being a recognizable name in the field. I spent a lifetime honing my knowledge regarding books and am denied a place at the table because of an interpretation by a group of people who themselves probably have a conflict of interest.
    Never mind that I served on the Caldecott Committee (2007) with a children’s book author as chair and there was no hint of inappropriate behavior, bias, or any conflict. Publishers, bloggers, authors, librarians, teachers — many of us serve in dual roles as reviewers, literacy advocates, and so forth — do we eliminate all those who have a connection in the field?
    Is it a conflict of interest if I don’t represent any authors but am friends with many dozens. Would a business connection trump friendship?
    I always thought some of the secrecy was to protect committee members who despite a personal connection in any way would be free to vote and discuss without bias in regard to any acquaintance, friendship, or other relationship.
    The premise I believe of the awards is to chose the best quality not the most popular, when the committees are filled with members who have no proven track record in the field the awards come down to the “most popular” IMHO — those with a proven track record are going to have some connection to authors, illustrators, books.
    I feel the previous interpretation worked well — those who serve on the committees are free to express their own personal opinion but not the opinion of the committee or its deliberations which would include their own personal vote on the committee or revealing the books that the committee narrowed down for consideration.
    After serving on the Caldecott committee prior to this “cleaning up of the committee membership” I can tell you that one person’s personal opinion would scarcely be powerful enough to sway an entire committee unless the book was of exceptional value to start with.
    I think the leadership of the powers to be are misguided in regard to this issue. We want more discussion not less.
    I believe these new rules are responding to a problem rumored to have been in regard to a violation of the no reveal rule and leaked discussions and titles of books under discussion (and premature twitters of the award winner). None of these rules – perceived conflict of interest and a gag rule on discussion during the term is going to eliminate stupid behavior on the part of an individual committee member. Why are we eliminating the most knowledgeable and active children and young adult literature advocates in favor of those who have no opinion, no connection, no track record?
    Are the Oscars chosen by people with no connection to the movies? No friends or business acquaintances in the film industry? Do all members who vote on the Oscars refrain from commenting on any movie during the year? How twisted is that?
    I don’t ever see a problem with the Edgar awards, or the Golden Kite awards — both chosen by peers in the field.
    There is some misguided logic going around and someone should figure out how to reverse it.

    • Thanks, Sharon, for your thoughts. The most difficult thing for me to grasp is how award committee members are generous souls who pay their own ways to conferences, donate huge quantity of personal time to read and think about the books, and yet for all this service, they are treated as untrustworthy and misbehaving children…. The world of children’s publishing is a small one… I would really like to know how far the division will go to ensure that no one is connected to anyone…..

  20. I’m coming late to this topic and I’m out of the ALSC loop in general. As per a previous request, could someone please give examples, without identifying details, of the online problems that prompted these measures? (To me, “recommended” is a long, long, long way from “required,” so I would call these new measures.)

    Thanks.

  21. Vicky Smith says:

    Well, Roger, you snarked me out from under my rock. Is that what we do at Kirkus? Make mischief?

    There’s been a lot said so far, and there will probably be a lot more, but after stewing about this alone in my head for some months and then reading this conversation, I find I have a few things to say.

    ALSC’s core purpose is “Creating a better future for children through libraries.” I think that we can all agree that a huge part of this creation of a better future is connecting children with great books. That’s why we have the awards and our many lists, after all. But forbidding our committee members from publicly writing about those books they have happened upon during their year of reading seems to hamstring our pursuit of that purpose.

    I am often asked by small publishers if it’s really worth it to send all these committee members their books, and I have always answered, immediately, YES. These committee members are leaders in their communities, I have said, and even if your book isn’t chosen for the award, these smart, dedicated librarians have seen your books. Some of them will like them and will talk about them: in presentations given to other librarians, teachers, parents (with handouts, of course); in those newspaper articles Roger and Nina reference; on their blogs. With books going out of print in the blink of an eye these days, waiting till next year means that some, perhaps many, of these books will no longer be available.

    It seems absolutely tragic to me that Roxanne was told to take her Top 40 list down, tragic that the kind of discourse I have presented so enthusiastically to small publishers seems to be forbidden. More people talking about great books for children can only be a good thing, right? Now there are fewer.

    When I have served on committees I have come across many great books, and it has given me enormous pleasure to help spread the word about this little book here or that little book there—books that haven’t been getting lots of attention elsewhere but nevertheless can make a big difference in the right kid’s life. These may be books that I will fight for to the bitter end, or they may be books that I have no intention of nominating or even suggesting for an award (no one will ever know), but they have qualities that deserve to be shared.

    I do understand that many authors and illustrators keep their ears to the ground, listening for signs. But it really seems to me that even with committee members muzzled, there will still be signs that will get hopes up, hopes that for all but a tiny, lucky few will be dashed on that Monday in January (or February, in 2015). An author wrote me privately last year that she had been trying to stay away from Heavy Medal but in the end couldn’t—her hopes skyrocketed with the first positive mention of her book, and then she was crushed when some readers responded with criticism.

    A small handful of books will win; the rest will not. Our committee processes are spectacular in the way they bring members to intelligent consensus. Can’t we trust them and let our members speak—for themselves, not for the committee—as in decades past and let them spread the word about all the great books they’re reading?

    Which brings me to Roger and Kathleen’s question: Where is the emergency? I understand KT’s desire not to shame members who have stepped out of bounds, and I support it. Who likes to be shamed? But since we don’t understand why this policy has been put in place, it feels, well, patronizing to be told that committee members are being shut up for our own good. Can we not have some explanation beyond vague “bad stuff was happening” and “we must protect the integrity of the awards” statements from our leadership?

    I can’t help thinking there’s got to be a better way.

  22. Roger Sutton Roger Sutton says:

    And since Vicky (Kirkus’s children’s-books editor) has kindly weighed in here, I’d like to bring up the odd point that committee members will be allowed to review or otherwise social-mediate their hearts out if they do so ANONYMOUSLY. This is such a strange exception, opening the award process to all kinds of mischief. But if some coy little anonymous blog like “Heavy Meddling” pops up IT ISN’T ME.

  23. This policy is precisely why I decided not to try to get on the ballot for the Newbery committee this year. I was on the ballot two years ago and missed selection by 15 votes — so I was definitely planning to try again.

    But my website, Sonderbooks, is too important to me — I can’t give up writing about books for a full year. I thought Newbery committee members were supposed to *promote* books — including the nonwinners that they read and enjoy. We had a Newbery committee member speak to our Youth Services department a few years ago — and she didn’t feel constrained to not tell us which books she loved. We didn’t think that would magically make them win the award. I primarily promote books *online*, and to be told I can’t do that is too much for me.

    I decided that I will settle for being a CYBILS Award judge — they *require* you to be a book blogger!

    Who has read more of this year’s children’s books than Newbery committee members? I would so like to hear what they have to say about them. There are many, many books that do not win that will hit the spot for me or for readers in my library. I post my favorite books of the year each year — It never would have occurred to me that posting a list like that *after* the award was announced would have *anything* to do with committee service, except that’s what would have exposed me to so many books.

    I think this policy is a shame, because it stops professionals from promoting good books. You can be silent about the opinion of the committee, but does that require never giving your own opinion? I don’t think so. I think it’s a shame Roxanne took her Top 40 list down. And I’m glad someone of Roger’s caliber is speaking up about this.

  24. Miriam Lang Budin says:

    For several days, I’ve been hesitating about weighing in on the new policies restricting public expressions of opinion by those serving on ALSC Award Committees. If I speak out, will I jeopardize my chances of ever serving on one of those prestigious committees again? If I keep silent, will I seem to acquiesce with the new policies? I find myself truly puzzled by ALSC’s decision to muzzle us. It is so antithetical to the embrace of free speech, which is, otherwise, a hallmark of our profession.

    I have been fortunate and honored to serve on Caldecott, Newbery and Notable Books Committees. In each of these instances, the careful listening, the respectful discussion and the willingness of the committee members to reflect on and absorb the ideas of the other members have impressed me. I’ve been proud of the professionalism and integrity of the work we have done. The process works. I’ve found it remarkable and uplifting. Have my experiences been out of the ordinary, or is this the norm?

    Librarians who review books in our professional journals provide a valuable service to our community. It is no accident that many reviewers are elected to serve on award committees: they have become known to the ALSC membership and their judgment is trusted. But I believe that simply recommends them as worthy committee members. It doesn’t turn them into soothsayers. It doesn’t confer extra votes on them. Why penalize us all by depriving us of their reviews for a year? Discussion of children’s literature on social media brings it to the attention of the wider world. This is a positive development, not something to decry or limit.

    The public has long misunderstood the criteria for our awards. We haven’t changed the criteria to reflect their mistaken assumptions. Good for us! It disturbs me that those who are wrongly influenced or misled by the writings of individual reviewers or bloggers or tweeters or discussion-board participants are providing a rationale for censorship. I think the more free and open discussion about children’s literature we have, the better off we all will be.

  25. I thought ALSC was paranoid when they put the first policy in place. Now I know ALSC is paranoid. The idea is to promote discussion of children’s books and generate excitement about the field. It is not to stifle discussion whether in print or in person. Members respect the confidentiality of the committee discussion and process, but to say that members can’t express their own opinions about specific books is defeating part of the purpose of the award.

  26. Julie Cummins says:

    Your pithy and provocative editorial made me both think (as good editorials do) and reminded me about previous award titles, Caldecott in particular.
    You tossed a barbed arrow of critique by saying that the Newbery/Caldecott Awards “have remained admirably if boringly scandal-free.” Your point is on target with one glaring exception among Caldecott Medal choices: The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick in 2008. The flap, and it was a big one, was the issue that the book was over 500 plus pages of black-and-white pencil illustrations. Did the length make it ineligible or did it meet the criteria of the award?
    Another less dramatic kerfuffle was the reaction of people to the 1995 winner, Smokey Night by David Diaz. The dark expressionistic paintings were felt by some to be too ominous and inappropriate for young children. Many thought the popular Caldecott Honor book Swamp Angel by Paul Zelinsky should have been the winner.
    There will always be those who disagree with the committees’ choices, but this recent decision by the ALSC Board to keep the awards scandal-free may just indeed be the hand that bites. Thanks for raising the concern, is now the time to speak up?

  27. Night by David Diaz. The dark expressionistic paintings were felt by some to be too ominous and inappropriate for young children. Many thought the popular Caldecott Honor book Swamp Angel by Paul Zelinsky should have been the winner.
    There will always be those who disagree with the committees google

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