Editor’s note: This is the first installment in a series of posts by various former members of various former Caldecott committees 😉 who will in the coming months here on this blog discuss the committee process as well as some of the challenges and issues faced — from handling the deluge of books committee members get delivered to their homes to determining a title’s eligibility and so on. First up is Rachel Payne, chair of the 2016 Caldecott committee (and a member of the 2009 committee before that).
As any former Caldecott committee member will tell you, the Caldecott year is like no other. While the appointment/election process of the preceding half-year and the celebratory banquet of the following year stretches the whole experience into about two years, much of the actual work follows one calendar year, a year in which members are reading and thinking about books under consideration. Here’s a quick snapshot of a Caldecott committee member’s year.
January/February: The first meeting
While the first ALA Midwinter meeting is optional for Caldecott members, attendance is “highly recommended” (as the manual puts it). If you ever find yourself lucky enough to serve on the committee, don’t miss this meeting! It is a perfect opportunity to meet, face to face, the folks with whom you will be serving. It is also the only meeting open to non-committee members, so visit if you like, but (fair warning!), it is quite procedural and a little bit dull. At this past January’s 2017 Midwinter ALA Conference, the 2018 Caldecott chair probably talked about the process, the calendar, how to make suggestions and nominations, confidentiality, etc. Important stuff, but a little dry if you’re not on the committee. Sometimes a previous chair or children’s book illustration expert speaks to the committee to provide guidance and inspiration.
March/April/May: The book deluge begins…
When I was on the committee, I imagined getting a flood of books all year long. When this didn’t happen starting in January, I wondered “Where are the books?!?” The 2018 committee members may be feeling like publishers have no love for them; they may feel a bit bereft. Publishers usually send books to committee members in batches, so books may not start arriving until February or March — right about now, in fact! And in any case, the 2018 committee members shouldn’t rely on publishers to send them everything. Members are expected to track down as many books as they can. My library-card hold queue was always maxed out.
So, at this point the 2018 Caldecott has likely begun reading 2017 picture books in earnest, and they are making their monthly suggestions to one another. Suggestions — not to be confused with nominations — are just a way for committee members to encourage one another to read broadly. The committee members may (or may not) be reading reviews. I would read reviews AFTER I read the book, so it wouldn’t prejudice my own opinion, but I found reviews helpful after the fact to point me back to details I may have missed. Committee members may (or may not) be reading this blog or other book blogs. They are not required to avoid reading online commentary; they are just forbidden to make any public comments of their own about eligible books.
In addition to reading (and as many committee members are librarians), they are also refining their organizational system for the 500-plus books they will receive this year!
June: Caldecott deliberations with training wheels…
Now the committee prepares for their first required in-person meeting at the Annual ALA Conference. At this meeting, the committee does a practice run of introducing books into the discussion. The chair usually assigns each committee member one eligible book to introduce and to outline why it is distinguished, using the Caldecott criteria as a guide. These introductions are brief — only 2-3 minutes long. This may sound easy enough, but it is very hard to pack everything you need/want to say about a book into this short amount of time. That’s OK. Committee members are only supposed to introduce their book — then leave space for other committee members to speak. After each introduction, everyone gets a chance to share their positive thoughts about the book in question, as well as voice any questions and concerns.
July/August: More suggestions…
All summer the committee reads, reads, reads whatever they can get their hands on. The suggestions list is growing longer. There is no slacking off now as the fall approaches.
September: Find some kids…
Now that school is back in session, it is easier for Calecott members to find kids to try books out with, whether it be in classrooms, at public library book groups, with next-door neighbors, etc. Reading picture books only to themselves may not serve Caldecott members well. Many picture books thrive in a read-aloud atmosphere, so it is important to observe these books in their natural habitat, as it were. It is also so revealing to see which books kids respond to and which ones leave them cold. While the award is not about popularity, the books do have to work for a child audience.
October: First round of nominations…
While, all year, there has been a flurry of suggestions shared, none of it feels as real as writing your first round of nominations. During this month, the 2018 committee members will likely make their first three nominations. While the manual does not state how long the written statements for nominations have to be, when I was chair, I urged the 2016 Committee to write a justification that was at least half a page. Submitting your nominations to the chair feels like jumping off a cliff. Once you hit send, there is no going back.
November/December: Rounds two and three…
Committee members get two more round of nominations. Some committee members, in attempts to be strategic, hang back from nominating books that they think others might nominate so they can make sure more of their favorites will be discussed at the Midwinter meeting. This move can be effective, or it can backfire. If a book isn’t nominated, it can’t be discussed in award deliberations. The safest bet is for committee members to nominate the books they love.
January/February: This is it!
Now comes the time the committee members have been working, reading, and waiting for! At the Midwinter ALA conference, the 2018 committee members will discuss and vote on the Caldecott winner and (likely) honor books published in the preceding year. I will leave the details of this process for another post, but, as chair Nell Colburn told our 2009 Caldecott committee, it is the book discussion of a lifetime!
Have other questions about the Caldecott calendar? Write them in the comments and I would be happy to answer what I can.