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A Little Clarification and a Plea

I interrupt my neurotic checking of the voting progress for a little clarification and a plea.

FIRST,  the clarification. Over the past few days I have read or heard the phrase “list of Caldecott contenders” more times that I care to admit. Often people are referring to our puny list as THE list of Caldecott contenders. ANY picture book published in these here United States by a citizen or resident of  the USA is a contender. Period. Out little list is our little list. If you drag your eyeballs to September you can see how we wrestled the hundreds and hundreds of books down to a manageable few. We looked at reviews and the books themselves. We considered what you had to say. We tried to have different media represented. Lolly and I threw in a few titles that few had starred but we thought would be fun to talk about. We added a few more as more books were published and reviewed. We hoped we would stir a few of you up.

That’s it. THERE IS NO LIST ANYWHERE OF THE CONTENDERS except in the hot little computers of the Real Committee. At this point, that list could be very very long (15 X 7 nominations=105) if there are no overlaps (OF COURSE THERE ARE OVERLAPS!)  or very short if every list was exactly the same. (AGAIN: NO!) They have the list and they alone. We are just having fun trying to figure out what they might be considering. Believe me, we will never know what they are thinking until the Monday announcements and then we will only know what is honored. Those other books? Even the ones which almost won an honor sticker? Nope, we will never know.

Oh no you di-int!SECOND, the plea. Please, when you are voting, just vote one time. While we love social media and we encourage lots of voting, let’s not have anyone rustling up votes from uninterested friends and neighbors. Just vote your heart. It has come to our attention that there has been a little social media vote grabbing and, while that might work on American Idol, we aren’t really about that. We just want to know what our readership really thinks about the books, so, except for encouraging your book-loving friends to read the books and vote, let’s not have any stuffing of the ballot. It skews the results and takes away from the fun.

Robin Smith About Robin Smith

Robin Smith is a second-grade teacher at the Ensworth School in Nashville, Tennessee. She is a reviewer for Kirkus and The Horn Book Magazine and has served on multiple award committees.



  1. Lolly Robinson Lolly Robinson says:

    Thanks, Robin. This is well said.

  2. Susan Dailey says:

    I’ve heard it suggested that the Caldecott and Newbery might garner more attention if a short list of nominees were announced in advance, similar to the Academy Awards. I conduct Mock Caldecott workshops for school and public librarians and we start with approximately 100 titles. While we want to pick a “winner,” we use this as an opportunity for collection development. If we had a list of nominees, we’d only look at those few titles. Instead of looking at 100 books, we’d only be discussing 5-10. This suggested change would significantly influence how we conduct our workshop so I’m not in favor.

    For those who’ve been involved with the process, is this feasible? Do you think it would be a positive change?

  3. Thank you, thank you for this well-written clarification. The plea is spot-on, too. Having worked in children’s library services for the last 13+ years, I’ve had many a conversation with patrons and students who don’t understand WHY our awards aren’t like the Oscars. Suffice to say, this is just how we do it. Mock election ballots, while excellent, aren’t the end-all, be-all for the committee come this weekend. (As a side note…I CANNOT WAIT until the announcement Monday. I’ll be there, wearing my Extra Yarn scarf 🙂 )

  4. Robin Smith Robin Smith says:

    I will look for you Arika. You have my picture there on the blog, but I will have to find you by your name tag. I tend to hang around Notables a lot over the weekend until they kick me out, knitting and being amazed by the discussion.

  5. KT Horning says:

    For a few years in the 1970s, ALSC experimented with publishing all the nominated titles for Newbery and Caldecott in professional journals. The goal was to give visibility to more books and to encourage discussions such as this one. But ALSC ultimately decided to stop doing it because too many nominees had their hopes raised unrealistically. It’s better, it seems, not to know what goes on behind closed doors.

    YALSA awards that do the short list thing, and i think it actually does the opposite to its original intent by narrowing the contenders to just five. And if you don’t particularly care for any of the five, you stop caring about the award altogether.

  6. Wanting to help those less familiar with the award better understand the Newbery, I wrote a post for the Nerdy Book Club blog (( that they are publishing on Sunday, titled “Top Ten Things You May Not Know About the Newbery Award.” Pretty much all ten apply to Caldecott too.

  7. Sam Bloom says:

    Nicely said, Robin! And I can’t wait to hear the results – both the real committee’s and our committee’s choices… (Go Kadir!)

  8. Susan Dailey says:


    Do you know who compiled the list in the 70s? Was it the committee? Any suggestions on how I can find out more about this time in Caldecott/Newbery history. I’m fascinated by this kind of Caldecott “trivia,” which is one of the reasons I so enjoyed the class you offered through ALSC. (I was a summer student.) I learned a lot about picture book illustration including automatically dismissing any book with a “cartoon” style as a Caldecott contender. Plus your trivia was so interesting! Thanks for offering the class.

  9. Susan Dailey says:

    Meant to say “NOT” automatically dismissing any book with a cartoon style. When I used to read the word “cartoon” in a review, I immediately thought non-contender. I personally love beautiful books, which is why I’m a Kadir Nelson fan, but I’ve come to appreciate the storytelling abilities and value of illustrations in a book like “Hello, Hello” or “Extra Yarn.”

  10. Lolly Robinson Lolly Robinson says:

    Here’s the URL to the web version of KT’s piece about this from July/August 2012 Horn Book Magazine. If you can find the actual article, though, there are some great photos. Note: this is specifically about the Newbery, but of course Caldecott came after and followed the same rules.

  11. KT Horning says:

    Susan, ALSC compiled the list. It included the books that had been officially nominated by committee members and those sent in as suggestions by the general membership. There used to be a lot more of the latter. ALSC members can still send in suggestions for award consideration, and some do, but not the hundreds who used to do so. Early press after the announcement used to even indicate whether the committee and general membership had been in agreement.

  12. KT Horning says:

    P.S. Susan, I learned the above by reading back issues of Top of the News, and by talking to Lillian Gerhardt, who was on the ALSC board at the time. I get the best info from talking to long-time members like Lillian and Peggy Sullivan. They both have phenomenal memories — and strong opinions!

  13. You know who would have had a lot to say on the subject of shortlists for the ALSC awards? Peter Seiruta – on his blog Collecting Children’s Books he once included some of those lists from the 70s that KT mentioned.

    I’m of two minds on this. On the one hand, I definitely feel curious some years to hear what titles were discussed just because of the way the criteria are interpreted. For example, I wish I knew what the 2012 Caldecott committee had to say about Kadir Nelson’s Heart and Soul (or, for that matter, what the 2009 or 10 or whatever committee thought of Nelson’s We are the Ship). Did they consider the books picture books or not? And as a member of a former committee there are definitely times when I wish I could share some of the books that elicited deep discussion – the ones that just barely missed. But of course I’m sworn to secrecy on that one, shall I be struck down by lightning should I utter a word and so forth.

    However… what really would be the point of a shortlist? Think of last year, when so many people were up in arms about Okay For Now not winning Newbery, or even getting an Honor. Do you really think those same people would feel any comfort in knowing that it was a nominated title, had ALSC published a shortlist? I don’t know for sure that it was nominated, of course, not having served on that committee… but I’d bet the farm that it was. So, what would that really do? When you really think about it, the whole awards committee process really benefits greatly from the elements of secrecy that drive those of us on the outside completely crazy at times.

  14. KT Horning says:

    And the whole point of secrecy, from the start, was to drive people crazy, so that we’d talk about them, thereby giving the awards more visibility and making people care about them more. That was Frederic Melcher’s brilliant strategy and it has worked! He was, after all, a book seller who knew a thing or two about generating buzz.

  15. One advantage of a shortlist (I’ve heard others say this as well) is that it would give bookstores and libraries a chance to make sure the books are on hand before the announcement. As it is, unless the winners of all the major awards happen to be books our store has in large quantities, we’ll be scrambling along with other stores to order copies that may or may not be printed yet, and it’s possible the books will lose readers who look to check them out in the initial excitement. And hey, a shortlist would give a leg-up to several presumably good books besides the winners.

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