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Philadelphia Dreaming

end of midwinterWell, that was a fast weekend. One moment I was racing out of the carpool lane at school in Nashville to make my flight, and before I knew what hit me, I was looking at the departure board at Philadelphia Airport.

Midwinter ALA is a working conference. Most people are doing committee work for a good part of each day. Since I was not serving on any book committee, I was free to attend meetings, help with the Morris seminar, and visit the books at the booths at the convention center. In between, there was some time to see my ALA family.

The highlight of Midwinter is the announcement of the awards. Since the doors opened at 7:30 a.m. and I had heard that the room only held 800 people, I woke up early and headed out at 7:00. As we entered the convention center, we passed groups of giddy librarians on award committees waiting to make their phone calls. Though envy is a sin, I admit to a bit of envy as I imagined the confused and excited West Coast authors and illustrators as their phones woke them at the ungodly hour of 3:30 a.m. There is screaming and cheering, and I miss that experience.

The ballroom where the press conference takes place is huge, and a very large screen sits to the side. There are a few folks onstage waiting, and every five minutes a voice reminds us to take our seats.  Conversations are excited and predictions abound.

Many of you heard the announcements and the reactions from the folks in the room. There are the inevitable screams when someone hears a beloved book’s name called.

Here are some highlights:

  • The overwhelming joy and sorrow when the McKissacks were announced as the Virginia Hamilton Lifetime Achievement winners. I remember meeting them in Nashville a few years back, and the hole left by Fred’s passing was overwhelming when their names were mentioned.
  • Penny and Her Marble (by Kevin Henkes) winning a Geisel Honor.
  • Hearing that the author of the Geisel-winning book, Greg Pizzoli, was in the room to hear his name called live.
  • The proud face of the Morris Award winner, Stephanie Kuehn.
  • Seeing so many friends, my ALA family.
  • The Year of Billy Miller and the Newbery Honor.

Directly after the announcements comes the time for questioning. Why didn’t this win? Why did that win? What happened to Mr. Tiger? Stuff like that.

pile of booksNow that I am back with the Biggest Book Lovers of All (my class), I am overwhelmed by the cries of dismay about Mr. Tiger, their choice. Here is my party line: “We will never know why the committee decided the way it did. As people talk, they learn more and more about the books. Someone must have made a really good case for the other books, don’t you think?”

As I pack up my picture books for donation, I have to admit that there were a lot of books that could have won the Caldecott this year. From Dusk to Niño Wrestles the World to Building Our House to On a Beam of Light to Knock Knock and so on, it seemed that every book I touched could have been up on that big screen in Philadelphia. I wonder what the arguments were that moved the four winners to the top and moved the others off the table.

One thing I DO know is that I will never know that answer.


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. Martha V. Parravano Martha V. Parravano says:

    Thank you for the report from the room, Robin!
    Some highlights for me watching the live stream were:
    NINO winning the Pura Belpre
    P.S. BE ELEVEN winning the CSK
    and as you say THE YEAR OF BILLY MILLER being named a Newbery honor book
    The Caldecott announcement was interesting since the very first honor book announced was JOURNEY — and since I thought that book had a strong chance of winning, I thought, Wow, it’s a wide-open field now! Anything may happen!

  2. I wonder what the arguments were that moved the four winners to the top and moved the others off the table.

    Robin, I would venture to say that if we had four different groups aiming to get to the same decision, we would have different results. My belief is that three of those four groups would have named MR. TIGER for gold or silver. The one group that had sway in the end did not. This is why (like the Oscars, the Tonys, the Emmys etc.)while it is a lot of fun following, and there is much good with the process and how it encourages book buying and creates some structure, the final results are in the spirit of “luck of the draw,” though rarely is an unworthy book chosen for what is announced.

  3. As an illustration groupie, I certainly look forward to the Caldecott announcement every year, but I have to say, this year the selections were completely underwhelming. I liked Journey and Mr Wuffles, but I absolutely agree that Mr Tiger Goes Wild was the outstanding book this year. I am also sad to see Frog Song (Guiberson/Spirin) missing from the honour list. (I assume it’s American, but as a Canadian, I’m not entirely sure what makes the cut and what doesn’t.) The illustrations by Gennady Spirin are eye-watering works of art. Same with The Dark (Snicket/Klassen.) Regardless, 2013 was a superb year for illustration.

  4. Thanks, Robin, for such a clear-eyed account (also, it was nice to have you rught there inline as we waited to go in!).
    It can be so tempting to second-guess the committees and their work, but I endeavor to resist. I, too, am a big fan of Mr. Tiger Goes Wild and was surprised to see it passed over. But I have learned to trust the process. I haven’t served on Caldecott, but during the fateful, final weekend of my Newbery year we saw a few books favored by the odds-makers die sudden deaths after a single committee member’s especially astute observation. I would imagine that the committee looked at Mr. Tiger pretty carefully and saw things there and in the books they chose that pointed them to their decisions. I love being able to go back to the books, after the announcements, and look again, following the committees’ leads.
    I was happy to see Niño recognized.
    I was thrilled to see My Father’s Arms Are a Boat named Batchelder Honor. Picture books have a difficult time navigating those particular criteria and it’s a stunner.
    I think the CSK Committee knocked it out of the park.
    I would have liked to see The Boy Who Loved Math recognized somewhere. But I get to love it and promote it as much as I want. So there.

  5. Nice Donna. FROG SONG is another book from this past year that I do like quite a bit and agree the illustrations are magnificent.

  6. Ruth Anne Champion says:

    Here are the books that made me happy to see recognized:
    Locomotive – very happy about this one!
    The Year of Billy Miller – happy to see such a great text for younger readers
    A Splash of Red recognized by 2 separate committees. Love when that happens!
    The people sitting behind me at the awards warned me that they would be very loud if Better Nate Than Ever was recognized. And it was -twice -and they were very loud and happy – twice. I have a copy of that now and I’m planning to read that too.

    Like you Robin I loved seeing my ALA family including you and Thom!

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