Subscribe to The Horn Book

“Why Did THAT Book Win?” panel recap


Panelists Vicky Smith, Julie Roach, and Martha Parravano sharing a laugh

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.

Future events are in development, so be sure to keep checking our monthly events calendar, and if you haven’t yet, please fill out this survey to help guide the organization’s development. To let us know about upcoming events, join our mailing list, ask a question, or send a comment, email

Cynthia K. Ritter About Cynthia K. Ritter

Cynthia K. Ritter is associate editor of The Horn Book Guide. She earned a master's degree in children's literature from Simmons College.



  1. KT Horning says:

    I answer to Roger’s trivia question: Incident at Hawk’s Hill

    Smoky the Cowhorse, the Newbery winner in 1927, was also published as an adult book. Will James was quite surprised to win an award for children’s literature.

  2. OK, that’s a great picture of three of the smartest book people I know.

  3. Cynthia K. Ritter Cynthia K. Ritter says:

    Correct! And keep the awards trivia coming – thanks, KT!

    That awesome photo is courtesy of our excellent HB photog, Shara Hardeson!

  4. Sounds like a great time – wish I could have been there, especially to hear the discussion on diverse books. And I, too, am thrilled Brian Floca finally caught the bouquet! =)

  5. Katie Bircher Katie Bircher says:

    I was going to say The Circuit, but that was BGHB! 🙂

  6. What enormous fun this must have been! All that wisdom at once!

  7. Several years ago, I read a tidbit that the Newbery committee used to release a shortlist of potential winners. I’ve never seen that verified, but would love to know if that’s true.

  8. Wow, what a panel. You made us ALL wish that we lived in Boston, which is saying something given the winter you’ve had. Would have LOVED to have heard this discussion. Kudos to you and to my sisters in crime…

Comment Policy:
  1. Be respectful, and do not attack the author, people mentioned in the article, or other commenters. Take on the idea, not the messenger.
  2. Don't use obscene, profane, or vulgar language.
  3. Stay on point. Comments that stray from the topic at hand may be deleted.

We are not able to monitor every comment that comes through (though some comments with links to multiple URLs are held for spam-check moderation by the system). If you see something objectionable, please let us know. Once a comment has been flagged, a staff member will investigate.

We accept clean XHTML in comments, but don't overdo it and please limit the number of links submitted in your comment. For more info, see the full Terms of Use.

Speak Your Mind