Fuse #8

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

My Newbery Half a' Year

I highly recommend that you get on a Newbery committee if you're at all able. Even if it's for six months rather than twelve, you've gotta give it a try. Yes, my dearest darlings, I've returned from Seattle. Last night saw me taking the red-eye from the Seattle airport to LaGuardia followed by sleeping in as long as I could justify. But now I am returned, refreshed, rested, and remarkably happy with the results.

I've looked over your Newbery guesses, and I have to say that the prize for best guess goes to Anonymous. Congratulations, Anonymous! I owe you a coke. To be honest, I checked your guesses on Sunday when I knew the winners but few others in the world (including the author) did. That was a bit of a thrill.

Was it a good year? It was. Am I happy with the choices we made? I am. Were there books that I wanted to win that didn't make it? Of course. The same could be said for every other committee member as well. And that, dear children, is why the good Lord invented the Cybils. Now I've made a quick once-over of youse bloggers out there, and the general consensus seems to be that you don't dislike the choices, but that few of you have actually read the winner. Kelly at Big A little a reviewed the book, but not as many other people have even gotten a chance to see it (though I was pleased to see that Mitali Perkins had written an Amazon recommendation). I reviewed it, of course, but I haven't yet gotten word as to whether or not I can repost my old reviews yet. I'll keep you informed.

Fun Fact: I helped write the Higher Power of Lucky press release. Which means that my little summary has now been the most widely read thing I've ever had a hand in.

Interestingly enough, much of the Mid-Winter Conference concerned ALSC's upcoming policy change regarding bloggers and award committees. Nothing's been decided one way or another, but I assure you that debate has been hot and heavy on many front as to how to best proceed.

But you realize what all this means, don't you? I'm FREE! I can spout off on any topic I choose again! Any topic aside from anything regarding the 2007 Newbery, of course. But this coming Newbery season? Oh-ho, my chickens, watch out!

Now then. The Call, as you are all designating it. That's the moment you live for. It's the only thing that will get me out of bed at 5:30 in the morning willingly. The Call went smoothly this year. All the committee members, as you may or may not know, get to place a telephone conference call so as to alert all the winners. The Chair must be very clear when informing the lucky ones that the winner is the winner and that the honors are just honors. Apparently there has been some confusion surrounding this in the past. Now I'm not sure how much I can say about the calls themselves. I suspect that the winners may want to give these tiny details in their acceptance speeches and that it would be callous of me to one-up them at this time. So here's what I can tell you: 1. Everyone was in and answered the phone though one person was, as far as I can ascertain, chasing their cat through some snowdrifts and missed our first two tries. 2. One person was awake because she was planning on watching the webcast. We told her she should probably do so anyway. 3. Kirby Larson actually attended the official announcement in person and I got to meet her. She's a native of the state and just the sweetest gal. Her SCBWI fellows were, to put it mildly, delighted.

Now that The Higher Power of Lucky has won, there's only one thing left to decide: How to decorate the banquet hall for the Newbery/Caldecott banquet this coming June?

Various Suggestions That Will Only Make Sense If You've Read the Book:
  • Place one block of government cheese on everyone's plate to play with.
  • Large selections of Fig Newtons and Mint Milanos should be available.
  • One copy of Are You My Mother? for every guest.
  • Intricate knots should decorate the napkins at every table.
  • Parsley for everyone!
I picked up loads of goodies in the Convention Center by the way. With my newfound freedom I'll be able to review them, each and every one. We'll never go back to the one review a day idea, but I may try for an every other day attempt at first. I'm going to make a couple new rules too. No negative reviews before the official publication of a book. If I don't like a book by a first time author, I won't review it at all (unless it gets unwarranted attention). Just kids stuff. More graphic novels. And if I don't review a book you sent to me, that doesn't mean I didn't like it. I get, as you may suspect, a lot of books to look over.

Of course, in some ways I'm no less busy. I've some ideas for articles, and maybe books, and maybe professional review sources and oodles and oodles of stuff. Today, though, I'm going to settle for answering my e-mails. It's good to be home. It's good to blog again.


At 5:04 PM , Blogger Greg Pincus said...

I considered myself lucky for being so busy while you were out of town... cuz Fuse, I gotta say, you are one of my small handful of blog addictions. I suspect I speak for many when I say that you really need a laptop. Work on that, would ya?

I like the decoration suggestions, by the way. I hope you're on that committee as well (as does P.D. Eastman).

At 5:06 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...


Happy to have you back! ...and full of news.

In your absence, I visited some of your fellow bloggers. I was disappointed by the experience. I found some mean spiritedness and some inarticulate criticism.

...and thus my skepticism with regards to the Cybils. I believe the ALA committees are comprised of members who have been elected by their librarian colleagues. What determines the members of the Cybil committees? An affinity and the time for writing an online journal does not necessarily make for a discriminating reader.

Further, it is not clear how the thinking of the committee members is organized. Without a set of criteria, how can the books be evaluated properly?

Curious as to your thinking,

At 5:21 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Welcome home! We will pepper you with questions until you feel like the government itself has debriefed you. My first one: can you talk about the other (non-Newbery) 2007 awards -- what you think of the choices, what you think of having more than one or two honor books in a category, or any other thoughts? My second question: without naming any books that were under consideration, would it still violate your vow of silence to talk at all about how the group reached consensus? How were the meetings set up? How many committee meetings were there? What were you aiming for at each meeting? But perhaps you already have plans for these questions in future log entries, and it's enough for you to know this: we're listening!

At 5:27 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Welcome back! You were definitelyl missed:-) Happy to hear that all went well. I am happy with all of the choices that I read and very excited to read the winner once I can get my hands on it!

At 5:35 PM , Blogger Lisa Yee said...

Hey, it's you again!

Kudos to you and the Newbery Committee. I was certain YELLOW STAR would be given some sort of nod. However, I am thrilled that HIGHER POWER OF LUCKY was honored. What a wonderful small gem of a book it is. And written by a fellow librarian -- how cool is that!?!?

At 5:40 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

We missed you!

I tried to get HIGHER POWER OF LUCKY from my neighborhood library today, but it's still on order . . .

And speaking of the call -- did you know John Green has posted a video of his Printz Honor call?

(Thanks to fellow 2k7 author Marlane for the link.)


At 5:42 PM , Blogger fusenumber8 said...

Well, Greg, I hope the ghost of P.D. Eastman concurs. Unless, y'know, P.D. isn't dead. That'd be awkward.

KT, you bring up some interesting points. I'm not entirely certain if you are responding to their Newbery responses or not. If so, my reaction was different from yours. Rather than finding any mean spiritedness and inarticulate criticism (and admittedly, I've only looked at my favorite blogs so far) I found that many people simply hadn't read a lot of the books that won. No crime there, since the Newbery committee has a bit of an advantage on that point.

But your real point is whether or not the Cybils can be trusted if the people doing the selection are unknown bloggers rather than elected librarians. The Cybils do not require the approbation of your fellows, it is true, but I find they've a different advantage. A kidlit blogger is an enthusiast. It's someone who goes out of their way to write regularly on a topic they care deeply about. Does that make them discriminating? I think, in a way, that it does. If you care enough about something and follow it faithfully, read as much as you can, and form opinions based on your own and others' thoughts, you are more inclined to distinguish between the good, the bad, and the ugly. That's my take, but I do flatter myself in thinking the Cybils are based less on popularity than the infamous Quill Awards.

With the recent discussions as to whether or not blogging should be allowed when serving on ALSC committees, I heard someone in Seattle mention that people who blog are actively engaged in children's books at all times. Compared to those children's librarians who love books but don't read them all that often (and they do exist) this is something to take into account. Not all bloggers have MLIS degrees, true enough. So to what extent is a children's librarian more or less important blog-wise then their bookseller/parent/editorial/author counterpart? That would make an excellent debate right there.

Now please bear in mind that this is the first year of the Cybils, and we're still figuring out evaluation procedures and nitty gritty details. In the case of my Middle Grade Fiction committee I used the Newbery guidelines as a basis, but extrapolated just a tad. What, after all, is the point of creating an award if it's just another version of the Newbery? The Cybils offer slightly more kid-appeal. They take into consideration literary quality alongside such basic questions as, "Would a child actually want to pick up and read this?".

I suspect others may have opinions on this topic. If they do I demand civility, people! No flame wars on this blog, thank you very much. Don't make me use that tiny commenting garbage can.

Oh, it is GOOD to be back! Let's just jump into a debate!

At 5:45 PM , Blogger fusenumber8 said...

Hi, everybody else! Y'all wrote your comments while I created that small novel of a response. Elizabeth, I will talk about the other awards, yes. Give me a little time to gather my percolating thoughts. I cannot talk about anything that happened inside the Newbery room, but I can discuss the general process and give you a feel for how it works. And I saw John Green's thingy on Mother Reader. I need to bump him up on my Hot Men of Children's Literature rankings (though technically he is still YA, consarn him). Lovely to see you too Lisa, Franki, and Rebecca. More tomorrow...

At 5:58 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

"I found that many people simply hadn't read a lot of the books that won."

"If you care enough about something and follow it faithfully, read as much as you can.."


Aren't these observations in contradiction of each other?


At 6:18 PM , Blogger Jennifer Schultz said...

"The Chair must be very clear when informing the lucky ones that the winner is the winner and that the honors are just honors. Apparently there has been some confusion surrounding this in the past."


I'm hoping the confusion in the past was that a Medalist thought her/his book was named as an Honor book, rather than an Honor recipient thinking she/he had won the Medal.

Good to have you back.

At 6:37 PM , Blogger Unknown said...

Welcome back and thanks for the fun details.

At 7:05 PM , Blogger mbpbooks said...

Another advantage of being on the Cybils nominating team -- I loved The Higher Power of Lucky. I started reading it as a "skim this to see if I want to keep going" book and couldn't put it down. Welcome back, Fuse, and kudos to your committee. I am in awe of all awards judges now that I've been there, done that.

At 8:25 PM , Blogger MotherReader said...

Welcome back. I missed you much and can't wait to hear more, more, more.

And I promise, Fusie, that I won't turn this ugly, but I have to respond briefly to KT's second question (guessing that I could possibly fall in the mean-spirited category in her eyes, I actually dare not answer the first).

As a blogger, you may or may not receive advance copies of books. Your library may or may not get the books very quickly. They may or may not get them at all. In my case, several of the books in various award categories are not in my library. And though I'm an interested party, I am not psychic, or else I would have purchased the winning book to read. Presumedly, being psychic, I would also stop blogging to concentrate on spending my money earned in the stock market.

At 8:36 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I gave THE HIGHER POWER OF LUCKY a positive review back in Decmeber (see it here) but was as surprised as anyone to see it receive the Newbery Medal yesterday. Kudos to Susan Patron, and kudos to the award committee for jobs well done.

Glad you are back to blogging, Fuse#8!

Loree Burns

At 9:03 PM , Blogger fusenumber8 said...

Excellent! Mother Reader has taken the words right out of my mouth. Exactly what I was going to say. I defer.

At 10:57 PM , Blogger Kelly said...

Welcome back, Betsy! You've been missed :)

I was meaning to simply welcome you back, Fuse, but KTs remarks have forced me off topic (I hope I'm not considered "mean-spirited" by KT!)

Re: bloggers...you never know who they are. I have a PhD in literature, for example. I teach literature at a college. I'm not just talking out of my "you-know-what" about books. In my experience, most members of the Cybils team are extremely well educated in a field related to children's literature (librarians, teachers, writers, etc.)

Not to get on my high horse, but I'm quite worried about the "mean spirited" claim as I try to write as positively as possible and never post negative reviews.

I was lucky enough to receive "The Higher Power of Lucky" as a member of the Cybils MG committee from a publisher who does not usually send me review copies. And I loved it. I was quite happy it won. It's certainly a worthy book.

Cheers! And again, welcome back.

At 11:21 PM , Blogger Kelly said...

Aargh! Sorry, Fuse, I'm being overly defensive. If it's any excuse at all, I spent all day trying to "cut" music for a skating program to exactly 1:30 minutes. This sort of thing drives my perfectionist soul completely mad.

At 11:39 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Welcome back! And good job with the awards. Like most people, I haven't read The Higher Power of Lucky. But I loved all three honor books, and have had emails/signed books/positive interactions with all three authors. So cool! It's been very quiet without you posting the past few days.

By the way, your interview is up over at 7 Impossible Things.

At 12:08 AM , Blogger fusenumber8 said...

Looked good to me, Kelly. Nothing wrong with a little defense. And thanks, Jen, for the heads up. I am intrigued...

At 12:11 AM , Blogger Kelly said...

Hmmm...I'm headed over to read the interview now! I'm also intrigued :)

At 10:08 AM , Blogger Stephanie Ford said...

Well, I'm one of the child lit bloggers out there who has not read The Higher Power of Lucky (yet), and to make matters worse, I was on the Middle Grade Fiction nominating committee for the Cybils. Here's the thing, think about how many children's book were published this year, it would be impossible to read them all so even amazing child lit bloggers and librarians like Betsy haven't read everything out there.

As a Cybils committee we couldn't read each and every book during our limited stint as judges, but we did our best to make sure that multiple committee members read each and every book. That means that even though I didn't read The Higher Power of Lucky and some of the other books on our list, several other committee members did. I found the committee members well qualified and was proud to be among them. I'm not a librarian, but I do have a MA in children's literature and I'm an avid reader. Other Cybils committee members may not have had formal educations like Kelly, Betsy, and I, but they volunteered to be on these committees because they love children's books and want to celebrate what's out there. Who is to say that some of them aren't even more qualified than a lot of librarians out there? The fact that they love children's literature enough to devote a lot of their time to reading it and creating blogs about it and joining a community of people who also cherish it seems like a pretty qualifier to me.

At 10:37 AM , Blogger Unknown said...

Welcome back, Fuse! I'm glad that you can post reviews again, and I'll look forward to reading them. It sounds like being on the Newbery committee was a lot of fun, although stressful.

I just wanted to add a couple of comments to the Cybils debate, here.

Regarding the committee members, we didn't accept just any bloggers; our criteria specified that committee members should be children's literature bloggers or children's authors who blog. We wanted people who had some experience in evaluating children's literature. We did politely decline some volunteers who didn't blog about children's literature in some form, even though some of them said things like "I love children's books and read them all the time." We felt that there is a difference between reading books for fun and reading them to evaluate them.

I'm one of those that you would probably think unqualified; I'm not a librarian or an educator and I don't have a degree in literature. But I think that two years of reviewing books and reading many reviews by other people, both on the blogs and in traditional media (PW, SLJ, etc) have increased my skills at evaluating children's literature, and there are many other bloggers in the same situation.

As for the contradiction that people who are immersed in children's literature haven't read the winners, I just wanted to point out that there are over 20,000 NEW children's books published every year in the U.S. That doesn't count all the old ones still in print. There's no way that anyone can read all those books every year. The important point about people who "follow it faithfully, read as much as you can, and form opinions based on your own and others' thoughts," is that people who have done this have developed a greater ability to evaluate what they read.

Sorry for the long post!

At 11:33 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

You do make some good points.

As the newest form of publishing, you must be prepared to respond to questioning. Because blogging is a form of self publishing, and as such is subject to criticism, just as you subject childrens books to your criticism.

If we are to take your awards seriously, we must know that you are serious persons with a serious way of evaluating the books.

You have spoken to the nominating process. What is the process of selecting the winners?


At 11:42 AM , Blogger sharon said...

hi! my friend nina sent me to your blog, mostly for the hot men of children's lit stuff, but i wanted to say hello and comment on this entry. i'm sitting in my hotel room still in seattle, and it's really nice to read about your experience on the committee. i'm on the slate for 2009's newbery committee and i am super excited about potentially getting to do this incredibly difficult but amazing thing. so congratulations!

if i do get on, and you're willing to chat at all with me about your experience, it would be awesome to have someone who has been through it recently to go to for a little bit of a pep talk and advice!

At 1:17 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Welcome back, Fuse! What a grand experience.

KT, are you the author of "From Cover to Cover"? Or are you KT Oslin the country singer I never imagined and interest in children's books? Or KT of KT & the Sunshine Band? Oh, right. That last one is KC. Moving right along. If you are the first, then you have been on quite a few awards committees yourself, yes?

At 5:16 PM , Blogger Saints and Spinners said...

Hey Fuse! Sorry I missed you in Seattle, but I did get to hang out with the great GraceAnne and John duo. I was thrilled to bump into a lot of old friends who used to work at NYPL and then dispersed. I want to have ALA Midwinter in Seattle every year, please (though the annual would have balmier weather).

At 5:55 PM , Blogger fusenumber8 said...

Oh, Alkelda I owe you an apology. I know you sent me a phone message, but I got wrapped up in stuff and didn't remember until I was on the plane ride home. I'm glad you were able to meet up with GraceAnne and John, though. Sorry 'bout that. Next time I come to Seattle (April 2008, it looks like) I'll give you a ring and make it up to you.

At 11:19 PM , Blogger Greg Pincus said...

KT -- I think skepticism is always warranted, particularly when it comes to awards. In the end, they're always popularity contests in some form, whether there are five judges or 240,000,000.

Still, I want to ask a couple questions of you, if I might, so I can better understand your concerns.

Are you looking for qualifications/merits of the judges? Are you looking for a list of criteria by which the judges do their judging? Who is the "us" you refer to who will only take the awards seriously... and under what set of circumstances will "they" do so? If someone is mean-spirited, does that mean they are unqualified to judge a contest? Do you respect the Newbery's? The Oscars? The Golden Globes? The ASIFA awards for animated films? Do you think the folks who vote their peers onto the Newbery Committee KNOW their peers well enough to know if they are mean-spirited or if they might write inarticulate criticism (or be mean-spirited)?

I think some of your concerns can be helped by transparency and others will be helped by the existence of a track record. But I think, too, that expecting the Cybils to follow the rules of other awards, or to be made up any set membership with membership criteria that hews too closely to other such panels would be to do the awards a disservice.

Looking forward to your answers....

At 3:28 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

What happened? The subway let out at 14th Street and everyone got off the train?

I love the book "From Cover to Cover" and am now sure that its illustrious author is not the KT commenter above. I apologize for throwing that bit of confusion into the conversation. I highly recommend "From Cover to Cover" to everyone interested in book reviewing and assessing!

At 4:18 PM , Blogger Unknown said...

I just bought From Cover to Cover. I haven't read it yet, but it looks great and I'm looking forward to reading it.

At 5:57 PM , Blogger J. L. Bell said...

In regard to:
If we are to take your awards seriously, we must know that you are serious persons with a serious way of evaluating the books.

As in the SCBWI discussion months ago, I'm struck by the irony of a demand for more information coming from someone who identifies himself or herself minimally.

As Sherry said, Cybils judges ipso facto have blogs, so anyone can learn about them, their tastes, their spelling, etc.

At 8:32 PM , Blogger Bkbuds said...

Hey Fuse, I hope you've decompressed from the Newbery's. Silly me, asleep at the wheel, not seeing this discussion about Cybils. Let me set this KT or TKO or whomever straight:

The credentials to write a kidlit blog come from James Madison, who argued that a democracy relies on vigorous, open debate, with no barriers to entry in the marketplace of ideas. Until recently, however, you had to have, oh, about $300 million to own your own printing press and publish what you darn well pleased.

The rest of us had to have some sort of credentials--not a gov't issued one, which would be a form of censorship, but a few lines on a resume that an employer or editor would respect, plus maybe being related to the publisher.

Bloggers said to heck with all that, and the result is an endless variety of opinion and news circulating in forums such as this. The only credential we looked for when formulating the Cybils was that you wrote about children's literature on a blog. Any blog. We had a retired librarian who began posting her poetry to a group blog just a week before volunteering, and several 2k7 authors who only contributed a handful of posts to their group blog. One of our most dedicated panelists was a teenager who blogged every day and whose only qualification was her prolific reading and love of the genre.

To paraphrase Winston Churchill, Democracy is positively the worst form of government, except for every other form of government. The Cybils are democratic, based on volunteerism, transparency and consensus. There are no barriers to entry. There are no PhD's or MLS' required, or I couldn't participate either. We opened nominations to the blog-reading public, and there was no fine print there either. You could be anybody, and we meant it.

I'm sorry if you aren't impressed by my credentials or find me mean-spirited. Nobody's going to like every book we read or everything we have to say, though I've seen many people temper their remarks as they grow accustomed to writing for a vocal public. We didn't bar anyone from posting about the books they were judging, so I fully expected to read negative reviews and have actually been pleased that mostly people are enjoying the lists.

I forcefully argued against precise, one-size-fits-all criteria which would straightjacket the panelists and judges. I was adamant (and other organizers will attest to this, I think) that we leave the guidelines as vague as possible so that each panel could debate and grope its way toward their own interpretation of our two edicts: it must be literary and it must have kid appeal.

As the Cybils grow, it will become harder to resist the impulse to gatekeep, to weed out people and not just books, to trim volunteers based on a shifting list of acceptable credentials. I hope to be around to fight that every inch of the way, until they throw me outta here.

If this makes anyone unhappy, I leave you with this final quote from Mr. Madison:

"There is some degree of abuse in the proper use of everything, and in no instance is this more true than in that of the press."

Substitute "blogosphere" for "press" and it still applies.

Anne Levy
Cybils co-founder

At 8:46 AM , Blogger Liz B said...

Re librarians and the ALA awards:

it's the American Library Ass'n, not Librarian Ass'n, and you do not have to be a librarian to join. Non librarian members (including members serving on selection committees) include teachers or others who meet the membership criteria and pay their dues. It's all on the ALA membership website.

Selection committes such as Newbery and Printz are made up of a combination: half appointed, half elected. Some committees are all appointed.

At 4:22 AM , Blogger Dana S. Whitney said...

I was nominated to the Caldecott committee in the PreCambrian days (1977) but due to un-enlightened, pre-feminist thinking (i.e., following my husband for HIS job),and pregnancy, had to resign before I even GOT any books sent to me. (I'd been a fairly prolific SLJ reviewer). So it is a delight to have found your feisty, articulate blog... via January One, a knitter and reader.
I'll be looking for Higher Power of Lucky just because of what you said you wanted for the awards dinner.

At 5:25 PM , Blogger fusenumber8 said...

Well, my mother is quite a knitting blogger herself. If you've seen the name "Rams" around, that's her. Lovely to meet you, m'dear. Perhaps you might consider getting back into the committee game again?


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