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For anyone who loves to speculate about the ALA Youth Media Awards, September is the beginning of a golden season. Heavy Medal, the School Library Journal blog led by Nina Lindsay and Jonathan Hunt, has its first posts up, and you can wander on over there to post your favorite contenders for the Newbery Medal, or just spy on the conversation. Both Lindsay and Hunt are former Newbery committee members, so this is no average mock award discussion. The Horn Book is starting a similar blog, Calling Caldecott, to discuss the Caldecott Medal. So exciting do I find these blogs that I will link to them within the text of a post, even though I think that kind of thing encourages short attention spans and web vertigo, my own included (2).
The Newbery and the Caldecott are the two oldest, most prominent of the awards given by ALA/ALSC (you did read Minders of Make-Believe, didn’t you? Well, at least read K.T. Horning’s article on secrecy in the Newbery process (3) ). Mock N/C discussions are popular enough that ALA has even published a manual on how to run then in a classroom or library (4). You’ll even find the occasional mock Sibert (for nonfiction) or mock Printz (for YA).
What is it about the promise of high-profile awards that gets people so excited? We don’t uniformly love the choices the committees make, maybe with the exception of Rebecca Stead’s When You Reach Me and Jerry Pinkney’s The Lion and the Mouse. But every year when these discussion begin to flower, a certain manic gleam enters the eye of the children’s book lover and they start to look for spots on their favorite jackets where a gold medal sticker will fit. (Lots of room on Okay for Now and Dead End in Norvelt.)
K.T Horning says that the former secrecy of the award process, when the winner was decided months ahead of the formal announcement in order to give libraries and bookstores time to order plenty of copies (and the publisher the chance to print them) was an effective means of creating excitement about the medals, and about children’s books in general. Thoughtful mock award discussions do the same for us today. Where else can you receive what is basically a free course in the study and examination of brilliant books for children (and hear from some of the most eloquent and knowledgeable librarians, teachers, and other book people in the country)? It’s a first-class effort, and I’m glad it’s September again.
1. I wish I could link to this cadenza inThe Horn Book (July/August 2011) on Newberalls, the clothing item of choice for plucky heroines in medal-winning historical fiction. It’s written in the style of a certain travelogue-inspired upmarket clothing company catalog, and it’s hilarious. If you can find a copy of the magazine, look it up.
2. Lev Grossman wrote a much-cited article in NYT about the non-linear reading experience offered by the codex as opposed to the scroll. Part of my job involves promoting ebooks and our ebook service to our patrons, but I’m still a codex hooligan in my private life. I like the non-linearity of reading physical books (but that’s worthy of its own post), but the non-linearity offered by hyperlinks sometimes makes me dizzy. Here’s Laura Miller’s article on the subject, which inspired my own lengthy footnotes.