|Emily Jenkins, Cynthia Kadohata, Lisa VonDrasek|
This year I was a judge for the Young People's Literature category of the National Book Awards. In fact, I was chair—which means, really, that I sent organizational emails to the other members of the committee. I also got to stand on stage and give the award to Cynthia Kadohata for The Thing About Luck, which was a wonderful experience.
The workings of the committee are confidential, but I thought I'd give you all a little sense of how the National Book Awards process works—without revealing any secrets.
I was asked to be on the committee by the NBAwards' Executive Director. In 2013 there were two new elements to how the YPL awards worked: we would be making a long list of ten books and then a month later, a short list of five finalists. A month after that, approximately, we would choose a winner who would be announced at a gala event in New York. In previous years there had been no long list. The second change was that the committee would consist of three writers, one librarian and one bookseller. In previous years the committee had been all writers.
Our group was me, Cecil Castelluci, Deb Caletti (writers), Peter Glassman of NYC's Books of Wonder and Lisa VonDrasek, who heads up St. Paul's amazing Kerlan collection of children's literature—and whom many of you know from your visits there or her lecture last January.
We had 289 books to read, and it was up to us as members of the committee to figure out how the reading and decision process would work. I was given contact information for three previous chairpeople, and they talked to me about the way their committees had worked, and what they had learned from the process. That was incredibly helpful, and our own Gary Schmidt was one of those previous chairs.
The books began arriving in quantity over the summer, and I cleared my schedule for pretty much nothing but reading for 4 or 5 weeks of that. We announced our long list in October—and I was happy that Hamline's Gene Yang, Anne Ursu and Kate DiCamillo were all on the list—but their association with Hamline had of course nothing whatsoever to do with the committee choosing their books. All personal connections to the authors were left behind when the judges discussed the work, as is always the case with the NBA.
The NBA is different from the Newbery, Printz, Caldecott and other awards given to children's literature in that those awards announce ahead of time—and have a ceremony later. There is no suspense in the moment of the awards ceremony. At the National Book Awards, all five finalists come to the event and the winner is a secret until announced from the podium. All the finalist books get a silver sticker on their jackets—the winner gets a gold. All five finalists also receive a medal and a plaque in a ceremony the night before. At the evening of the event, the winner gets a statue —which is darn heavy.
Nationalbook.org has videos of the finalists reading from their books, photographs of the event, interviews with all ten long list authors. Go check it out.