October is the month when Newbery committee members start to show their cards to each other. All year long they’ve been sending suggested titles to the chair, who sends a compiled, anonymous list back to the whole committee monthly. But before the final deliberations in January, committee members each must formally nominate six titles–usually three in October and three in December. These nominations are accompanied by signed justification statements highlighting how the titles meet the Newbery criteria, and usually form the focus of the discussion in January. Right now, I expect, committee members are not only plowing through the eligible titles they have yet to crack, but are starting to re-read the nominated titles with great care, and perhaps a lot of post-its. (I used a different colored flag for each subsequent reading.)
We will never know this year’s nominated titles, because the strength of the Newbery consensus process rests in part on strict and permanent confidentiality. However, October is also the month when Mock Newbery groups start formalizing final shortlists. Other Mock Newbery groups are rigorous about posting comprehensive shortlists throughout the year, mining the full field for potential contenders.
I, however, have always taken a "freeloader" approach to Mock Newbery list building, and wait for others to glean the possibilities. Trying to predict the actual winner is a secondary motivation at best–because it’s ultimately impossible. To me, the main point of a Mock Newbery is to give participants a taste of the experience of Newbery discussion. Mimicking the real experience as much as possible gives participants a better understanding of how the award selections come about, and it’s the discussion and voting process that is the most illuminating.
For the voting process to work, every participant has to have read every title. Therefore, we limit the shortilst to 8 or 9 titles (2 hours of discussion), and try to make sure that some of them are short. Also, the bulk of them have to be readily available in the public libraries. I try to make sure I have a couple of spare reading copies of every title to lend out. Having a variety of genres lets participants explore the nuances of the criteria, and having titles that bear interesting comparisons makes for good debate. All of that is just as important as actually picking strong, eligible contenders. (A note: a short shorlist has a downside too–if too short, it can actually undermine the voting process. More details on that later).
Very soon, Sharon and I will be unveiling our October shortlist–about half of the titles that we ask participants to read for the January 11th discussion. Stay tuned!