A lucky thirteen of us gathered last Sunday at the Golden Gate library in Oakland. After reviewing the process that the Newbery Committee goes through to arrive at their discussion list for their January deliberations, we imagined ourselves at that meeting: took on the committee charge, criteria, and discussion guidelines, and worked through our Mock discussion list of eight titles, in a little over two hours. Some highlights, as I remember, in title order (which is how we worked through the list):
After Tupac and D Foster
by Jacqueline Woodson
We noted strength in character and voice (someone said "lyrical but not overwritten" someone else "legitmate…authentic")…and weakness in odd pacing and a wonderment of "what’s the theme-where does this go?" Defenders noted strength in particular coming-of-age themes having to do with identity (names) and place in the world (the "block," the journeys away from it), and felt the pace served this development.
Alvin Ho: Allergic to Girls, School and Other Scary Things
by Lenore Look
Funny. Multiculturalism/diversity doesn’t stick out, it’s just there. Funny. Episodic chapters–each one a complete narrative arc–serve a young audience that’s still learning to read novels. Funny. Each chapter builds, realisitically if only slightly, on the theme of overcoming fears. Funny. Funny. Funny. Funny. Funny. Funny.
by Laurie Halse Anderson
Amazing story, wonderfully developed setting, sense of tension…but many felt that the main character was strongly unconvincing.
by Janet Taylor Lisle
Visually-oriented, action-packed tight plot. Instantly vivid characters. "This wouldn’t really happen," but the emotion feels real–the animal’s triumph, the buidling of a community from scraps, and defending it. Would kids "get" the kittens?–the magical realism? Many thought so, but we seemed a little divided on this.
My One Hundred Adventures
by Polly Horvath
From the "love it or hate it" crowd we ended up mostly with haters. What can I say–I did my best.
The Porcupine Year
by Louise Erdrich
An incredible example of historical ficion, with totally believable characters–some of the most memorable and convincing characters of any of our books. The intertwining of daily details with a strongly emotional long arc allow humor and minor triumphs to support the readers through the transformative narrative. Is the language as obviously tight and crafted as in others on our list? Perhaps not, yet it succeeds in rooting its theme for the intended audience, and remarkably well. I noted that this is not my favorite type of book, so it was slower to get into for me than for others–but that it stayed with me more than others, and months later I continue to think about it. It’s strengths are palpable, even from a distance.
The Trouble Begins at 8
by Sid Fleischman
Wonderful use of language, sense of audience, good back matter…but enough quibbles about this one and not enough enthusiasm to overcome them.
by Kathi Appelt
Lyrical, repetitive language sets a rhythm that succeeds; vivid animal characters engage the audience around themes that they will relate to: making a family, good vs. evil. Some found the mythology too "universal," taking us out of the story…questioned Grandmother Moccassin’s change of heart at the end (is it supported in the the story?). Though alternating viewpoints were heralded by some, others felt manipulated–felt the tension came only from the chopping up of the story, rather than the story itself.
* * *
And then: we voted.
The thirteen had dwindled to twelve (Becca’s bad cold!), and of those twelve, nine of us had read all eight titles. To mimic the actual voting process and make it work, only those nine voted.
In the real committee, each member votes anonymously on paper for a 1st, 2nd and 3rd choice. Each member must write down three distinct titles: no more, no less. When all fifteen paper ballots are collected, two people tally votes. Each first place vote gets 4 points for a title; each second place vote gets 3 points, and each third place vote gets 2 points. In the committee of 15, the winning book must have at least 8 first place votes (so that it is the first choice of more than half of the committee), and have a 8 point spread in total points over the next book on the list. This is called a consensus. If there is no consensus in the first ballot, then any book that did not get a vote is removed from the table–the committee goes back to discussion, and reballots until there is a winner.
With 9 people, we agreed our consensus would be found when a book had 5 first place votes and a 5 point spread. We got it on the first ballot, which looked like this:
|First place votes||points||Second place votes||points||Third place votes||points||Total points|
|My 100 Adv||0||0||0||0|
|Trouble begins at 8||0||0||1||2||2|
Very conclusive as to a winner. So what about honors books? Here’s what the Newbery Manual has to say–
Selection of Honor Books
Immediately following determination of the winner of the Newbery Medal, and following appropriate discussion, the committee will entertain the following:
· Whether honor books will be named.
· Whether the committee wishes to choose as honor books the next highest books on the original winning ballot or to ballot again.
· If the committee votes to use the award-winning ballot, they must then determine how many honor books to name.
· If the committee chooses to ballot for honor books, only books that received points on the award winning ballot may be included. The same voting procedure is followed as for the award winner.
· If the committee has chosen to ballot for honor books, following that ballot, the committee will vote how many books of those receiving the highest number of points are to be named honor books.
Looking at our first ballot, it seemed like we could go with two books…or make a case for four. Notice for instance that Highway Cats had as many votes as After Tupac…just in lower places. Often people ask–why wouldn’t you name as many honor books as possible? But sometimes a fewer number really do stand far above others.
We decided to re-ballot, just for fun to see how it would work out…(and agreed that since we weren’t the "real" committee we could cheat if we wanted and go back to use the first ballot!). We took Porcupine Year off the ballot…as well as My One Hundred Adventures, since it didn’t get any votes. We also took off The Trouble Begins at 8, after the sole voter indicated she wanted to, and no one else spoke for leaving it on. It can be dangerous to remove too many titles from the ballot at this point. Remember that each committee member still has to vote for three titles, and you want to make sure that each member still has three titles she can feel comfortable casting a vote for! But this seemed to be the case, so we proceeded to another vote, with 5 titles on the ballot.
Now…I forgot to take home those ballots, and someone else has the final tally sheet, so I can’t show you a nifty chart for that vote. But the very interesting result is that After Tupac and Alvin Ho still rose well to the top, and The Underneath and Highway Cats were still tied, farther down–in very similar relation to the very first ballot. On the second ballot, the ultimate honor titles each had votes cast by more than half of the committee (7 votes for After Tupac, and 9 for Alvin Ho, with a total point spread very close together); while The Underneath and Highway Cats had 4 and 5 votes, tied in total with 13 points each. (Going by memory here. The total points for the others were well above–probably at least 5 points. And, yes, there were still some votes in there for Chains! Just not enough to make a difference.). We all agreed: two honor books.
And that was that–a truly glorious Sunday afternoon, inside and out. I hope that others who were there will chime in on the comments to correct/expand on my memory…