Yes, Jonathan and I are out there pushing them. What picture book is out there that is Newbery worthy? What book of poetry? How low can you go…and how high? Whose appeal?
Now’s the time of year to out these agendas and explore them…for there’s nothing terribly wrong with an agenda at this stage of award selection, as long as its recognized as such. Agendas do come to the Newbery discussion table of course…but they’re pretty much impossible to move forward in committee discussion. Once at the table, the list set (usually defined by the books that have been formally nominated by committee members), the discussion is focussed exclusively on the Newbery criteria. There are many hours of discussion, but also many titles and many committee members. When I’ve been on the committee, generally we’ve been able to average about 10-12 minutes of discussion per title, leaving room for longer discussion of particularly controversial titles. 15 members: 12 mintues. That means that if you’ve got something to say, you’ve got to be articulate, focussed, and persuasive, and if you don’t speak to the criteria–that is, if you haven’t recognized your agenda or bias and moved past it–your comments will not be effective. Once you’re there at the table, everything else melts away. Past year’s winners…other awards that books may or may not be eligible for…there’s no room for any of it. You’ve got a hotel room, 15 people, two and a half days, and a table full of books. No other books exist in the world but those. One of them is going to be the Newbery medalist. Which one?
Because of this, many committee members do beat the bushes through the year to make sure that they’ve captured a breadth as well as depth of Newbery contenders…often different committee members taking on a "favorite" genre: a fantasy reader championing fantasy, etc. This isn’t required, and not everyone does it, but it happens naturally, and its part of the reason there are 15 members on the committee, and diversity (of all kinds) stressed in the committee appointments. You want to make sure you’ve got the best of all kinds on the table, once you close the door, sit down, break out the snacks and…start the real agenda.