Wendy asked for a little more insight into how we choose our shorlist.
Some of the first choices are arbitrary. There is a limit to the number of books that be discussed effectively in one afternoon, and that people are willing and able to read. We’ve always worked with 8, but this year we’re going to try shuffling our agenda (with an earlier start for first-timers) to allow for 10. Also, it must be published no later than October. Otherwise libraries do not have it available in time for everyone to read. The way our discussion works, everyone who votes must have read every book. Too often, when we’ve tried to slip in a late-pub date book, several people are not able to get to it. Because for us the value is in the process and experience of the discussion more than the prediction, participation is really our first criteria in a shortlist.
Secondly, it’s important that the books that Jonathan and I choose are ones that we ourselves believe are contenders. Books that we can defend for the award. There’s always enough of them to make up our shortlist, and since we lead the discussions (we sometimes have 2 tables depending on attendance) we want to be able to represent the various ways in which books can meet the criteria. This doesn’t mean that we don’t think our books have flaws, or that we agree on every single title (there’s often some his/hers favorites in there…) but if we put up a book for discussion that we both feel is weak, then we do a disserve both to the book and to the discussion experience.
To build the shortlist, we trade a lot of emails…usually identifying a very few mutual “must haves” and a group of “maybes” and a long list of “need to reads before we decide.” We sometimes split up the reading on that last list if we’re in a crunch, but we do both read every title that ends up on our list. As we look at the list, we start looking for “tokens”…trying to make sure we represent a good breadth of types of books at the same time we’re picking strong contenders. So our “maybe” list may subdivide: 2 or 3 possible picture books…do we have a humorous one? A fantasy? A historical ficiton? Older? Younger? We can’t get everything on there, but we try to make sure we consider them all. I also always look at diversity of authorship…only because I believe that a more diverse group of authors gets you a more diverse group of styles/voices. When we broaden like this, we’re trying to bring various representation to our “consideration” list…but we rarely make a final decision on a title based purely on its “category.”
We do consider all of your comments as we do this…even if we can’t respond to every single one. And I generally privately solicit ideas from colleagues whose opinions I know, and trust, and –bonus– are different than mine. Many of these people are reviewers, or review media editors, or award committee chairs or members. Where confidentiality is required, my question goes something like this: “So, Jane Doe. Here’s the titles Jonathan and I are considering for our shortlist. If you were me, what other titles would you want to consider for my Mock Newbery discussion?”
In the final rounds, as we’re haggling over the last slots on the shortlist, there are two considerations that I keep at the front of my mind: What kind of literature is not yet represented on the list? And… what will round out the list in a way that will make people want to participate fully?
Jonathan and I have a good mix of overlapping and divergent tastes and opinions. Our shortlist are always, we hope, a little out of the ordinary, definition-stretching, and ultimately fun to read. They necessarily leave out a wide swath of potential winners… because, if we’re all doing our jobs, there’s always a lot more than 8 or 10 distinguished books published for children in a year. And because publishers like to save some of their best titles for November, darn it to heck.