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Heavy Medal: A Mock Newbery Blog
Inside Heavy Medal

Considering Consensus

We’ve revisited nearly all of our shortlisted titles, with STARRY RIVER OF THE SKY still to go, before our Mock Discussion on January 13th in Oakland. (If you’ve read all the titles and would like to come, email me for the Evite).    Participants may be preparing notes, flipping through copies again to re-read an argued passage…  while the actual committee is huddled in now for the final long-haul, reading books for the second, third, or fourth time, preparing pages of notes as well as considered pro and con arguments.  They may even be strategizing about which of these arguments to present and when, in the event of the need to reballot.   If the first ballot (anonymous, weighted 1st, 2nd, and 3rd choices) does not produce a winner (with 4 points to a 1st place vote, 3 to a second, and 2 to a third, the winner has the highest total points with at least an 8 point lead over the next in total points, AND at least 8 first place votes); then the committee must discuss titles again before reballoting. From the manual:

Re-Balloting The committee may not proceed to another ballot without a second round of book discussion. At this point, certain choices present themselves, and certain procedures apply:

• By consensus the committee may choose to withdraw from the discussion list all titles that receive no votes on the first ballot.

• By consensus the committee may choose to withdraw additional titles that received minimal support on the first ballot.

• Once withdrawn from the discussion list, a book is permanently eliminated from consideration for the award.

• Once a second round is complete, the committee proceeds to a second ballot.

• On a second ballot (and, if necessary, all subsequent ballots), votes are tabulated by the tellers who use the same point system and formula as in the first round to determine a winner.

• If after a second ballot, there is still no winner, the committee is required to re-open discussion and then re-ballot, alternating between discussion and re-balloting until a winner is selected.

At one point in time there was language in the manual about not bringing into subsequent discussion any points that had been introduced in the original discussion. This appears to have been written out of the 2009 revision, unless I missed it; but that spirit is implied by the discussion guidelines of “trying not to repeat”…and would be more or less enforced by the chair keeping the discussion fluid and concise, for time’s sake.

That new discussion, and re-balloting, is where some of the most interesting mind-shifting can happen.  It doesn’t always: the award can be decided from a first ballot.   But it’s in re-balloting that sometimes a committee member can start to “make peace” with the fact that a book he or she did not care for might likely wind up with a medal.  Note Jonathan’s feelings about SPLENDORS & GLOOMS after thorough consideration, or mine about BOMB.  Each of us seem to have come far enough to admit that the fact that we are not the particular readers for these books gets in the way of seeing their strengths override their weaknesses, at least in estimation for our personal Newbery vote.   Yet both of these are undeniably strong contenders (at least at Heavy Medal).  If the discussion so far on this blog were the final discussion at the Newbery table, neither of us would likely cast a vote for the book.  But if both titles stood strong on an inconclusive ballot…is it possible we’d reconsider our very considered positions, and take a leap of faith to follow others?  It would likely take a pretty strong…and *new*…argument to do so.

Nina Lindsay About Nina Lindsay

Nina Lindsay is the Children's Services Coordinator at the Oakland Public Library, CA. She chaired the 2008 Newbery Committee, and served on the 2004 and 1998 committees. You can reach her at


  1. Jonathan Hunt Jonathan Hunt says:

    While I may not vote for SPLENDORS AND GLOOMS, I do not begrudge it Newbery recognition at all. If it gets the requisite 8 first place votes with 8 points of separation then I could still be quite proud of our mock committee’s work, especially if we also have strong honor books. I also would not vote against SPLENDORS AND GLOOMS getting an honor book. It will just be difficult for me, personally, to vote for the title on my ballot if I perceive that there are stronger books still in play.

  2. When I was on the Committee I went in determined to not have to ” ‘make peace’ with the fact that a book he or she did not care for might likely wind up with a medal.” This meant that along with advocating passionately for the books I loved I also paid close attention to those who admired books I was luke-warm about. As a result I warmed up to these books a great deal. I really think the worse possible experience serving on the Committee would be having to support a book that you were never able to care for.

    A good example for me this year is THE ONE AND ONLY IVAN. I was initially disappointed with it having gone into my first reading with certain expectations that did not happen. However, the comments here have helped me to change my mind to the point where, while it isn’t in my top tier nomination-wise, is a book I could definitely get behind and would be comfortable with it receiving recognition. Of course, I’d still be disappointed that my own favorites didn’t make it, but I would feel this book was strong enough to there.

  3. Jonathan Hunt Jonathan Hunt says:

    The key for me is to not emotionally invest in a small number of titles (2-3) but rather to have a wider range of titles that I can embrace (5-7) so that I can be proud of the committee’s work even if I only truly feel warm and fuzzy about one of the honor titles. As luck would have it, I’ve always felt warm and fuzzy about most of the titles my committees have picked. But I like what Ed Spicer once told me: A little known secret of being on one of these ALA committees is that you can do all that work and still not get any of your favorite titles recognized (especially if your committee has only 1-2 honor books). It’s not for the faint of heart, and while nobody likes that scenario, you have to prepare yourself emotionally in some way for that to happen.

  4. Nina Lindsay Nina Lindsay says:

    Yes, I think that going into discussion with an understanding of the strengths of a range of contenders is very helpful. At the same time, I do like to play the game of picking my ballot ahead of time. I mentally set the context of it being “a game”, and do a few versions of it, so that I don’t lock myself in–mentally or emotionally. But if I’m going to try to make a particular for a couple of titles, I need the exercise of “seeing” the books on a ballot, and with medals, to clarify my thoughts on how to argue for them over others. Not that I’ve locked myself in to those titles…but I do try to recognize…from the nomination justifications…which among my top 6-10 are the ones that will need the most support from *me* in particular.

    Ed’s advice is certainly apt. The other truism I’ve found is that this point of keeping an “open” vs. “closed” mind works differently for everyone on the committee.

  5. On a only slightly related vein of this topic, I’m wondering how much discussion takes place before the first ballot? It would be nice to get a lot of the dead weight off the table right up front, I thinking.

  6. Nina Lindsay Nina Lindsay says:

    Oh, A LOT of discussion. Maybe all of it…because there might only be one ballot. Generally, the committee will go through and discuss every single title. And if there’s time, go back to any that got short shrift, before balloting.

    This year’s committee is scheduled to meet 8am-10pm, Friday and Saturday. Then 8am-10am Sunday morning, but you want a decision made before you go to bed on Saturday if at all possible…Sunday is for writing the press release, really. If I were the chair, I’d be looking to finish discussion no later than Saturday afternoon…do some talking about voting, eat dinner, then first ballot after dinner. If it’s conclusive, you get a good night’s sleep. If not, not. There’s also the decisions to make about honor books, and again, that can either be clear cut, or take several ballots and hair-pulling and hand-wringing.

  7. Okay, so my question was self-serving. I’m relieved that the authentic Newbery committee looks minutely at every book.

    Now let me rephrase.

    During a Mock Newbery discussion, with more like a two hour time limit., would you, (and by you, I refer to any with experience), recommend an upfront vote to concentrate on the front-runners? Or do you discuss each title? And should I have not made a list of twelve?

  8. Nina Lindsay Nina Lindsay says:

    Oh: aha! Well…in “my style” of Mock Newbery (which I adopted from the CCBC in Madison WI), you discuss every title on the ballot, before the ballot, because we think we’re the real committee! And that is one of the main reasons we try to keep our shortlist trim. We schedule a 4 hour meeting for 8 titles. And the break out is vaguely: 30-60 minutes for intros/process review. 2hrs for discussion of 8 titles, including a short break. 1 hr at least for balloting, rediscussion and reballoting if necessary.

    With a list of twelve, and 2 hrs. I’d:
    Take a poll to find out which books haven’t been read by everyone, and ask if by consensus you can remove all those.
    If that doesn’t get you down to 8, take a straw poll to get you there. Hopefully at this point you’re only 15-20minutes into your 2 hrs.
    Set a timer for 9 minutes per title, which is nothing. 1hr 15 minutes.
    Then hopefully have nearly 30 minutes for ballots and debrief.

    You don’t want to ballot with fewer than 8 titles, if possible….too short a list can be problematic for consensus, mathematically. And even the briefest of discussions per title rank in about 7 minutes, in my experience.

    Anyone else have suggestions?

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