Saturday, January 21, 2017

Demystifying the phone calls

One of the exciting things about the ALA Youth Media Awards (including the Newbery and Caldecott Medals) is that after the winners have been decided, the committees pick up the phone and actually call the winners. These calls have long fascinated me and I’ve asked every honoree I’ve ever met what their phone call story is. Often, these stories are part of award acceptance speeches or featured in press interviews.

After hearing so many of these wonderful stories, one detail has emerged over and over. The people getting these calls really have no idea what to expect. They’ve heard rumors and they all think they know what time the call will happen, but the reality turns out very different.

Here’s a little information about the phone calls, in case you're wondering what they are like or are hoping to receive one. 

It's already over
If you are reading this post on Sunday, you can stop worrying about if they will pick your book. The decision has already been made. It needs to be made by Saturday night. On Sunday morning the committees work on the press release. On Sunday afternoon they keep their mouths shut while everyone asks them what won. On Sunday night they make a futile attempt to go to bed early to be up in time for the phone calls. 

They call when they call
I hear so frequently that people expect calls at a specific time, and when the phone doesn't ring at that time, they think all is lost. Don't worry so much about the exact time. There's a lot going on the morning of the press conference. Maybe at the time you were expecting the phone to ring the committee is getting their press photo taken. Maybe another committee is using the phone. Maybe your voicemail picked up and they decided to try you again after they finished calling everyone else. If your phone is supposed to ring, it will ring. 

The calls do not take your time zone into account
The press conference is typically at 8 am. So, let's say the committee you're hoping for makes their calls at 6:30 am. That's 6:30 am in whatever time zone the conference is being held. If the conference is on the east coast, and you are on the west coast, it is not out of the realm of possibility for you to get a call at 3:30 am. They call when they call. 

Not all of the committees call on Monday morning
The Caldecott and Newbery committees call on Monday morning before the press conference, but committees like the Sibert, Geisel, Schneider, Wilder, etc. call Sunday afternoon or evening and sometimes even on Saturday. Different committees are on different schedules.

The caller ID might surprise you
If ALA Midwinter is happening in Boston, you might reasonably expect your phone to say Boston Convention Center when the call comes through. Maybe it will, maybe it won't. The calls my committee made, which were placed from a phone in the convention center, came up as "Unknown Caller." Sometimes committees call from cell phones, so your caller ID will read whatever state the person who owns the phone is from. 

If you have an eligible book, answer your phone the whole weekend of Midwinter. Maybe you won't win a medal, but you might win a free cruise.

There are a lot of people on the phone
This is not an intimate chat. You are called by the chair of the committee, as the rest of the committee stands huddled around listening on speakerphone. The Newbery and Caldecott committees are each composed of 15 people; the other committees are smaller.

The calls are short
They tell you your book won or received an honor, listen to your wonderful reaction, congratulate you and then it’s time for them to call the next person. It’s not a half hour chat with the committee.

You get a call for each award
If your book wins a Geisel and a Coretta Scott King Award and a Caldecott (or an honor) expect three phone calls. Each committee works separately and doesn’t talk to the other committees. The committee calling you has no idea what other awards your book may have received until they find out at the press conference with everyone else.

The calls happen according to a script
Your part of the call and what you say is spontaneous, but what's happening on the other end of the line isn't. The chair of the committee is reading from a script. If you ask a question such as who else won or who you can tell, the chair reads the answer from the Q and A section of the script. That being said, the emotion coming from the committee is very real and genuine and shines through.

Here’s a glimpse at the phone calls I was lucky enough to be a part of in February 2015.


The other end of the phone
For me, this was one of the most magical parts of being on the committee. The committee I was on chose a record setting six honors, which meant that including the winner, we got to make seven phone calls. After a few calls, I felt like we were calling everyone in the world to tell them they had won a Caldecott Honor.

I later found out what was going on at the recipient’s ends of the phones- who was sound asleep, who had recently moved, who was on vacation, etc. but that morning those calls were about spreading pure joy. Being able to tell this enormous piece of good news to each person who picked up the phone was incredible and unforgettable.

The calls are just wonderful. If your phone rings, enjoy every second. And if it doesn’t ring, read this

Thursday, January 19, 2017

The Room Where the Caldecott Happens

I saw Hamilton on Broadway without knowing a note of the music. When the song The Room Where It Happens started, I was so surprised. How could Lin Manuel Miranda have written a song just for me?

For over a decade, I have always talked about wanting to be in the room for the Caldecott Medal.

Now that I’ve been there, I know that actually, it’s a lot of rooms.

The room where you decide to run for election to the committee or fill out your volunteer form.

The room where you see your name on the ballot.

The room where you find out you’re finally, at long last, on the committee.

The room where you meet all the other committee members for the first time.

The room where boxes and boxes of books pile up that you are expected to read all of.

The room you sit in by yourself, reading book after book, again and again and again. Prepare to spend a long time in this room.

The room where you have dinner with your committee the night before the discussion starts and the camaraderie and excitement is electric in the air.

The room where you talk and talk and talk and talk until a winner emerges.

The room in your hotel the night before the announcements where you wonder what the rest of the world will think about your committee’s decisions.

The room in the press room that your whole committee jams into while you call the winners and honorees and change their lives.

The room filled with your colleagues from around the country as your winners are announced and cheers and gasps are heard.

The room where you triumphantly stand with your committee and the publisher and put the golden sticker on your book together.

The room where you have breakfast with your committee, each one of them now lifelong friends and say goodbye after one of the most intense weekends of your life.

The room where see what your committee did written about in The New York Times and you cry because you never knew you would be involved with something so important.

The room where you read your own child the winning book for the first time.

The room at the Mock Caldecott filled with children you’ve been teaching about the medal, where you get to proudly read them your winning books.

The room at a nice restaurant where you meet your winner and hear what the medal truly means to them. Bring tissues to this room.

The room where the committees and honorees gather before the banquet and you talk and hug as if you’ve known each other all your lives.

The room where your winner gives a beautiful speech in front of a thousand people and thanks your committee.

The room you sit in now, working on the next project and the next award, surrounded by artwork from those special books and pictures of those special people.

If you are a member of an awards committee- I hope you enjoy all the rooms coming your way this week. It’s an unforgettable ride.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Press conference reaction

I have been lucky enough to attend the press conference for several years where the winners of the Caldecott, Newbery and all the other Youth Media Awards are announced. It happens on the Monday of the American Library Association’s Midwinter Meeting, very early in the morning. In case you haven’t been I thought I’d tell you a bit about what goes on at this exciting event.

ALA has a live webcast which people tune into from all over the country. The camera angle is fixed on the presenters that announce the awards and if you are watching at home, you can’t see what is going on in the crowd. So much is going on. There are standing ovations. There are gasps. Committees honor their winning books with creative props- for example the Caldecott committee for Locomotive all blew train whistles.

I have tried many times to take pictures but have never been able to accurately capture the size of the crowd and the level of excitement. This event is usually the one time of year that I really use Twitter- in an effort to convey what is happening in this most exciting of rooms. The reactions are fantastic and I find they really vary from year to year and book to book.

Here's a few different kinds of reactions I've noticed over the years:

Happy applause
This is normal. The typical reaction. Lots of nice, upbeat applause. Often accompanied by whoops and cheers. You can judge how happy the crowd is about the book by the length of the applause. If it keeps going through the announcement of the title, the illustrator, the author, the publisher and the brief book description- you know the winner is a really big deal.

The gasp
Gasps are more likely to occur when records are set or surprisingly procedural events happen and not for specific books. "The committee chose not to give an award in this category this year." GASP.

It's like when a baby is screaming and you don't really notice, unless it's your baby and then the sound rings in your ears. I have been to several press conferences where there have been gasps. I'm sure I've been among the gaspers. But when the gasp was for MY committee and the choices we made.... well, I will forever remember that sound. "The Caldecott committee has chosen six honors." GASP.

Thank goodness, they got it right
This was the year of The Lion and the Mouse. To me, it felt like the whole room tensed up every time an honor was announced. Honors are always announced first, and as happy you might be when you hear them, it means that a book declared an honor has also lost the medal. When the medal was finally announced (there were only two honors that year, but I swear it felt like an eternity) I thought the crowd would rush the stage if anything but the words "The Lion and Mouse" came out of the announcer's mouth. When the right words were finally spoken, I felt as though a sigh of relief settled around the room.

The single shout
A brave soul jumps up and screams with joy. This isn't a full standing ovation- just a single ovation. I'm always impressed with these. Anyone who jumps up, by themselves, in a room of over a thousand people, REALLY loves a book.

Awkward pause
This means, "are you sure? Did the announcer really say what we all just think they said?" This is when a book is well known but out of the buzz and unanticipated as the winner. A brief moment of “Really? That's the winner?" And then, "Hey, THAT'S the winner!" Then followed by normal applause.

Dead silence
Yes, this happens. "And the Newbery Medal goes to _______." And then not a sound in the room. Awkward.

Actually, what is really going on is this. NOBODY HAS HEARD OF THE BOOK. They don't hate it... they just don't know it. This happens for books that come out late in the year, usually by first time authors and have no buzz. (cough, Moon Over Manifest, cough). And then, everyone turns to each other and says, "WHAT just won the Newbery?? Did anyone hear the title?”

Late realization
This happens a lot. A winner is applauded and celebrated, and only after that award is over does the crowd realizes the highly predicted book that didn’t win. “Wait, if The One and Only Ivan won, that means Wonder lost.” And then "Why did Wonder lose?” makes for a great post-awards announcement breakfast conversation.

I'm screaming too loudly to notice
That was this past year. I was so thrilled that Finding Winnie won, which I thought was a brilliant and beautiful book, that I was standing up, yelling and applauding with my hands over my head. The Caldecott committee could have brought in a live bear cub and done a dance with it and I wouldn't have paid any attention.

It was also my reaction the year of The Invention of Hugo Cabret, which was the last year I watched on the computer, instead of in person. I screamed so loudly and for so long that I had no idea that Hugo received historic applause until I went back and watched it again later in the day. I completely missed that anyone else but me was cheering.

Advice
If you have the chance to attend the press conference, I have some advice for you.
1. Get there very early- a long line develops well before the doors open.
2. Sit as close to the front as possible. You can’t sit too close, because many of the front seats are reserved for award committees, but if you arrive early you should have no problem.
3. There is no need to write down the names of the award winning books. Press releases and copies of ALA’s newspaper Cognotes with pictues of the winners are always handed out when you exit the press conference.
4. A few days before, make reservations at a restaurant for breakfast following the press conference. Almost everyone goes from the press conference to breakfast, and it always overwhelms the nearby restaurants. A reservation (with some friends to discuss the results) can be a lifesaver. Trust me on this one.

Have you ever been to the press conference? What did you think? What was your reaction?

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Forever and always: Newbery and Caldecott confidentiality

Currently, members of the Newbery and Caldecott committees serve with the understanding that they may never tell what happened during the deliberations.

However, there has been a recent conversation about whether there should be a statute of limitations on confidentiality. Should committee members be allowed to tell part or all of what happened in the discussions? Should there be a period of years after which the records can open?  This month’s edition of School Library Journal has three wonderful articles about the issue.

I am fascinated by this conversation. Riveted. And here’s the crazy thing. I agree with all three points of view.

I agree with K.T. Horning that there is an amazing potential for researchers. I don’t want to know who said what, but I would love to know the larger issues. How did those brave committees who bucked trends do it? How did they come to consensus? What was the thought process in the room when The Invention of Hugo Cabret or A Visit to William Blake’s Inn won? And once and for all, wouldn’t it be wonderful to find out why The Secret of the Andes beat Charlotte’s Web?

Forever is a long time not to know.

I agree with Ed Spicer that it would be freeing to tell everything. It would be marvelous to tell a creator that just because their book wasn’t honored doesn’t mean it wasn’t under consideration, that no one loved it or fought for it. It doesn’t mean it isn’t a great work of art.  Former committee members can’t answer questions about why a particular book did or didn’t make the final cut for the rest of their lives. And when questions arise about unusual choices committees make, it is a long time not to be able to defend yourself.

Forever is a long time to keep a secret.

I agree with Dan Santat that it can be better not to know. The magic is preserved.  Do we really want to know that a classic book barely squeaked by? Do we want to know all the reasons those fifteen people in that room rejected one book and anointed another? Do we want to know which book lost by a small margin? Do we want the creators to be concerned about all their decisions and choices when they create their next book?

Forever is a long time to doubt yourself.

There’s an additional issue for me. If we lifted the veil, what would we reveal, especially for the recent committees? The process is so secret that ballots are destroyed and official notes aren’t kept. If we opened the files for recent pivotal years, would we find the answers we’re looking for?

Ideally, I would love an oral history interview project or written accounts from each of the fifteen people in the room- in case the veil does lift sometime in the future. If there is a commitment to revealing information at some point, the sooner we start recording it, the better, before everyone who was in the room forgets the finer details. 

The year I was on the Caldecott committee, one of our committee members gave us all lovely blue scarves, which we wore during the deliberations and announcement. I felt that every time I saw a blue-scarfed person that weekend, I was seeing a true friend. Each blue scarf represented one of the fourteen other people in the room. They were the fourteen safe places in tag, the fourteen people I could talk to about what really happened- not what everyone on the outside thought happened.  They still are- those fourteen special people who are forever keeping the same secrets I am.

I am on another award committee where part of the process shortly before the awards ceremony at the annual conference includes committee members telling why certain books lost. After the secrecy of an ALA committee- this openness feels strange to me. I find it really challenging to tell a room full of people what I think. I feel paranoid that someone is audio recording the session and I’ll be thrown off the committee for revealing secrets.

Having being on several award committees, I can tell you that after a while what you say in the room, in the e-mail chat or on the conference call stops mattering. The committee voted and the committee as a group made a choice- and it is now your job to promote that book and that award.

I was one of the fifteen people in the room the year The Adventures of Beekle by Dan Santat won the Caldecott Medal.  It’s my book. It doesn’t matter what was said in the room. It doesn’t matter what the vote tallies were. Seeing the Caldecott Medal on the cover will always make me smile. Reading it to a child who hasn’t heard it yet will always make me choke up. I will always get goose bumps on the last line. It will always be my book.

Forever.

What are your thoughts?

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Tony, Tony, Tony, Tony, Tony

Several years ago, I tuned into the Tony awards telecast eager to find out whether Ragtime was going to beat The Lion King. (It didn't.) I made my new boyfriend watch the whole thing with me, even though he didn't care at all about the results. The next day at his work, his colleagues were talking at lunch about what they had watched on television the night before. "Anyone watch the World Cup?" someone asked. Several people had. "How about the NBA playoffs?" Again, a lot of murmurs of agreement. My boyfriend said, "Hey, did anyone watch the Tonys?" Dead silence.

I've always loved that story because I think it's a fairly good representation of the Tonys in popular culture. They have a very limited audience- you have to physically go to New York and see the original productions. You really can't tell who is going to win Best Choreography if you listen to the cast album. This is completely different from the Oscars, because you can see the nominated movies anywhere.

Also, that boyfriend is now my husband, and I still make him watch the Tonys with me every year. 

This year, I'm particularly excited to find out how Hamilton will do at the Tonys. Let's start with this question: How many Tonys can Hamilton actually win?

It's eligible for the following 13 categories:

1. Best Musical
2. Best Book of a Musical
3. Best Original Score
(These three categories can only be won by new musicals).

4. Best Orchestration
5. Best Direction of a Musical
6. Best Choreography
7. Best Scenic Design of a Musical
8. Best Costume Design of a Musical
9. Best Lighting Design of a Musical
10. Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Musical
11. Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical
12. Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Musical
13. Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical
(These ten categories can be won by either new musicals or revivals- which means the field is much larger for these awards.) 

The current record is held by The Producers, which won 12 Tonys and was nominated for 15. The Producers won every single category for which it was nominated, which is a rather incredible acheivement. The three nominations that The Producers didn't win were in the acting categories because multiple actors from the show were nominated for the same category. The one category it didn't win, is also the only one it wasn't nominated for:  Leading Actress. 

The Tony Administration committee has ruled on eligibility for certain parts in Hamilton, and whether they belong in the Lead or Featured Actor categories. Lin-Manuel Miranda, Leslie Odom, Jr.  and Phillipa Soo will all be considered in the Lead categories.

If Hamilton gets nominated in all thirteen categories- then it is within striking distance to go for the record. The Producers only had three eligible performer categories, but with the decision to put Phillipa Soo as a Leading Actress, Hamilton now has all four performer categories available.

Also, don't be surprised if it receives more than thirteen nominations. Hamilton is likely going to have the same problem as The Producers. If multiple actors get nominated in the same category (which I would expect), it won't be possible for Hamilton to win all of its nominations. 

How many possible Tonys could Lin-Manuel Miranda personally go home with? If he was nominated for every available category and he won all of them, I see four Tonys on the list above that could wind up on his mantel. Best Book of a Musical, Best Original Score, Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Musical and Best Orchestrations (which he collaborated on). The award for Best Musical is given to the producers- and he didn't produce the show. But the possibility of seeing the same person win the composing and writing award and an acting award and an arrangement award- that is incredibly exciting.

I have an image in my head from when Norah Jones won so many Grammys in the same night that she could barely hold them all. I keep thinking about this picture every time I think about what a photo of Lin at the end of the Tonys might look like. 

In The Heights was nominated was for 13 Tonys and won 4. Lin-Manuel Miranda was personally nominated for two: Best Score (which he won) and Best Actor (which he lost). (As a footnote, I'll mention that In the Heights was also nominated for Best Sound Design, a category that no longer exists.) But Hamilton is a whole different ball game. It's a hit, it's a hit, it's a palpable hit. A crazy lottery, standing room only, sold out forever hit. A show doesn't have to be a monster hit like Hamilton to win Tonys, but it doesn't hurt. 

For me, a lot of the drama is going to be in the Actor categories. Ignoring the other shows for a moment- if it was a match-up between just Lin-Manuel Miranda (Hamilton) and Leslie Odom, Jr. (Burr)- who would win? (Oh, the irony, given that the show itself is a match-up between Hamilton and Burr.) Common sense probably tells us Lin, but I have to say that Leslie was show-stoppingly phenomenal. 

What about the Featured Actors? The ensemble work was all exceptional and it is difficult to rank one above another. If I absolutely had to, I would say Daveed Diggs (Lafayette/Jefferson) and Chris Jackson (Washington) were the true standouts. So was Jonathan Groff (King George III), even through he was only on stage for a few moments. Okieriete Onaodowan (Mulligan/Madison) was also terrific, but there may not be enough room in the nominations. 

On the actress side, both Phillipa Soo (Eliza) and Renee Elise Goldsberry (Angelica) were outstanding, so I'm glad they won't have any other competition in their categories from others within the show. There's a small possibility that Jasmine Cephas Jones (Peggy/Maria Reynolds) will get nominated as a Featured Actress, but I think her part is probably too small.

We can't ignore those other shows forever. Here's a list of eligible new shows that will be vying very hard not to be shut out.

The Tony nominations will be announced on Tuesday, May 3 and the Tony Awards will be on Sunday, June 12.

Wait for it.

Monday, April 4, 2016

We're There

I read hundreds of new picture books every year. Some are dreadful. Most are good. A few are great. And occasionally, a very special book makes you want to grab people on the street and tell them about the amazing new book you just read.

Like this one.

Are We There Yet? by Dan Santat accomplishes so much between the covers of a picture book.

It's daring, dynamic and filled with a multitude of meanings. The art blends several styles simultaneously. The colors are bold, brilliant and constantly surprising. It's beautiful, fun, silly, and touching all at the same time.

The constant change from gorgeous full page spreads to small graphic novel panels is arresting. The devices used to keep the reader going in the right direction are creative and well-employed. It's very fun to hand this book to other people and watch the book turn around and around as they figure out how to read it for the first time.

And the details! How I love all the tiny, little creative details hidden in nearly every page. The color contrasts. The facial expressions. The endpapers. The outfits the parents wear. What is hidden underneath the dust jacket. On and on and on. Every time I read it, I find so many more fantastic details.

Try reading this one aloud. There's so much brilliance in the text. The overarching words about the road and where life may lead you could almost be taken out and read separately from the pictures and still be poignant. And the speech bubbles are in the language that children speak and are funny on another level.

I don't want to call it a follow-up to Beekle, because I don't want to compare the two books at all. It feels like every time a successful author has a new book, it is inevitably compared to their past achievements. I thought it might be refreshing to talk about the new book without the comparisons.

Disclaimer: I've probably read and studied Beekle far more than the average bear (or human) since I was a member of the committee that awarded Beekle the Caldecott Medal, so truly, this isn't about a lack of familiarity with Beekle.

Give this book a try. Take your time.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Keep Your Eyes on the Prize

The Pulitzer Prize, that is.

What does the list of shows below have in common?

2010: Next to Normal
1996: Rent
1985: Sunday in the Park with George
1976: A Chorus Line
1962: How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying
1960: Fiorello!
1950: South Pacific
1932: Of Thee I Sing

They represent the eight times the Pulitzer Prize in Drama has been awarded to a musical instead of to a play. It doesn't happen often, but it happens.... roughly about once a decade.

As the awards for Hamilton start to pile up, and with the 100th class of Pulitzer Prize winners being announced on April 18, I think it's time to start talking about the possibility of not just Tonys for Hamilton, but a Pulitzer.

The writing of Hamilton stands out from the writing so many plays and musicals. But unless you're in the room where it happens, and have done all the work the judges have, it's really hard to make predictions. So, no hard feelings, Pulitzer folks, if it doesn't happen- but I won't be surprised if the list above becomes a list of nine.

UPDATED:
2016: Hamilton

There are now nine musicals in the club. Nine! I knew it.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

A librarian is a librarian is a librarian

There are all kinds of librarians.

There are librarians who work for the government. For the military. For businesses. For colleges. For religious institutions.

There are law librarians. Music librarians. Art librarians. Film librarians. Medical librarians.

There are those who work in cataloging. Technical services. Circulation. Shelving. Reference. Archivists. Interlibrary loan. Library accessibility.

And many, many more types of libraries and library career paths.

And yet, whenever I'm at a conference, talking with a vendor or someone who has just found out that I'm a librarian, I always get asked the same question: "School or public?"

When I answer that I'm neither, that I am in fact, a synagogue librarian, I get a look as if I've said I'm a librarian on the planet Neptune.

I'm used to explaining what I do over and over and over (and if you'd like to know, you can read more about a typical day in my library here.) But here's when it gets frustrating. When I see awards or grants limited to certain kinds of libraries or librarians and restricted to others. I wish that me, my patrons and my library were eligible just like all the other libraries and librarians out there.

I value all kinds of libraries, librarians and library employees. I hope you do too.


Thursday, February 18, 2016

The Importance of Being a Mentor

The first time I attended an American Library Association (ALA) Annual conference I was completely overwhelmed. Which sessions should I attend? How was I going to fit everything into one weekend? How would I make any sense of this enormous association? I was attending graduate school at the time, didn't know anyone, and didn't know where to start.

I applied to the New Member Round Table (NMRT) conference mentor program and was matched with a librarian named Kris Springer. Kris met me on the first day of ALA Annual, at an incredibly early hour of the day, and explained to me how to navigate both the conference and the association. She told me about her experience on the Newbery Medal committee, and told me that I could one day be on a committee at that level. I got goosebumps and thought she was crazy. She helped me when I needed it and stayed in touch through the years.

It's now ten years after that first conference. I've been a conference mentor and a career mentor as much I've can. Sometimes officially through NMRT and sometimes unofficially when someone is at the start of their career and has questions. I've met with people I'm mentoring at conferences when I've had a loose schedule, and conferences where I've barely had a minute of free time. It's a priority to me and one of the most rewarding things I've done in my profession.

At the ALA Midwinter convention last month, I was so proud of all these wonderful librarians and so honored to have the privilege to watch how far they've come.

For me, the most emotional moment was watching Amy Forrester. I met Amy several years ago when she was in library school and attending her first ALA Annual conference. I told her the things one usually tells a first time attendee; how to take the shuttle bus and to listen to all those people who tell you to wear comfortable shoes. Over the years, I watched her become a confident and skilled children's librarian. I was overjoyed when she was appointed to the 2016 Geisel Committee. It was really overwhelming for me watching the Geisel committee, which she was a part of, announce their choices to the world at the press conference. I am so proud that she and her committee recognized outstanding books for beginning readers and may have changed the lives of some of the creators and readers of those books. I wish you could have heard me cheering.

Thank you, Kris, for getting up so early a decade ago; for your advice and for the advice of all the other mentors who have helped me out. Thank you to all the people I've mentored- for being such wonderful professionals who I'm so proud of, for all I have learned from you, and for some inexplicable reason, listening to my advice.

I never realized that anything I was saying was helpful until I read this incredibly touching post from Amy Steinbauer. Thank you, Amy, for letting me know that I'm making a tiny difference. I'm looking forward to great things from you!

I hope this post inspires you to mentor someone in your profession. Whether officially and through an association, or by simply having lunch with someone new to the field, listening to their experiences and trying to answer their questions.

To all those children's and young adult librarians I have mentored, I look forward to the day when I get to watch your Newbery, Caldecott or Printz committees reveal their choices. I'll be cheering loudest!

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Caldecott-versary

Today is the one year anniversary of the day the 2015 Caldecott committee announced our winner and honors.

Things I have learned in the last year:

-You can walk into a windowless hotel room with fourteen acquaintances and walk out two days later with fourteen lifelong friends.

-The only people who truly understand what you went through are the ones who were in that room with you.

-Forever (which is the length of time that you will be keeping your mouth closed about what happened during the deliberations) is a really long time.

-Getting to be on a phone call where you hear someone's life change is an incredible experience.

-It is challenging to go from one of the most intense experiences of your life and a crazy press conference full of celebration to driving a carpool the next day.

-Reading a New York Times article announcing the winner is enough to make you cry because you were in the room where it happened.

-You can't say if you voted for the winning book, but every single person will ask you if did.

-If anyone finds out you were on the 2015 Caldecott committee, they will inevitably ask to see your tattoo (which you didn't get).

-You should never read the comments section of anything that discusses your winners.

-The generosity, graciousness and appreciation of the winners will overwhelm and humble you.

-Fifteen minutes during lunch is not enough time to tell a group of fifth graders about the experience of being on the committee. 

-Having the ability to give away hundreds of books to a school that needs them is a wonderful feeling.

-Sitting in the front row at the banquet, seeing your name on the big screen and hearing your committee being thanked by the medal winner standing at the podium is a goose-bumpy and teary experience.

-Everyone in the children's book world is best friends with Dan Santat and they are all thrilled that he won the Caldecott Medal. (Seriously. Is there anyone who has only a casual acquaintance with Dan? How many best friends does Dan have?)

-The first Midwinter after you've been on the committee is hard. You know everything the committee is doing, and what time they are doing it, but you're not doing it too.

-If there are people left in the world who don't know you were on the Caldecott committee, your friends will make sure they find out.

-Being able to simply read and appreciate a beautiful picture book and not have to read it over and over and analyze it and tie yourself into knots writing a nomination for it is a nice thing.

-As overwhelming as it is to see your porch covered in boxes of submissions, you miss them when they stop coming.

-Reading the winning books to your own children is one of the most special feelings in the world.

-There is nothing like the thrill of seeing a Caldecott Medal on the cover of a book, and knowing exactly how it got there. It never gets old.

-Figuring out how to be vague in a blog post like this one is hard work.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Hamilton

I hesitated in writing this- because what is there to say about a show that is already a hit? What is there that has not been said? I've tried to stay away, as much as possible, from all the hyperbole. I didn't listen to the cast album. I only read one review of the off-Broadway production. I wanted to find out about it for myself.

My favorite class in college, which I took my first semester because I couldn't wait any longer, was a history of American Musical Theater. We talked about landmark shows such as Showboat, Oklahoma, West Side Story and Company. If I was taking that class now (or better yet, teaching it), I would add Hamilton to that list of game changers. 

Why? It's not enough that it's a hit. 

It's easier to like a show when the lines at the box office go down the street and the tickets take a year to get... just as it is easier to like a book that already has a Caldecott or Newbery Medal on the front. Someone else has already told us that this is something extraordinary. The stamp of approval has already been given. 

What Hamilton has done is to bring the rhythm of popular music back to the theater. The kind of music that is playing in clubs and on the radio is now playing on Broadway. How wonderfully refreshing. Broadway, which in recent years has been criticized as elitist and apart from popular culture, is now being brought back into it.

But, Hamilton is not all hip-hop or rap. It combines so many musical styles, often within the same song, that it is mesmerizing. It would probably be a shorter list to say which musical traditions are not in Hamilton, rather than the ones that are. And the lyrics are brilliant, incredibly tight, interwoven and multi-layered. And Hamilton is not a regular book musical, where there's a song and then a scene, and back and forth. It's an opera. There are only a few lines that are spoken without a beat or rhythm behind them. Call it a hip-hop opera if you like, but an opera it is nonetheless.

If Hamilton reminds me of anything, it's of another landmark show that is currently playing in the Broadway theater next door. Les Miserables. Also an opera. Also about a revolution, the difference between the rich and the poor, and breaking into the ruling class. Also based on a very, very long book. (Hamilton is based on an 800 page biography.) Also with a turntable- although Hamilton has a double one. And there are echoes of the melodies of Les Miserables sprinkled throughout Hamilton. Plus, if The Story of Tonight doesn't thematically make you think of Red and Black, then I don't know what does.

The difference between the two shows is that when I listen to Les Miserables, I always feel as if I’m hearing the same song over and over. It seems as though there is a melody that has been written to be used between major numbers, and the words change but the tune stays the same. 

Hamilton isn't like that. There are 17 songs in each act (which is unusual, because the second act is typically shorter) and each of these 34 songs are distinct, unique and complex. There are musical patterns and phrases that are repeated, but not whole songs and melodies. Compare that to when I saw Andrew Lloyd Webber's show Whistle Down the Wind during an out of town tryout. All but one song in the second act was a reprisal of a song in the first act. 

The Hamilton subject matter is incredibly intriguing as well. Here's a musical told from the point of view of an often-overlooked Founding Father. Having been fascinated with Alexander Hamilton since ninth grade American History, I was happy to see him finally get his due. But while telling the story of someone who has been marginalized, it also has a go at people such as Thomas Jefferson who are typically lionized. What an interesting change of pace. There is one historical question that the musical doesn't address, however- was Hamilton eligible to be President since he was born outside of the United States?  

The references are so far reaching and varied as to be astonishing. There's not a lot of people who can quote the Lovin' Spoonful and then the Declaration of Independence a few sentences later, as seen in the song "The Schuyler Sisters." And as it takes Broadway a little further, it also refers back to it. Gilbert and Sullivan's The Pirates of Penzance is directly quoted, as is Rodgers and Hammerstein's South Pacific. Also, Shakespeare, the Bible, Socrates, fairytales, and nursery rhymes. It's a brilliant homage to what has come before. 

I can't quite remember when I first heard the name Lin-Manuel Miranda. I feel like I've known about him for a long time. Obviously, through In the Heights and the publicity and Tonys for that. But the thing that made an impression is this video from his actual wedding which was circulating around on social media. 
This knocked me back. Here was a talented Broadway actor who had gone to the trouble of recreating one of Broadway's most famous songs, and a rather complicated one at that, at his own wedding reception. Weddings are stressful events, with lots of built-in craziness. He had clearly gone to a lot of effort while the events of the wedding were swirling around him, to find time to rehearse, with his future father-in-law, his father, with the bridesmaids and groomsmen. And managed to keep it all from the bride. And it came off brilliantly. And paid homage to Broadway. 
Who is this guy?

Then I watched the 2011 Tony Awards with the fantastic Neil Patrick Harris. What struck me the most was the closing rap at the end, which summed up all the events that had just occurred during the show. The performance by Neil Patrick Harris was incredibly impressive, but I was amazed by the writing, which had great rhyming, solid rhythm, funny jokes and heartfelt thoughts about Broadway tying it all together. And it had clearly been done on the spot. I later read that Lin-Manuel Miranda had been the one in the basement during the Tonys writing the closing number. 
Who is this guy??
A musical has three parts that have to be written: the music, the lyrics and the book. The division of labor varies depending on the creators. For Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals, for example; Richard Rodgers wrote the music and Oscar Hammerstein wrote the lyrics and the book. Stephen Sondheim writes the music and the lyrics for his shows (with the exception of his first two), and has collaborated with several different book writers during his career. Usually, there is then another composer, called an arranger, who adapts the music for different instruments in the orchestra. There are only a handful of all the creators of musical theater who have been able to write the book, music and lyrics all themselves, and have produced a hit musical in the process. Meredith Wilson (The Music Man) is one. Jonathan Larson (Rent) is another.

One of the many things that made West Side Story a landmark musical is that it required the chorus to sing, dance and act. Before then, there were two different choruses: the singing chorus and the dancing chorus. But now, performers have to be triple threats, that is they have to master three separate disciplines.

For Hamilton, Lin-Manuel Miranda has written the book. And the lyrics. And the music. And collaborated on arranging the music. Plus, he's the lead in the show. He acts. He sings. He dances. He's a septuple threat. SEVEN disciplines. I can't think of anyone in the history of musical theater who has done this before. Not even him- for In the Heights he didn't write the book or work on the arranging. 
Who is this guy?? And why is he writing like he's running out of time?

Something else impressed me about him. I've been to a lot of Broadway shows and seen a lot of stars. I've seen them race out of the theater after the show into waiting cars with police protection. Or sign a few programs of the people standing at the front and then call it a night. Not this guy. Lin-Manuel Miranda went the length of the entire line of people waiting to see him, in freezing weather, shaking hands, having conversations, and taking pictures with every single person including me and my husband. My camera jammed at exactly the wrong minute, he waited for us to fix it while everyone else was clamoring to talk to him and then took the picture himself. I imagine that he must go through the line after every show. What a mensch. 
WHO IS THIS GUY??? 

Whoever he is, he's extraordinary. There's no doubt.

As amazing as Lin-Manuel Miranda is, and it is obvious that the MacArthur Foundation made an excellent choice, this is not a one man show. The ensemble work is fantastic, with every actor and actress making memorable performances. The off-stage talent is crucial, and the collaboration of the director, designers, musical director, and choreographer comes together to make the whole show a success. A perfect example of this are King George's songs. If you only heard the cast album, you would think the songs were funny, catchy and enjoyable. To understand how truly hysterical they are, you would have to see Jonathan Groff's deadpan performance, Paul Tazewell's elaborate costume, Howell Brinkley's lights that come in at the right moment and Thomas Kail's great direction.

Even the marketing and publicity in Hamilton is notable. The primary logo is black- which means our eye is drawn to a lack of color. The color is completely contained in the gold background. Hamilton stands on the top of an iconic star from the American flag, which is missing its fifth point. Hamilton's body creates not only the star's final point, but also the letter A, his first initial. The images of Hamilton are everywhere. Not just on the marquee like most shows, but on the walls of the theater and the stage door. All over Penn Station. Inescapable, convincing us that Hamilton is the show to see. 

If I could say anything to the people involved with Hamilton, or to someone who has won a Newbery or Caldecott Medal or otherwise achieved great success, it would be this. Try, as hard as you can, not to be encumbered by past success. Success can be just as paralyzing as failure. They don't all have to be life-changing hits. Just keep doing work that you're proud of. That's all anyone can ask. 

I hope you get a chance to see it. Do not throw away your shot. 

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Caldebutts

My young son loves The Adventures of Beekle: the Unimaginary Friend by Dan Santat.

And, for the first time, I'm going to be completely honest about why.

It's not the stunning artwork. It's not the incredible multi-layered story. It's not that I was a member of the committee that awarded it the Caldecott Medal. (WHY NOT??!! WHY ISN'T IT ANY OF THESE THINGS???!!)

It's the fact that you can see Beekle's butt.

Now, the casual reader probably only saw this Beekle butt, the main event.


But the true, careful observer can find a lot more than that with a little patience.

Here is a tiny Beekle climbing the tree.


We also get a glimpse at Beekle's tuckus as he hands the paper to Alice, and in a later stylized version.










And it's the final image- on the back cover, as well as under the jacket.










Over the years, I have seen a number of posterior-related titles, starting with Captain Underpants, and in recent years titles such as Chicken Butt by Erica Perl and Veggies with Wedgies by Todd Doodler have crossed my desk. My son thinks these are brilliant works of art. They make him laugh harder than any other books on our shelf. Seriously.

The 2015 Caldecott committee set several records. The most honor books. The first graphic novel. And also, if you were paying attention, the first Caldecott Medal book (that I know of) featuring a butt. My kids are the proudest of this record.

Caldebutt scholars may argue for the inclusion of No, David! by David Shannon (featuring full nudity, no less!), In the Night Kitchen by Maurice Sendak and King Bidgood's in the Bathtub by Audrey Wood which certainly hints, if doesn't downright show anything. Those are honor books, and I'm talking about Medal books.

Now, Travis Jonker has pointed out, that to some, there is now a second Caldecott Medal winner that features a butt. This one is on the cover, no less. (I see knees). Look at Travis' post for more.

Thank you to Travis, for his post, that freed me emotionally to write this one, and to Angela Reynolds, my fellow Caldecott committee member, for the truly awesome title.

And, whatever the reason, I'm glad my son loves Beekle; no ifs, ands, or butts.

UPDATE: Alas, the 2015 Caldecott committee did not set the Caldebutt record after all. There's a great porcine posterior image in David Wiesner's Caldecott Medal book The Three Pigs. Who pointed this out? My son, of course.