Tuesday, January 24, 2017

2017 ALA Youth Media Awards news stories

Here are some exciting news stories from yesterday’s American Library Association’s Youth Media Awards. The full press release and award list can be found here.

Award sweep
March 3 won FOUR awards. That means that four separate committees in four separate rooms, across multiple ALA divisions (YALSA, ALSC and EMIERT) and multiple age group requirements all came to the same conclusion that March 3 was the very best of all their eligible books. Not one of the four committees gave it an honor; all four gave it their top prize. Unbelievable. And, don’t forget, March 3 also won the National Book Award. Truly, an unprecedented sweep.

Caldecott Hat Trick
The 2015 Caldecott Medal went to Beekle, published by Little, Brown.
The 2016 Caldecott Medal went to Finding Winnie, published by Little, Brown.
The 2017 Caldecott Medal went to Radiant Child, published by Little, Brown.

Sensing a pattern? It is a very big deal for a publisher to win the Caldecott Medal. To do it two years in a row is unbelievable. To do it three years in a row is mind-boggling. Truly Little, Brown has upped the ante. 

Graphic Novels
Ten years ago, when American Born Chinese won the Printz Medal, it was an enormous turning point. Yesterday, a decade after that moment, the second graphic novel won the Printz award. Also yesterday, a graphic novel won the Sibert, the Belpre, the YALSA Nonfiction Award and the Coretta Scott King Award. There was even an Odyssey (audio book) honor for a graphic novel. In the last few years, both the Newbery and Caldecott committees have honored graphic novels. Now, there are almost no awards left that haven’t recognized a graphic novel. It’s a new world. 
Small publishers
Yesterday was a big, big day for publishing houses that don’t usually win. It was so joyful to hear names like Chronicle, Charlesbridge, Abrams, Carolrhoda, Orca, Top Shelf Productions and Enchanted Lion be announced.

The biggest story was the Newbery Medal. Workman Publishing publishes terrific books, many of which you’ve probably heard of. But they only recently started published middle grade books and they never show up on the award lists. To see them carry off the biggest prize of the day was an absolutely incredible thing. I can’t begin to imagine what it means to the publisher.

Fathers and sons
Javaka Steptoe, who won the Caldecott and Coretta Scott King Medals yesterday, is the son of two-time Caldecott honor and Coretta Scott King recipient John Steptoe. John Steptoe died in 1989 but wouldn’t it be wonderful if he could find out what his son accomplished yesterday.

Prior to this, the one that has always impressed me was the Fleischmans. Sid Fleischman won the Newbery Medal in 1987, and then a mere 2 years later in 1989 his son Paul Fleischman won the Newbery Medal. What an amazing thing.

Popular authors
Bestselling and popular authors rarely win awards. It was so lovely to see Rick Riordan and Sarah Dessen get recognition yesterday.

Jason Reynolds
This talented new writer is gathering up hardware at an incredibly rapid pace. Only two years ago (although it seems like it’s been much longer), he was a debut author and won the John Steptoe Award for New Talent. Last year he won two Coretta Scott King honors. Yesterday, he added the Schneider Family Book Award, a Coretta Scott King honor and one of his audiobooks won an Odyssey honor.

I think he’s trying to collect the whole Youth Media Awards set.

Ashley Bryan
Speaking of collecting the whole set…

The nonagenarian took home one of the big prizes yesterday, a Newbery honor. He also picked up two additional Coretta Scott King Award honors, one for writing and one for illustration. For anyone keeping score at home, Ashley Bryan has also won the Wilder Medal, the Virginia Hamilton Award, the Arbuthnot, two Coretta Scott King Awards and seven CSK honors.  

It’s worth noting that both Ashley Bryan and Jason Reynolds have the same editor, Caitlyn Dlouhy of Atheneum, an imprint of Simon & Schuster.

For all the hubbub last year over a picture book winning the Newbery Medal, it seems to be passing unnoticed that a poetry picture book won a Newbery Honor yesterday.

Elephant and Piggie
The Geisel domination of Elephant and Piggie isn’t quite over, even though the series is.  We Are Growing! A Mo Willems’ Elephant and Piggie Like Reading! book carried the day. The beloved pink and grey folks only make a cameo in this one, but it looks like their Geisel reign has not come to an end.

A picture book biography won the Caldecott for the second year in a row, but it doesn’t happen very often. Only a handful of non-fiction books have won the Caldecott, so it is still a big event.

Also, for only the second time, the same book won both the Sibert Medal (up to age 14) and the YALSA Nonfiction Award (ages 12-18). I think it’s an enormous thing that both nonfiction committees judged March 3 the best book of all their submissions, despite having different age requirements.

Your reactions

What did you think? I would love to hear your thoughts. Did I miss something exciting or unprecedented that happened? Tell me in the comments.

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.

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?