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?

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