Wednesday, January 6, 2016

About That Pesky Newbery

Several years ago, I was volunteering in the cafeteria of my children's school (least favorite volunteer job ever) and kept checking my phone. After awhile one of the other volunteers gave me an Odd Look about it. "The Newbery Award is being announced this morning," I explained (I have to believe this was before the days of live internet feeds. Otherwise I'm pretty sure I would have been home by my computer.). "I'm dying to see who wins."

"Oh," said the Other Volunteer. "Who do you want to win?"

I said, "ME!"

She said, "OH!" as though she had never once considered that, which she probably hadn't, because 1) most people in Bristol assume I self-publish, and 2) why would she?

She asked, "Is that, like, possible?"

"Possible," I said. "I have a book that's eligible. Not probable. And I'm thinking that if I did win, I would already know by now. But still--"

Looking back, I'm pretty sure this was the year of For Freedom, which, while never winning a major award, inexplicably came in at #57 on Time magazine's recent list of 100 Best Children's Books Of All Time. So it was a long shot, but not perhaps a wholly ridiculous one.

A few weeks ago, at a middle school basketball game, I asked a friend who is a middle school librarian, "So, who do you like for the Newbery?"

"Echo!" she said. "I am such a fan of Echo!"

"Angie," I said, "you're supposed to say me."

"Of course, you too," she said instantly. "Your book, and Echo. I really loved Echo."

Somewhere, Pam Munoz Ryan, who wrote Echo, is sitting down to work (actually, I think she lives in California. She may still be asleep) trying not to remember that this time next week someone's book will have been awarded the Newbery Award. Laura Amy Schlitz is also putting it out of her mind. As well as Sharon Draper, Cassie Beasley, and a host of other writers, including me.

I want to win the Newbery so bad it makes my teeth hurt.

And yet, it doesn't really matter at all.

Both of these things are absolutely true.

Earlier this year, when The War That Saved My Life started attracting a whole lot of buzz--way more than any of my previous books--a lot of people that love me and know a lot about publishing cautioned me not to get my hopes of too high. Yes, there was Newbery talk---but talk was cheap, and the Committee (I always think of them as a variation on Nick Hornby's Polysyllabic Spree) made their own choices. The Newbery is not a popularity contest. Sometimes, or so I'm told, it's a compromise.

Sure, I told my friends. Of course I already know that. Take a look down the list of winners. Some make perfect sense to me--others, not so much. And the ones that make sense to me puzzle other people exceedingly, and vice versa. "How about the bug poems one?" I offered as an example. "No one likes the bug poems."

"I LOVE the bug poems," another librarian (and ex-Committee member, though not for that year) exclaimed. "I have kids reading the bug poems one ALL THE TIME."

So there you are. Five days until the big reveal. Not that I'm counting. (I'm counting.) (Hi, Pam!)