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!)


  1. I was actually just thinking about this this morning and wishing I had a few moments to write a blog post on it! Maybe I still will. I know who gets my vote.

  2. I will be sorely disappointed if it's not yours!

  3. I've been thinking about TWTSML a lot lately as well. It's an exceptional book, Laura, and I'm honored that I had the opportunity to read it. You'd win the WINNERbery, if, you know, ALA suddenly decided to give an award in my honor. And the fact that that book is now in so many hands of young readers thanks to the hundreds and hundreds of librarians and teachers who love it? That's no small feat!

  4. I wish you luck and happiness this year! Also sympathy having had a tiny taste of this a couple of years ago when my first (and only) book got some lowlevel Newbery buzz. I can only imagine how hard it must be if the buzz is on the level your book is getting! Given my usual role on the other side of things (as a blogger, critic, award committee member) it was a very weird time for me. So much so that I wrote this after the awards announcement my year:

  5. Ran across your blog post when it was retweeted by Travis Jonker. I wanted to share that The War that Save my Life won both our Mock Newbery ballots! You can read the results of our voting on my blog:
    Right now, I have Skype envy because Holly Mueller just posted a pic on FB of her class visit with you. I thought KCLS (King County Library System) had scheduled a Skype visit with you, but either I missed it or it hasn't happened yet.
    Now, here's a burning question for you from the members of our after school book club. Is the initial a in Ada's name pronounced with a long a or a short a? I promised them I'd get the answer to this question. It comes up every time we talk about the book! (And a point that our counselor made with the students when she led one of our book discussions: ADA is the acronym for Americans with Disabilities Act). We loved The War that Saved my Life and we're pullling for it to win on Monday! Whether or not the Newbery concurs, we know it's a winner!

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. It's Ay-day. Long A in front, short behind. Thanks so much!

    3. Ay-dah. Dah. I hate autocorrect!

  6. Went back and re-read this post - your friend should be delighted, since both you and Echo won!


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