I Wanna Be on a Youth Book Award Committee
Many (most) of us have this aspiration. There are a number of avenues to make this dream come true - among them through the many excellent awards bestowed by state library associations; in the blogosphere with awards like the Cybils and through national associations like NCTE; USBBY; National Council on Teachers of English that have book awards. I would be kidding myself - and you - if I didn't say that most of the time, people really, really, really, really want to serve on one of the "big" ALA award committees (Newbery, Caldecott, Printz, Coretta Scott King, Geisel, like that).
But I tell you, you need to crawl before you can walk; walk before you can run; and run before you can race strategically. So what are the pathways to becoming a critical reader (an absolute MUST) and an awesome award committee candidate? Sarah at GreenBeanTeenQueen wrote a great blog post about the critical reading aspect so please start there. Her wise words and links to other wise words are outstanding
Let's assume you are already a member of one of the ALA youth divisions or sections that present youth awards (oh, you're not? I'm sorry you can't pass go if you are not a member - and, not to be mean but, rightly so). Don't just say, "Well, I review books on my blog or for print publication". That's like talking to yourself in the mirror. You need to learn how to give and take - not just express yourself but learn about what the book reveals to others as well. I.am.not.dissing.book.review.bloggers.or.reviewers. I blog; I have reviewed for a SLJ. For me, the experience of writing is "in my head", or like talking to myself. Although I assume you are out there, my friends, it is faith, comments -and kind tweeps - that make me believe I am not whispering, Midas-like, into a hole I've dug in my back yard. Don't get me wrong, it won't hurt you to review - but discussion chops are huge.
I would suggest getting involved in or starting a youth book discussion group - no, not a "this-is-what's-happening-in-my-life-right-now" book discussion group, but one that truly delves into a book or group of youth books and examines them carefully and thoughtfully. If you are near a children's literature center like the CCBC; Butler; or others you may find high level discussions scheduled that really help you learn how to do outstanding discussion work. Use the CCBC's outstanding guidelines; they help one become a far better critical thinker, listener and reader. I cut my teeth on the CCBC discussions before I served on my first award committee and learned how to listen, share, think and react to each book's positives and negatives.
Apply to attend the ALSC Bill Morris Book Evaluation seminar at midwinter every two years - if all goes well, the next one will be at January 2014 in Philly. As Dan Rude wrote on the ALSC blog before the last seminar application process opened up in September 2011: " This invitational seminar supports and honors William C. Morris’ dedication to connecting librarians and children with excellent children’s books by bringing ALSC members with limited evaluation experience together with those who have served on ALSC’s media evaluation committees. Attendees are trained and mentored in the group process and in children’s media evaluation techniques, resulting in new and emerging leaders for future ALSC evaluation committees." I attended one as an observer and the training/mentoring is priceless.
If you are attending ALA, spend time at open Notable Book discussions and Best Book lists discussions . You can learn a ton from observation. Who is able to speak to the book rather than bringing in their experience sharing with their own child or grandchild ("Binky LOVED this book!")? Who is able to articulate a point of view clearly without getting pushy or disrespectful in their zeal? How is the book talked about? What does it reveal about the book rather than the speaker? You quickly learn who has had experience in speaking in a thoughtful way about the plot, voice, characterizations, art, design, impact, troubling details, scope, or importance of the book they are discussing. Learn, grasshopper, learn.
If you want to be on a book award committee in ALSC, do a little heavy lifting and spend some time on one of their process committees. You meet great colleagues; become an awesome advocate for ALL children's librarians and help push the envelope of innovation at a national level. I have served non-stop on ALSC committees (sometimes more than one in a year) for over 30 years and served on Caldecott and Newbery once each. You can do the math on where I spend my professional association time.
As I've said before, the process committees are like meat and potatoes compared to the dessert-like high of award committees. Too much sugar gets you shaky and pound-heavy (and makes you hallucinate that you are far greater than you really are). The process committees keep you nimble, yet rooted in youth librarianship goodness - and humble (publishers rarely fête you but the changes and advances you make with colleagues on process committee last for decades). And your hard work on these committees plus added skills learned in book discussions and reviewing just may earn you a coveted call to serve.
You also need to be aware that in a big division like ALSC with 3,000-4,000 members, there are quite a few people who want to serve. ALSC vice-presidents and nominating committees can attest to the plethora of volunteer forms asking for award committee consideration only. A few years back, the ALSC board made the decision that if one has served on an award committee or Notables, they need to wait five years before serving again. I applaud this decision. This has opened far more spots to new people and spread out the opportunity. That doesn't stop people from then working to get on YALSA or other youth award committees in those off years but at least it's a start.
Finally, if you've served on an award committee a time or two or three, make room for others and don't be a pig. Sorry to be harsh but you all know who you are out there. Everyone who is a member of the division deserves a chance to be part of an award committee and have that special shining year. The more the same people flit between YALSA and ALSC award committees, the smaller the pool of people who can weigh in as new voices to these committees. Stating that you deserve constant award book committees because you know books is silly - so do tons of your colleagues; we pride ourselves in youth librarianship on our literature chops. Stating that being appointed/elected to award committees is the only way to attend conferences may be true, but it's still selfish. Learn to advocate for your worth at your library and the worth to the library of your experience serving on a process committee. Don't be such a special snowflake; let others play in the sandbox; bring back your best kindergarten-sharing self; like that.
These are my top tips - what are yours (especially in terms of YALSA)?
Image: 'throwing a fit' http://www.flickr.com/photos/88013032@N00/2965376213 Found on flickrcc.net