Thursday, July 21, 2016

What It's Like to be on the Geisel Committee #1

One of our recurring features on this blog will be reflections by previous Geisel committee members on their experiences. If you've served on the Geisel Committee in the past and would like to share your experiences, please contact one of the blog administrators.

Today's guest columnist is Sarah Stippich, Early Literacy Coordinator for the Free Library of Philadelphia. She is a longtime children’s librarian and proud member of ALSC, currently serving on the Every Child Ready to Read Oversight Committee and Early Childhood Programs and Services Committee. She is currently reading Hundred Percent by Karen Romano Young. Sarah, thanks for sharing your experiences with us!

Congratulations! You’ve been appointed to the Geisel Award Committee, one of the most distinguished literary awards for children’s literature. You are now part of a secret club of librarians whose task is to deeply evaluate books for beginning readers. You will bestow a prestigious honor upon an author and an illustrator, and your work will be national news. Uh… what now? 

First of all, before serving on an award committee, do your time and walk the walk. It is a huge honor to be appointed to an award committee, and many of us dream of serving on the Caldecott, Coretta Scott King, Newbery, Geisel, etc. But you do need to make yourself known to the ALSC powers that be. Spend time on a process committee and get to know your fellow ALSC members. Help publish a booklist or article or blog series. My time on the School-Age Programs and Services Committee was fun and rewarding, and I met so many talented colleagues. And I can’t stress enough how eye-opening my experience with the Morris Seminar was. Spending a day hearing from experienced reviewers and learning to defend my point of view about fabulous books was monumental for me, and ALSC leadership considers this experience when making appointments to award committees. 

Second, learn to love spreadsheets. Each member of each award committee has their own record-keeping style. But let’s face it: we’re librarians and we love organizing things! For me, an intricately color-coded Google spreadsheet with lots of tabs and columns was just the thing. I have heard of different methods involving Post-Its, complicated shelving schemes, super-secret binders, and hand-written reviews. Whichever way you choose, make sure you plan it well and keep up with it consistently. When those books come pouring in, you’ll thank yourself. 

Third, borrow some kids. One of the most interesting things about the Geisel Award criteria is that kid appeal is built right into it. It must motivate children to read. I adopted a local second grade class whose teacher was thrilled to have me visit weekly with a crate of books for my Junior Geisel Committee. I created a review worksheet for students to fill out after reading, allowing them to rate the book on humor, illustrations, and readability. Their reviews were hilarious! It was really fun to share books with them (of course they nearly screamed when I gave them a first look at the brand new Elephant & Piggie book), but I did have to take their input with a huge grain of salt. Child appeal is important to the Geisel, but not every book can be about Spider-Man. Their teacher was a great partner in this process, telling me which books they re-read, and which were simply too difficult for them.

Photo courtesy of Claire O'Leary Arnold
Last and most important, get ready to change your mind. Sharpen your debating skills, and be ready to not just HEAR, but LISTEN. It will be your task to prove to six smart, savvy professionals that your favored books meet the Geisel Award criteria in the best ways possible. Each of you has a wealth of experience to offer, and you will not always see eye to eye. And no matter how much you prepare your ideas and scour each page for flaws, one insightful comment from another committee member will completely blow your argument out of the water. There will always be a page turn or word choice or illustration that slipped by you, and now you can’t un-see it. On the flip side, you will see something that no one else on your committee sees. If you can convince them, “your” book might just advance in the selection process. Your time on the Geisel Committee will be invigorating, chaotic, and will completely change how you share books with new readers. Good luck!

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