Check it off the bucket list: Librarians judge national book awards

Plenty of people have a bucket list of memorable things they want to do before they “kick the bucket.”

Librarians Joy Feldman and Shannon Horrocks
Sno-Isle Libraries Librarians Joy Feldman and Shannon Horrocks marked off a professional bucket-list item. They each judged a national book award.

Sometimes, those things are monumental, far-fetched, seemingly impossible. For a librarian, the really big deal is “judge a national book award.”

Two Sno-Isle Libraries librarians can check that off their professional bucket lists.

Joy Feldman, Lead Librarian for Early Literacy with Sno-Isle Libraries, was one of seven judges for the 2018 Theodor Seuss Geisel Award, which honors the most distinguished book for beginning readers.

Shannon Horrocks, Children’s Librarian at the Snohomish Library, was one of 15 judges for the 2019 Randolph Caldecott Medal, which goes to the most distinguished American picture book for children.

“This is one of the highest honors you can ever achieve in your career and we’re all so proud of Shannon,” Feldman said of Horrocks.

“For me, it was a dream come true!” Horrocks said. “Joy was so helpful to me and gave me wonderful advice on how to prepare for award committee work.”

The American Library Association and its Association for Library Service to Children select the judges to determine the annual awards.

“It’s truly an honor to participate in something like this, to contribute to children’s literature,” Feldman said. “This is a bucket-list thing as a librarian.”

Horrocks has been active with the Association for Library Service to Children, which might have raised her profile as a prospective judge. She said she got a call in 2016 to tell her she’d been nominated to serve as a judge, but she still has no idea who nominated her.

“Shannon’s been very involved in ALSC,” Feldman said. “She’s a big believer in the importance of ALSC. She’s such a great role model for that.”

“Having a voice and representing Sno-Isle Libraries on a national level is so important,” Horrocks said.

Feldman and Horrocks crossed paths at the ALA’s annual Midwinter Meeting in January 2018 in Denver. The Geisel Award went to “Charlie & Mouse,” written by Laurel Snyder and illustrated by Emily Hughes. It was also the first major book award for publisher Chronicle Books.

“It was really fun to see Joy stand up with her committee,” Horrocks said. “She was on cloud nine. It was infectious.”

While Feldman may have looked excited, she felt the pressure of the moment.

“That’s because it’s such an intimidating thing, it’s so high profile,” she said.

The judging process is very secretive. Both librarians said they had to “go dark” on social media. They couldn’t have any relations with authors or publishers. Even with their judging long over, they can’t tell which book titles they reviewed that they liked, or even reveal any titles their panels reviewed beyond the winner and honors.

“I wasn’t able to have an opinion on a book for a year,” Feldman said. “Otherwise, it can be misinterpreted as me speaking for the (awards) committee.”

After Horrocks was told she’d be on the Caldecott committee election ballot, she said she could only tell her boss and her spouse.

“It was three months before I could tell anyone else,” Horrocks said.

Publishers sent the 2019 Caldecott committee just under 1,000 books to consider throughout the year, Horrocks said. From that, the panel named the winner, “Hello Lighthouse” by Sophie Blackall, plus four for Honors awards.

While the judging criteria for each book was very rigid, Horrocks called the judging process of art and illustration “very subjective.”

“If you can support something with evidence, that’s important,” she said.

Likewise, Feldman had to learn to navigate, understand and accept the judging process.

“You have to think about NOT what’s most popular,” she said. “There’s one book I loved but it didn’t meet the (judging) criteria. It’s all about the process and you have to trust the process.”

“Since it’s a committee, you learn to let things go along the way,” Horrocks said.

The judging committees keep such a tight grip on secrecy that some authors and illustrators had no idea their work was in a national competition until the awards committee called the winners before the announcements.

“It was really exciting to finish. I felt like we had this big secret and couldn’t tell anybody,” Horrocks said. “There’s the anticipation. We can’t wait to share it with everyone.”

As award winners and book honors are announced, cheers and gasps spread through the audience. “It’s so exciting,” the librarians said.

However, not all of the winning authors and illustrators think to answer a call from a phone number they don’t recognize. Brian Lies, author and illustrator of “The Rough Patch,” was a 2019 Caldecott Medal Honor recipient who didn’t answer his phone.

“Brian found out he won while he was watching the livestream of the awards,” Horrocks said.

Horrocks said the committee tried numerous times to reach Lies, right up until they got on the stage to announce their selections.

“I think these are all wonderful books,” Horrocks said of the 2019 Caldecott Medal winners. “I’m really proud of the experience and the selections.

“And it’s a professional bucket-list item.”

About the Awards

The Theodor Seuss Geisel Award is given annually to the author(s) and illustrator(s) of the most distinguished American book for beginning readers published in English in the United States during the preceding year. The award was established in 2004 and first presented in 2006. It is named in honor of children’s book author Theodor Geisel, otherwise known as Dr. Seuss. The winner(s), recognized for their literary and artistic achievements that demonstrate creativity and imagination to engage children in reading, receives a bronze medal. Honor Book authors and illustrators receive certificates.

The Randolph Caldecott Medal is named in honor of 19th-century English illustrator Randolph Caldecott. It was established in 1938 and is awarded annually by the Association for Library Service to Children, a division of the American Library Association, to the artist of the most distinguished American picture book for children published each year. The winner receives a bronze medal and honorees, if any, receive a plaque.

Winners of both awards are announced during the ALA Youth Media Awards at the annual ALA Midwinter Meeting.

Here’s the full list of American Library Association Youth Media Award winners for 2020:

2019 Caldecott Medal Awards

Hello Lighthouse,” illustrated and written by Sophie Blackall, Winner

Thank You, Omu!” illustrated and written by Oge Mora, Honor

The Rough Patch,” illustrated and written by Brian Lies, Honor

A Big Mooncake for Little Star,” illustrated and written by Grace Lin, Honor

Alma and How She Got Her Name,” illustrated and written by Juana Martinez-Neal, Honor

2018 Theodor Seuss Geisel Awards

Charlie & Mouse,” written by Laurel Snyder and illustrated by Emily Hughes, Winner

Snail & Worm Again,” written and illustrated by Tina Kügler, Honor

Noodleheads See the Future,” written by Tedd Arnold, Martha Hamilton and Mitch Weiss, illustrated by Tedd Arnold, Honor

My Kite Is Stuck! And Other Stories,” written and illustrated by Salina Yoon, Honor

King & Kayla and the Case of the Missing Dog Treats,” written by Dori Hillestad Butler and illustrated by Nancy Meyers, Honor

I See a Cat,” written and illustrated by Paul Meisel, Honor