Back Stage at ALA’s 2017 YMAs


We’re pleased to welcome back Lisa Von Drasek as EarlyWord‘s Kids Correspondent, now that she has completed her responsibilities on the Caldecott committee. Below, she gives us a behind-the-scenes look at the YMA announcement day at Midwinter.


Nora, EarlyWord: Welcome back, Lisa! We’d love to know everything you can tell us about the Caldecott committee discussions.

Lisa: Nice try, Nora, but the work of the committee is confidential. I can’t tell you the titles we discussed, how we came to our short list, or anything about the specific votes.

Nora, EarlyWord: Got it. Let’s try something else. You were in the room when the winners were announced. What was it like as people began to realize John Lewis was about to make history by winning an unprecedented four awards for March, Book 3 (IDW/Top Shelf)?

Lisa:  As committee members who had been focused all year on criteria, it was amazing to realize that his book was considered the best by so many different juries, each using a different set of criteria. It was picked as the book by an African America author (the Coretta Scott King Author Award), the best YA title (the Printz), the most distinguished informational book (the Sibert), as well as one of the best nonfiction titles for Young Adults (the YALSA Excellence in Nonfiction Award).

Nora, EarlyWord: What was it like the morning of the announcements? Does voting go down to the wire?

Lisa: Nearly. The ballots were completed by Saturday evening. On Sunday morning the committee reconvened to write the press release describing the titles. We were giddy with sleep deprivation as well as the excitement of keeping this secret until the next day.

Nora, EarlyWord: With all that’s going on, it must be difficult to focus on writing the release the release. 

Lisa: Yes, but the writing process gave us an opportunity to re-examine and revel in the richness of the art.

Nora, EarlyWord: The announcements are the next morning. What goes on that day?

Lisa: I awoke at 4:00 am on Monday morning. Committee members were due at the ALA press office at the convention center at 5:45 am. I recommend that future committees are greeted with vats of coffee.

The committees are gathered to make phone calls to the winners. Fifteen people crowded into a space only big enough for a desk, a telephone, and computer. The chair is given a script to follow and the call is made on a barely audible speaker phone. Below, we listen to one of the calls.

Getting the call

Nora, EarlyWord: The winners’ reactions must have given you new energy.

Lisa: Oh, yes! We were running on fumes but we still had the Press Conference at 8:00 am.

Nora, EarlyWord: Then what?

Lisa: There’s a desperate search for coffee. At 7:50 we are herded into the auditorium for the announcements. A shout out to Cynthia Weil from the Center for Children’s Literature at Bank Street who slipped me a prohibited cup inside the auditorium. We have no idea what the other committees had selected. I hadn’t realized how excited I would be when the other awards were announced. The Hamilton Lifetime Achievement Award went to Rudine Sims Bishop. I only realized I was screaming when I stopped.

Rudine Sims Bishop wins Hamilton lifetime achievement award. Photo Credit: LuAnn Thoth, School Library Journal

Rudine Sims Bishop wins Hamilton lifetime achievement award. Photo Credit: LuAnn Thoth, School Library Journal

Nora, EarlyWord: It must have seemed a long wait until the Caldecott was announced.

Lisa: By the time the Newbery Awards were announced, I was lightheaded and felt faint.

Nora, EarlyWord: Is your work over now?

Lisa:  Our charge is not only to select the books worthy of a Caldecott Award and Honors but also to promote the award and the titles honored. All of the committee members are willing to speak to schools, libraries, community groups and media outlets about the winners.

Nora, EarlyWord: Any more comments on the experience?

Lisa:  I have immense respect and admiration for my fellow jurors. They brought a lifetime of experiences with children and literature. They shared insights to the discussions that I would not have come to on my own and did not receive from any textbook, critical commentary, or art critiques. The committee’s diversity of background and work experiences as children’s librarians, school and public, academic scholars, and reviewers informed our discussions. These discussions were a gift that I will always treasure. In my time on this committee, I not only honed my visual literacy skills but my listening ones as well.

Nora, EarlyWord: Below is a photo of that exhausted, but elated group on the day of the announcement. Lisa is third from the right, in the front row, next to committee chair Rhonda K. Gould, Walla Walla County Rural Library District, WA 


Front row, left to right

  1. Lauren Aimonette Liang, University of Utah, Salt Lake City
  2. Marian L. Creamer, Children’s Literature Alive!, Portland, OR
  3. Holly Jin, Skokie Public Library, Il
  4. Erica Dean Glenn, Berkeley Public Library. CA
  5. Ashley Waring, Reading Public Library, MA
  6. Rhonda K. Gould, Walla Walla County Rural Library District, Walla Walla, WA, CHAIR
  7. Lisa Von Drasek, Children’s Literature Research Collections, University of Minnesota, MV
  8. Stacy Dillon, LREI, New York, NY
  9. Susan Z. Melcher, Jefferson County Public Schools, Louisville, KY

Second row, left to right 

  1. Janet C. Mumford, James McKinney Elementary School Library, Richmond, BC, CANADA
  2. Laurie Reese,  Los Angeles Public Library, CA
  3. Brian E. Wilson, Evanston Public Library, Il
  4. Brian D. Hart, EveryLibrary, Macon, GA
  5. Miriam Lang Budin, Chappaqua Library, NY
  6. Martín Blasco, Washington County Cooperative Library Services, Hillsboro, OR

Nora, EarlyWord: Give us your take on each of the Caldecott winners.

2017 Caldecott Medal Winner

9780316213882_c2a08Radiant Child: The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat, illustrated and written by Javaka Steptoe (Hachette/Little, Brown)

In keeping with Jean-Michel Basquiat’s work, Steptoe’s illustrations radiate energy and immediacy. A patch-worked canvas of scavenged wood, painted and collaged with photos, and images of human anatomy evokes the improvisatory nature of Basquiat’s art. Radiant Child resonates with emotion that connects Steptoe with Basquiat and Basquiat with young readers. 

“Steptoe’s engaging art makes Basquiat approachable for children without minimizing his complexities,” said Caldecott Medal Committee Chair Rhonda K. Gould.

New York City author and illustrator Javaka Steptoe, 45, began his career teaching art at the Brooklyn Children’s Museum.  Steptoe earned an art degree from Cooper Union. His debut book In Daddy’s Arms I am Tall: African Americans Celebrating Fathers garnered a Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award in 1998.

Be sure to read this interview with Steptoe.

2017 Caldecott Honor Books

9781626724419_c35f9Leave Me Alone!, illustrated and written by Vera Bristol (Macmillan/Roaring Brook Press)

At the end of her rope, Granny is desperate for time alone to finish knitting sweaters for a house filled with dozens of rambunctious children. Brosgol’s expressive watercolor and cartoon art presents a genre-breaking journey taking Granny from the traditional forest setting to the mountains to the moon and beyond.

9781499801033_cb20aFreedom in Congo Square, illustrated by R. Gregory Christie, written by Carole Boston Weatherford, (Bonnier Publishing/Little Bee Books)

As they work throughout the week, slaves look forward to their afternoon of music, hope, and community in Congo Square, New Orleans. Christie’s folk-art inspired paint and collage images powerfully capture the emotions of this little-known historical event. Vibrant color and brilliant use of line heighten the impact of the rhyming couplets.

9780763665302_d53efDu Iz Tak?, illustrated and written by Carson Ellis, (Candlewick Press).

A diverse community of anthropomorphic bugs becomes intrigued by an unfurling sprout. Carson Ellis deftly depicts the mysteries of life in an imaginary, natural world. Through intricate details and the witty humor of a made-up language, Du Iz Tak? is a treasure trove of visual and linguistic literacy.

9781452150130_bd555They All Saw A Cat, illustrated by Brendan Wenzel, and written by Brendan Wenzel, (Chronicle Books)

A cat’s walk through the world becomes a surprise-filled exploration of perspective and empathy. As the feline encounters a variety of creatures, the thoughtful composition paired with spare language and repetition focuses on each individual’s perception of it. Wenzel’s use of a range of art materials reinforces the idea that the essence of a cat might be in the eye of the beholder.

Nora, EarlyWord: I’m sure you didn’t have time to read any other books last year. 

Lisa: I was was amazed to realize that, in addition to reading over 700 picture books during 2016, I had read the winning books in the other categories, as well.

Nora, EarlyWord: How were you able to do THAT?

Lisa: Every once in awhile a chapter book or a grownup book makes for a terrific palate cleanser. I also was catching up in the fall to give holiday gift recommendations. I was absolutely thrilled when Kelly Barnhill’s book was announced as the Newbery winner, since it was my number one holiday pick to “give to kids that you don’t know very well.”

I also have a rule that I don’t read anything that I am evaluating after 10:00 pm to give it a fair shake.

Nora, EarlyWord: Well, then, give us your thoughts on the Newbery winners (as if I could stop you!)

2017 Newbery Medal Winner

9781616205676_51640The Girl Who Drank the Moon, written by Kelly Barnhill, (Workman/Algonquin Young Readers)

“Moonlight is magic. Ask anyone you like.” Barnhill’s story is also pure magic, distinguished by careful development of a complex plot and indelible evocation of unique characters. Love, heartbreak, hope, sorrow, and wonder all shine in exquisite, lyrical prose.

“This compassionate, hopeful novel invites children everywhere to harness their power, and ask important questions about what keeps us apart and what brings us together” said Newbery Medal Committee Chair Thom Barthelmess.

Check out this great interview with Barnhill.

2017 Newbery Honor Books

9781481456906_03dfdFreedom Over Me: Eleven Slaves, Their Lives and Dreams Brought to Life by Ashley Bryan, written and illustrated by Ashley Bryan. (S&S/Atheneum)

Inspired by an 1828 estate appraisement, Ashley Bryan honors the lives of eleven slaves in poetry and collage. Conveying the terror of the patterroller and the hope of voices raised in song, Bryan imagines for each person a life of oppression and a dream for freedom.

9780525426165_20dc5The Inquisitor’s Tale: Or, The Three Magical Children and Their Holy Dog, written by Adam Gidwitz, illustrated by Hatem Aly (Penguin/Dutton Children’s Books)

Informed by six years of research, and reminiscent of The Canterbury Tales, Adam Gidwitz has written a brand-new illuminated manuscript, a sometimes harrowing, sometimes hilarious epic about three magical friends on the run in 1242 France and their encounters with a dragon, a holy dog, and cheese.

9781101994825_1571cWolf Hollow, written by Lauren Wolk (Penguin/Dutton Children’s Books)

Set in rural Pennsylvania during World War II, this compelling story of consequences addresses complex issues of bullying, PTSD, and discrimination. At the center of this atmospheric novel, articulating themes of self-reliance, hope, and justice, is our heroine Annabelle who struggles to confront her tormentor and her own conscience.

Nora, EarlyWord: What a year of reading. Thanks for telling us about it. Looking forward to your sharing the new books you love on EarlyWord.


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