Maureen

Between the Covers with Jamie Watson

posted by: January 18, 2017 - 7:00am

Jamie WatsonThe John Newbery Medal is a literary award given by the Association for Library Service to Children, a division of the American Library Association (ALA). This annual award is given to the author of "the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children." The Newbery and Caldecott Medals are considered to be the most prestigious awards for children's literature in the United States.

 

The medal is decided by a committee elected by their peers and for the past year, Baltimore County Public Library’s Collection Development Coordinator Jamie Watson has been a member of this committee working hard to determine this year’s medal winner and honor books. Jamie sat down with me to share insight into the committee. Her passion for this committee work and children’s literature are evident! The Newbery Medal, along with the other ALA awards will be announced on Monday, January 23 in Atlanta.

 

Between the Covers: Please give us a brief overview of the process of committee member selection process for the Newbery Medal.

Jamie Watson: There are 15 people on the committee. Eight of them are elected during the American Library Association elections held in the spring. I was elected! You are nominated by your peers. Then, six more members and the committee chair are chosen by the president of the Association for Library Service to Children.

 

It was bittersweet being elected because one of my friends missed joining me on the committee by a mere three votes!

 

For librarians who might want to be on the committee, this has really been a long process of serving on other committees for the last 17 years, getting to know people, practicing book discussion skills and networking. It was something I knew I always wanted to do and I’m so pleased and honored to be doing it.

 

BTC: Is the committee given any criteria to choose its winners or does it come up with its on their own?
JW: There are very specific criteria, and I’ve probably read them 100 times or more over the last year! Here they are, direct from the manual:

 

Committee members need to consider the following:
• Interpretation of the theme or concept
• Presentation of information including accuracy, clarity and organization
• Development of a plot
• Delineation of characters
• Delineation of a setting
• Appropriateness of style

 

Note: Because the literary qualities to be considered will vary depending on content, the committee need not expect to find excellence in each of the named elements. The book should, however, have distinguished qualities in all of the elements pertinent to it.

 

This gets challenging because you might be comparing so many different types of books. How can you compare a picture book with a biography for middle grade readers with a book of poetry with a novel for 8-year-olds? Ultimately, you apply these criteria to each and every book, and see how well they stand up to it.

 

BTC: How does the committee decide which books to read? How many did you read this year?

JW: Publishers will send you books all throughout the year. You will read reviews. You will hear other people talking and speculating. However, it’s up to each individual committee member to decide which books to read. Also throughout the year, the members communicate by sending “suggestions” to the chair, who then compiles them and sends them to the entire committee. So you can see what things other committee members are reading and liking. But not which person, or why they liked them. It’s just a list that says “You might want to check these out.” I tried to balance reading well-reviewed things, reading suggested things and reading things I didn’t know much about just to see what might be getting overlooked. Everyone on the committee has their own approach.

 

I likely read in the vicinity of 200 books from cover to cover. I likely skimmed 200 more, or read just a bit of them. Some books that are on the list of nominations I’ve read twice, and a few even three times. I’ll be continuing to re-read right up to the deadline just to see what else I might have missed.

 

This is why serving on committees has made me a much kinder “second guesser” of awards committees. Even the most avid readers have likely not read this intensely and with this volume for a year. We are really looking HARD at these books, because we really want to make a great decision.

 

BTC: How is it all kept secret? How do you communicate with one another? What is the approximate timeline for the year? Do you have in-person meetings? How does the voting work?

JW: As of now, none of us have talked about the books to each other at all. We don’t know who nominated what, who likes what — nothing. We start fresh on January 20. There is NO DISCUSSION of the books AT ALL until we are behind that closed door on January 20. The chair communicated with us throughout the year, letting us know what people were suggesting and checking in with logistics, but our communications with each other were completely limited.

 

Keeping it secret is hard for a big talker like me, but I respect that the surprise adds such an extra layer to the announcement on Monday, January 23. I had to quit doing Goodreads for the year, which I really missed. I couldn’t say on Facebook “OMG I JUST READ THE BEST BOOK” because everyone would assume that meant it was on the fast track to the Newbery.

 

My time on the committee was from January, 2016 until June 2017. After we make the announcement, the hard work is done. But the final payoff is at the ALA Annual Conference in the summer, when the award is presented at the Newbery/Caldecott banquet. Here, committee members usually get to meet the author, often having dinner with him/her, and just enjoy the fruits of their labor. The author will give a speech, which has nearly moved me to tears even in years when I was not on the committee!

 

So, at conference in January, we will begin to discuss the books. We have two full days of discussion, and then we vote. You only get to vote for THREE books. If a clear winner isn’t determined after the first ballot, all books that received votes get rediscussed. And then you revote. You can’t leave the room on Saturday, January 21 until you have a winner. I’ve heard stories of tears and anger, (nothing specific, as it’s all secret forever, but rumors!) so I hope our voting process goes swimmingly!

 

BTC: How has being on the Newbery Committee impacted your job as a librarian?

JW: The hardest part really has been my inability to recommend titles that I’m reading to keep secrecy at its utmost. I really miss being able to enthuse as I go along! The other impact has been not being able to do everything I might normally. While I hope I kept up on my day-to-day job OK, there were extras that came my way that I couldn’t do this year. There’s only so much brain power you have!

 

BTC: What do you personally take away from being on the Newbery Committee?
JW: This is just such a huge honor. Seeing that seal on a book and knowing that I played a part in getting recognition for a book and an author that should be recognized is a great honor and responsibility. It also reminds me what got me into librarianship to begin with — a love of reading and books and story and literature. The passion for our duty is going to be overwhelming in that room in Atlanta, and I’ll carry it with me forever!

 

BTC: What was your favorite book as a child? Do you have a favorite Newbery winner?

JW: As a kid, without question my favorite Newbery book, and still one of my favorite books of all time, is From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E. L. Konigsburg.

 

Most of the time in recent years, because I read a lot of children’s books, I have read the Newbery before it was announced. The one that made me the happiest was Flora and Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo. I’m also a big fan of When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead.
But that’s another difference between OBSERVING and picking a winner. “Which book did you like best” is NOT a criteria. You can angle it and say “The plot was developed so well” or etc., but it really doesn’t matter if you LIKE it. You have to be impartial and unemotional and just say “DID THIS WORK?”

 

I can’t wait to see how it all turns out.


 
 

My Life, My Love, My Legacy

posted by: January 16, 2017 - 1:35pm

Cover art for My Life, My Love, My LegacyAt the end of her life, Coretta Scott King shared her story with close friend, Barbara Reynolds, an ordained minister and journalist who was on USA Today’s founding editorial team. In her introduction to My Life, My Love, My Legacy, King notes that “There is a Mrs. King. There is also Coretta. Now I think it is time you knew Coretta.” Based on a series of interviews between Reynolds and King dating back to 1975, this is a detailed tribute to an elegant woman who played an important role in American history.  

 

Coretta was born in the segregated town of Heiberger, Alabama, in 1927, where she and her family were regularly victims of racial harassment, including the burning of their house when she was 15. She found her escape from the South when she was one of the first black scholarship students at Antioch College in Ohio. She later followed her musical passion to the New England Conservatory in Boston. It was in Boston where she met the minister from Atlanta, whom she first thought to be “too short.” Coretta wanted to be a concert singer and definitely wanted to live in the more accepting North, but Martin Luther King Jr. wanted her to marry him and battle the segregated South on the front lines with him.

 

They did marry, and she was committed to his mission, all while raising their four children. Coretta is candid when talking about difficult topics, such as her husband’s rumored infidelity and her frustrations with the sexist leadership at the helm of the movement. Following Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination, we see that Coretta’s political activism and spiritual commitment only grew. This is the story of a loving wife, a devoted mother and a brave leader in America’s civil rights movement.

 

Are you doing BCPL’s Reading Challenge? This would be a great one for January’s challenge. Don’t forget to take a picture of yourself with the book and submit your entry by visiting Facebook, Twitter or Instagram and post or tweet the photo with the hashtag #bwellread. Camera-shy participants may post a photograph of the book they’ve chosen.


 
 

Fall and Winter Book Buzz

posted by: December 14, 2016 - 7:00am

BCPL Book BuzzLooking for the next good book to read or a perfect holiday gift? BCPL librarians shared some of their most anticipated books coming out this fall and winter with customers at Book Buzz sessions around the county.  It’s always hard to pick, but the librarians did come up with these favorites, already popular with so many readers.

 

Two iconic leaders are featured in our nonfiction picks. Candice Millard offers a fascinating account of Winston Churchill’s experiences during the Boer War in Hero of the Empire and Julia Baird uses the journals of Queen Victoria to shed light on the monarch in Victoria: The Queen: An Intimate Biography of the Woman Who Ruled an Empire.

 

Among the many exciting fiction titles released this fall and winter are this diverse group. The Heart of Henry Quantum by Pepper Harding explores contemporary middle-aged relationships, telling the story from three perspectives — a husband, a wife and the “one who got away.” Thriller fans will devour Holly Brown’s This Is Not Over, a story of two women caught in an escalating game of cat and mouse using hidden secrets in a psychological battle that leads to an explosive ending. Ann Patchett’s Commonwealth is a beautifully written novel that crosses generations and looks at the random events that have the biggest impact on our lives. Another family story that explores how one decision can shape lives is The Mothers, an unforgettable debut novel by Brit Bennett, my favorite of this season.


 
 

Between the Covers with Jill Kargman

posted by: September 20, 2016 - 7:00am

Cover art for Sprinkle Glitter on My GraveJill Kargman, creator and star of Bravo’s Odd Mom Out, has been called the Edith Wharton of contemporary Manhattan, specifically the Upper East Side. She’s a best-selling novelist with a sharp wit that is evident in her newest book of humorous essays, Sprinkle Glitter on My Grave: Observations, Rants and Other Uplifting Thoughts About Life. From bothersome behaviors to musings that keep her awake at night, Kargman puts it all on the table in her own unique, uproarious delivery. Get to know Jill as she answers questions about her latest book, the demands of television and life on the Upper East Side.

 

Between the Covers: Sprinkle Glitter on My Grave is absolutely hilarious and one of my favorite books of the year. How difficult is it to get your snarky voice on the page?

 

Jill Kargman: I basically just write like I talk! My dad told me to do that ages ago so it's really like breathing to me.

 

BTC: This book, complete with your doodles, seems almost like a diary or journal. How did it come about?

 

JK: I actually had a template from my last nonfiction book, Sometimes I Feel Like a Nut so I essentially redid that format but with new anecdotes, lists and rants.

 

BTC: The title is perfect and I believe your daughter is responsible for it. How else did your family influence this book?

 

JK: Yes! Ivy came up with it ’cause she thought flowers, which die quickly, are depressing in graveyards so she is going to sprinkle glitter on my grave because it's hard to clean up. My brother, mom, dad, husband and other two kids Sadie and Fletch plus my former sister-in-law forever friend Drew. Everyone in my life is part of my humor and my five bridesmaids 15 years ago are still my sisters.

 

BTC: I think the reason I love Sprinkle Glitter on My Grave is the many common irks we share, including the thunderous applause for certain dead celebrities at awards ceremony’s death roll calls which makes my blood boil! Sharing what’s in your head helps some of your readers know we aren’t alone, but how do the people/groups you are making fun of, especially the Upper East Siders, react to you and your writing?

 

JK: They weirdly don't care and always think it's other people — which it is, since no one thinks she's a bad mom or spends too much or hears herself when she does a humble brag. ("Ugh the traffic to Teterboro was a nightmare!")

 

BTC: Describe your writing process. Do you write every day? Do you have a go-to snack or beverage while writing?

 

JK: I have a huge iced coffee and work out and shower, then get an omelet, then work. I usually have two main meals a day so I'll work ’til my kids get home so like four hours — I can't be funny after that!

 

BTC: You finished college (Yale no less!) in three years, started your first job as a writer at age 20 at Interview magazine and had your first novel published at 27. To achieve such success at such a young age must have been a heady experience. How did your career and life experiences during your 20s shape your writing today?

 

JK: I was miz at Interview — the worst two years — I was basically a secretary BUT I got to write a ton of little articles and some features so it was all worth it but at the time I had NO idea how it would pay off. But each job was such a stepping stone including being berated by [jerks] because it built a crocodile skin and [lots] of appreciation for the people I love and observational skills.

 

BTC: Your hit Bravo show, Odd Mom Out, is now in its second season and it’s even better than the first. What is it like being the creator, producer and star of a hit television show and how has it impacted your life as a writer, wife and mom?

 

JK: I LOVE IT! It's been the most fun I've ever had. When my kids were little (I had three kids in five years) I thought I was losing my mind and needed to be alone and write my books which was like therapy. But now they're older so writing Sprinkle Glitter on My Grave was actually isolating so I was so psyched to get back into the writers room for Odd Mom Out where we laugh all day as a group.

 

BTC: Favorite episode?

 

JK: The ODD Couple, episode 205.

 

BTC: Our readers love reading! Can you share what you are reading now?

 

JK: The September issue of Vogue.

 

BTC: Favorite book of the year?

 

JK: A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara.

 

BTC: Favorite book as a child?

 

JK: Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing by Judy Blume.

 

BTC: Any memories of hijinks in libraries?

 

JK: Uh....you don't want to know. Rated X. The stacks at Yale are legendary. ;)

 

BTC: You have so much on your plate, but what can we expect next?

 

JK: I'm doing a show at The Carlyle in January of 2017 called “Stairway to Cabaret,” which is heavy metal covers at the piano with standup. Come up to NYC and say hi!!!

 

Thanks for doing this! I love Baltimore! XOJK


 
 

Underground Airlines

posted by: September 7, 2016 - 7:00am

Cover art for Underground AirlinesIn Ben Winters’ Underground Airlines, our world is exactly as we know it. Social media is humming, fast food chains are thriving and UPS is delivering. Except there was one event that changed the course of our history — Abraham Lincoln was assassinated on his way to his inauguration. The Civil War never happened. And slavery is still the practice in four states.

 

The United States is part-slave, part-free, with the "Hard Four" states adhering to the old ways. Winters explores all the questions raised by this intriguing alternative history. Who benefits from the slave trade? Where do new slaves come from? The answers are told through the story of a young black man named Victor. Victor chose freedom in exchange for agreeing to work as a bounty hunter for the U.S. Marshall’s Service, the agency responsible for capturing and returning runaway slaves. While he suppresses memories of a childhood on the plantation, he works to infiltrate an abolitionist cell known as the Underground Airlines. His latest case finds him in Indianapolis, on the trail of a runaway named Jackdaw. But this case is different as he finds himself dealing with an uncommunicative boss as well as a young woman and her child who Victor cannot ignore. As his pursuit intensifies, Victor discovers secrets behind our government’s arrangement with the Hard Four — secrets that are not meant to be exposed. Victor struggles with retaining his freedom versus revealing the corrupt truth.

 

This blend of dystopian fiction, police procedural and alternative history results in a thrilling, quickly paced read. The premise is explosive, the story is well-constructed and the conclusion is exhilarating. Winters handles a provocative topic with sensitivity, but isn’t afraid to challenge the reader by raising thought-provoking issues throughout the novel. This one will stay with you long after the last page, as The Washington Post noted, “Winters has written a book that will make you see the world in a new light.”


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