While the John Newbery Medal may be one of the highest honors a children’s book can receive, the corollary is that for a children’s librarian, serving on the committee is one of the highest honors as well.
Stephanie Bange, a local librarian who is serving on the 2015 committee as one of only 15 members selected from across the country, is relishing every moment of that honor. (Note: Jean Gaffney, of the Dayton Metro Library, served on the 2011 Newbery Medal committee.)
“So far I’ve received 375 books and at least 95 to 98 percent of them are chapter books. I’m a master gardener by avocation, but this year I’m spending most of my time indoors, reading, as soon as I get home from work. I tell my friends I’ll see them… eventually,” Bange said, laughing. “I’m devoted to reading, savoring every minute of the experience, and incredibly honored. Serving on this committee is the pinnacle of a librarian’s career.”
And what a career Bange has had. She currently serves as director of Wright State University’s Educational Resource Center, joining the university in that role in 2009. Before that, she was a children’s librarian at the Kettering-Moraine and Wilmington-Stroop branches of the Dayton Metro Library for 12 years, after working in various librarian positions in locations around the United States and in the Philippines. Her bachelor’s degree is in school librarianship from Northwestern State University and she holds a master of library science from Louisiana State University.
She has also worked hard as a volunteer in the American Library Association to earn the honor of serving on the committee.
“I’ve been a member since 1980, but became active in 1997 after moving here to Dayton,” Bange said. “I’ve worked on everything from being the liaison for the organization to mass media, in service to children, on international relations and in helping create a tool kit for attracting kids to libraries.”
The Newbery Medal is awarded annually by the American Library Association for the most distinguished American children’s book published the previous year and has been conferred since 1922. It’s the first children’s book award in the world, and its mission of recognizing the best contributions in children’s literature, as well as its long history, make it one of the best known children’s book awards.
Indeed, readers may well recognize prominent Newbery Medal titles such as “The Graveyard Book” by Neil Gaiman (2009 winner), “Bud, Not Buddy” by Christopher Paul Curtis (2000), “Holes,” by Louis Sachar (1999), “Walk Two Moons” by Sharon Creech (1995), and “The Giver” by Lois Lowry (1994), an adaptation of which was just released as a major film.
The 2015 winner of the Newbery Award will be declared on Feb. 2, 2015.
“Our committee is a diverse mix,” Bange said. “We’re men and women from a variety of ethnic groups, geographic locations and all types of libraries. What we all do have in common — besides the fact that employees of publishing companies aren’t allowed on the committee — is a deep love of children’s literature and an understanding of what makes a children’s book distinguished enough to deserve the award.
“We compare books all year, discussing them long distance, and then arrive at the mid-winter meeting of the American Library Association prepared to share the books we feel deserve nomination. We’ll spend an intense weekend discussing and deliberating, and then finally emerge with one book that is the winner, and perhaps several that are named as Honor books, or runner ups,” Bange continued. “The exciting part is then calling the author to let him or her know the good news, and then announcing the winner at the conference. The award matters to the average reader because it’s a way of identifying the best of the best from any given year of children’s literature.”
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Sharon Short (www.sharonshort.com) is a novelist and director of the Antioch Writers’ Workshop. Contact Sharon with news about your book club or organization. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @SharonGShort