Q&A: Beavercreek librarian serves on prestigious Newbery Committee

Tim Capehart with Newbery Winner. CONTRIBUTED
Tim Capehart with Newbery Winner. CONTRIBUTED

The Fairmont grad is also a published author himself

Tim Capehart, head of Youth Services at the Beavercreek Community Library (Greene County Public Library), is serving as a member of the prestigious Newbery Committee, from July 2019 through June of 2021 for the 2021 selection. He also served on the committees for the 2007 and 2012 selections.

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The Newbery Award Selection Committee is part of the Association for Library Service to Children, which is a division of the American Library Association. The committee and its award, for distinguished contribution to American literature for children, was established in 1922. Newbery books are written for children ages 0-14 years by an American citizen or resident. Specific criteria is available here.

This cover image released by Random House Books for Young Readers shows "When You Trap a Tiger," winner of the John Newbery Medal for the outstanding children's book overall of 2020. (Random House Books for Young Readers via AP)
This cover image released by Random House Books for Young Readers shows "When You Trap a Tiger," winner of the John Newbery Medal for the outstanding children's book overall of 2020. (Random House Books for Young Readers via AP)

Credit: Uncredited

Credit: Uncredited

The 2021 medal winner is “When You Trap a Tiger” by Tae Keller.

Capehart graduated from Kettering Fairmont High School, and then from Miami University with degrees in Creative Writing and Theater Playwriting. Capehart worked at the Dayton Metro Public Library before joining the Beavercreek library, where he became Head of Youth Services in 2013.

Capehart is the published author of a short story collection, “Seeking the Link,” a middle grade novel, “Shadowangel,” and a young adult novel, “Summer Stranger than Fiction.”

Recently, we chatted via email about his experiences serving on the Newbery Committee.

Q: I understand you review about 500 books; that’s a lot! How did you manage the process?

A: When the books arrived (my UPS guy probably hates me), I went through the boxes and triaged out the fun fluff or the books that were for young adults or the just not eligible (translations, books by non-American authors, abridgements of adult works). I’d say I read about half of them. I started many and set them aside (some I will go back to now and finish). Believe it or not, the committee members are not allowed to talk about books with each other unless they are face to face and all together, so once a month the members send “suggestions” to the chair who creates a list. These are books the members think are worthy. After June or July, I used that list to make sure I had read everything my committee thought worthy while keeping an eye on new submissions. Now I have a lot of books to donate. 2007′s went partially to Immaculate Conception School. 2012′s went partially to Dayton Children’s Hospital.

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Q: What most surprised or stood out to you about this year’s submissions?

A: I was most surprised this year by the number of authors who had multiple books come out. I don’t remember that either of the previous years. There were also funny little items or motifs that popped up in multiple books. This was the year to mention Cheetos; it must be the kids’ snack of choice in the mind of American authors. And there were several books featuring misplaced babies.

Q: What most surprised or stood out to you about serving on the committee this year?

A: I am still friends with several of the people on my two previous committees. We continue to meet at annual conferences, when I am able to go for a drink or a meal. But those people I met with several times when I worked with them and was locked in a room, once, notably, until 2 a.m., for deliberations. I am most surprised that, even though I only met these committee members once face to face, I feel as close to them (or closer) as I did the (mostly) ladies on my other two committees. We bonded in our many Zooms throughout the year. We had meetings just to socialize and we “watched” the award announcements together. We all initially had difficulty getting books from the publishers; and once we got some, we had difficulty concentrating on the work, but I think, for all of us, the work of the committee helped us through a difficult year. Another committee member pointed out that while the books on our list might deal with serious or difficult topics, they all had hope as a theme. He named us the Newbery of Hope.

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Q: Why should readers give special consideration to Newbery award winners or honor selections?

A: The Newbery Committee is made up of Librarians and Academics and Literacy Experts and big fans of reading in general. The award-winning titles are chosen by consensus, so this is a much bigger endorsement than a positive review in a journal or a shelf-talker at the bookstore. The Newbery is an award for literary excellence, not popularity or political correctness or didactic content. Committee members are to pick a book that is excellent and distinguished and made for children and for the ages. I still read “Wrinkle in Time” by Madeleine L’Engle about once a year. It was my favorite Newbery as a kid, and I still find something new to love about it each time I read it.

Sharon Short writes historical mysteries under the pen name Jess Montgomery (www.jessmontgomeryauthor.com). Send her column ideas, book club news, or literary events at sharonshort1983@gmail.com.

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