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.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.