It’s not easy being selective, especially when perusing book titles for the honor of World Magazine Children’s Book of the Year. For last year’s pick, The Warden and the Wolf King, the committee assembled a bit late in the process, meaning a rush to scan the field (books published between May 2013 and May 2014), recommend our favorites, and narrow down the choices. Our winner appeared almost too late in the year, but it proved to be a tie-breaker with 98% agreement. This year, in spite of our best resolutions, we started a bit late again. Next year we absolutely positively will begin the process earlier, partly because we have to: next year’s CBotY selection is scheduled to appear in May, during children’s book week. But first, a brief retrospective. We asked this year’s committee members for their thoughts on the process, and how we can improve. The questions went like this:
What one characteristic did you like best about the 2015 Children’s Book of the Year?
Betsy Farquhar, Young Readers editor, RedeemedReader.com
We read a lot of books that featured out-of-the-ordinary situations that, while interesting and well written, were far from typical. The Penderwicks stood out to me as a wonderfully written book about an average family, a family lots of people can relate to. I thought the treatment of Batty’s depression was realistic and well done, and the Penderwicks are some of my favorite literary people!
Janie Cheaney, Senior Writer, World Magazine; Senior Editor, RedeemedReader.com
As a child I devoured the Caroline Hayward books and Betsy-Tacy-type series novels. It’s not as easy as it may seem, writing engaging fiction about ordinary, contemporary characters and their daily adventures, but that’s the type of story that appealed to me most. Life is an adventure! Jeanne Birdsall managed to tap into the drama of everyday life and make us care. I can’t wait for the fifth—and final—installment of the Penderwick series.
Sherry Early, Semicolon blog
The family aspect of the entire series was the most appealing feature to me. I find very few books for middle grade, or anyone else, published these days with “functional” families. The Penderwicks are not only functional, but they seem to like each other and stand up for one another.
Gina Dalfonzo, Editor, Breakpoint Youthreads
I love the warmth of the family relationships and the intelligence of the characters. (Sorry, that’s two things. But they’re hard to separate.)
Mary Jackson, World Magazine contributor
It is hard not to fall in love with Batty, Ben, and the family’s newest addition, Lydia. I think we all find a bit of our own story in the Penderwick characters, and this one is no exception. Birdsall does an excellent job with characterization, triggering emotions and capturing the simplicity of childhood wonder and adventure in a way that young and old will find relatable.
What was the most frustrating aspect of the selection process this year?
Betsy: Finding possible book titles near the end of the process was frustrating since there was simply no time to read them. It seemed like it took a while to track down good possibilities this year.
Janie: As I mentioned above, we started too late. Thankfully, the editors at World News Group decided to move back the publishing date from the first of August to the first of September, which gave us much-needed time to read the titles on our shortlist. But it was a crunch.
Sherry: I always feel as if there might be other books “out there” that we’re missing, not seeing, not being given the chance to read or not knowing about. I wonder if we could get some more people to join in and just offer nominations, perhaps selected bloggers or Christian librarians and have some basic criteria that would guide them to give us good nominations?
Gina: This might sound a little harsh. I apologize if it does. It seemed like this year the selection process was kind of chaotic. Every time we narrowed it down, it seemed that some of the eliminated books were added back in and we started all over again! Perhaps we all — myself included — were partly responsible for that, as we kept adding new books and talking longingly about the books that had been cut. But after a while it started to feel like there was no end in sight, and that was really difficult. But it’s good that we’re starting the nomination process early this year; I expect that will help. Also — I don’t have a lot of experience with this, so I’m just throwing out a suggestion, but I wonder if it would help next time if we went with a points system? Five points for a first-place vote, four for a second place, that sort of thing. Just a thought.
Mary: I was not as involved as the others in the list-forming process. As I read through the titles, though, I could relate to the frustration that so many were just OK, with some plus points, but not necessarily note-worthy. Many of the books seemed to have one component that disqualified them. We did have some trouble finalizing a list.
Okay, let’s end on a positive note: What did you appreciate or enjoy the most?
Betsy: The most rewarding part of being on a committee is the committee process itself. I’m always thrilled with the final list, having had to look at titles in different ways and to appreciate different things about a title I may have overlooked on the first round. The process of discussing the books with others, thinking outside my own narrow perspective, and reading some books I might never have considered but end up loving—that’s a committee at work!
Janie: I really do appreciate hearing other people’s opinions. It’s a little tougher when I have to give an opinion about a book I didn’t like as much as other folks on the committee, but it’s instructive for all of us, I think. Betsy’s right about the narrow perspective: that mysterious ingredient that makes a book talk to us is highly individual, though of course there will be points of contact between one reader and another. It’s fun to find those points.
Sherry: I just enjoy discussing books and characters and writing with others who are interested in them. And discussing with other Christians who are looking for the same moral and spiritual values that I am is a bonus.
Gina: Most rewarding was when we finally came up with a list of terrific recommendations!
Mary: I learned a great deal from the other committee members, what they like and dislike and why. I also find it is a valuable exercise to read that many books in a condensed time, not purely for enjoyment, but thinking critically about the story-telling, characterization, worldview, and literary value. A side bonus is I find new titles for my own kids to read!
We all ended up happy with the list. But for most of us, there was at least one cherished title that didn’t win . . . that didn’t even make the list of runners-up and honorable mentions. What were these “ones that got away”? Come back tomorrow to find out!
WORLD MAGAZINE CHILDRENS BOOK OF THE YEAR 2015: The Penderwicks in Spring
Categories: Middle Grades, fiction, award winners