Stacked in Our Favor

Thoughts about libraries, education, children's literature, writing, art and being connected

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Setting up a Mock-Caldecott Committee group

I was asked if I would blog the process of my Mock Caldecott group. So I started where I was – on kick off day. I didn’t want to loose the importance or the feelings of the moment. Yet so much happened before I got to that point and I think that’s the part that anyone considering doing a group like this would want to know about.  It takes a lot more than loving reviewing books.

The idea to form a group started poking me during the course I took through the ALSC last winter. The course, Newbery Award: Past, Present and Future, was an inspiring and mind expanding experience. K. T. Horning is an inspiration. Her extensive knowledge and masterful structuring of the course made it one of the highlights of my year. It certainly expanded the way I looked at the award process and children’s literature in general.

During the class I began to think that it was the process the award committee takes which really interested me above all else. I guess I had always thought of the end result, finding the most distinguished book for children, to be the goal. Learning more about the process, I felt that the process of reviewing in a systematic way in relation to other people doing the same was something I wanted, more than anything else, to experience.  Some people have told me that they don’t see the point in taking graduate classes when they can get knowledge experientially. While everyone has to walk their own life and find their own truth, I have found that the systematic approach to studying something does give a different kind of perspective. For example, while I may be widely read in some areas, systematically reading and comparing with a goal in mind gives a whole new realm of experiencing what is being viewed. It is well worth the time and effort because my experience grows into a deeper level. A person can do this without a course or a group, but most of us don’t stick to a system unless we are in concert with others. We also miss out on the perspectives gained from others, the growth in our relationships with others and a network of fellow seekers.

So I knew I wanted both a system and human contact. Sharing the experience was paramount to the experience I was seeking.

And I knew it was the Caldecott Medal that I was interested in.

Now I needed a forum. Professionally, I had a goal of providing some professional development in my school. This focus group is a chance to form a group without the travel time, foster learning with my peers, provide an opportunity for people to earn professional development credit which I hoped they would find interesting while fulfilling some of my own, build community and have the opportunity to try out the process all wrapped in one. It didn’t hurt that I’d be doing advertising for the award while I was at it.

Getting clearance to do this project was an education in itself. I am fortunate, as everyone was supportive of me in the process. However, writing the proposal and filling in the paperwork was not as easy for me to do as convincing people that it was a good idea. It took me several months from the time I picked up the application to the time it was ready to be submitted. Part of that was my own dreaming and reflecting on how I should structure the project -what parts to go as authentic as possible and what parts to be more relaxed about. When I thought I was ready I submitted it to our Curriculum Director who sat down with me and helped me work through the pieces I needed to clarify.

While I was doing this I was reading like mad. I read the Caldecott Medal Committee Handbook multiple times. The bibliography in the document served as my guide in ordering books online. Hint to those who want to do this – some of the out of print books can be had used online. For a while I was receiving books from UPS or the US Postal Service every day. I read and I reviewed. I took copious notes, distilled some key vocabulary, typed it in large font and hung it over my desk to remind me of what I am looking for when I review books. It was overwhelming. It was inspiring. It took over my waking and my sleeping.

Here’s the difficult part - structuring it all. It sounds easy to find books and review them. In reality it would be easy to loose track. So creating a personal recording method is essential. I have a spreadsheet for the eligible books. I can use spreadsheet software, but I’m not a whiz at all the formatting for printing. So that means I save the spreadsheet several times over customized in a variety of ways. I have a list of the books and the publications which have reviewed them, a list of the books and their ILL status, and a list of the books and who has read them to reference to see if a book can go back to the library.

Then there are the review notes. Very clever I thought myself when I made a chart echoing the sample given in the Caldecott Manual. I copied and pasted the charts until I had plenty to work through. Each new book reviewed was entered in the next empty form. Now, I have a long, long list of charts out of order. It would be simple to print, sort alphabetically or by general impression, three hole punch them and file. Digital formats are so less clunky, though. So I guess I’d better start cutting, moving and pasting them in alphabetical order.  It has been suggested that I would have been well advised to add date and some sort of easily identifiable mark which marks whether I think it is in the running or whether it is not to be borne.

Yes, these things will work themselves out during this session and be in place for next year. They take more time and energy and thoughtfulness than you originally bargain for.

Finally, I had to find 15 people to form the group. I was able to get one member from the public library when I went to invite and discuss the program. Several teachers who I knew to be children’s lit enthusiasts had helped me through the thinking stages. They readily joined and brought others with them. An all staff email garnered a few inquiries. Mostly though, I talked to everyone as we crossed paths. I stopped talking when I hit the magic number. I did find that the most successful way for me to garner members was to talk to them. I don’t know if it was the personal invitation, my enthusiasm for the project or my sparkling personality. It doesn’t matter. I have a wonderful group of 15 intelligent, perceptive, energetic people who are helping me to realize my goal. 

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