On Saturday, I had the opportunity to meet with 70 fellow librarians and reading teachers from all over the state of Illinois to decide on the 20 books that would be on next year’s Caudill list. (If you’re not familiar with the Rebecca Caudill Young Reader’s Book Award, you can learn more about it by following the link above.)
I have been using the Caudill list as a go-to collection of titles to share with my students since I started teaching language arts back in 2006. When I moved into the library a few years ago, I started a “Caudill Challenge” at my middle school, where students could earn prizes for reading books from the list. The year-long challenge culminates in February when students who read at least 10 books from the list attend a pizza party with book trivia, and we all discuss and vote for our favorite book.
This past year was my first time serving as a member of the selection committee for this award, and it was a really interesting process.
In May, the committee members all received a list of 100 books that had been nominated the previous year by students and educators across the state. We were placed into evaluation groups, and each were responsible for reading and evaluating 10 books from the list by August 1st. Based on our ratings, the list was cut in half, and the committee was now tasked with reading the top 50 books before our meeting on February 1st.
I had already read several of the titles from the list, so I jotted down notes if they were still fresh in my mind, or gave those a quick reread if it had been a while. Then I made my way through the rest of the list. With the excitement of a true newbie, I knocked off more than half the list in the first two months… and then the craziness of the school year caused me to take a break and get sucked into other endeavors. Then over winter break, I realized with panic that I still had 14 books from the list to read! I guess sometimes I work best under pressure, because I DID manage to read all 50 books before the meeting. Phew.
I brought copious notes with me, both in spreadsheet and narrative format (nerd alert), and had three lists: definitely want to include, maybe include, definitely don’t include. This year’s list of 50 options was a strong one -- I had 17 on my definitely include list, 26 maybes, and only 6 titles I did not want.
Saturday arrived, and I got up at the crack of dawn and drove to Champaign in the dark. Luckily, there’s very little traffic at 5:30am on a Saturday! When I arrived, I got a packet of information and was asked to grab a book from the table if I was willing to pitch it to the group. We would be going through the list of 50 books one-by-one, and each title was introduced by a member of the committee before the discussion began. I picked one of my very favorites, Sweep by Jonathan Auxier (which, spoiler alert, made the list, who hoo!) and started drafting what I would say to sell it to the group.
We started promptly at 8:30am with introductions and an overview of the process from the Caudill board. They reviewed criteria for selecting a book: broad appeal, literary merit, appropriate content for students in grades 4-8, published in the past five years, etc.
And then, we began with the first book on the list. As I mentioned above, one member would stand up and summarize the plot to refresh our memories, and then highlight the book’s strengths and positive qualities. Then it opened up to general discussion. I’d say we probably spent an average of about 10 minutes on each title before a final vote. People were very respectful, but were also unafraid to be honest if they had concerns. I spoke up more than I thought I would, being a first-timer, and it was really interesting to hear others’ opinions on books I had also read and reviewed.
Then, after deliberation was done, we would vote. Anyone who wanted the book on the list would raise their hand, and votes were counted. Then anyone who did NOT want the book on the list raised their hands, and those votes were tallied as well. Committee members could abstain from voting if they did not feel strongly either way about the title being discussed, and I found myself doing this for a handful of books. Then we compared the numbers -- if the “yes” count outnumbered the “no” vote by 10 or more, the book made it on the list. If the “no” votes were higher by 10 or more, then the book was eliminated from consideration. If less than 10 separated the two, the title was “tabled” for further discussion and consideration at the end.
When we took a lunch break around noon, and at that point, we’d made our way through about half of the list. As more and more titles were added to the evolving list, discussion also centered creating a good balance in perspective and genre, which I think is important.
It was close, but we DID make it through all fifty titles, and only one spot remained for an additional book. This meant we went back to the 10 titles that had been tabled due to a split vote. Everyone in the room got to cast one vote for their favorite book from the “tabled” list, and that rounded out the final 20. After being sworn to secrecy, we wrapped things up for the day around 4:15pm. I’m so happy with how the list turned out. It’s very well-rounded, and I think kids will connect with and enjoy many of these stories.
The process will start all over again soon, and the Caudill website is now accepting nominations for the 2022 list. If you have any favorites to suggest for consideration, get them in by March 14th!! Feel free to reach out to me with any questions, and happy reading!