Thinking About (and Defending) SLJ’s Battle of the Kids’ Books, Part 2 of 3

Part 2: Privacy vs. Transparency

“Committee discussions are done privately, and there is a reason for that: it allows committee members to be open and honest in their opinions. The fact that BoB is done in an open forum suggests to me that this is more about “the show” and less about the books.” and “BoB strikes me as a completely rigged process from the beginning, since the initial group of finalists is pre-selected by a few people, and then each leg of the selection process is the decision on ONE person, who can’t exactly claim to… have no conflict of interest.” — quoted from facebook comment with permission

This is actually an age-old debate: what is better – privacy or transparency? I say that either one is fine. Each serves a different purpose. Each potentially have its strengths and weaknesses. Taking my own experiences as examples again: I served on the 2002 Newbery and I served on the 2007-2008 Notables Committee. The former follows the jury model where all discussion and decisions and process are kept as top secrets. This, on the one hand, allows for everyone to openly express their opinions and on the other hand, also allows for those who are less scrupulous to be less well-prepared. My personal experience is that EVERYONE on my committee worked hard and read closely and prepared extremely well and were all courteous and professional at the Newbery discussion table. However, this does not mean that some Committees or some Committee members, since they are not on public view, might not feel more relaxed and less mindful of their opinions or how they express their opinions.

The transparent process of our judging decisions, on the other hand, is much like my experience on the Notables. We sat around tables, with microphones, and discussed books for an open audience. People came and went, and once in a while, we even received rebuttals from the editors themselves. I, for one, did not hold back my opinions, but I made damn sure that I had my evidences lined up and chose my phrasing carefully, either to praise or to criticize a book at hand. I believe each book from the BoB bracket deserves this kind of transparent and thoughtful analysis and lucky for us, all our 30 judges in the last two years (and the 15 more who are helping us out this year) do show their respect for every book on hand and do make sure that it’s not just about “the show” but really about the quality of these amazing books! (Of course, being writers themselves, it is not easy to just give a bland write-up and we savor the insightful, sometimes humorous, and always creative ways these judgments are delivered to us.)

And since there is really no prize that anyone gets at the end of the Battle and that author judges make clear whether they are friends with the authors of books they are judging in their write-ups, I simply don’t worry about the “conflict of interest” issue.

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