The reasons are really quite simple: to force myself to read constantly, for a purpose, and reach beyond my own comfort zone.
I’ve been quite lucky in the last 15 years or so, to have the opportunity to serve on various children’s and YA literature selection/award committees.
Each experience pushed me to expose myself to genres or books that I would not have reached for naturally —
For more than five years now, I work with Monica Edinger and Jonathan Hunt annually to prepare for SLJ’s Battle of the Kids’ Books. Both are dear friends who read quickly and have strong opinions — they keep me on my toes and encourage me to seek out worthy contenders and to discuss and argue about them!
Notable Children’s Recordings committee (back in the late 90s’) taught me how to listen for technical excellence, for great voice acting talents, and for content respecting children’s intellect and sensibilities.
Twice on the Newbery (2002 and 2013) propelled me to consider each author’s crafts critically: be they creators of nonfiction, poetry, historical fiction, or humorous realistic stories, etc.
The two years serving on the Notable Children’s Books (2008 and 2009, with about 3000 books submitted each year) committee really impressed on me the breadth and depth of the children’s publishing field and even though I was not working with younger readers/listeners, I got to relive the beauty and joy of picture books that I almost had otherwise forgotten!
Deciding to help with CYBILS first round of Graphic Novels selection panel (2013) was my way of urging myself to know more about this ever trending field for children and YA and it definitely served me well — and of course, I hope that it serves the world at large well, too! I also served as a final round judge for Cybils Fantasy panel in 2006, supporting passionately for our winner Jonathan Stroud, Ptolemy’s Gate.)
Now, embarking on the 2015 Best Fiction for Young Adults (even though my term of service does not start until February) adventure, I can’t even start fathoming the great benefit I’ll reap from this experience: becoming more familiar with the field: the top authors, new and talented creators, trending and/or tired themes, and perhaps even glimpses of future directions.
And every committee also allowed me to admire and take from my fellow committee members the wealth of literary knowledge the enriched my own.
Yes, I definitely feel quite selfish when it comes to “serving” on these committees — but, hopefully it also in turn serves my community: having a well stocked mental library to draw inspirations and information from, I have ready answers and recommendations whenever a child asks for the next book or series to fall in love with, whenever I need to compile a reading list or conduct a literary lesson, and whenever consulted by teachers, administrators, and parents.
Serving on these committees is really the best (and possibly the ONLY) way for me, an extremely slow reader, to continue sharpening my tools of the trade! So, let me continue to be indulgent and selfish… and revel in the excitement and responsibilities of such committees!