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Barbara Kiefer Chairs the Caldecott Award Committee

In January, Barbara Kiefer, Associate Professor of Education, chaired a committee for the Academy Awards-the Academy Awards of children's book publishing, that is. The Caldecott and Newberry Medals, considered the "Academy Awards" of children's book publishing, honors outstanding writing and illustration of works published in the United States during the previous year, according to the American Library Association. Kiefer, chaired the 2000 Caldecott Committee Award Selection Committee that chooses the Medal winners during the Midwinter American Library Association (ALA) Meeting in San Antonio. The Chair of the Committee is elected and has to have served on a Committee previously. Kiefer noted that the ALA tries to vary the members of the Committee each year, and members can only Chair the committee once. Her art education background and dissertation on children's responses to picture books made her the ideal candidate for this position. As Chair, she had to manage communications, manage the meetings, take a close look at the books being published each month as well as keep track of which ALA member is nominating which book. "The final nominations and preparations have to be done a week before the convention," said Kiefer. "We put all the books together and ship them to the convention in a big trunk." "The Friday before the conference, we met for the first time to go over the list and make the final choices," she continued. "We whittled them down to 700, but still had a lot to talk about." The 15-member Committee does not work through the night, but they do work all weekend to bring this list down to four honor medal books and one medal winner. Kiefer said that the method of determining the winner is by secret ballot. "Three 'tellers' are appointed to collect and count the small sheets of paper containing the votes. The top three choices are assigned point values. The tellers count up the number of first choice votes each book has, as well as the number of points each one gets," she explained. The winning book needed eight first place votes and had to be eight points ahead of every other book. "We keep discussing until we reach this point," said Kiefer, "and the books not voted for are taken off the table." She said it is an amazing exercise for group decision-it takes time for 15 people to reach an agreement. However, she thought it was a great experience and in the end everyone had a good time. At the end of the weekend, the Committee came to an agreement. They had to simultaneously call the winners and prepare for the avalanche of press calls and requests. The Caldecott Medal went to Joseph Had A Little Overcoat by Simms Taback. The Four Caldecott Honor Books were: Sector 7, illustrated and written by David Wiesner, published by Clarion Books; The Ugly Duckling adapted and illustrated by Jerry Pinkney, published by William Morrow & Company; When Sophie Gets Angry - Really, Really, Angry, illustrated and written by Molly Bang, published by Scholastic; and A Child's Calendar, illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman, written by John Updike and published by Holiday House. The winning books were a "good representation of art and varied in style." For example, Simms Taback, the Medal winning author/illustrator, used mixed media collage on kraft paper to illustrate his book. One book was solely computer images while another used traditional painting techniques. In Joseph Had A Little Overcoat, Taback cleverly uses the holes in each piece of Joseph's shabby clothing to hint at the article that Joseph will turn it into next. While peeking through the die-cut holes on every other page, young readers appreciate the idea that it always is possible to make something, even out of nothing. This adaptation of the Yiddish folk song "I Had a Little Overcoat" includes the original words and music at the end of Simms' retelling. "Vibrant rich colors, playful details, and skillfully-placed die cuts contribute to the books raucous merriment that takes this Yiddish folk song far beyond the simple words," said Kiefer "Everyone asks if this is a monetary award-no, it's just the medal. However, this medal guarantees that your book will stay in print and a great help for artists early in their career who want editors to take a chance on them." "Being able to serve on this committee was phenomenal," said Kiefer enthusiastically. "It's a once in a lifetime chance."previous page