We Are APS: Toomer Media Specialist Serves on Sibert Medal Committee

Fred A. Toomer Elementary School Media Specialist Eric Carpenter had the distinguished honor of serving on the committee for The Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Medal, awarded annually to the author and illustrator of the most distinguished informational book published in the United States.

The 2020 Sibert Medal winner is Fry Bread: A Native American Family Story (written by Kevin Noble Maillard and illustrated by Juana Martinez-Neal), “a concept book that informs from cover to cover through the lens of a contemporary family,” according to the Sibert award website. “From shape to smell, readers learn how shared traditions of fry bread transcend land, tribal nations, and time. With extensive supporting notes, Fry Bread is both joyful celebration and an important cultural history.”    

“Maillard’s jubilant, affirmative text and Martinez-Neal’s cozy, detailed illustrations portray fry bread as a means of connection to family, cultural survival, and a strong future,” said Sibert Medal Committee Chair Sally Miculek. 

Below Carpenter provides additional insight on the selection process.

How and why did you become a committee member for the Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Medal?

Two years ago, the Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC) nominating committee asked me to run for one of the four committee spots elected by the membership of ALSC (a division of the American Library Association). I was elected and therefore joined the committee along with three other elected members and five appointed members charged with reading and evaluating informational books for children published during 2019.

Briefly describe the process of selecting the winning book and honorable mentions (criteria, voting, stages, timeline, etc.)?

Publishers both big and small sent all of the committee members all of their informational titles published for children ages 0-14 in 2019. We read, read, and read multiple hundreds of books during 2019 looking for the most distinguished. During a completely confidential process and based on clearly defined criteria, we evaluated each book individually and in the fall each made seven nominations. Then after lots and lots of re-reading and re-evaluating, in January we met in for three days during the ALA Midwinter Meetings in a Philadelphia hotel conference room to discuss all of the books we as committee members nominated.

After many hours of secret and confidential discussion and deliberation, we voted on the titles we found to be the most distinguished. Confidentiality prohibits me from discussing the specifics of our voting, but we followed the balloting rules laid out in our award manual. In the end, we choose one award winner (Fry Bread: A Native American Family Story by Kevin Maillard, illustrated by Juana Martinez-Neal) and our honor books ( All in a Drop: How Antony van Leeuwenhoek Discovered an Invisible World by Lori Alexander, Hey, Water! by Antoinette Portis, Ordinary Hazards: A Memoir by Nikki Grimes, and This Promise of Change: One Girl’s Story in the Fight for School Equality by Jo Ann Allen Boyce and Debbie Levy).

After making our award choices, the only thing left was to call each winning author and illustrator to inform them and congratulate them over phone. It is a truly incredible experience making that call and changing the life of an author or illustrator. Our award choices were made public the following day during the ALA Youth Media Award Press Conference along with the winners and honor recipients of other ALA awards, including the Newbery Medal, the Caldecott Medal and the Coretta Scott King Award.

What is the significance of the Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Medal (do authors receive any special recognition)?

The Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Medal was established by ALSC 20 years ago to honor the year’s most distinguished informational book for young people. Winners and honor recipients are presented their medals during ALA’s annual conference in June where they give acceptance speeches during the ceremony. The awarded books are forever adorned with metallic award seals on their covers which inevitably lead to greater sales and recognition for the books and their creators.

Are there any additional details you would like to share about your experience?

The experience was fantastic. I had previously served three terms on the Georgia Picture Book Award committee and two years on ALSC’s Carnegie Video Award Committee. Serving on award committees forges strong bonds with fellow librarians and builds professional connections with both fellow committee members as well as the recognized authors and illustrators whose books we celebrate. Though only five titles were recognized by our committee, we read many more books that were also distinguished and worthy additions to libraries and classroom bookshelves.

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We Are APS highlights APS visionaries (parents, students, teachers, principals, support staff, community members, partners, etc.), who exemplify our vision of a high-performing school district where students love to learn, educators inspire, families engage, and the community trusts the system. To recommend an APS visionary for a We Are APS feature, contact your communications liaison or email apscommunicationsoffice@gmail.com.

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