Seal of approval: Abbot librarian helps bestow prestigious children’s literature medal

Remember the raised golden seals on certain books in elementary and middle school?

The embossed, foiled circle denotes that the author has won the John Newbery Medal, which recognizes “the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children” from the preceding year.

The Association of Library Service to Children, an American Library Association division, annually awards the high honor, one tantamount to winning the Pulitzer Prize in fiction or the Caldecott Medal for the most distinguished American picture book.

Abbot Public Library Executive Director Kimberly Grad surrounded by her signed copies of the Newbery Honor Books and the Newbery Medal winner in the Marblehead Room. PHOTO BY WILL DOWD

For some reason, this bit of information has remained under the radar: Abbot Public Library’s executive director, Kimberly Grad, sat on the 15-member jury that selected the John Newbery Medal’s recipient for 2022, the award’s centennial year.

“I have always loved reading middle-grade fiction, and being on the selection committee is something that I’ve always wanted to do,” Grad said.

Grad, like her fellow selection-committee members, spent an entire year reading and assessing hundreds of books for children under the age of 14. The books would arrive on her doorstep nearly everyday.

“I read probably 300 books, but I received way more than 300 books,” Grad said. “While I had to give up other things, I enjoyed every minute of it.”

Her life was nearly exclusively devoted to working and reading in 2021. She categorized fulfilling her Newbery Award duties as a professional highlight in a career that includes stints in book publishing and as a children’s librarian.

Asked how she assessed the books, Grad responded, “I like a well-told story. It’s more than just plot and the characters — it’s the whole story, the whole package that I’m looking at.”

The guide given to the selection committee asked members to consider the following criteria:

  • Interpretation of the theme or concept
  • Presentation of information, including accuracy, clarity and organization
  • Development of a plot
  • Delineation of characters
  • Delineation of a setting
  • Appropriateness of style

Normally, the committee members convene in person to deliberate over a January weekend, but COVID-19 upended that tradition.

“We wanted very much to meet in person,” Grad said. “We had to do all of our discussion and preparation in Zoom.”

In January, the selection committee settled on a dystopian middle-grade novel, “The Last Cuentista” by Donna Barba Higuera, as the 2022 John Newbery Medal winner.

During the American Library Association’s annual conference in June, Grad and other committee members were on hand as the ALA presented Higuera with the Newbery Medal during a celebratory banquet. Abbot Public Library appears next to Grad’s name in the banquet’s program.

Higuera’s title now joins the company of such Newbery winners as “The Giver,” “Holes,” “A Wrinkle in Time,” “Bridge to Terabithia” and “Number the Stars.” The committee also selected four Newbery Honor Books:

  • “Red, White, and Whole” by Rajani LaRocca
  • “A Snake Falls to Earth” by Darcie Little Badger
  • “Too Bright to See” by Kyle Lukoff
  • “Watercress” by Andrea Wang, illus. by Jason Chin

On a shelf in Grad’s office proudly stands signed copies of each of the 2022’s four Newbery Honor Books and the Newbery Medal winner.

About The John Newbery Medal

The Newbery Medal is named for the 18th century English bookseller John Newbery, also known as “the father of children’s literature,” who was a publisher and writer of over 200 children’s books.

The Newbery Medal was established 100 years ago: “To encourage original creative work in the field of books for children. To emphasize to the public that contributions to the literature for children deserve similar recognition to poetry, plays, or novels. To give those librarians, who make it their life work to serve children’s reading interests, an opportunity to encourage good writing in this field.”

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