Whew! I was on the panel for the SCBWI Golden Kite fiction award this year. The reading was astonishing and overwhelming and scary, and the discussions by e-mail and phone were intense but I am telling you that the abso-bloody-lutely hardest part was the sworn-to-secrecy bit. This morning Jamie Weiss of SCBWI tells me I can come out of the judges' closet.
The book we chose, from among 12 amazing finalists, was A Room on Lorelei Street by Mary Pearson.
Mary, congratulations! I read and reread your book, and I want you to know it made me cry! It is so difficult to create a young protagonist whose flaws and dilemmas come alive enough to make an adult reader's heart hurt.
The honor book we chose was Each Little Bird That Sings by Deborah Wiles. A touching, funny book peopled with lovable eccentrics and a child protagonist who doesn't miss much.
The judging process was amazing. First of all the hundreds of books arriving in daily boxes over about four months. The UPS delivery woman and I would talk about them. "Any good ones in the last lot?" she'd say.
At one point I was reading 6 books a week, then 6 more the next week plus rereads from the previous and so on. I'd read standing in line at the grocery store, the post office, even at traffic lights. It was a transformative experience for me to be able to get such a wide-ranging survey of the books being written by SCBWI writers, and to delve deeply into the ones that I adored on first reading.
The final phone call with fellow judges Cara Haycak (author of Red Palms) and Jane Buchanan (author of Goodbye Charley and others) took nearly two hours. That was after a couple of weeks of trading e-mails arguing vehemently for this or that book. It was really difficult making that final choice. There were so many great books in the mix.
In the end I am very excited about our choice of Mary's delicate, beautiful book, and Deborah Wiles's whimsical, funny, honor book with its dead-on voice and quirky characters. And I am grateful to have been invited to be part of this process.