Local librarian to help select prestigious book award

By BEVERLY BARELA
January 25, 2018

Ericka Chilcoat loves to read informational books. It’s a good thing because Chilcoat is on the selection committee for the annual Sibert Medal — a top award that goes to the author(s) and illustrator(s) of the most distinguished informational book for children and early teens published in the United States.

Ericka Chilcoat loves to read informational books.

It’s a good thing because Chilcoat is on the selection committee for the annual Sibert Medal — a top award that goes to the author(s) and illustrator(s) of the most distinguished informational book for children and early teens published in the United States.

She has read most of the 400 books she has received in preparation for next month’s selection meeting in Denver, Colorado.

"At first, it was overwhelming,” Chilcoat told the Times, “but it was fun getting the boxes of books from the publishers. I had piles in my living room, and had to organize them."

The experience is quite the honor for Chilcoat, who holds the position of Children’s Librarian at the main branch of the Merced County Public Library. She is one of only eight members on this year’s Sibert panel.

“There are some on the East Coast, and one in Texas,” she said. “One is a college instructor, and another is a retired teacher. I don’t know how I was chosen to be on the committee, but I think I was nominated because of the blog I write for.”

The Sibert Medal was established in 2001 by the Association for Library Service to Children, and named for Robert F. Sibert, the longtime president of Bound to Stay Bound Books, Inc. The award is relatively new compared to the association’s acclaimed Newberry Medal — the world’s first children’s literature award in 1922, and the Caldecott Medal, a top picture book award that dates back to 1938.

Informational books are defined as those written and illustrated to present, organize, and interpret documentable, factual material.

In other words, it’s nonfiction with expository style.

Sibert felt a nonfiction book award should be an even higher priority than the Newberry or Caldecott because there was a wealth of great nonfiction books for children of which a lot of kids, parents and teachers were unaware.

The age range of the award is broad — the book is geared to birth to 14 years.

It has to be based on real facts with documentation.

The author and illustrator need to live in the United States.

Chilcoat said, "We have to look at the illustrations, the way the book is set up, and how it draws attention."

Describing the process to select the winner, she said, "Throughout the year, we received children’s books from publishers like Simon & Schuster, and we could also seek out books on our own. When we did our fact checking, we divvied up the work. We made suggestions on a monthly basis. Then each person made nominations. There were three rounds of nominations. Eventually, there were 45 books nominated, and the chair of the committee gave each of us five books to read, fact check, and present at the mid-winter conference, which is a smaller version of the American Library Association Conference in Chicago, which I attended in June. During the mid-winter conference, the committee will narrow it down to one winner and several honorable mentions. The winner will get a medal and the notoriety that goes along with the award. The illustrator wins, too."

About her book nominations, Chilcoat reported it was a very emotional journey.

She explained, "It was extremely hard to choose. All the information is good, so you have to look at whether it’s going to be engaging to a child by considering illustrations, footnotes, and other back matter."

What kinds of books have won previous Sibert Awards?

The 2017 medal winner was "March: Book Three" by John Lewis and Andrew Aydin, illustrated by Nate Powell. Lewis, a civil rights leader and U. S. Congressman, wrote about his involvement in the 1960s Civil Rights movement.

One of the honor books of 2017 was "Giant Squid" by Candace Fleming, illustrated by Eric Rohmann. Fleming authored a picture book about the elusive giant squid that can grow to 40 feet in length.

Another 2017 honor book was "Sachiko: A Nagasaki Bomb Survivor’s Story" by Caren Stelson

The 2016 medal winner was "Funny Bones: Posada and His Day of the Dead Calaveras" written and illustrated by Duncan Tonatiuh

A 2015 Honor Book was "Neighborhood Sharks: Hunting with the Great Whites of California’s Farallon Islands" by Katherine Roy.

"I am looking forward to February,” Chilcoat said, enthusiastically. “After the winner is selected, there will be an award dinner in June in New Orleans. … Who wouldn’t want to go to New Orleans? I would like to go, but I haven’t decided yet.”

She added, “It would be fun to meet the author and say, ‘I was on the committee that picked you!’”


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