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Arika Dickens

Sunset Librarian Elected to Newbery Selection Committee

Posted by Devin Felix on 26 April, 2019

Sunset Elementary Librarian Arika Dickens has been elected to the Newbery Committee for 2021! She'll be one of only 15 people across the country who will decide which children's book will receive the prestigious Newbery Award and which books will become Newbery Honor Books. 

This is a very big deal! We asked Arika a few questions about the Newbery selection process and her thoughts about children's literature: 

What is the Newbery Award?
Informally, the Newbery is the award for the most distinguished, best-written book for children ages 0-14. It might be a picture book, a chapter book, nonfiction, early reader, poetry, etc.

What will you do as a member of the Newbery Award Selection Committee?
The short answer? READ and re-read. There is no short list of nominees: The committee reads hundreds of books and uses criteria to determine the most distinguished. I’ll be reading books published in 2020, and the award will be announced in early 2021.

How were you selected for the committee?
I’ve been part of Washington book award committees since 2006 and have continually educated myself about book review & evaluation.  Showing up and doing unseen committee work – both locally and nationally – has been instrumental in learning from fellow literature experts. Being asked by the American Library Association to stand for election is huge – kind of like making Olympic Trials. I’ll be one of 15 public/school/university librarians and educators from across the U.S. on the committee, and I’m currently the only elementary librarian on the 2021 committee (8 members are elected, and 7 members are appointed).     

Why do you want to be a part of the committee?
As a child, I remember reading Newbery books like "The Westing Game" and "Hatchet." To me, those gold and silver stickers meant that a book was a cut above the others. Helping choose Newbery books for current and future generations of readers is the highest honor, and one that I take quite seriously.

How does it feel to be selected? 
I still can’t quite believe I get to do this! That the nomination and election are from my peers is extra gratifying. 

Why is children’s literature important?
I love that children’s books have the capacity to develop empathy and to educate in ways that are accessible to everyone. Topics covered in current children’s literature often mirror the lives of readers in our district and around the world. For others, children’s lit serves as a window into lives unlike their own, developing understanding and perspective. I love that there is always a children’s book to match a reader’s interests, wonders, experiences, wants, and/or needs. 

What are a few recommendations for great recent children’s literature?
This is a dangerous question – I love talking children’s books!   

  • "The Bridge Home" by Padma Venkatraman. Set in modern-day Chennai, it’s the story of four homeless children developing friendships as they support one another. Heartbreakingly honest. I simply couldn’t put it down.
  • "The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise" by Dan Gemeinhart. Coyote and her dad live and travel across the U.S. in a bus-turned-mobile home,       creating new memories to try to forget the ones of home. With its diverse characters and a range of experiences, this had me laughing one page and crying the next.
  • "Thank You, Omu" by Oge Mora. Omu makes soup for dinner and shares servings with each neighbor who comes by. A picture book that highlights generosity, gratitude, and community.
  • "Fox is Late" by Corey R. Tabor. Using a trusty skateboard and employing some fancy tricks, Fox swerves past friends en route to lunch…but what is the rush? This is an early reader with style!
  • "Thirty Minutes over Oregon" by Marc Tyler Nobleman. The true story of a WWII bombing that happened over Oregon. Action packed and full of heart.