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Local librarian's exciting latest chapter: Serving on prestigious Newbery Award committee

‘Like being nominated for an Oscar'
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Posted at 12:00 PM, Feb 11, 2017
and last updated 2017-02-11 12:00:32-05

CINCINNATI -- If anyone were to ask Elaine Fultz what was the most distinguished work of children's literature in 2016, she would most likely answer, "The Girl Who Drank the Moon."

She should know. Fultz, who works as a media specialist for Madison Local Schools, was part of a 16-member committee that last month selected the book as the 2017 John Newbery Medal winner.

"It's a pretty big deal," said Justin Smith, principal of Madison Jr./Sr. High School.

Named for 18th century English bookseller John Newbery, the Newbery Medal has been awarded each year since 1922 by the American Library Association. The award is given in recognition of the previous year's most distinguished contribution to children's literature. Three additional books are selected for Newbery Honor Awards.

Madison Local Schools media specialist Elaine Fultz was one of 16 members serving on the Newbery Award Selection Committee for the 2017 awards. (Photo provided)

As prestigious as the awards are for authors, serving on the Newbery Award Selection Committee is an honor among librarians.

"This is, for a lot of librarians, it's like being nominated for an Oscar," Fultz said. "This is as big as it gets in our profession."

The committee, whose members change from one year to the next, is composed of 15 acting members and a chairperson. All 16 individuals are members of the Association for Library Service to Children. Eight are appointed to the committee, and the other eight are selected via ballots.

Fultz was one of the members appointed to the committee. She attributes her selection largely to the length of her career and her involvement in professional conferences.

"I've worked a really long time as a librarian, so hopefully I've earned it," she said.

Currently in her third year as Madison's media specialist, she previously has worked for Dayton Metro Library and Centerville City School District. She also has spoken about children's books at state conferences.

"I've kind of made my mark to some extent," Fultz said.

While she was excited for the opportunity to serve on the selection committee, it wasn't an easy task. She and other committee members had to read every eligible work of children's literature published in 2016.

"My entire home life was just reading all the time," she said.

From January to December 2016, she logged more than 700 books, at least 300 of which she read cover to cover.

"The ones that I did read, I read in great detail," Fultz said.

Narrowing down and selecting the books may have been equally challenging.

Because the committee members were prohibited from discussing the books via email, she also had to travel out of state last summer and again in January to meet with the group. They discussed the books, pared down their options and cast ballots to select the winners.

"That was pretty intense, because the idea is that we really focus on the criteria," Fultz said. "It really has to be a focused conversation about the qualities of the literature."

Some of the main considerations included flow of language, characterization and setting, she said. It wasn't unusual for a committee member's thoughts on a book to be challenged by someone asking if it was the most distinguished.

In spite of the challenges that came along with serving on the committee, Fultz is grateful she had the opportunity.

"To be a part of that was just definitely a highlight of my career," she said.

Said Smith: "We're really proud of her."

Fultz involved students in her experience, working with classes in Madison schools, recommending books they might like and visiting Talawanda and Mason schools as a guest speaker.

She also got the perk of receiving copies of many children's books, which she plans to contribute to the libraries at Madison Elementary and Madison Jr./Sr. High School.

One of the greatest aspects of the role, though, was the impact it will have on current students and others in years to come.

"There'll be students that will be assigned these books forever," Fultz said.