Sunday, March 14, 2010

Honor Books or Runners-Up?

Until I read Time magazine this morning, I hadn't noticed that the Academy Awards had changed "and the Oscar goes to . . ." to "and the winner is . . . ," a phrasing not heard on the show since 1989. In our own world, ALSC changed the designation runner up to Honor Book for, er, runners-up for the Newbery and Caldecott Medals in 1971. I've been assured by several people that the change was not just euphemistic and that the terms mean different things but damned if I can figure out what the difference is. Does anyone know? K.T., Nina, Peter, are you out there?

6 comments:

Walter Underwood said...

My wife noticed this immediately, she said "They aren't supposed to say 'winner'!"

Really, picking only one from such a high level of candidates is a crazy idea. I like the idea of "Honor" instead of "loser".

I don't always like The Newbery, but I'm sure to find a winner between the Award and the Honors.

Anonymous said...

In the early years, the runners-up were the books that scored the next highest number of votes on the Newbery ballot. The number could vary and depended on any obvious margin between the very top contenders and the rest of the pack. Up until the early 1960s, the runners-up were listed in order of how they scored, so we can look at each year's list and actually see which book was first runner-up, which was second runner-up, etc. Since that time, the runners-up were listed in alphabetical order.

You're right, the change from "runners-up" to "Honor Books" occurred in 1971, but during the first few years they still used the same criteria -- the Honors were the next highest ranking books on the ballot. However, in 1977 they changed that policy. After selecting the winner, the committee has the option of either choosing the next highest-ranking books as Honors, as before, OR voting anew from all the books that got votes on the final ballot. Just an evil guess, but I suspect the latter option is why we've had more nonfiction Honor Books in the last few decades. Maybe a nonfiction book didn't have enough votes to be a true runner-up, but once the committee chose to vote all over again, some committee members may have decided they wanted a nonfiction books on the final list and threw some votes in that direction. But that's just my theory.

Speaking of old voting rules, did you know that until the late 1950s no author was allowed to win twice unless their second book received a unanimous vote? Therefore, some Newbery runners-up from the early era could have been potential winners with the true highest number of votes but were just not allowed to win because they didn't win unanimously. For example, Kate Seredy won in 1938 for THE WHITE STAG. In 1940 her SINGING TREE was first runner-up to James Daugherty's DANIEL BOONE. We'll never know if TREE received more votes than BOONE, but it's possible that it really was the top title, but just wasn't allowed to win because it didn't receive a unanimous vote.

Peter

Roger Sutton said...

Thank you, Peter--where do you find out all this stuff? I'm happy to know that you and Betsy and Liz are making a book out of it.

It is true that Honor Books are not automatically the next highest vote getters and thus I guess not technically runners-up. But they are books that survived multiple ballots but failed to muster the necessary points to win. The arithmetic made perfect sense to me when I was involved in the process but now it's all a blur!

Fuse #8 said...

Just a quickie correction that it's Jules not Liz who will be joining us in the book (though Liz would have made a splendid addition as well). Ain't Peter amazing? Anything you ask, he knows.

Roger Sutton said...

Oops, sorry Jules (at Seven Impossible Things before Breakfast)!

And Liz (at A Chair, A Fireplace & a Tea Cozy), get busy on that HB article you promised me.

Nina said...

Late to the table here...

I think that the issues of voting for honors, and of not using the terms "winner" and "runners up" are slightly separate.

The committee CAN take subsequent ballots for the honor books, but the same voting procedure is used, and the honors ARE the highest on whatever ballot is used. In my experience in Mock Newberys, subsequent voting will sometimes net you more honor books, but not always... and the results are almost always the same that they would have been if you just used the initial ballot anyway.

You can all see the voting procedures in the Newbery Manual, online. Here's the language regarding Selection of Honors:

"Selection of Honor Books
Immediately following determination of the winner of the Newbery Medal, and
following appropriate discussion, the committee will entertain the following:
· Whether honor books will be named.
· Whether the committee wishes to choose as honor books the next highest
books on the original winning ballot or to ballot again.
· If the committee votes to use the award-winning ballot, they must then
determine how many honor books to name.
· If the committee chooses to ballot for honor books, only books that received
points on the award winning ballot may be included. The same voting
procedure is followed as for the award winner.
· If the committee has chosen to ballot for honor books, following that ballot, the
committee will vote how many books of those receiving the highest number of
points are to be named honor books."

There's earlier language in the manual that gets to the issue how why they're called honors:

"The committee may name as many or as few [honor books] as it chooses, or none, keeping in mind that the
books should be truly distinguished, not merely general contenders."

My understanding is that it's this motivation, that the honor books be ones that are consensually determined to be "also truly distinguished," that is at the heart of why they are called honors, and listed in alphabetical order, rather than called "runner's up."

Similarly, the word "winner" connotes a majority-style (or even instant runoff :)) voting process, rather than a consensus decision. Rather than declaring a winner, then, the committee bestows a medal. It's a fine line.