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West Linn children's librarian selected as Caldecott Medal judge

Will serve on 2018 committee for prestigious children's book award

Come January 2017, Sarah Flathman will need a bigger bookshelf.

The West Linn children’s librarian learned April 29 that she was selected as one of 14 members of the national 2018 Caldecott Award Selection Committee. That means when 2017 rolls around, Flathman will begin receiving picture books from all across the country and judging them for the 2018 Caldecott Medal.

“So I’m expecting to have thousands of picture books in my home,” Flathman said.

The Caldecott Medal is awarded annually to the artist of the “most distinguished American picture book for children.” The medal was created in 1938 by the Association for Library Service to Children — a division of the American Library Association — and is named after the English illustrator Randolph Caldecott.

Most recently, the 2016 Caldecott Medal was awarded to Sophie Blackall for “Finding Winnie: The True Story of the World’s Most Famous Bear.”

“It’s an affirmation of what I already knew,” West Linn Library Director Doug Erickson said of Flathman’s selection. “She’s really good, and being recognized by her peers as really good.”

Further, Erickson said Flathman’s participation on the committee will have significant benefits to the library itself.

“It impacts West Linn, not only in the connections she’ll make as a judge, but she’ll essentially have access to every single children’s picture book published in the U.S. next year,” Erickson said. “It’s a blessing for the library in that she can choose the best ones for our collection … she can enrich our collections and enrich her understanding of what we want for teaching young readers.”

Flathman must keep the books until the 2018 winner is announced, at which point she will have a number of options.

"After the winner is announced, I am free to donate books to the West Linn library, other libraries, schools, nonprofits, etc.," she said.

Flathman’s selection to the Caldecott committee comes just about a year after she arrived in West Linn from New York, where she spent the better part of 10 years as a librarian at Queens Library. She learned in the fall of 2015 that she was one of 16 librarians nominated on the ballot for the 2018 Caldecott committee.

Voting was limited to members of the Association for Library Service to Children, and took place in March and April 2016. Flathman was one of the eight volunteer judges selected during that voting process, and six more will be selected by administrators at the Association for Library Service to Children. “To be voted by your peers, to be thought of as having these characteristics to judge and thoughtfully consider books, is a great honor,” Flathman said. “I’m still kind of in shock about it.”

She joked that she had the East Coast voters going for her, “and hopefully Oregon too.”

Flathman does not have any prior experience with formal judging, but she said she has done “mock Caldecott” awards in the past as an exercise.

“It’s something they do at a lot of libraries; it gives you experience for how to judge,” she said. “It really kind of hones your judgement and ability to really seriously look at the criteria.”

Flathman has also done mock award judging activities with kids — an exercise that often generates humorous results, she said. “It’s very funny to hear the kids’ comments about things,” Flathman said. “It’s hard for them to separate their personal feelings from how they’re supposed to judge.”

Flathman will attend an annual conference in July, but the real work begins when the ball drops on 2017. And she doesn't plan to take any time off for the judging, so much of the work will likely come during nights and weekends.

“I’m really excited and honored to be given this opportunity, to be able to have this experience of looking at all the books published in a year and discuss them critically,” Flathman said.

Patrick Malee can be reached at 503-636-1281 Ext. 106 or pmalee@westlinntidings.com.