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Clemson Professor to Chair Newberry Award Committee

Jonda C. McNair, professor in Clemson’s College of Education, had just come off of a rewarding—and educational—stint on the 2019 Randolph Caldecott Award Selection Committee, and as the semester wound down she found out she had been appointed to another, similarly prestigious position.

McNair will serve as chair of the 2021 John Newbery Medal Award Selection Committee. The Association for Library Service to Children awards the Newbery Medal annually to the author of the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children. She says using a word like “shock” about the news would be an understatement.

“I could not believe it,” said McNair. “I was at a children’s literature conference and happened to check my email. I’m still floored and humbled by this appointment. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, so of course I said ‘yes!’”

McNair has long admired and respected many titles that have been honored by the Newbery committee, and she specifically cites “Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry” by Mildred Taylor, “Charlotte’s Web” by E.B. White and “The Crossover” by Kwame Alexander as examples.

McNair says she will approach her role as chair on the committee as the facilitator of book selections published in 2020 that make the most distinguished contribution to writing for children. Although she will be reading the books alongside other committee members, she understands chairs act as organizers of the process who oftentimes maintain a more neutral role. She has already reached out to previous chairs of the committee to get their advice.

“The Newbery is given for writing; it can go to titles across many genres such as fiction, poetry and nonfiction as well as a variety of formats including novels, picture books and graphic novels,” said McNair. “The entire committee will have to keep in mind that there are many titles that should be considered for the Newbery Award.”

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