How a CLEL Bell Award is Won

by Maureen Quinlan, 2024 CLEL Bell Awards Co-Chair

Ever wonder how a CLEL Bell book goes from publication to winning the award? Here is the step-by-step process of how readers, books, and librarians all fit into the CLEL Bells puzzle. For a more in-depth analysis of our committee work, read on. 

Book award committee work is often silent, mysterious, and flies under the radar until the announcement of the winners. We believe the CLEL Bells should be different. The quality we love most about CLEL as an organization and the CLEL Bell Awards is that it is an open conversation about early literacy, how to implement it, and how to improve it. Without that accessible nature of our work, we would never be able to grow and learn. 

With this in mind, we thought it pertinent to share the process of how a CLEL Bell Award is won. Knowing the way a book flows from publication to winning an award can demonstrate how deeply our committee thinks about these titles and their representation of early literacy practices, diversity, early childhood, and positive caregiver interactions. It is a multi-step, multifaceted process that could not be completed without the time, energy, and passion of our committee members or the suggestions of readers, educators, librarians, authors, publishers, and book lovers. Perhaps seeing this process from start to finish can provide insight into how valuable your suggestions are and how we hope to continue opening the conversation about high quality children’s literature. 

Let’s begin with a book’s publication. A book will enter the world and land on someone’s desk, library cart, bookshelf, or in their hands. As a person reads, they will view it with a CLEL Bells lens, meaning they will read it looking for examples of the five early literacy practices: Read, Write, Talk, Play, and Sing. If the book is exemplary in this regard, they use our Title Suggestion form to alert our committee to the book’s existence.

This is the time and place to put forth any title you would like the world to know about in relation to early literacy. Even if you feel the practice is understated or it’s a reach to really see the practice in action, we still want to know about it. The more books we have in our title suggestions, the better. It gives us a deeper, wider pool of titles to evaluate and hold up to our CLEL Bells criteria

An important distinction when suggesting a title is to ensure it is within the publication range for the current year of awards. This year’s books must have been published between November 17, 2022 and November 16, 2023. This timeline allows us to consider all possible titles. So although the award is the 2024 CLEL Bell, we want to allow those books that missed out on the 2023 award to still be eligible. 

Once a book has been suggested, it goes through a rigorous path of being read by committee members, usually more than once. The committee discusses it, usually more than once. These discussions are fruitful and productive intercourses about diversity, what makes a good early childhood book, and how an adult would use the book to engage with children in many different capacities. The committee’s unique perspectives and experiences emerge in these discussions to elucidate a book’s value in the realm of CLEL excellence.

Throughout the process, our committee is always looking at what the title suggestor said about the title and its significance. We often also look at reviews from professional sources and from Own Voices critics. We want to ensure that we consider all points of view and evaluate a book with thoroughness and decorum. 

We look forward to engaging with our committee and your suggestions to find the strongest early literacy books of the year. 

TL;DR (Too Long; Didn’t Read)

  • Someone reads a book that is about reading, writing, talking, singing, or playing.
  • They use the Title Suggestion Form to alert our committee to its existence.
    • We couldn’t do what we do without the ideas and insights shared in this form.  
  • Our committee reads all the suggested books and holds them up to our Award Criteria
    • Many discussions are had about a title’s merits. 
  • The committee chooses a shortlist and eventual winners. 
  • Our work in early literacy grows, evolves, improves, and has an impact on our patrons.
  • Questions? Email

Maureen Quinlan

2024 CLEL Bell Awards Committee Co-Chair

Maureen Quinlan is a librarian at the Green Valley Ranch Branch Library of Denver Public Library. She has worked in Massachusetts, Broomfield, and Greeley during her library career, all while championing early literacy, diversity in children’s literature, and making sure the library is a fun and welcoming place to be. She has served on CLEL Bells since 2021. Outside of the library, she can usually be found walking her Irish Setter, Rooney.