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Heavy Medal: A Mock Newbery Blog
Inside Heavy Medal


How about Laurie Halse Anderson’s Chains?  

The novel contains quite a few characteristics that I won’t be considering when I think about it in terms of a Mock Newbery contendor.  For example, the cover is striking and beautiful and the book design is old-fashioned and evocative of the time period during which the story takes place while still remaining readable for young people.  But when we look back at the Newbery Terms and Criteria (and yes, we will keep reminding you to look at that page) we see that:

2. Each book is to be considered as a contribution to literature. The committee is to make its decision primarily on the text. Other aspects of a book are to be considered only if they distract from the text. Such other aspects might include illustrations, overall design of the book, etc.

So positive feelings about a book’s design is not taken into consideration.  

I also wonder about the audience for this book.  I do think it’ll end up being more of a teacher assigned book than a picked-up and read for fun kind of book.  I think there are a limited number of children who will ever look at it, and who will love it.  But this has nothing to do with whether or not I find its writing distinguished.  

The story looks at the time period (the start of the Revolutionary War) from a perspective that is new in children’s lit.  Told from the point of view of a young slave trying to decide if her own loyalties should reside with the Patriots or the Loyalists, it’s a rare combination of a look at the Revolutionary War and at the history of slavery in this country.  And there are some ways that some of this can be considered.  But the book can not be compared to any books that were published in any year other than the eligible year, so the newness of the topic is not really relevant.  In fact, the topic of the story is not relevant at all outside of these things:

  • Interpretation of the theme or concept 
  • Presentation of information including accuracy, clarity, and organization 
  • Development of a plot 
  • Delineation of characters 
  • Delineation of setting 
  • Appropriateness of style

    So, do I think the writing in this novel is distinguished enough to consider a it as a potential Mock Newbery book?  Probably.  I definitely think it is a beautifully written story with a vividness that brings the time period to life.  I would love to discuss with a group how they feel about the narrator Isabel’s voice.  There were moments when I stepped back from my reading and wondered if I believed in her as a character or not.  In the end, I do.  I think some of the slow pacing and lack of character growth caused me pause at time, but I don’t think that was a sign of an underdeveloped character.  I think it’s a sign of a novel that does not have a changing character’s coming-of-age as its main element.  And for the record, I usually go for those kinds of story (back to my Just Not My Thing post).  I wonder if anyone else had moments of that feeling or if it was just me?

    Anyhow, as always would love to hear other people’s thoughts on this title.

    And for those who’d like a way more comprehensive review, not necessarily looking at Newbery Criteria, but certainly providing great detail and written in a most fun voice, you can turn to Elizabeth Bird at A Fuse #8 Production.

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    Sharon McKellar About Sharon McKellar

    Sharon McKellar is the Supervising Librarian for Teen Services at the Oakland Public Library in California. She has served on the Rainbow List Committee, the Notable Children’s Recordings Committee, The Arbuthnot Honor Lecture Committee, and the 2015 Caldecott Committee. You can reach her at


    1. EVA MITNICK says:

      In the hands of a lesser writer, this could have been a slog – there is SO much information, so much to process (and for the record, historical fiction tends not to be “my thing”!). However, Anderson’s writing is so fluid and masterful that I was immersed in Isabel’s story from beginning to end. Great stuff! My review:

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