Subscribe to SLJ
Follow This Blog: RSS feed
Heavy Medal: A Mock Newbery Blog
Inside Heavy Medal

Matters of…apples and oranges

Sharon posted a couple weeks ago about Chains, and I’m just now catching up. I’d actually started the book long ago…and put it down, a couple of times. I did find myself engaged once I committed myself to it, but I still have the lingering feeling that I never quite believed Isabel as a character. Almost–but not quite at the depth that Anderson calls for in her emotionally-charged moments…which stuck out to me as obviously emotionally-charged. Fuse 8 calls it "complex but kid-friendly," and I do agree that these are it’s distinguishing charateristics, and make it a strong contender for the Newbery.

From real-life matters of life and death, I moved right on to The Hunger Games, which oddly enough I had a similar reaction to, despite its obvious surface dissimilarites.  A dystopic version of reality TV gone bad…Katniss fights for her life within a plot as contrived and manipulative as the system she’s trying to buck. Contrived and manipulated very well, I should add. This is a great read, a compelling read, and offers a tween audience something chewy and stimluating. But once I start looking at the structure of the writing…it seems very flat. (The first angle people tend to bring up re The Hunger Games and the Newbery is age level. Though the characters are full teen-age, I find the approach to issues of life and death, romance, etc., not very complex, which is just as younger audiences need them. This is a perfect example of a book that falls squarely on the fence.)

These two books couldn’t be more different…and yet the Newbery committee has to compare books this disimilar as they look for which one exemplifies the most distinguished writing of the year. 

Nina Lindsay About Nina Lindsay

Nina Lindsay is the Children's Services Coordinator at the Oakland Public Library, CA. She chaired the 2008 Newbery Committee, and served on the 2004 and 1998 committees. You can reach her at


  1. I actually think the writing in Hunger Games is distinguished. Maybe not in terms of exceptional use of language or sentence structure, but I think it’s completely successful in “development of plot,” “delineation of character,” and “delineation of setting.” She describes the world fully and efficiently. The plot contrivances are exactly what this kind of story requires. And we get to know Katniss from page one and learn more as we go. This is a page-turner, with thought provoking ideas mixed in, and doesn’t require the nuanced language of something like “Madapple” or “Cicada Summer.” I compare it to “Savvy,” which I liked, and feel that “Hunger Games” is more compelling in terms of plot and character, and it maintains that high level throughout.

  2. Nina Lindsay says:

    Thanks for the comments Donna. It’s possible that I’m still bringing too much of personal taste to Hunger Games, but I just couldn’t help feel that the character development was still very flat, given the issues involved. The other characters basically just die off–Katniss’ kills are one of defense/maternal instinct and one of mercy. Peeta’s is an accident. The plot contrivances (rule changes, the “gifts”) I could overlook if it allowed a depth of character development. But I find much better articulated and even more complex “delineation of character” even in something like “The Highway Cats.” Don’t get me wrong…I still this is a strong book. It is “good for the ride” in the way no other book this year is. But it left me unsatisfied.

  3. Nina,
    When you say “unsatisfied” do you mean you weren’t satisfied, or you weren’t satisfied that it filled the Newbery requirements?

    I think Hunger Games is a well done example of the action book. Gripping Plot! Death defying Heroine! On the one hand, I think it deserves praise for doing what it does so well. On the other hand, if it gets an award, I will be disappointed in the Newbery Committee because I don’t think the book has literary quality.

    On the third hand, maybe I won’t mind. Worse books than Hunger Games have gotten the award, and at least I think it is a good read.

  4. Nina Lindsay says:

    Faith, you say *On the one hand, I think it deserves praise for doing what it does so well. On the other hand, if it gets an award, I will be disappointed in the Newbery Committee because I don’t think the book has literary quality.* This is often at the crux of the discussion, especially in regards to the Anita Silvey article…why doesn’t *doing what it does so well* necessarily constitute *literary quality*? I’m feeling the same way as you, by the way, but just trying to understand why…

    By *unsatisfied* I think I meant that I didn’t find the characters stimulating. I was stimulated in an action-oriented way, but when the action was done, I didn’t feel changed, and I didn’t feel like the setting and characters lived on. You know that feeling when you finish a book and you believe that the characters and place still exist? I don’t get that with this one.

  5. The unexpected death of Michael Crichton brought me back to this thread. I’ve been trying to think of a good comparison for Hunger Games, and his work fits the bill. Do you give an award for “great pulp fiction?” If so, HG, should be in the Newbery running. If I won’t allow greatness in Pulp as grounds for a prize, why am I complaining (and I do complain) that Humor isn’t represented? I’m happy, I guess, to think that the arguments might go one way in this year, and another way in that year and balance over time. Though “What books might not otherwise be published if we didn’t support their existence with this prize?” is my fundamental concern. Humor and Pulp don’t need the support as much as Literary Fiction does, and I do believe in supporting Literary Fiction for children.

Speak Your Mind