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Heavy Medal: A Mock Newbery Blog
Inside Heavy Medal

Where’s the…?

Jonathan’s just posted on the range of National Book Award nominees, and the Newbery Committee process for narrowing down to nominations. 

In recent comments, "A Teacher" remarks "I get the feeling through reading these comments that "distinguished" to lots of people means "historical fiction".  And Jane "One last discussion question: is PC policing going on to favor books because the subject matter is worthwhile (and PC) rather than the writing being distinguished?"

And in a private email to me yesterday, because there was no relevant posting to comment on, Eric Carpenter asks me:  

"Where’s the Funny? Historically the Newbery Committees do not seem to find comedic writing very distinguished.  This is not to say there aren’t moments of humor in Newbery titles such as Holes or Honor titles like Joey Pigza, the Ramonas or even 26 Fairmount Avenue, but these titles have that heart warming sincere kind of humor that seems tangential to the main focus or purpose of the writing.  Last year I thought there were two titles that could have been given awards.  Clementine’s Letter and Alvin Ho: Allergic to Girls were both flat out hilarious, full of laugh out loud moments.  … This year however I haven’t come across any buzz for distinguishingly hilarious titles. … Alvin Ho : Allergic to Camping was funny but I do not think it is nearly as distinguished as its predecessor.  … This is really just a round a bout way of saying:  Where is the buzz for the absurdly hilarious JASPER DASH AND THE FLAME-PITS OF DELEWARE???  Come on.  Its by M.T. freakin’ Anderson, please put a medal on this book!  Like Whales on Stilts and Linoleum Lederhosen, Anderson‘s newest title made me laugh out loud like few novels ever have.  … Are there other titles that might or should at least be part of the discussion?  Is humor simply to subjective or personal to be agreed on by a committee?"

In looking for titles to include in our annual Mock Newbery Discussion, I’m always looking for titles that:
…I think have distinguished writing. I use the blog posts to try to develop my comments about them, to see if I can actually defend my position and persuade people, as I would have to do on the committee.  It’s akin to writing the justification statements that the Newbery Committee sends to each other along with their nominated titles.  How does the book actually speak to the criteria?  Am I excited about this book because of personal taste or agenda?  That’s something that everyone brings to their own reading. But can I separate that from the quality of the writing as called out for in the Newbery criteria?  I depend on other people’s insights, such as Jane’s questions about accuracy in the Stone. It’s part of the process the committee goes through with each and every title they look at.  (I think a whole different post about judging accuracy in nonfiction on award committees is due…). 

…will broaden the discussion.  One of the hardest things on the actual committee is the "Apples to Oranges" discussion…  how DO you judge what is the most distinguished between books like, for instance, Criss Cross, Hitler Youth, and Show Way?  I think the Mock discussion is always richer with a variety of genres on it, and I’ll sometimes include a title or two that I personally think are weaker, just because they represent an under-represented genre.

This year, amazingly, there is no dearth of discussable nonfiction.  However: I’ve yet to come across the distinguished Funny, Fantasy, Poetry, or Younger Reader types of books I’m always looking for. If I were on the committee myself this year, I’d be throwing myself into an exhaustive review of everything that’s out there.  But that kind of work takes over your life. (Newbery Committee members rarely come up for air at this point in the year.)  

Since I’m not on the committee, I’m relying on you all to suggest titles that you think are strong.  When you suggest them, please take a look at the criteria, and try to give a 50-100 word justification of WHY you think this book meets the criteria.  Here are some titles people have suggested that Jonathan and I have still not addressed:

Alvin Ho and Jasper Dash.  Eric, I’m with you on Alvin Ho.  And last time I tried a Jasper Dash book on this blog, it fell totally flat in discussion.  "Funny" IS very tricky with the committee. With any title, you have to convince a large portion of the committee that the book is distinguished. And if people don’t "get" the humor…it’s just that much harder.  I’d be desperately happy to get a truly Funny book on the Newbery podium…but, that’s my agenda.

Any Which Wall was mentioned recently…but the reviews don’t compel me to pursue it as a Newbery contender. Anyone who read this want to champion it using the Newbery criteria?

Shadowed Summer, Tropical Secrets, When the Mountains Reach the Sea, and Peace, Locomotion were all mentioned when I asked for titles a month ago.  Anyone want to take a crack at justifying these? 

Here’s the thing: I’m a slow reader. I just finished The Rise and Fall of Senator Joe McCarthy on the bus this morning, and intended to crack Charles and Emma by the end of the weekend, as these are hard reads for me and I need to get past my nonfiction pile and really delve into any other contenders out there as we finalize our discussion list for January 10th.   

So, imagining you were on the committee, and were nominating your three titles for October: what would they be, and why?  How can you say it, in under 100 words,  to convince me and the other thirteen people on the Mock committee?

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. KieraParrott says:

    Okay, here are two funny books from our kid’s Mock Newbery group: Neil Armstrong Is My Uncle & Other Lies Muscle Man McGinty Told Me by Nan Marino and The Mostly True Adventures of Homer P. Figg by Rodman Philbrick. Both feature strong, well-developed characters with a unique voice. Okay, yes, both are historical fiction (former is set in 1969, the latter during the Civil War)- but also FUNNY! And okay, yes, they have poignant, quiet moments, too. But FUNNY!

  2. Jonathan Hunt says:

    You have to play with the hand you’re dealt. Last year was an incredible year for fantasy with GRAVEYARD BOOK, THE UNDERNEATH, and SAVVY representing the genre, to say nothing of the unrecognized HUNGER GAMES. This year the strength seems to be in the nonfiction and, to a lesser degree, in the historical fiction.

    That’s not to say that we shouldn’t seek out other types of books, especially those that seem underrecognized. I’ve mentioned that I want to discuss fantasy and poetry, but I keep getting sidetracked by the twists and turns in the discussion here.

  3. MarjorieLight says:

    This year the two novels my students will read are WHEN YOU REACH ME by Rebecca Stead and THE BRILLIANT FALL OF GIANNA Z by Kate Messner. Both mid-grade novels feature strong writing, well-rounded main characters, pertinent themes, and deft imagery. Stead’s novel is Newbery worthy because of the way she plays with time and weaves her clues.

    Messner’s novel is equally worthy as it entwines the impact of Alzheimer’s disease on a family, while the main character juggles problems at school.

    What makes these two novels go beyond the matters of the heart is the subtle humor that both authors weave into their work. Both merit your close attention.

  4. I admit I haven’t read enough of the new books this year to really discern the best, and I would probably include WHEN YOU REACH ME on a short list, but let me offer three distinguished fantasy novels:
    SILKSINGER, by Laini Taylor. This one is particularly impressively plotted, as I’ve mentioned in other comments. She weaves subplots of the secondary characters into the story and is almost as good with imaginative details as J. K. Rowling – I’m not sure how she dreamed up some of the powers her fairy clans have. Two other excellent fantasy novels are PRINCESS OF THE MIDNIGHT BALL, by Jessica Day George, and FOREST BORN, by Shannon Hale.

  5. On second thought, I do want to put in a word for ANY WHICH WALL. I was completely delighted with it. But it’s light, entertaining reading. There’s some small growth in the characters, but nothing major. So it doesn’t feel quite weighty enough to be a Newbery winner. Though I could definitely make the case that it does what it sets out to do beautifully, and it will probably make my list of favorites for the year.

    My friend Kristin Wolden Nitz talks about the four “D’s” of the Newbery winners: Death, Dysfunction, Divorce, and Drunkenness. ANY WHICH WALL doesn’t have even one of those, so no wonder it doesn’t feel weighty enough!

  6. What Kiera said. She plucked the two funny and distinguished books out of the pack perfectly.

  7. Jonathan’s almost right that we have to “pick the hand we’re dealt” regarding this award. Really: we get to deal ourselves our own hand, but from a fixed pack. This is the time of year I like to go back, look at the hold pack, and think what are the handful of titles I really want to hold in my hand to take into discussion for the award.

  8. Sigh. This whole thing about the Newbery being for depressing and/or problem novels: once again. Not backed up by the statistics.

  9. Monica Edinger says:

    I wonder if taste plays a stronger role when it comes to evaluating humor than any other genre. That is, if my funny bone isn’t tickled by something, it is unlikely that anything anyone says to me is going to change my mind. Either I find it funny from the get go or I don’t. Which is, why, I suspect there are so few award-winning humorous works.

    Here’s a non-children’s lit example. I was NOT a fan of the musical version of The Producers. I did not find it funny. In fact, I cringed at much of it. I’m the first to admit that I am sensitive to German stereotypic humor being both German and Jewish. There is an assumption that because of the latter I’d be fine with humor about the former. Not so — I am very, very German, lived there, was raised with German food etc. Yep, some Germans killed my grandfather who was also German.

    Back to children’s literature. Because of the above, I did not find the fake German in Lois Lowry’s The Willoughbys funny. I saw what she was doing, but it just made me uncomforable (as I grew up in a family that spoke a patois of German and English). And I wondered if, like The Producers,German was the one ethnic group that could still safely be parodied this way.

    I also think that parody is very tricky. I can think of many works for kids playing off stuff that kids don’t know. And if they don’t and then don’t get it, they just don’t think it is funny. That is true of Lemony Snicket (which I personally adore), the thrilling tales of M. T.Anderson (some of which I like better than others), and Lowry’s The Willoughbys.

    (I did an article years ago for Horn Book on humor, by the way — Pets and Other Fishy Books is on their website somewhere.)

  10. Monica Edinger says:

    As Wendy notes, the Newberys are not as barren of humor as is assumed. Two honors that Nina’s and my 2008 committee selected, The Wednesday Wars and Elijah of Buxton, mix humor and darkness wonderful, for example. (Although, as I noted in my previous comment, I’m sure there are those out there who find nothing funny in or or both of these books.)

  11. In the fantasy/folklore, I’m a bit surprised that I haven’t seen Where the Mountain Meets the Moon (by Grace Lin) come up in Newberry discussion. The writing is beautiful, the female lead is spunky, the dragon is downright fun… I’m not sure it could win the thing, but I do think it deserves a spot in the discussion.

  12. Personally, I loved THE DOG DAYS OF CHARLOTTE HAYES as well as Marlane Kennedy’s other book ME AND THE PUMPKIN QUEEN.

    Rich character development, worthwhile storytelling and subplots, fun language throughout . . . why does Kennedy get no love come Newbery time of year?

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