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Heavy Medal: A Mock Newbery Blog
Inside Heavy Medal

Lips Touch: You Had Me at Hello

I have a new book that I am absolutely besotted with, thanks to the National Book Award judges.  It will most likely appeal to the junior high grades of 7th, 8th, and 9th, at the very top of the age range, but this excellent book will probably be my favorite Newbery eligible fiction of the year.  It’s a book of kissing stories–two novelettes and a novella–and the literary elements are very strong, namely plot and style.  I’ll give you just a taste of them . . .
There is a certain kind of girl the goblins crave.  You could walk across a high school campus and point them out: not her, not her, her.  The pert, lovely ones with butterfly tattoos in secret places, sitting on their boyfriends’ laps?  No, not them.  The girls watching the lovely ones sitting on their boyfriends’ laps?  Yes.
Kissing can ruin lives.  Lips touch, sometimes teeth clash.  New hunger is born with a throb and caution falls away.  A cursed girl with lips still moist from her first kiss might feel suddenly wild, like a little monsoon.  She might forget her curse just long enough to get careless and let it come true.  She might kill everyone she loves.
She might, and she might not.
Six days before Esme’s fourteenth birthday, her left eye turned from brown to blue.  It happened in the night.  She went to sleep with brown eyes, and when she woke at dawn to the howling of wolves, her left eye was blue.  She had just slipped out of bed when she noticed it.  She was headed to the window to look for wolves–wolves in London, of all impossible things!  But she didn’t make it to the window.  Her eye flashed at her in the mirror, pale as the wink of a ghost,  and she forgot all about the wolves and just stared at herself.
Jonathan Hunt About Jonathan Hunt

Jonathan Hunt is the Coordinator of Library Media Services at the San Diego County Office of Education. He served on the 2006 Newbery committee, and has also judged the Caldecott Medal, the Printz Award, the Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards, and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. You can reach him at


  1. I told you she’s good! Now try SILKSINGER! I would have thought LIPS TOUCH is for an older age range, but it’s at the top of my to-be-read pile. I can think of some parents who wouldn’t be thrilled to have a book about kissing win the Newbery! But they aren’t the judges….

  2. Jonathan Hunt says:

    Well, I don’t think the focus of these stories is really the kissing. If it hadn’t been titled LIPS TOUCH and if Taylor hadn’t explained the genesis of the book in her acknowledgements, I would have hard time guessing that it was the kisses that linked the stories. Rather, I think each of the stories sort of explores that territory where fantasy, romance, and horror sort of overlap.

    There have been fantasy/science fiction books with a romantic element that have been recognized by the Newbery committee, books such as THE HERO AND THE CROWN, THE BLUE SWORD, PRINCESS ACADEMY, THE PERILOUS GARD, and ENCHANTRESS FROM THE STARS. I think LIPS TOUCH fits this mold, but I’m sure some people will find it too old for the Newbery. I’d love second opinions.

  3. Monica Edinger says:

    I have read it and it does feel old somehow, almost skirting adult, in fact. Need to finish it and think more just why.

  4. Jonathan Hunt says:

    Monica, do you think it’s the short story format? Kids don’t really go for them, generally speaking, of course . . .

  5. joanna nigrelli says:

    Indeed a wonderful collection of stories that I am very pleased to see get attention from the NBA. I thought the age range for interest would be high school. I don’t have my copy with me, but I’m recalling Goblin Fruit as being especially sensual with Kizzy fervently desiring to be loved, touched, and kissed. Also, Hatchling has such a strong maternal theme-pregnancy, birth, motherhood. That didn’t strike me as jr high interest.

  6. Jennifer Hubert Swan says:

    Jonathan, I just read it last weekend and loved it too, tho found the last story a bit long. Will let you know about middle school interest, several of my 7th graders who loved the Great and Terrible Beauty trilogy are reading it in anticipation of meeting the author at the National Book Award panel on the 17th.

  7. Monica Edinger says:

    Having read the first and the last I have to wonder about what Joanna said above — all that yearning, children, birth, looking back, etc.

    To me this sort of book is the hardest one to consider for Newbery. Yes, there will be almost-15 year olds to whom it will appeal, but is it truly for them or more for kids a bit older? How do you decide this? If Jen tells a few of her avid readers loved it does that convince? They might also love Gaiman’s Neverwhere.

  8. Monica Edinger says:

    Let me write my question a bit more clearly:

    If Jen tells us that a few of her avid readers loved it does that convince? They might also love Gaiman’s Neverwhere. How DO we decide about a book that has themes and imagery that seem more likely to appeal to older children? I definitely struggled with this the year I was on the committee and I’m sure people do every year.

  9. Jonathan Hunt says:

    I passed this off to a sixth grade girl to read, but I had several students, both boys and girls, that were interested in it. Of course, at my school fifth and sixth graders read Stephenie Meyer . . .

    The Newbery manual explicitly says that you can recognize a book that will more likely appeal to older children.

  10. Monica Edinger says:

    Meaning recognizing a book that would more likely appeal to older children rules it out for Newbery?

    And, yeah, I’ve had 4th graders reading Myers. That is my point — just cause they read and like it doesn’t mean it is FOR them, Newbery-wise.

  11. Monica Edinger says:

    Ah, reread your comment and now get it. But by “older readers” we are talking those up to age 15. And this book seems to be more appealing, themewise, for kids older than that. At least so I’m thinking, but maybe not. And I still need to read the second story so this is more based on the novella (which is gorgeous, btw) than anything else.

  12. Jonathan Hunt says:

    If we think the range for LIPS TOUCH is ages 12-18 and we think it is an excellent book for only some 12-, 13-, and 14-year-olds, then the revised Newbery manuals states that it can be selected, even though it appears to be a more comfortable fit in the Printz field. Look at the appendix in the back of the manual that has now been added to clarify the selection of these kinds of titles.

  13. But that brings it back to a question I asked a while ago that I don’t think has been fully answered/explored. Are there ANY books that won’t appeal to some fourteen-year-olds? Doesn’t that make basically every book published eligible for the Newbery (as far as age restrictions? After all, there are fourteen-year-olds reading Michener and Tolstoy and Jacqueline Susann and Shakespeare.

  14. Jonathan Hunt says:

    Yep, there is probably not a text in existence that has not been read and enjoyed by a fourteen-year-old somewhere. I think the upper age range of the Newbery is not defined so much by de jure standards as it is by de facto ones.

    Just because some fourteen-year-old somewhere read LIPS TOUCH or CHARLES AND EMMA and just because committee members might agree that these have literary excellence doesn’t necessarily mean that they are willing to hand it Newbery recognition. Committee members will probably have wildly diverse opinions on this, which will make it hard to build consensus around these titles unless they are truly excellent and distinguished, but even then it might not be enough.

    Of course, the opposite interpretation is equally problematic, that is, the committee member who reads “up to and including fourteen” and assumes that only means young, childlike fourteen-year-olds, the ones who still suck their thumbs and play with dolls.

  15. No fourteen year old is fully and only “childlike” or “young adult.” The Newbery criteria define “children” as “persons up to and including age fourteen”…but can’t we look at that word “children” for a minute?

    Because a truly literally consideration of the criteria would get us to Wendy’s conumdrum (that we’d have to consider every single book published)…can’t we look at the criteria as asking us to find a distinguished book that shows an “appreciation” for the “child audience” in that upper age range? That is…

    …consider the competing dynamics in the brain of a thirteen or fourteen year old. What in them is still a thumb-sucker, or, better, still the person-COMING-of-age…and what in them is the COME-of-age, jaded, adult. Can’t we ask that the Newbery speak to the COMING, not COME of age audience within each potential individual thirteen/fourteen year old reader? I think that every cross-over title that has been honored (Criss Cross, Carver, Hope Was Here) speaks to that.

  16. Jonathan Hunt says:

    One sixth grade girl finished it and gave it high marks. She liked the first story the best, and thought the second was the most confusing.

    A second sixth grade girl has nearly finished it. She thinks it is pretty scary, but in a good way. She ranks it as one of her favorites of the year with WHEN YOU REACH ME.

  17. Laurie (Six Boxes of Books) says:

    Thank you for your post that compelled me to read this stunning, simply stunning book.

    What strikes me as most “mature” is the third, longest story, “Hatchling,” which has many terrifying moments. In particular, the two young humans being invaded by the Druj, and their bodies used, is horrifying. That said, I am pleased to have Lips Touch in my middle school library and could defend it for the 12-14 top range of the Newbery.

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