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Heavy Medal: A Mock Newbery Blog
Inside Heavy Medal

Once Upon a Twice

I continue to look for picture book and easy reader texts that are worthy of Newbery consideration.  While reading through the Kirkus Best Children’s Books, I came across the following description. 
In the inspired silly style of Lewis Carroll and Edward Lear, first-time author Denise Doyen teams up with award-winning illustrator Barry Moser to unveil the delightful cautionary tale of a wayward mouse who dawdles in the moonlight and almost doesn’t live to warn others of his folly.  Told in tightly rhymed verse peppered with wonderfully inventive words like riskarascal, scoutaprowl, qui-etiquette and set alongside Moser’s lush watercolor renderings of the nocturnal mouseling world, Doyen’s frisky nonsense poem begs for numerous rereadings.
Naturally, I sought out a copy and have been reading and reflecting on its Newbery potential.  It does take a couple readings to find a natural storytelling voice that maximizes the rhythms and cadences of the text, but then it quickly becomes infectious. 
Once upon a twice,
In the middle of the nice,
The moon was on the rice
And the Mice were scoutaprowl . . .
They runtunnel though the riddle–
Secret ruts hid inbetwiddle–
But one mousling jams the middle!
Whilst he goofiddles, others howl:
"Who’s the holdup?  What’s the matter?"
Night’s qui-etiquette is shattered!
Eldermice race toward the chatter;
Scattered line, slowed to a crawl.
What do they find?
A riskarascal in repose,
A mouse who stopped–to smell a rose.
"You there!  Jam Boy!"–now he knows
His name, bestowed in front of all.
"You brought our scamper to a drag!
Dropped preycautions, raised a flag!
Jam shrugs, he laughs, mouse-scallywag,
Brags, "I’m not a-scared of anything." 
But he should be scared.  He should be very, very scared . . .
Thanks to Random House for permission to reprint the first five stanzas of the twenty-four stanza poem.
While you’re waiting to pick up a copy at your local bookstore or library so that you can chime in, you can take a peek here at several recitings of the entire poem.

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. Jonathan Hunt says:

    I’ll add that I’ve read a couple dozen picture books and easy readers, including 14 COWS FOR AMERICA and JEREMY DRAWS A DRAGON which were mentioned in previous threads. If anybody has any more suggestions, I’m open . . .

  2. I absolutely LOVED this book. I read it the minute I saw it on my desk and have plans for a future storytime. The words are so evocative and lyrical. Newbery, though? It should win for something, I just don’t know what.

  3. Jonathan, what did you think of 14 COWS and JEREMY?

  4. The language and structure of ‘Once Upon a Twice’ are certainly distinguished. Fantastic wordplay. And you are right about it being infectious; the link to some of those very young reciters shows they are not only enjoying the misadventure (he should be scared!) but know each verse by heart.

    I read it through a couple times this morning and a few stanzas are already stuck in my head, which for me is the trademark of a lasting read-aloud. So, ‘Once’ does seem to have the chops to become a classic.


    Jonathan, explain again why/how an easy reader — or picture book in this case –meets Newbery criteria. Do you really think any short form could actually challenge “the winning novel” expectations we all (including the committee) have?

  5. Jonathan Hunt says:

    1. LR, I liked both books, but not in a Newbery sort of way. With such a short text, the stylistic quality of the language has to be out-of-this-world because plot, character, and setting will not be as sophisticated. Normally, I might say that 14 COWS has a Sibert shot, but I’ve read a dozen excellent nonfiction picture books recently, namely JOHN BROWN, BAD NEWS FOR OUTLAWS, YOU NEVER HEARD OF SANDY KOUFAX?, REDWOODS, THE DAY-GLO BROTHERS, and THE FANTASTIC UNDERSEA LIFE OF JACQUES COSTEAU, to name just a few. When we say the nonfiction is deep, it’s no exaggeration!

    2. LM, I don’t know that a picture book text could take the Medal–it would have to be pretty special–but I do think excellent picture book texts can be named Honor books with greater regularity than once in a lifetime. It requires a committee with an open mind, one that is willing to evaluate a picture book text on its own merits. We’ll certainly be having that conversation at Nina’s Newbery with THE DUNDERHEADS. I’ll be sure to report back on how the discussion goes.

  6. Jabberwocky has always been my favorite nonsense poem. Once Upon a Twice echos that poem’s style of sensical nonsense — yet holds its own. It is very beautiful and skilled writing.

    Red Sings from the Treetops has lovely, evocative language as well; but perhaps it is not quite as complete a whole.

    Dunderheads has humor, heart, clever character development and plotting.

    An Honor nod for any of the above feats (or for other picture books of real note)seems defensible to me.

  7. We included Once Upon A Twice in our Children’s Department’s list for the Best Books of 2009. It’s a stunning and original package that has appeal to a wide age range. I’ve booktalked it successfully to both kids and adults. I hadn’t considered it as a Newbery contender until this discussion but am certainly not ruling it out.

  8. Linda at MLK says:

    LOVE this book. Little tour de force. + Moser’s art = an Honorable package. Here, J? Or Caldecott? There: beautiful illus (+ great text), ‘the whole book’ argument. Here: the unusual and laudable language make a case for some kind of recognition (your inclusion suggests?) Or will it fall through the category cracks at both tables? Sort of a reverse version of the Hugo Cabret debate?

  9. Teresa Bueti says:

    We recently used “Once Upon a Twice” for a Poe-inspired storywalk, and reading these dramatic and spooky words in the woods at twilight was memorable. Ms. Doyen manages to blend suspense with humor, and rich language with her own invented words, fascinating rhythms and internal rhymes. The story is one that really grabs children’s attention, and the dark yet glowing illustrations are stunning. Newbery? Honor? Caldecott? It deserves something, that’s for sure.

  10. I agree — this book deserves some sort of accolade!! Newbery is terribly unlikely, but a Caldecott isn’t, especially considering Barry Moser’s prestigious career.

    Twice is an inventive, smart, and engaging picture book. I find myself reading this over and over and then reciting the stanzas that get stuck in my head. “Who’s the holdup? What’s the matter? Night’s qui-etiquette is shattered!”

    “Qui-etiquette” might be a new favorite word of mine.

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