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

Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire

No, this post is not about Albert Marrin‘s YEARS OF DUST or accuracy in nonfiction.  It’s about fantasy fiction, broadly defined, so maybe the headline should read LIAR, FIRE, CATCHING FIRE.  
As excellent as LIAR by Justine Larbaelstier and FIRE by Kristin Cashore may be, however, both are too old for the Newbery.  HEROES OF THE VALLEY by Jonathan Stroud and THE LOST CONSPIRACY by Frances Hardinge, another pair of excellent titles, are juvenile enough but have British authors, thereby knocking them out of contention.
I just finished reading WHERE THE MOUNTAIN MEETS THE MOON.  It reminds me of a pair of honor books from my year on the Newbery committee: PRINCESS ACADEMY and WHITTINGTON.  PRINCESS ACADEMY because it evokes that same folk fantasy quality and WHITTINGTON because of the incorporation of folktales into the main narrative.
While I enjoyed WHERE THE MOUNTAIN MEETS THE MOON, and think it will make a fine discussion book, I don’t find it as excellent as LIPS TOUCH or CATCHING FIRE.  Of course, both of those are best by age issues (and the latter is also beset by quality and sequel issues), whereas this one is squarely a middle grade novel and, thus, may actually stand a better chance of having consensus built around it.
Fantasy and science fiction are my favorite genres (along with nonfiction) so I have a vested interest in seeing the Newbery committee recognize them, especially when so many of my students also crave these books.  I was extremely pleased to see not one, not two, but three such titles recognized last year (THE GRAVEYARD BOOK, SAVVY, and THE UNDERNEATH), but this Newbery committee will be hard pressed to duplicate that wonderful feat.  You might think from reading this blog that WHEN YOU REACH ME, LIPS TOUCH, CATCHING FIRE, and WHERE THE MOUNTAIN MEETS THE MOON are the only worthy titles, but there are more worth considering.
LEVIATHAN by Scott Westerfeld . . . This has four starred reviews and has already made the SLJ and Kirkus Best Books lists.  This skews younger than his previous books, but I think the long set-up and the abrupt ending make it feel like part of an overall narrative arc rather than a satisfying standalone read.
THE MAGICIAN’S ELEPHANT by Kate DiCamillo . . .  Big name author, zero Newbery buzz.  Not a promising combination.  Odd, quirky little book, isn’t it?  
THE LAST OLYMPIAN by Rick Riordan . . . The finale of the Percy Jackson series has two starred reviews and is a NYT Notable Book for Children.  Lloyd Alexander won the Newbery Medal for the fifth book in the Prydain Chronicles, but Riordan will be hard pressed to duplicate that feat.
THE ISLANDS OF THE BLESSED by Nancy Farmer . . . The final book in the trilogy that also includes THE SEA OF TROLLS and THE LAND OF THE SILVER APPLES.  The first book got its fair share of Newbery buzz, but this seems unlikely.  
THE ASK AND THE ANSWER by Patrick Ness . . . This one has two starred reviews and made the PW Best Books list.  Its the sequel to THE KNIFE OF NEVER LETTING GO.  This is probably too intense for the Newbery committee to feel comfortable with recommending it to a juvenile audience.  Moreover, despite the fact that Ness is American, the editorial side of this book originated in the UK, almost certainly making the book ineligible on that front.
SACRED SCARS by Kathleen Duey . . . SKIN HUNGER was a National Book Award finalist, but this second volume skews even older, weighs in at 500+ pages, and remains the middle part of a single narrative arc.  Unlikely.

FOREST BORN by Shannon Hale . . . This is a reunion novel of sorts for Bayern fans, but it seems unlikely to attract readers unfamiliar with the three previous novels in the series.  You can make solid arguments for this one, but the biggest obstacle remains building consensus around it.   
SILKSINGER by Laini Taylor . . . You can likewise make a solid case for this one, but again the biggest problem is convincing a handful of people that this is the book to vote for.    

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. Hm, there IS Newbey buzz about Magician’s Elephant on the Goodreads Newbery 2010 predictions list however. I am STILL cogitating on this one. Interesting review last weekend in the NYTimes.

  2. Jonathan Hunt says:

    Just checked Goodreads and while THE MAGICIAN’S ELEPHANT *is* fourth, there is a significant gap between the first three–WHEN YOU REACH ME, CATCHING FIRE, and THE EVOLUTION OF CALPURNIA TATE. So probably not enough to get an Honor–even there. Would love to hear more discussion of the title here . . .

  3. Well thanks for giving me a few more interesting sounding fantasy books for my “to read” list. I’m looking forward to “Leviathan” as soon as my 12 y.o. finishes with it, especially.

  4. The Brain Lair says:

    I LOVED Leviathan and will be using it as a book club pick for my eighth graders. Loved the cover, the story, everything. I thought Magician’s Elephant didn’t have kid appeal. It almost seemed like DiCamillo was writing to adults or, possibly, a committee of adults…

    I’ve never read any of Hale’s Bayern books but enjoyed Forest Born immensely! The language was simple but effective.

  5. Goodreads being what it is (and I’m an avid and enthusiastic user), I think Magician’s Elephant being up that high is pretty significant. A book like Catching Fire (with many more readers than the others) is always going to pop up high. I think DiCamillo’s name recognition is definitely adding a lot there and to the Newbery buzz in general (I was surprised you said it wasn’t getting any, Jonathan, because I feel like I often hear it mentioned), and that might be why it’s as high as 4, but its readers still seem pretty enthusiastic proportionally.

    I liked Magician’s Elephant very much and have read some positive kid reviews, but I think it’s another book that isn’t going to make it this year but might have in another. It’s one of the archetypal “Books That Always Win the Newbery” (the other archetype is the middle-grade problem novel)–it’s a little heavy, it’s big on atmosphere, adults think adults love it and kids won’t. I don’t really think it’s off in “presentation for a child audience”–I think kids get it. But I don’t think the development of the plot line is particularly distinguished.

  6. Jonathan Hunt says:

    I have kids that like MAGICIAN’S ELEPHANT. I just haven’t heard much buzz from adults. Obviously, I haven’t been listening to the right people.

  7. I’ve been searching through tons of mock Newbery blogs online and THE MAGICIANS ELEPHANT is mentioned on nearly all of them. The only place I hadn’t heard it mentioned yet . . . was here!

  8. Jonathan Hunt says:

    Well, MAGICIAN’S ELEPHANT never got its own post, but I did mention it way back in September in “The Ghosts of Newberys Past.”

  9. I agree that the Magician’s Elephant skews more adult. It had more of a feel of The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane than of Despereaux. I had a picky ten year old pick it up and read it almost in one sitting, though.

  10. Laurie (Six Boxes of Books) says:

    I cannot see placing Lips Touch among the Newbery contenders, but describing Fire as “too old for the Newbery.” I’ve read (and liked very much) both, and think they are intended/”appropriate” for the same age group (probably “too old for the Newbery,” though one could argue for the higher end of the Newbery spectrum if one wished).

  11. Jonathan Hunt says:

    I personally don’t think FIRE is too old for the Newbery (a middle school colleague assures me that it has a huge middle school audience; I’m hardly surprised), but I do think the gatekeepers think that it is too old for the Newbery. It would be very difficult to push it through the consensus process. I think LIPS TOUCH will be similarly difficult. With a different, title, cover, and illustrations I do think it would feel younger to many people–and that would help, but it would still be difficult, I think.

Speak Your Mind