Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire
December 9, 2009 By 11 Comments
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. It‘s 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.