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Heavy Medal: A Mock Newbery Blog
Inside Heavy Medal

Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star

Elizabeth Bluemle has taken to occasionally posting a list of books earning multiple starred reviews from the various review journals (Booklist, Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books, Horn Book, Kirkus Reviews, Publishers Weekly, and School Library Journal).  Thus a book can earn up to six starred reviews.  Wendy wonders, in a previous comment, how the number of starred reviews correlates to Newbery success.  The answer is that . . . it depends.  Let’s take a look at the past five years and then we can talk about it.
 
2009
 
THE GRAVEYARD BOOK (four stars)
SAVVY (three stars)
AFTER TUPAC AND D FOSTER (two stars)
THE SURRENDER TREE (one star)
THE UNDERNEATH (one star)
 
2008
 
GOOD MASTERS! SWEET LADIES! (five stars)
ELIJAH OF BUXON (four stars)
THE WEDNESDAY WARS by Gary Schmidt (four stars)
FEATHERS (two stars)
 
2007
 
THE HIGHER POWER OF LUCKY (one star)
HATTIE BIG SKY (two stars)
RULES (no stars)
PENNY FROM HEAVEN (no stars)
 
2006
 
CRISS CROSS (five stars)
HITLER YOUTH (six stars)
SHOW WAY (four stars)
PRINCESS ACADEMY (two stars)
WHITTINGTON (two stars)
 
2005
 
KIRA-KIRA (two stars)
THE VOICE THAT CHALLENGED A NATION (four stars)
AL CAPONE DOES MY SHIRTS (three stars)
LIZZIE BRIGHT AND THE BUCKMINSTER BOY (three stars)
 
GOOD MASTERS! SWEET LADIES! and CRISS CROSS both earned critical praise in advance of their Newbery wins yet many people were surprised by their selection when, had they been more informed, they really shouldn’t have been.  Neither KIRA-KIRA nor THE HIGHER POWER OF LUCKY had that same critical consensus; they were genuine surprises.  THE UNDERNEATH and THE SURRENDER TREE, a pair of last year’s honor books, only had a starred review apiece, but both also won numerous prestigious awards in spite of the fact.  So starred reviews cannot always be a reliable predictor of a book’s award possibilities.  Besides what fun would it be if all the favored books won?  It’s the mix of expected books and unexpected ones that make it such fun to discuss the Newbery.  It’s only when all of the books come out of left field that we get our noses bent out of joint . . .
 
When I’m reading for an award, I keep a list of starred books like the one that Elizabeth has been compiling.  Since my strategy is to read the best available book at any given moment, I often try to first read the books at the top of this ever changing list.  I also give top priority to books suggested and nominated by other committee members and my own personal favorite authors and genres.  Do you think this strategy unfairly favors the books with the most buzz?  Not necessarily.  I never said those were the only books I read, just the ones I try to read first.  I am also constantly asking myself these kinds of questions: What is the best book that has not gotten a starred review?  What’s the best book by a small press?  What’s the best book for children published by an adult house?  What’s the best book by or about various ethnic minorities (African Americans, Latinos, American Indians, South Asians, East Asians, Arab Americans, etc.)?  What are the best books in various genres (picture book, easy reader, poetry, nonfiction)?  And so on.  There are fourteen other people on the committee and each of them have different reading strategies so we all complement one another in our diversity.
 
If we can compare starred reviews to the suggestion process of the Newbery than perhaps we can compare the best books to the nominations.  Stars and suggestions are on-the-fly assessments while best books and nominations not only allow for more reflection, they challenge you to seperate the best books from the good books.  Being the obsessive bean counter that I am, I already have compiled this year’s best books list to see where the overlap is.  When Horn Book announces their Fanfare choices next week, I’ll post my composite list here, and then update it in January when the Bulletin Blue Ribbons are announced.
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Jonathan Hunt About Jonathan Hunt

Jonathan Hunt is the County Schools Librarian at the San Diego County Office of Education. He served on the 2006 Newbery committee, and has also judged the Printz Award, the Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards, and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. You can reach him at hunt_yellow@yahoo.com

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