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Heavy Medal: A Mock Newbery Blog
Inside Heavy Medal

…and nothing but.

While Jonathan seems very certain, I’m still juggling my choices for my top three Newbery picks for the year. When I posted about Claudette Colvin and Marching for Freedom way back in September, I mentioned that I felt slightly more compelled by one than the other.  I just reread both of them yesterday (ah, Holiday furlough), and find I still feel the same, though it’s a very close call.

I found much elegance in Hoose’s crafting of a narrative that switches between the first and third person voices…it’s like a well-done documentary, where the narrator sets the stage perfectly for the protagonist’s own words.  He lays out events and comments compelling as elements that create a narrative arc and persuasive account of the Boycott from Colvin’s perspective.  I’m surprised that I haven’t heard anyone quibble about this perspective–that it lacks some of the context of the "other" side of the story (of why Colvin was "dropped")–though I wouldn’t feel such a quibble is justified.   Like Almost Astronauts,  this book strives to re-tell well known events from a less-heard perspective. And Hoose has done a superb job of it.  One thing I appreciate especially here that I don’t find in the other nonfiction books on our discussion list, is that Hoose extends his story in the source notes, giving further explanations that might be of interest to curious readers, but would otherwise have bogged down the narrative.

However, Partridge, in Marching for Freedom, does something for me that Hoose doesn’t quite achieve (except perhaps in the Browder v. Gayle courtroom scene), which is to give me that "You Are There" feeling. I find her prose just a little more lively that Hoose’s.  She also uses a lot of scene-setting language: moment by moment sensory details that aren’t often available to a nonfiction writer trying to stick to the "real" story, but which she’s able to achieve (I’m making an assumption here) through the personal interviews she did. These details, combined with song lyrics interspersed to effectively tweak the reader’s emotion at the critical moments, make me think I can feel the Movement actually moving.  I think a lot of this is due to the perspective of the people Partridge has interviewed. Often we get the stories of the figureheads of movements, but rarely of the people who, by each taking individual responsibility, create a "movement" of sufficient mass to be effective. 

One colleague mentioned to me that she found the many different voices in Marching to be confusing, and found Colvin therefore more compelling. But I’m feeling the opposite.  The many voices make it come alive, and I think will make young reader think: "I could do that." (I even covered up the photos this read through, to make sure I wasn’t being unduly swayed.)

But, I’m willing to note that I clearly respond well to plays for the reader’s emotion in nonfiction, as evidenced by my appreciation for Stone’s text as well…and that that’s not the only mark of excellence in a nonfiction text.  One of the most exciting things about the Newbery discussion is walking into it with well-prepared and reasoned arguments about each title…and a clear, but not fixed, ranking in mind.  Through the discussion, I can feel those arguments and rankings either shifting slightly into more substantiated positions, or, sometimes, standing even more firmly where they are. 

A mentor has said to me about the Newbery discussions: "Don’t keep an open mind. Go in there with a closed one."  From that, I’ve taken: Go in there prepared enough to be sure of what you think is the strongest book. But I leave the door open, because a consensus is more than one person’s decision. And that’s the truth.

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Nina Lindsay About Nina Lindsay

Nina Lindsay is the Children's Services Coordinator at the Oakland Public Library, CA. She chaired the 2008 Newbery Committee, and served on the 2004 and 1998 committees. You can reach her at ninalindsay@gmail.com

Comments

  1. Dean Schneider says:

    Excellent analysis of Marching for Freedom, Nina. I’ve been saying wherever I can that this is my favorite book of the year, and I posted early on at Heavy Medal why I think it’s so good. It and Claudette Colvin are two of my all-time favorite nonfiction works (and I read and review a lot of nonfiction), and for them both to be published this year, along with several other strong nonfiction titles, is a hopeful sign of the vitality of good nonfiction writing that’s being published. I, too, give the nod to Marching for Freedom for the same reasons you cite–the immediacy, the “you are there” feeling. And I, too, tested to be sure the text works without the gorgeous photographs, and it does; the writing is brilliant. What a stellar model of the photo-essay genre!

  2. Jonathan Hunt says:

    While I agree with everything you have said about MARCHING FOR FREEDOM, Nina, I don’t think the reflective quality of Hoose’s oral history interviews make it an inferior book. Immediacy is a wonderful quality, but I wonder if it’s a personal preference as opposed to a Newbery criterion.

  3. Dean Schneider says:

    Jonathan, wouldn’t you say that immediacy, like reflectiveness, is a quality–among many others–that is not a Newbery criterion in itself, but one that underlies most of the criteria–style, presentation of information, delineation of setting, and so forth? Immediacy is not necessarily a superior quality to reflectiveness, but it is one of the several things that makes Marching for Freedom distinguished, that quality of making a reader feel he or she is there on the scene. It’s a reader’s judgment based on both an analysis of the book AND a personal preference for that quality in writing. There’s room for personal preference when committee members defend and promote the books they have found distinguished. And yes, you would argue out of your own literary judgments mixed with personal preferences that make certain literary qualities stand out for you.

    That would be an interesting discussion point: the role of personal preference in committee discussions. Once a few select books have risen to the top, and it’s getting close to voting time, is it purely analytical, or do individual members’ preferences for certain kinds of books play into it, as long as their arguments are rooted in the six Newbery criteria?

  4. Jonathan Hunt says:

    Dean, oh, I absolutely agree that the immediacy of MARCHING TO FREEDOM makes the book distinguished, that the immediacy is part of the style or other Newbery criteria. I was just saying that if you agree that immediacy is superior to reflectiveness, you’re making a subjective assessment rather than an objective one.

    I also like your other point. We are charged with picking the best book, not necessarily our favorite book, but that can be very difficult to do. If all things are equal (or somewhat equal) then I think we absolutely go with our personal preference. I think some judges can do this better than others. Each person handles this dilemma differently.

  5. Jeff says:

    I just finished MARCHING. And I can’t help but think that the book would have been better if there’d been, at the outset, a gallery of photographs of all the young people she mentions in the text. Pictures of them circa 1963, pictures of them now. Yes, the book was compelling, but I got lost in the names, particularly when such names as Dr. King, Ralph Abernathy, John Lewis, George Wallace, etc., are so well know.

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