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Heavy Medal: A Mock Newbery Blog
Inside Heavy Medal

Newbery Hodgepodge

I’ve had sporadic internet access this past week while traveling during the holidays, which has been unfortunate as there have been many interesting dicussions.  This post collects my response to some of them; I hope to chime in on more of them when I return home this weekend.

UNDER THE RADAR

We’re running out of time to lobby for individual books.  When I mentioned HEART OF A SHEPHERD recently, one commenter inquired about ALL THE BROKEN PIECES, a book which I liked as much as any of the darkhorse contenders.  I would find myself hard pressed to vote for it, however, over many of the other titles we’ve discussed here.

What other books do you feel are in danger of slipping under the radar?  Here’s a couple more from me: SECRET SUBWAY by Martin Sandler (maybe not quite as good as the holy trinity–CHARLES AND EMMA, CLAUDETTE COLVIN, and MARCHING FOR FREEDOM–but as good as any of the other nonfiction published this past year) and THE CHOSEN ONE by Carol Lynch Williams (think: LIVING DEAD GIRL by Elizabeth Scott meets ARMAGEDDON SUMMER by Bruce Coville and Jane Yolen meets MEMOIRS OF A BOOKBAT by Kathryn Lasky-probably too old for Newbery, but also feels too young for Printz).

REVISITING 2007

What I liked so much about Billy’s comments under Robbed! is that they reveal how the winners are always a mixed bag, even for committee members: there’s a couple you love (THE HIGHER POWER OF LUCKY and PENNY FROM HEAVEN), a couple you are underwhelmed by (RULES and HATTIE BIG SKY), several that you think should have made the cut (THE MIRACULOUS JOURNEY OF EDWARD TULANE, A TRUE AND FAITHFUL NARRATIVE, and A DROWNED MAIDEN’S HAIR), and some that others lament that you never embraced (THE KING OF ATTOLIA).  If we asked the other members of the 2007 Newbery committee we would get fourteen different responses.

Now I personally was in THE KING OF ATTOLIA camp, while I found THE HIGHER POWER OF LUCKY completely underwhelming, but then I am not generally a fan of these kinds of books.  IDA B and EACH LITTLE BIRD THAT SINGS were likewise mentioned in the Robbed! comments and all three have an exceedingly twee sensibility for me.  But, coming off the Newbery committee and going onto the Printz committee the following year, I did not read many of the books that people would have liked the Newbery committee to recognize, namely ALABAMA MOON, A TRUE AND FAITHFUL NARRATIVE, THE GREEN GLASS SEA, and A DROWNED MAIDEN’S HAIR.  It’s interesting to note that the Notables committee did not recognize any of these either (so either these books aren’t as good as we think they are–or both committees dropped the ball).  Looking through the 2007 Notables list, I find CLEMENTINE, YEAR OF THE DOG, and, most distressingly, several worthy nonfiction books, namely FREEDOM WALKERS, FREEDOM RIDERS, TEAM MOON, and ESCAPE!

My current take on the 2007 crop is that they are a collection of very idiosyncratic books.  Since every committee has a surprise or two–something that is the unique product of those fifteen people–we could hardly fault the committee for recognizing any of their books.  What I think irritates people (more than the omissions, perhaps) is that they are all idiosyncratic picks  None of them were validated very much by other awards, committees, review journals, etc. 

Monica mentioned that she respects the decision of this committee.  I prefer to use the word understand rather respect.  I understand that fifteen dedicated people read widely, reread, thought deeply, rethought, discussed, voted with a weighted ballot, and came up with these books.  I understand that this process always results in disgruntlement and misunderstanding from the outside, both about the books that were recognized–and those that weren’t.

CHANGING MY MIND

In the comments to The Truth, Leslie asked if I really go in with my mind made up or if I am open to being persuaded one way or another by the discussion.  The answer, of course, is both.  I read, reread, read reviews, read listservs, discuss with colleagues, discuss with children, and carefully consider the suggestions and nominations from committee members so I have a pretty good idea going into the discussions about how I would rank the books.  I don’t emotionally invest in any one book because it can be devastating if it doesn’t get selected.  It can also be devastating if you loathe some of the books, especially the Medal.  It takes a thick skin and a tough stomach to serve on this committee, let me tell you.

On the other hand, I am open to allowing the discussion and the voting process to guide my votes.  So, yes, discussion can change things dramatically.  Another thing that changes things dramatically is rereading.  Books that seemed confusing and/or uninspiring on a first read can change on the second reading, especially if the book isn’t your particular cup of tea.  Books that seemed delightful on the first read often fail to provide the same pleasures and insights on subsequent reads.

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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

Comments

  1. Nina says:

    RE UNDER THE RADAR…I just finished a debut novel I have heard absolutely nothing about: THE BOOK OF THE MAIDSERVANT by Rebecca Barnhouse. Medeival pilgrimage. Wonderful historical fiction. When I read the reviews I’m surprised no one else has talked about this. (A colleague at our local review group, BayViews, called it to our attention). I wouldn’t quite rise to my top picks at this point, but I’m still flabbergasted I’ve not heard it mentioned yet. Read it!

  2. Dean Schneider says:

    I just lost a half-hour’s worth of writing that wouldn’t send, so I’ll try again, but more briefly. I reviewed THE BOOK OF THE MAIDSERVANT for BookPage which you can find at the BookPage site. I especially liked the voice of Johanna, the narrator, and the sensory details of the journey across the Alps and the markets of Venice. This is a fine novel that fell under my own radar, and it’s the kind of book that Newbery committees have traditionally liked–good historical fiction for the intermediate audience.

    Last year at this time, I was going to add to the Heavy Medal discussion with how much I liked Margarita Engle’s The Surrender Tree, but I didn’t get around to it, and it went on and won a Newbery Honor. So now I’ll say how much I liked TROPICAL SECRETS; HOLOCAUST REFUGEES IN CUBA. I know it had mixed reactions here, but I liked it a lot–definitely on my longer list of favorites this year. Look for Engle’s forthcoming THE FIREFLY LETTERS, too (March). I’m a big fan of novels in verse when done well, and Engle is an expert practitioner.

  3. Wendy says:

    The Green Glass Sea is DEFINITELY as good as people say it is, and it did win the Scott O’Dell that year. Its omission from the Notables is strange, indeed.

    Nina, I’ve had Book of the Maidservant in my TBR pile since ALA, where I picked it up eagerly after hearing about it at the Random House presentation… it keeps getting shoved down in favor of books that are getting more buzz–the books I feel like I have to read to know what’s going on. I think that’s a pretty interesting commentary on how buzz begets buzz, because I bet other bloggers do the same.

    I still think Shadowed Summer is award-worthy, but am still not sure whether I would want it in with the Newberys or the Printzes.

    And I fear that Moonshot, although it’s being discussed, is being tossed aside in favor of weightier non-fiction.

  4. Monica Edinger says:

    I guess we are now coming out of the woodwork, so to speak. I reviewed THE BOOK OF THE MAIDSERVANT for Horn Book and thought it was terrific. As I noted, it isn’t easy to create a non-anachronistic feisty medieval heroine, but Barnhouse pulled it off beautifully.

  5. Anon. says:

    Here’s a question a bit off topic:

    The Pritz Award criteria says the age range for its award is 12-18.
    It seems that those nominations are at large.

    Is there an age range specifically designated for Newbery in the rules?
    I did a cursory scan of the criteria and didn’t see anything mentioned.
    If Printz starts at 12 does Newbery necessarily stop at 12?
    The nominations for Newbery are submitted by the publishers…right?

    I guess what I’m driving at is–what happens to borderline books? Maybe those in the 11 thru 13or14 year range? Is there any back and forth between the committees in regards to contenders that my win or at least place in both awards.

    Has there ever been a battle to lay claim a borderline book?

    Where does Hunger Games or Graceling fall. Amazon says they’re both Young Adult.

    What books (if any) have arguably been on the borderline?

  6. Jonathan Hunt says:

    Newbery is from 0-14, Printz is from 12-18. Newbery committee members determine whether the book is for their audience. Publishers have to designate their book for at least part of the 12-18 age range in order for the Printz committee to recognize it. The two committees work independently of each other. Two books have been recognized by both committees–THE HOUSE OF THE SCORPION and LIZZIE BRIGHT AND THE BUCKMINSTER BOY both received Newbery and Printz honors.

  7. faith says:

    Jonathan, How do you weight the first reading against subsequent readings given that the audience is likely to only read the book once? If it takes eight reading to fully understand a book and then you go–omigosh, best books ever–how do you know if that is a feature or a bug?

  8. Jonathan Hunt says:

    I think this is an excellent question, Faith. And a corollary one is this: How do you know you are giving an award for the most distinguished reading experience as opposed to the most distinguished *discussion* experience. I think you have to be really vigilant on both counts.

    I think if you don’t have a good handle on the book by the second read, then any great a-ha! moments gleaned from subsequent readings probably mean the reader is reaching.

    Ideally, I like to read a book, then if I think it’s a contender, I’ll read it straightaway a second time, and then again late in the year to keep the book fresh in my mind. Some books I read and don’t suspect them as being award potential, but they sort of grow on you and linger in your mind.

    I think we’ve all had the experience of putting a book down and coming back to it a week or a month later only to be completely enchanted by it. So sometimes it’s just a timing thing. Good book, bad timing.

    Other times, a particular book or genre really isn’t your cup of tea. Good book, bad reader. Often it takes some discussion and a second read to break through to the brilliance of a book.

  9. Nina says:

    I’ll just add to Jonathan’s last point in response to Faith, that it takes me multiple readings to really figure out WHY I react to a book in a certain way on first read. For instance, WHEN YOU REACH ME had me at “hello,” but why? Is it just because of taste, or has the author done something truly remarkable? After a fourth read, I think I have a pretty good grip on the answer (it’s “both,” of course). Similarly, if I don’t think a book is distinguished on first read, couldn’t that be because I’m missing something? That has been the case with me on several honorees that I’ve ended up supporting heartily, even if they didn’t grip me on the first go. It DOES take someone else’s initial enthusiasm to make me go into multiple readings with an open mind.

  10. Jonathan Hunt says:

    Under the Radar

    Looking through some of the BCCB Blue Ribbons and Cybils finalists . . . Has anyone read HOW OLIVER OLSON CHANGED THE WORLD, OPERATION YES, or ANYTHING BUT TYPICAL? Thoughts?

    Is anyone surprised that WHEN YOU REACH ME and THE EVOLUTION OF CALPURNIA TATE were both shut out of the middle grade category? A harbinger of things to come?

  11. Wendy says:

    Yes, I was shocked by the omission of When You Reach Me (not necessarily by Calpurnia–mildly surprised, at most) and frankly can’t understand it. I wonder if it was disserviced by being in the science fiction/fantasy category–it’s a great novel, but maybe the judges didn’t think it was a great SF/F novel.

    Anyway, Cybils, like starred reviews, have different criteria, and I don’t think they correlate much with what wins the ALA awards.

    (Marcelo, certainly a Printz frontrunner, wasn’t recognized in its category either.)

  12. Jonathan Hunt says:

    . . . And CHARLES AND EMMA got screwed in favor of that six-word memoir book. Whatever.

    We keep saying that starred reviews (or best of the year lists) have different criteria . . . but do they? The Newbery committee values plot, character, setting, theme, and style. Don’t you think editors and reviewers generally value those same things?

    I think the bigger difference is that the review journals don’t have fifteen people trying to make every single decision via a weighted ballot process. So I think the process is a bigger difference than the criteria.

  13. Wendy says:

    I think they value the same things, sure, but they’re also looking at things like popularity or perceived popularity and can consider things like didactic intent. Maybe you’re so immersed in the Newbery criteria, and have been familiar with them for so long, that you don’t realize how odd they seem to the public and even non-Newbery book/publishing people? There’s a reason you have to keep asking people to go back to the criteria, and it’s because most people don’t naturally think about and respond to books in those terms.

    The example I always use is Little Brother, which I think got at least three starred reviews last year, but is also one of the worst books I read last year as far as style goes. (Probably the worst, actually.) Presumably it got its stars for being exciting and relevant and different and something teens would go for, which is fine. But those aren’t the Printz criteria. The Hunger Games was well deserving of its starred reviews and its Battle of the Books win, but as far as last year’s Newbery committee was concerned, was not more distinguished than some other books that got fewer starred reviews.

  14. marjorie says:

    Tropical Secrets was my best Jewish book of the year in my roundup for Tablet magazine. I didn’t much like the title (colorless AND vaguely porny!) OR the cover (such cliched immigration imagery! our art director said it looked like every Jewish children’s book she’d been forced to read in her own youth!), but dang, what was between the pages was terrific. lyrical, quirky, informative, powerful.

  15. susanb says:

    Totally off the radar, and possibly out of the question :-) , but will add The Georges and the Jewels by Jane Smiley. It’s been a long, long, looooong time since a horse book has made the Newbery cut, but Smiley is a Pulitzer winner, and I’d be surprised if they hadn’t at least read it.

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