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Heavy Medal: A Mock Newbery Blog
Inside Heavy Medal

The Cream of the Crop

The Bulletin Blue Ribbons have been announced.  Adding them to the mix, here is the top half of the composite best books list (Booklist, Bulletin, Horn Book, Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, and School Library Journal).

SIX LISTS

CLAUDETTE COLVIN by Phillip Hoose
THE LION & THE MOUSE by Jerry Pinkney 

FIVE LISTS

ALL THE WORLD by Liz Garton Scanlon, illustrated by Marla Frazee

CHARLES AND EMMA  by Deborah Heiligman
THE EVOLUTION OF CALPURNIA TATE by Jacqueline Kelly

MARCELO IN THE REAL WORLD  by Francisco X. Stork 

MARCHING FOR FREEDOM by Elizabeth Partridge

MOONSHOT by Brian Floca

WHEN YOU REACH ME by Rebecca Stead
  
FOUR LISTS
 
HIGHER! HIGHER!  by Leslie Patricelli
TALES FROM OUTER SUBURBIA by Shaun Tan

TRUCE by Jim Murphy 

FIRE by Kristin Cashore
WINTERGIRLS by Laurie Halse Anderson

So . . . Based on this, I present the 2009 Review Journal Mock ALA Awards!

Caldecott Medal: THE LION & THE MOUSE

Caldecott Honor: ALL THE WORLD
Caldecott Honor: HIGHER! HIGHER!
Caldecott Honor: MOONSHOT

Newbery Medal: CLAUDETTE COLVIN

Newbery Honor: THE EVOLUTION OF CALPURNIA TATE
Newbery Honor: MARCHING FOR FREEDOM
Newbery Honor: TRUCE
Newbery Honor: WHEN YOU REACH ME

Printz Award: CHARLES AND EMMA or MARCELO IN THE REAL WORLD

Printz Honor: CHARLES AND EMMA or MARCELO IN THE REAL WORLD
Printz Honor: FIRE
Printz Honor: TALES FROM OUTER SUBURBIA
Printz Honor: WINTERGIRLS

All those in favor say, "Aye!"

Aye!  Aye!  Aye!  Aye!  Aye, a hundred thousand times over!

 
share save 171 16 The Cream of the Crop
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. Dean Schneider says:

    Thanks, Jonathan. That’s a great service to have it compiled liked this. I just printed it off to have close at hand.

    But we should reiterate that committees don’t actually operate this way; they don’t simply tally things up like this. Committee members keep track of reviews, blogs, etc., to inform themselves, but they base their decisions on wide and deep reading, and they hash things out over many hours of deliberation. Then their votes are private. Important to understand for those curious about how the award decisions are actually made.

  2. Wendy says:

    I would move Moonshot over to the Newbery Honor… or maybe have it on both lists.

  3. Jonathan Hunt says:

    1. Dean, point well taken. And as I’ve said before, the committee need not pick all of these books, but I think it’s in their best interest to select some of them. Otherwise, I think they lose credibility.

    2. Wendy, MOONSHOT could be a Newbery Honor and CLAUDETTE COLVIN could be a Printz Award or Honor. Obviously, I just stereotyped them a little bit.

  4. Sondy says:

    Wouldn’t it be easy if the awards were done this way? But not NEARLY so interesting!

  5. Wendy says:

    Well, what would make the committee lose credibility with me is if I thought they were choosing multi-starred books on purpose so they wouldn’t lose credibility. After all, stars are awarded for different criteria in a different way. And why shouldn’t it be the other way around… a review publication losing credibility because it failed to “star” whatever wins each award? Because that wouldn’t make any more sense than the reverse.

  6. Anon. says:

    Geeeeez……

    Well…it’s déjà vu all over again in Newberyland…and now it seems the plague is spreading over to the Printz.
    What’s happened to all the exciting books? Where the heck are they?

    Let’s go through Jonathan’s contenders for this year:
    - Not one, but two civil-rights books.
    - A book about anorexia.
    - A book about Asperger’s.
    - A quiet nature book.
    - A WWI nonfiction picture book.
    - A quiet time-travel book.
    - A quiet book about Charles and Emma Darwin.
    - A quiet, quirky picture book that takes a page right out of the “School of Existentialism”(God I hated reading that existential stuff!)

    - What about “Fire”?
    OK…I guess that’s the sole exception.

    So–what am I waiting for…Godot?
    No, I’m waiting for some exciting books…written with distinction!
    “AAAAHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!”

  7. Wendy says:

    So what books WOULD you choose from this year, anon, that fit your “exciting books…written with distinction” criteria?

    I don’t think I’m alone in saying that I think Moonshot, Truce, and yes, When You Reach Me are “exciting”.

  8. Kris says:

    Just wondering if Jonathan’s considered doing a test with a previous year to see how the winners compared to the books receiving starred reviews. Take 2009, for instance–how did that year pan out–or another way to say it–how did the reviewers do? Wondering if The Graveyard Book, for example, received 4/5/6 starred reviews?

  9. Kris says:

    Just wondering if Jonathan’s considered doing a test with a previous year to see how the winners compared to the books receiving starred reviews. Take 2009, for instance–how did that year pan out–or another way to say it–how did the reviewers do? Wondering if The Graveyard Book, for example, received 4/5/6 starred reviews?

  10. Nina says:

    NAY. Sorry. I love this exercise, but I don’t see any reason to correlate it with the potential award winners. These titles are showing up on these lists because they are “one of the best” of the year. They’re not pitted one against the other, or judged against the criteria for the award (how do you put MOONSHOT in Caldecott instead of Newbery or Sibert?).

    I DO think the exercise is useful in identifying those titles around which there is a real critical consensus. I’ve been in the situation on the Newbery committee where I’m the holdout against a popular favorite…and if it does turn up on five or six lists like this, it does make me seriously re-evaluate my position. Not change it, necessarily, as I may still come out and say that looking at the Newbery criteria in particular, a book that is an all round favorite may still not rise. But it has made me say to myself: ok, maybe I’m just not getting it.

  11. Nina says:

    Anon: since when are the Civil Rights Movement and WWI not “exciting”?

    I take your point, but I think that this year’s cream of the crop DOES actually extend to more tastes out there than the usual “quiet and quirky” crowd.

  12. Jonathan Hunt says:

    Kris, we did a comparison of starred reviews for Newbery books in the past five years under the December post, “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.”

    Wendy, since stars and bests are not part of the criteria no committee ever formally considers them. Maybe I’m not making myself clear. Compare and contrast the 2007 and 2009 books that the journals ignored.

    THE HIGHER POWER OF LUCKY was starred and bested by Kirkus. PENNY FROM HEAVEN was unstarred and unbested. Ditto for RULES, but it did receive the Schneider Family Book Award. HATTIE BIG SKY got two starred reviews and made BBYA.

    The review journals were very kind to THE GRAVEYARD BOOK and SAVVY and both them earned numerous accolades in addition to their Newbery recognition.

    THE UNDERNEATH was starred and bested by only Booklist, but it was also shortlisted for the NBA. THE SURRENDER TREE was also only starred and bested by Booklist, but it won the Belpre, the Americas, the Jane Addams Award, the Claudia Lewis Poetry Award, and a Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Honor. AFTER TUPAC AND D FOSTER only got two starred reviews, but also made BBYA, won the Josette Frank Award, and was shortlisted for the Amelia Walden Award.

    Both committees recognized titles that the review journals passed over–and they were right to do so. In the case of the 2008 committee, however, all of their choices were validated by other sources of authority.

    These years represent extremes. Most years there is a mix of validated and ignored titles. In 2008, GOOD MASTERS!, ELIJAH OF BUXTON, and WEDNESDAY WARS were validated; FEATHERS was not. In 2006, CRISS CROSS, HITLER YOUTH, and SHOW WAY were validated; PRINCESS ACADEMY and WHITTINGTON were not. In 2005, LIZZIE BRIGHT, THE VOICE THAT CHALLENGED A NATION, and AL CAPONE were validated; KIRA-KIRA was not.

  13. Wendy says:

    Jonathan, you’re not addressing the point, which maybe you didn’t mean to involve yourself in in the first place–I think you imply above that the Newbery committee should see to it that they honor some of the starred titles or they’ll lose credibility, rather than focusing only on the criteria.

  14. Anon. says:

    As far as finding exciting books(fiction books), and them being distinctive at the same time…let’s face it–they’re just not being written today.
    That’s why non-fiction has been so strong lately(including civil-rights and WWI).

    I guess I’m thinking specifically of the lack of exciting fiction books like the Witch and the Wardrobe, Wrinkle in Time, The Golden Compass, The Hobbit.
    Those books are masterpieces, classics, Timeless.
    Yes, I think a distinctive book can’t suffer from an expiration date.

    Unfortunately, many of the authors writing fiction books today choose to set them the present(a la Percy Jackson), complete with Internet and I-pods.
    And just as unfortunate, in ten years these same books will be like reading books containing refrences to 8-Track tape players.

    Wrinkle in Time and When You Reach Me both deal in questions of the dimension of time…the first book is timeless. The second makes reference to the $20,000 Pyramid. Just how well well that book age?

  15. Anon. says:

    Oops…my last sentence above should read:
    Just how well will that book age?

  16. Jonathan Hunt says:

    Wendy, I think that the Newbery committee should honor *some* of those titles, not because they are starred or bested, but because they are distinguished, and several of them can lay claim to *most* distinguished.

    People often complain when the same books win awards over and over again or get multiple starred reviews or get all the buzz. But I think part of the reason for that is that it’s easier to build consensus around a genuinely excellent title than an average or mediocre one.

    Anon, the book you are looking for–THE LOST CONSPIRACY–is ineligible because its author is British.

  17. Anon. says:

    Why is it only the…

    British(Hardinge, Delaney[Last Apprentice]),
    Scottish(Rowlings),
    Irish(Colfer),
    Australians (Flanigan[Ranger's Apprentice])
    Canadians(Oppel)
    Germans(Funke…OK so she now lives in L.A.)

    …who can write Good Adventure Books???

    P.S. I know I’ve missed a ton of names…

  18. Dean Schneider says:

    I hate it when good books are reduced to labels. I just recently read MARCELO and thought it was one of the best books I had read in a long time, and I immediately ordered a couple of copies for my classroom library, knowing some eighth graders who will love it. And when my 23-year-old son returns from travels in Europe, I can’t wait to give it to him. He’s applying to law school, and this will be an important book for him to read, and I have no doubt he will like it a lot. So, anon. (wish you had a real name), to reduce this to “Geez….a book about Asperger’s” really is silly and does an injustice to an excellent, intelligent book that many young readers will like a lot. To reduce books to one criterion such as “exciting”–not even a Newbery crierion–is simplistic.

    As for “Geez….Not one, but two books on the civil-rights movement”: Is there a quota on the number of excellent books there can be about a subject? I’d love to be on this year’s Newbery committee arguing for MARCHING FOR FREEDOM and CLAUDETTE COLVIN. They’re not great because of what might be lacking in exciting fiction, they’re great in and of themselves. We underestimate kids when we say they don’t like nonfiction. If we give them a chance–and good nonfiction–they will like it. I read Susan Bartoletti’s Hitler Youth with my 8th graders, and they like it; they can see it for the excellent, involving literature that it is.

    I had three seventh graders–friends of each other–all agree to read WHEN YOU REACH ME at the same time (I had several copies in my classroom library), and they all read it in one day, and they all liked it and recommended it to other students.

    Excellent books of all types will find readers. “Exciting” would not be my criterion; I tend to think in terms of “involving”–will this book involve readers, get them absorbed in the story. I’m thrilled to see two superb books about the civil rights movement, even when many books on the movement have been written; these are two beautifully done, involving books that kids will like. WINTERGIRLS is so much more than a book about anorexia. Laurie Halse Anderson is one of those fine writers responsible for turning kids onto reading. They’re not slugging through “problem novels,” they are reading excellent literature that involves them and speaks to them. I wouldn’t reduce her books to “Geez, another book about date rape” (Speak), or “Geez, another book about slavery” (Chains). I take pride in my teaching, but what a great thing to be a writer whose books turn kids on to reading! I wouldn’t say her books are exciting, but young adults sure like them.

    And I take issue with the statement that exciting fiction isn’t being written anymore. CATCHING FIRE? But that’s a big topic I’ll save for another sitting.

  19. Eric says:

    Pondering my all time top ten for fuse#8′s poll, I’ve been thinking a lot about how re-readability correlates with distinction/greatness. In order to narrow down my list to just ten I’m rereading all of my favorites. Today I reread two of my favorites The Westing Game and The View From Saturday which got me thinking about this year’s Newbery contenders. Which of these books do I look forward to rereading? Which ones do I feel will get better with each successive reading. Having already read When You Reach Me six times since July I can tell you that I look forward to the seventh read with as much excitement as the first. I checked out Claudette Colvin again a few weeks ago, because while I liked the book on my first reading and felt I learned a lot I didn’t love the prose/style. For two weeks the book sat on my pile and other than a few aborted attempts to reread (or the occasional skim for fantastic passages) the book just sat there. I felt that I absorbed all the information and the text itself just wasn’t so compelling to make me want to reread it. While the book will forever change how I feel and think about the civil rights movement and will forever inform my thinking on Rosa Parks I don’t know if that alone is enough to make the book the most distinguished contribution to literature. (Contribution to history? YES for sure, but I’m not convinced it contributes as much as some other titles do to literature?)I believe exemplary nonfiction can be just as compelling and rereadable as great fiction works. Last year’s We Are the Ship for instance contains such a unique voice that I often go back to it. Past Newbery winning title Carry On, Mr. Bowditch is told in such a fast pace style that I immediately reread the book after my first read a few years ago. Looking at the list in Jonathan’s post I don’t know which titles other than WYRM, Marcelo and unmentioned Printz contender The Lost Conspiracy are compelling enough to provide repeated bouts of unfettered enjoyment.

  20. Jonathan Hunt says:

    Eric, you cite WE ARE THE SHIP as your gold standard for nonfiction with a special mention of the voice, but doesn’t WE ARE THE SHIP use the same oral history narrative (albeit a fictionalized one) that Hoose employs in CLAUDETTE COLVIN? I mean, Claudette is a real live person, so why, when discussing nonfiction, do we discount her narrative in favor of more fictionalized ones?

    As Nina and Dean mentioned, probably the best value of this list is that it allows you to reconsider your own judgment. CLAUDETTE COLVIN won the National Book Award (WHEN YOU REACH ME wasn’t even shortlisted, by the way) and it also got best of the year citations from every major review journal. Could it be possible that the problem is not the book, Eric, but your reading of it? If we sat around the Newbery table and you talked about your enthusiasm for reading WHEN YOU REACH ME and your lack thereof for CLAUDETTE COLVIN, I would ask you which Newbery criteria that falls under, and you would be hard pressed to fit it somewhere, I think.

    We each use our own excitement or lack thereof to determine our own voting priorities, but enthusiasm alone does not move fellow committee members toward consensus.

  21. Eric says:

    Jonathan, I completely agree that the problem is not the book but my reading of it. What I’m searching for is a way into the book that will allow me to see what so many others find distinguished. I just cannot get past the feeling that we find this book important because it adds such an interesting, and previously untold, piece to the history of the civil rights struggle. But is importance the same as distinction? From the Newbery criteria: distinction in the interpretation of the theme or concept. I read this as very different from distinction in the theme or concept itself. As important as we find Claudette’s story that is not the same as how the story is told (its interpretation). I am not making the claim that Hoose’s prose isn’t well written, instead I am saying the prose is not the very best prose written for children this year.

    Shouldn’t we hold nonfiction writers to the same standard as fiction writers? Just because there are no stylistic or rhetorical flaws (see Almost Astronauts) in the writing that does not make the writing distinguished. I guess it comes down to which criteria you believe are pertinent to the title. Obviously presentation of information including accuracy, clarity, and organization is pertinent to Hoose’s work, but why shouldn’t we also consider interpretation of the theme or concept and appropriateness of style as well? Personally I believe a distinguished contribution to children’s literature be it fiction, nonfiction, or poetry should be beautiful right down to the sentence level. Please point out some passages or sentences in Claudette Colvin that have a beautiful or transcendental quality to them. I want to admire this book as much as you do; I am glad the book exists and think middle school social studies teachers and librarians should be thrusting it into the hands of as many students as they can, not because it is a beautifully written book, but because the information it contains is both compelling and thought provoking. This is a testament to Hoose’s diligent journalism but I do know if that is the same as distinguished writing. As noted at the end of the Newbery criteria: the award is for literary quality and quality presentation for children. The award is not a journalism award or an award for most interesting or important content.

  22. Miriam says:

    Anon, the $20,000 *is already* dated, and the book read just fine to me, born well after the show was cancelled–I’d never heard of it. WHEN YOU REACH ME does a good enough job of establishing its setting that I don’t think I’d worry about it aging well.

    A WRINKLE IN TIME was set in a contemporary period when it was written. Likewise, I believe, THE DARK IS RISING. THE LION, THE WITCH, AND THE WARDROBE is set in a concrete, specific time. We’ll have to see how well email and ipods age, of course, but having specificity of time, even if that time is contemporary to the writing of the book, doesn’t mean a book won’t age well.

  23. Anon. says:

    I hope I haven’t offended anyone too badly with my incessent “tongue-in-cheek pot-stirring”.
    These discussions are always much more fun when the juices start flowing.
    The comments just get better and better…especially Mr. Schneider’s lucid observations…where he most effectivly poured me back into my bottle.
    From now on, I promise I’ll stop hitting the Submit-Key.

  24. Jonathan Hunt says:

    I agree that many will perceive this book as an “important” one, which it may well be, but beyond that it is distinguished in all the Newbery criteria, including sentence level writing . . .

    . . . from the first page–

    “If, like Claudette Colvin, you grew up black in central Alabama during the 1940s and 1950s, Jim Crow controlled your life from womb to tomb. Black and white babies were born in separate hospitals, lived their adult lives apart from one another, and were buried in separate cemeteries. The races were segregated by a dense, carefully woven web of laws, signs, partitions, arrows, ordinances, unequal opportunities, rules insults, threats, and customs–often backed up by violence. Together, the whole system of racial segregation was know as “Jim Crow.”

    . . . to the last–

    More than any other story I know, Claudette Colvin’s life story shows how history is made up of objective facts and personal truths, braided together. In her case, a girl raised in poverty by a strong, loving family twice risked her life to gain a measure of justice for her people. Hers is the story of a wise and brave woman, who, when she was a smart angry teenager in Jim Crow Alabama, made contributions to human rights far too important to ignore.”

    I agree that we should hold fiction writers and nonfiction writers to the same standard, but I think we need to judge prose on its purpose, too. There are parts of WHEN YOU REACH ME that are confusing–confusing to the main character and confusing to the reader–but we ultimately see this as a strength of the novel. Would we have the same tolerance for a nonfiction book that was similarly confusing? I don’t think so. I don’t think we would tolerate the sylistic excesses we see in fiction, let alone–heaven forbid!–an opinion being expressed amongst all those facts.

    I am troubled, once again, by the idea that somehow the sentence-level quality of the writing is somehow more important than the other Newbery criteria. Where does that come from?

    In that light, I can see how you would esteem WE ARE THE SHIP so highly. I think books like WE ARE THE SHIP and THE WALL are truly deserving of Newbery/Caldecott attention, but I’m much less excited about them as Sibert possibilities. They are excellent works of nonfiction, but they are also nonfiction books for people who don’t like nonfiction books, and I can’t help but wonder if that’s why consensus gets built around them.

    Eric, can you think of any other nonfiction, past or present, that you find Newbery worthy? I’m just curious . . .

  25. Jonathan Hunt says:

    I don’t think CLAUDETTE COLVIN (or several other nonfiction contenders suffer from lackluster writing). Maybe it’s a matter of personal taste, but I think both of the leading fiction contenders, CALPURNIA TATE and WHEN YOU REACH ME, have bright spots of sentence-level writing, but they also have very pedestrian passages, too. I don’t have the latter on hand, but here’s a completely random sampling of sentences from CALPURNIA.

    1. Poor Honoria had lived in mortal fear of electricty ever since. (page 207)

    2. “Can I learn how, ma’am?’ said Jim Bowie. (page 228)

    3. The summer wore on, and I found respite in coolness of the river and the dimness of Granddaddy’s laboratory.” (page 62)

    Now those aren’t bad sentences, mind you, and the cumulative effect of several sentences strung together is missing here, but I still find myself scratching my head when someone wants to tell me that the sentence-level writing in the two leading fiction contenders is really better than the nonfiction.

    I think the sentence level writing in LIPS TOUCH and THE DUNDERHEADS remains the best of the fiction that I’ve read . . .

  26. jre says:

    Go DUNDERHEADS!

    May they long rule – love this book. Great for kids of all ages and then some. PAUL FLEISCHMAN may look a little scary but his writing is so fine and the artwork is so funky and fun.

  27. a teacher says:

    I loved THE DUNDERHEADS, and the “like malt up a straw” line, but other than that, what was so special and “distinguished” about the “sentence level writing” in it? It was a fun book, but Newbery worthy?

    The text from CLAUDETTE that you pulled out Jonathan, was good, but “most distinguished” . . . really?

    I agree with what Eric is implying, that CLAUDETTE’s incredible story is outweighing it’s actual sentence level writing. To me, that’s not necessarily a bad thing (especially if years from now, it remains the most distinguished contribution to children’s literature from this year), but Eric brings up a great point in nonfiction authors’ writing . . .

  28. Jonathan Hunt says:

    Reread the DUNDERHEAD posts if you want more detail about why I think the sentence-level writing is distinguished. It’s not just the fantastic opening sentence, nor the occasional nifty metaphors, it’s the whole tone of the narrative, and the hard-boiled detective genre it belongs to. Love that he was able to make it so accessible for a child audience.

    As for CLAUDETTE COLVIN, well, since you haven’t proposed some examples of distinguished writing to counter mine, you have a distinct advantage in this debate as I do not have the opportunity to out-meh you. What’s your best sentence-level writing this year?

  29. Jonathan Hunt says:

    Eric’s favorite book of the year, decade, forever is WHEN YOU REACH ME. Do you really think the sentence-level writing in WHEN YOU REACH ME exceeds CLAUDETTE COLVIN. Really?

    I’ve been thinking about WHEN YOU REACH ME in relation to A SEASON OF GIFTS . . . We really looked very critically at the latter book when it came to a poor representation of minority characters, but did we give WHEN YOU REACH ME a free pass? Don’t you think the African American girl smacks of tokenism? Isn’t the Asian American storekeeper a classic stereotype? I don’t think we’ve looked hard enough at these issues.

  30. Nina says:

    I don’t think that the argument is that sentence-level writing should *exceed* other criteria…but that it is a criteria to examine. If I have two books that are equally structurally sound, but one has better sentence level writing, I’m going to call that one “more distinguished.”

    I think that Hoose’s style is understated, which makes it harder to see the sentence-level craft, but it’s absolutely there. Here’s a passage I marked on p.25, where Hoose very adeptly pulls together several elements of Colvin’s story and paraphrases them to indicate a narrative arc:

    p.25 “Many at school wept for their classmate [Reeves], but Claudette fumed. Why did everyone accept injustice? HOw could adults complain at home about the insulting way they were treated at work and then put on a happy face for their white employers? Why did her classmates worry about ‘good hair’ when they had no rights? when was anybody ever going to stand up? Claudette was still furious about Jeremiah Reeves’s plight when, on the first day of her sophomore year, she met someone who gave her the confidence to transform her anger into action.”

    I don’t think that nonfiction prose needs to “sparkle” in the way we expect fiction prose to, in order to be distinguished. That said, I DO still find Partridge’s prose to be better at the sentence level (but lack my copy to quote from it!), which does elevate it for me, according to Newbery critieria.

    And I absolutely think the sentence-level writing in *When You Reach Me* is superb…*especially* because you don’t notice it right of the bat (the way you do with Calpurnia Tate). Her prose is active, not just descriptive. She uses a totally regular voice to get across complexities in setting and character. For instance: read the very short chapter “Christmas Vacation” (pages 132-3 of the arc). I won’t quote the whole thing, but word for word it is elegantly constructed, and powerful, and exceedingly normal-sounding at the same time that is sounds lovely. The twice repeated short line “It did.” takes on a special potency because of how she’s set it up.

    Jonathan, who is the Asian-American storekeeper?

    If you really want to examine the character of Julia and argue that she’s a token, go for it, and I’ll jump in. But I think it’d be a hard argument. She’s as well drawn as any other side character (all of which are well-drawn for a novel), and in fact her presence gently pokes at Mira’s self-awareness of stereoptypes. Each side character is a token, or a tool, of something for Mira’s story, and I think that Julia is well used.

  31. faith says:

    I’d like to see Eric’s point addressed further. If a book makes an incredible contribution to children’s literature and twenty years from now, that contribution is seen as ho-hum, does that mean that it wasn’t really distinguished? I would disagree. So if Hoose’s book is “important,” I think that is every bit as good a reason to bump it up in the rankings, as its sentences, never mind that I also like the bits that I have seen excerpted.

  32. a teacher says:

    I guess I’m just on the other side of this. I’m reading CLAUDETTE COLVIN right now and am fascinated, but not because of the “sentence level” writing. Because of the story that Hoose has uncovered and told. He’s discovered such an amazing story that his sentence level text doesn’t have to be “distinguished” in order for the story to be one of the best contributions to children’s literature this year. For a story like WHEN YOU REACH ME to be considered, I feel like its sentence level writing DOES have to be distinguished. Is that fair?

    But as Nina said, since it is a criteria, how does the sentence level writing hold up to other books?

  33. Jonathan Hunt says:

    Nina, I’m not quite sure I buy the Partridge over Hoose argument, but here’s a favorite passage from MARCHING FOR FREEDOM (page 62)–

    “They like to say these particular struggles were black struggles, but they were not . . . We fought this movement primary because it benefited us as a whole. But if you look athe pictures and read about the histor if it, it was not a black movement–it was a people movement. And the future has to be a people movement, until injustice is stamped out in any form.”

    And we do it with the great democratic tradition: voting. So simple. So powerful.

    Note that an emphasis on voting rights bookends the narrative, from the pictures in the beginning to the passage of the Voting Rights Act at the end.

    Nina, the point I’m interested in is that you describe the narrative of WHEN YOU REACH ME as distinguished because “you don’t notice it right off the bat” and because it is so “normal-sounding.” I’m sure many supporters would agree with you (and I might be one of them). The thing that is frustrating is that you can make the same arguments for the Hoose book (and indeed *you* have), and yet we have various people that are still resistant to the idea. So why the double standard? Why can WHEN YOU REACH ME be casually distinguished in terms of sentence-level writing, but CLAUDETTE COLVIN cannot?

    Who owns the restaurant that the kids work at during their lunch time? He reminded me slightly of Mr. Hoo from THE WESTING GAME and the Chinese take-out lady in ONE CRAZY SUMMER. I don’t have the book at hand so maybe I am imagining things. Was he white? Ethnic?

    Just because Julia’s well drawn doesn’t mean that it’s okay. Why does she have to exist solely to nudge at Mira’s self awareness? Why can’t she be a fully realized character in her own right? Why do black people fulfill this role time and again for white characters? And why are those books always written by white people? Look to Walter Dean Myers and Jacqueline Woodson for more nuanced characterizations of race, class, and stereotypes.

  34. Jonathan Hunt says:

    Okay, here’s a sentence-level analysis of the two CLAUDETTE sentences that I quoted.

    1. In addition to clearly conveying the information, you have the nice internal rhyme of womb and tomb. You also have the litany of obstacles that summarizes and foreshadows the role that Jim Crow plays in the setting of this story.

    2. I think this is likewise elegantly and artfully constructed, but what I really like here is that Hoose is talking about historiography, his methodology for reconstructing history (objective facts and personal truths braided together). Simple, clear, effective–and yet not only conveys the information, but reveals a meta-discussion of history.

  35. Nina says:

    Jonathan, you ask “Why can WHEN YOU REACH ME be casually distinguished in terms of sentence-level writing, but CLAUDETTE COLVIN cannot?” I haven’t said that CLAUDETTE COLVIN cannot…in fact, I think that it is, but I think that MARCHING is better, at least on that one measure. I simply find the prose more engaging, and thus more effective. I’ll need to do some side-by-side comparisons…

    Jimmy the lunch-counter guy in WYRM is, I believe, a racist of indeterminent race. He makes a horrible Asian ethnic joke at one point (p.62 ARC), which was another one of my favorite scenes…Mira’s reaction is simply “I had never seen a grown-up do it before. If Mom had been there, she would have whacked him on the head with a plastic tray.” We get her emotional response without Stead using a single emotional word.

  36. Jonathan Hunt says:

    Nina, I went out of my way to say that *you* are treating both the prose styles of WHEN YOU REACH ME and CLAUDETTE COLVIN as distinguished, but that it seems to *me* that *other people* are not. This may or may not be true; there’s no way for me to tell if the people who find CLAUDETTE COLVIN undistinguished also find WHEN YOU REACH ME undistinguished (aside from Eric, of course).

    I don’t have WHEN YOU REACH ME on hand so really can’t confirm or deny the ethnicity of Jimmy. It’s quite possible that I mistakenly read that into the character. I also think that Julia is never labeled as African American as much as her skin color is described.

    Again, I don’t question either the characterization or the character development of Julia. I think those are fine. I’m questioning whether it’s an appropriate presentation for a child audience to have a child of color merely be an ornament or a token in the story of a white child just as we found no flaw in the characterization or character development of Grandma Dowdel, but rather found the presentation to a child audience to be problematic because of how it portrayed American Indians. I’m not sure that we are being consistent on this point. Are we?

  37. Nina says:

    Jonathan,
    (Sorry I misread you on prose styles. This is why I find online discussion so difficult!)

    Julia. You say you don’t question her characterization or character…but you question whether it’s appropriate presentation to have a child of color merely be an ornament or a token. So, are you saying that Julia is “merely an ornament or a token” in Mira’s story? To me, that would mean you’re questioning her characterization.

  38. Monica Edinger says:

    I’m reading WYRM aloud right now (after having read it aloud last year and several times on my own) and can say that Jimmy’s ethnicity is never given. And I don’t see Julia as a token at all.

    Unfortunately I haven’t the time now to investigate, but I did find CLAUDETTE COLVIN distinction for the writing. I agree that books are often lauded for the important theme and content more than writing, but the Hoose, when I read it blew me away as an elegant piece of writing — I recall admiring enormously the way he wove in so many different points of view, facts, and more as he built onto the overall theme.

  39. Jonathan Hunt says:

    Nina, I’m not sure if I am questioning Julia’s characterization, but I’m open to exploring the issue. We’re part of the dominant majority so it stands to reason that if we like this book–and we do–that we would overlook this aspect.

    Julia seems like a real live person to me (characterization) and she does grow and change over the course of the story (character development). But does she seem like a real live *black* person in the way that Woodson’s and Myer’s characters do? Not sure. Is she little more than an appendage of Mira? I think you can forgive some of that because of the first person narration, but all of it? Not sure again.

  40. Wendy says:

    Surely, Jonathan, you aren’t saying that Julia doesn’t “really” seem black because she is wealthy and something of a science genius. Surely.

    Everyone in When You Reach Me is there, to a large extent, to inform Mira’s experience, because she’s the main character. I am kind of furious right now, so I think I’ll stop. The fact that you had it very strongly in your head that Jimmy the shopkeeper was Asian makes me think you didn’t read the book very carefully.

  41. Jonathan Hunt says:

    No, Wendy, I didn’t say that. It doesn’t have anything to do with wealth and intelligence. Like I said, I think Myers and Woodson have written these kinds of characters, and they just felt more authentic to me, although I’m hard pressed to articulate why.

    The ambiguous race of the characters in the MAKE LEMONADE trilogy is widely considered a strength of the books, but I have read dissenting opinions that this artistic choice allows Wolf to write about ethnic minorities without really writing about them. Not sure that I agree with that, but I wonder if you might say the same thing about WHEN YOU REACH ME.

    I once told a member of the 2000 Newbery committee that I was disappointed that they did not recognize DAVE AT NIGHT by Gail Carson Levine. This committee member felt that the young black girl had the same role as Julia in WHEN YOU REACH ME and the book suffered because of it. I’m not saying this concern is valid either, but I do think they are worth discussing.

    I don’t know that I had it very strongly in my head that the lunch-counter guy was Asian. Like I said, maybe I was confusing it with other books I read recently. Or maybe I was confusing Jimmy’s ethnic slur with Jimmy’s ethnicity. Couldn’t consult the book because it is out with a student.

  42. Jonathan Hunt says:

    Let’s see . . . I’m the one arguing for CLAUDETTE COLVIN and MARCHING FOR FREEDOM over WHEN YOU REACH ME . . . and I’m the racist one. Is that right?

  43. anonmymous says:

    I just got my copy of “When You Reach Me” yesterday and gave it a first reading last night.
    Never once did I come the the realization that Julia was black before the incident in the store.

    I guess the thing that bothers me the most in Stead’s style of writing is what I’ll refer to the first person “train-of-thought” style.
    It’s very choppy in action.
    There are so many incidental paragraphs of description of the mundane, strung together, one after the other.

    And since I knew going in that each one of these incidents may hold some important clue…it really messed me up, as it turns out 95% of it was just that…filler.

    By page 37 I was getting very bored.
    Also some of the parts that were supposed to tug on the heartstrings felt forced and a bit rushed.

    It was the same way I was feeling watching Avitar.
    After about an hour and a half into the movie I kept looking at my watch thinking…is this movie ever going to end….this movie really sucks!!!
    But when the last 40 to 60 minutes kicked in–the movie just flew by.

    In the same way “When You Reach Me” underwent a remarkable transformation as it redeemed itself by gaining focus in the final third.
    It was really like reading a different book.

    I know a 200 page book may already seem spare, but the whole reading experience would have improved greatly if things were tightened up and 20 to 30 pages cut out of the first two thirds.

  44. Wendy says:

    If you CAN articulate the ways Julia doesn’t “seem” authentically black, I will be interested to hear them. I think it would be foolish of me to claim that Stead has written a black character with the kind of authenticity that Woodson or Myers has, but the blogosphere has been talking about the lack of diversity in children’s books all week, and this is one book that gets something right. You are always asking us to back up our statements with solid evidence from the books, and I’m going to hold you to the same thing.

    Ways Julia could have been a “token”:
    -she could have existed only to be The Black Person In Miranda’s Life (when really her character is mostly there for the shifting-friendships angle)
    -she could have been stereotyped in one way or another–poor and ignorant, rich and shallow.
    -she could have been all good, a misunderstood angel, or all bad, a Mean Girl.

    Julia is a nuanced character with a life that is hinted at but mostly takes place outside Miranda’s story. Her ethnicity is neither ignored–mentioned shallowly once and never referred to again, dark skin on a generic character–nor the only significant thing about her. She’s anything BUT an ornament in the story.

  45. Jonathan Hunt says:

    Wendy, I want to get my copy of the book back before I address Julia any further.

    To this point, I have not made any statements about Julia, Rather, I have asked questions. I have not said Julia is a token. I have *asked* if she is a token. Nina said no. Monica said no. You got furious.

  46. a teacher says:

    Jonathan, you’re backing up a bit . . .

    Earlier you asked:

    “Don’t you think the African American girl smacks of tokenism?”

    By asking that, it suggests that YOU think she DOES “smack” of tokenism. You even then went on to say this in another post:

    “Just because Julia’s well drawn doesn’t mean that it’s okay. Why does she have to exist solely to nudge at Mira’s self awareness? Why can’t she be a fully realized character in her own right? Why do black people fulfill this role time and again for white characters? And why are those books always written by white people?”

    All of this suggests that you believed Julia to be a token. That’s what set this discussion off in this way.

  47. a teacher says:

    “anonmymous” – WHEN YOU REACH ME is a book that begs for a second reading. To say that 95% of Miranda’s narrative is incoherent rambling, is a little off base, and causes me to think you were personally, so bored that you weren’t paying close enough attention to what you were reading. If you were able to read the book a second time, I think you’d find how Stead brilliantly DID in fact, spread plenty of clues throughout the book about the Laughing Man and Marcus.

    If you don’t want to read it a second time, fine. It’s okay if the book is not your cup of tea. But to shoot it down simply by comparing it to your feelings when watching a long movie, isn’t quite fair. Stead did a lot of things really, really, really well in that novel.

  48. Kris says:

    Does anyone on this blog fear that a possible issue about a character like Julia (issue raised that perhaps she is a token African-American character) could weigh down a title in the voting and keep it from winning its due? My fear about committees is that someone on the committee might argue that an element of the book will be possibly offensive or say that they don’t feel right about that element, whether it’s a character or plot point, etc.–that it would hold that title back and allow another title to rise above. This is not a direct analogy, but I think of human relationships here–you might not know someone well, but you’ve heard comments from people you know/friends of yours. You never relate any of that to the person, and you’re always civil to the person, but you hold back, because those comments might be true. Of course, we all want to form our own opinions and rise above, but it’s very human to rely on others’ opinions to help steer us. If a question about Julia being a token were to come up in committee, I would hope that the committee members would discuss it as openly and with the use of quotations from the book as much as possible, acknowledging their own weaknesses/biases as readers in order to make their best choice for most distinguished contribution to American children’s literature.

  49. Jonathan Hunt says:

    I’m not backing up. I’m playing devil’s advocate. I don’t have a problem with Julia’s character, but I’m surprised that other people have not brought this issue up, especially a very similar issue dominated the discussion of A SEASON OF GIFTS. Nina likewise was surprised that while people attacked ALMOST ASTRONAUTS for not including the NASA viewpoint more, nobody really complained that CLAUDETTE COLVIN did not include divergent viewpoints, too. She then immediately qualified that response by saying that she wouldn’t have bought either argument. I’m being more cagey by letting the innuendo linger in the air. I’m planting seeds of doubt, just as Debbie Reese did in her analysis of YEARS OF DUST and A SEASON OF GIFTS. What’s good for the goose is good for the gander, eh? Will this innuendo be enough to derail WHEN YOU REACH ME in committee discussion. I seriously doubt it. I still think it gets no less than a Newbery Honor.

  50. Nina says:

    Kris, in the real Newbery discussion, EVERY concern is raised…and gets thoroughly enough discussed that voting members can settle in their own mind whether it’s a true concern or not. It’s best not to leave anything undiscussed.

    Every Newbery honoree I’ve been a part of selecting has had concerns raised about it in committee…and settled, in committee. NO book is perfect. Every book with a Newbery sticker on it has flaws….and is still distinguished.

  51. a teacher says:

    Maybe, just maybe, the reason it hasn’t been brought up before, is because it’s not really an issue . . .

    Early in the novel (don’t remember specifically off the top of my head), doesn’t Julia complain about the colors available to her when drawing or painting herself in a picture? That was when I first wondered about her race. Later, doesn’t that whole “color” thing become important to Miranda’s own self discovery?

  52. a teacher says:

    To clarify what I mean about Miranda’s “self discovery”, I’m thinking of her reflecting on her own prejudgements and selfish behavior toward Julia through most of the novel.

  53. anonmymous says:

    Teacher, you said:
    ["anonmymous" - WHEN YOU REACH ME is a book that begs for a second reading. To say that 95% of Miranda's narrative is incoherent rambling, is a little off base, and causes me to think you were personally, so bored that you weren't paying close enough attention to what you were reading.]

    Well I am doing a second reading starting right now. And I didn’t say “incoherent rambling”, I said incidental, meaning not really pertaining to the story line. An I never said there weren’t clues…of course there were clues.

    The word “confusing” has come up more than once, but never really delved into. I just think the introduction of too much incidential description may have lent to this confusion.

    I’m going to pay specific attention to Julia’s portrail. On the first reading I remember colors of browns being described in relation to her skin, but I took it simply as she being dark complected. I never keyed into a specific ethnic group. She could have been black, hispanic, Greek, pacific islander, Native American, Indian or Pakistani…or a caucasion girl with a dark complection.

    Maybe this was the author’s intent. Kids look past such things(and this was a first person narration by the MC). So when the incident at the store occured and Jimmy threw out the ethinic insult…maybe it was suposed to come as a surprise to the reader. Guess what–Julia’s black.

    Teacher, if you would have read my post’s last two paragraphs I think I indicated that I felt the book had a extremely strong finish. Pointing out that a more focused beginning would make things even stronger certainly isn’t the same thing as “shooting down” the book.

  54. a teacher says:

    “Maybe this was the author’s intent. Kids look past such things(and this was a first person narration by the MC). So when the incident at the store occured and Jimmy threw out the ethinic insult…maybe it was suposed to come as a surprise to the reader. Guess what–Julia’s black. ”

    I think there’s definitely some truth to this, because that scene shocked the crap out of my students! It actually took them some time to process what exactly was happening . . . so maybe you’re on to something there.

    (Don’t know what it says about me for jumping to the conclusion that she was black after hearing the colors mentioned earlier in the book . . .)

    Sorry I apparently put words in your mouth :)

  55. anonmymous says:

    No, no…this is a good discussion:)

    WYRM is definately a very different book. It’s not your typical fare. It’s out of the ordinary–very thought provoking.

    I’m looking forward to a second go at it.

  56. Wendy says:

    Jonathan, I think ” ateacher” above did a good explanation of the ways in which you were saying Julia was a token, or at least smacked of tokenism. That’s exactly what I was reacting to.

    Debbie doesn’t play devil’s advocate; she brings up issues that are of concern to her, whether I agree with her stance or not. While I wish Debbie had read/finished the books she commented on before writing, she was commenting on specifics. I understand wanting to look at the book again before getting specific, but perhaps it would have been wise to do that in the first place.

    I agree with the teacher who suggested that maybe this hasn’t brought up before because it isn’t really an issue.

  57. Jonathan Hunt says:

    Wendy, there is a difference between a stereotype and a token. A teacher’s last two points relate to stereotypes. I never claimed Julia was a stereotype. I also think a fully developed character can still be a token. Julia can exist to be the black person in Miranda’s life *and* for the shifting-friendships angle. They are not necessarily mutually exclusive.

    Maybe it’s not an issue, but maybe we are so besotted with this book that we decided to fold up our liberal ideology and stick it in our back pocket. Is it really so wrong to question whether we are being consistent across the board?

  58. Wendy says:

    My point is that Julia does NOT exist solely to be the black person in Miranda’s life. I agree that they aren’t mutually exclusive. I just don’t see that as what’s happening in this book.

    I think it’s a good thing to question our beliefs and assumptions about books and about race. This is about textual evidence and examples.

    I definitely think it’s possible to love a book so much that one overlooks its flaws; that happens to me more often with books I read as a child. But I feel pretty safe saying that if I had found insensitivity or tokenism in WYRM, I wouldn’t have been “besotted” with it. (Actually, I had several of the same issues with the book that the anonymous poster above did, and only rated the book 4 of 5 stars on Goodreads for that reason.) I also think it’s possible to focus so much on a book’s flaws that one can’t see its strengths. When I attended Nina and Sharon’s mock Newbery last year, this really hit home. I disliked aspects of Chains so much that I hadn’t even really thought about the ways in which it was distinguished. Other participants pointed them out to me and I left with more appreciation of the book (though I’m still not crazy about it).

  59. Genevieve says:

    I strongly agree that, for the specific reasons Wendy has given, Julia doesn’t exist solely to be the black person in Miranda’s life and that she is not a token. Julia is a fully-realized, well-rounded character – who happens not to be the narrator, so we only see what the narrator sees about her. The narrator learns to be not so quick to make judgments, but she learns that from Marcus, Annemarie and Sal as well as from Julia – Julia’s not there as the wise person to set Miranda on the right path.

    Jonathan, it seems like this question has been raised because you feel people were using their “liberal ideology” to take issue with how Indians were treated in a book you supported, “A Season of Gifts,” so you in return raised the issue of racial tokenism about a book you felt people were “besotted with” though you didn’t care for it much. But you haven’t given any specific examples of how you thought Julia was a token, despite the fact that people have asked for that.

    Is your view that any black characters in the story would serve only as the black people in Miranda’s life? (There are others in her life besides Julia – Miranda says that Jay Stringer and ten other kids don’t complain about the brown paper they were given for self-portraits.) Miranda starts by misjudging Julia, and Sal, and Marcus. She learns more about Julia, and Sal, and Marcus, and changes the way she interacts with them. How does that make Julia a token? Can you explain what you see about Julia that you think is tokenism? If it’s that she’s the one black character that Miranda gets close to, keep in mind that up until the story begins, Miranda hasn’t been close to anyone but Sal, ever. So she makes three new friends: Annemarie, Colin, and eventually Julia. Why is that tokenism?

  60. Jonathan Hunt says:

    Geneivieve, since the comments are pretty long here. I started a new post on this where I think I address at least some of your questions. Even though I have read the book twice the last time was way back in September so I had forgotten about Jay Stringer and others. No doubt somebody will ding me about that on the new post. I like WHEN YOU REACH ME, but the thought popped into my head one day, and when I mentioned it here, people got really defensive about it, and I then I got defensive, and pretty soon I found myself defending a position that was originally a question.

  61. Rosy says:

    WHEN YOU REACH ME is the best book I’ve ever read. It seemed as the girl was confused as the reader were. But I have to point out that the book JANE IN BLOOM is also a very good book. Even though it was depressing it was funny to read. It was very emotional in the readers mind. It had lots of details and lots and lots visual images which was included in the story. It was like you were in the story with the girl, Jane.

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