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Heavy Medal: A Mock Newbery Blog
Inside Heavy Medal

Has the Newbery Lost Its Way?

As various mock Newbery results trickle in we see WHEN YOU REACH ME repeating again and again–and to a slightly lesser degree WHERE THE MOUNTAIN MEETS THE MOON and THE EVOLUTION OF CALPURNIA TATE.  Not only are these among the most distinguished books of the year, they perfectly fulfill what many recognize as the unofficial mission of the Newbery which is to get kids excited about reading, and that’s really what all the fuss last year was all about.
 
But I’m here again this year to ask the question–Has the Newbery lost its way?–from a different angle. Once upon a time, THE STORY OF MANKIND, a nonfiction book, was recognized, and then it all went wrong.  I don’t need to detail how paltry few nonfiction books have been selected in the intervening years, and I’m not going to enumerate all the reasons for that . . . but what better time to change things than now?  The National Book Award led the way with three nonfiction books and a nonfiction winner.  We’re now seeing more and more nonfiction among mock Newbery winners than I can remember.
 
So consider Team Nonfiction one last time, listed in descending order by the number of best of the year lists.  Nearly all of them are being considered by the Notables and/or Best Books for Young Adults committees.  Some have already won awards (listed in blue). 
 
six lists–
 
CLAUDETTE COLVIN by Phillip Hoose
National Book Award
YALSA Nonfiction Award finalist
 
five lists–
 

CHARLES AND EMMA by Deborah Heiligman 
National Book Award finalist
YALSA Nonfiction Award finalist
MARCHING FOR FREEDOM by Elizabeth Partridge

MOONSHOT by Brian Floca 

 
four lists–
 
TRUCE by Jim Murphy
 
three lists–
 

JOHN BROWN by John Hendrix 
PHAROAH’S BOAT by David Weitzman 
YEARS OF DUST by Albert Marrin 
 
two lists– 

 

ALMOST ASTRONAUTS by Tanya Lee Stone 
Boston Globe-Horn Book Honor
YALSA Nonfiction Award finalist 
THE FANTASTIC UNDERSEA LIFE OF JACQUES COSTEAU by Dan Yaccarino 
THE GREAT AND ONLY BARNUM by Candace Fleming 
YALSA Nonfiction Award finalist
LUCY LONG AGO by Catherine Thimmesh
MISSION CONTROL, THIS IS APOLLO by Andrew Chaikin
REDWOODS by Jason Chin
YOU NEVER HEARD OF SANDY KOUFAX?! by Jonah Winter 
Booklist Top of the List, Youth Nonfiction 
WRITTEN IN BONE by Sally Walker 
YALSA Nonfiction Award finalist 
 
one list, but three or more stars–
 
BAD NEWS FOR OUTLAWS by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson 
THE FROG SCIENTIST by Pamela Turner
A SAVAGE THUNDER by Jim Murphy 
 
Now some will be quick to point out that these books are merely one of the best books and that provides no guarantee that it will be the best book, and they will be right, but perhaps this list represents my attempt to shame the Newbery committee into actually doing its job, embracing the full breadth of its charge.  Which it may do without this prod.  But I’d rather not wait until the results come in and then whine because they lifted some mediocre middle grade novel from the depths of obscurity while all of the excellent nonfiction got blanked.  I want to be able to celebrate those books that do get chosen, so I’m getting all my negativity out now.  Where it can probably be more productive, anyway. 
 
The quality of the nonfiction does tend to wax and wane and there have been years when the committee could not justifiably recognize a nonfiction title, but this year is not one of them.  This year, if no nonfiction get recognized, we’ll know that it was the committee, not the books, that were not up to Newbery standard.  So I’m not giving the Newbery committee a single book ultimatum (choose WHEN YOU REACH ME or else!), rather I’m saying some of the books listed above are worthy of the Newbery Medal.  Shouldn’t one of them get at least a Newbery Honor?
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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. Mirism says:

    I wonder if part of the issue is the desire for Newbery books to last. It’s come up in comments to a few other posts—the idea that the best books are the ones that can be read and enjoyed fifty years after they’re written.

    I think prize nonfiction that has a currency—is the prevalence of civil rights books this year in part because of Obama? is Years of Dust colored by our worries of what we’re doing to the environment now? And then, there’s the worry of nonfiction becoming outdated—for instance, a biography of Obama written in 2009 would very quickly become outdate simple because it will becoming incomplete.

    I’m not necessarily agreeing with any of these ideas—and I certainly think that current concerns color our reading of fiction as much as nonfiction—but I do think there’s an unconscious bias in that direction.

  2. Dean Schneider says:

    Thanks for pounding away at those nonfiction books, Jonathan, and keeping them uppermost in all of our minds right up until THE BIG DAY. I completely agree: These are among the best books of the year. And let’s not assume the When You Reach Me is a lock-in for the Medal just because we’ve all become accustomed to talking about it and seeing it on various lists; the Newbery Committee is a group of 15 independent-minded individuals capable of surprising us. I would love to see MARCHING FOR FREEDOM win the medal, or Claudette Colvin!

    And it’s fun to anticipate any books not so prominently discussed that might be Honored. Engle’s Tropical Secrets? O’Connor’s The Small Adventure of Popeye and Elvis?

    My wife and I are giving a talk to our faculty tomorrow–before heading off to Boston–about the best books of the year, and many of these nonfiction titles will be highlighted. Think of all of these great titles that ought to find their way into history and science curricula, beyond being read for fun because they are great reads.

  3. Sandy D. says:

    As much as I loved “Written in Bone”, I think it is a little too old for the Newbery. It’s more of a YA book, in terms of the science and the writing. My 12 y.o. (who reads well above his grade level) liked parts of it, but he really didn’t have the background in science or history to appreciate a lot of it, and I don’t think most 13 and 14 y.o.’s would either.

    It occurs to me that many Youung Adults may not have the background in science and/or history, either, though. :-/

  4. Jonathan Hunt says:

    I think it will be awfully hard to build Newbery consensus around CHARLES AND EMMA and WRITTEN IN BONE because of the perception that they are more appropriate for an older audience.

    I’d list CLAUDETTE COLVIN and MARCHING FOR FREEDOM as the most likely Newbery candidates, but I would also not discount MOONSHOT, TRUCE, or THE GREAT AND ONLY BARNUM either.

  5. a teacher says:

    I would be highly surprised if CLAUDETTE COLVIN didn’t at least Honor . . .

    I would chalk that book and WHEN YOU REACH ME in your “Robbed” category if they come away next week empty handed . . .

  6. DaNae says:

    Your argument is all well and good and entirely valid. The point I am about to make should never be a consideration of the Newbery committee by any means – but the way I see it the only arena that a Middle-grade novel, about non-ethnically-diverse kids, can walk away with bling at the mid-winter extravaganza is in the form of a Newbery. Obviously all the other awards that have sprung up since Newbery gave out the History of Mankind, have been to gain recognition for books outside the Middle-Grade-White-Fictional world.

    Let’s tally up the Heavy Medals some Newbery front runners could walk away with next Monday:
    When you Reach Me – 1 medal: Newbery
    When the Mountain Meets the Moon – 1 medal: Newbery (Although I seem to remember reading something about an Asian award, but could find nothing listed for this year)
    Calpurnia- 1 medal: Newbery
    Moonshot – 3 medals: Newbery, Caldecott, Sibert
    Claudette – 5 medals: Newbery, Sibert, YALSA Non-fiction, Printz, Corretta Scott King

    Is it any wonder Team Fiction roots so hard for their pets?

  7. Jonathan Hunt says:

    Not all awards are created equal, though. The Newbery and Caldecott are more prestigious than all the other awards put together. They also bring a huge financial windfall to their authors, illustrators, and publishers. I would be more than happy to create ten new fiction awards if we could give the Newbery solely to nonfiction . . .

    I’d also quibble with a few of your possible awards. If I were on the Printz committee, I would be looking very hard at WHEN YOU REACH ME and THE EVOLUTION OF CALPURNIA TATE. If SKELLIG can win a Printz Honor, then why not one of these? Also, CLAUDETTE COLVIN cannot win the CSK because its author is not African American.

    Rooting for Team Fiction is sort of like rooting for Goliath, though, isn’t it?

  8. DaNae says:

    Well even Goliath had his groupies.

    I did know that about CSK and Claudette but forgot in my frenzy to count up all labels that could be plastered on the cover, let’s throw in the NBA that is already there so we can keep the count at 5.

    Wasn’t it you who recently made the point that Printz usually moves to the top of the age limit? I’m not holding my breath.

    I concede the prestige point. As a librarian I pick up all the award winners that are age appropriate for my students -that is if I haven’t already purchased them. (I’ve swept the age-appropriate Sibert the past two years) But parents and other potential book buyers might not be aware of the other awards.

    All I can say is that I will be huddled in a corner, rocking back and forth in misery if WYRM is ignored on Monday.

    Best of luck to your team, and remember it is not polite to through stones.

  9. Eric says:

    Not really the same as rooting for Goliath but more like rooting for Michael Jordan in his prime, or Lance Armstrong or Tiger (prior to thanksgiving)in their primes. We root for excellence because excellence is so rare. Other than Utah Jazz fans, no one wanted to see MJ lose in the NBA finals back in 1998 because we all want to see greatness rewarded.

    I suspect that people are not rooting against any particular title or against any particular genre or what have you, they are simply rooting and voting for the titles that they deem to be most distinguished and in the end that decision can only be so objective.
    It seems like you are valuing nonfiction over fiction with the same zeal that you take offence to when others do the reverse. I don’t think the committee can look backwards and say we’re long past due for another nonfiction win. The committee is charged with only looking at 2009 titles and not making comparisons outside that group, so at the same time they certainly shouldn’t be making decisions to off set what you and others might consider past mistakes. If the committee decides that the most distinguished contribution to American children’s literature is a nonfiction title this year, that’s fine, but they shouldn’t do so because or in spite of the previous 88 decisions. No one would have wanted last year’s committee to say “the last 5 authors were female we need to choose a male author.” So why ask this year’s committee to say “the last 21 titles where fiction, so we need to choose a nonfiction title.” ? I hope I’m not sounding like a nonfiction hater, because I am not, at least I don’t think I am (We are the Ship was my #2 last year after The Underneath and Story of Mankind is somewhere in my top 15 Newbery winners), I just feel like you are not justifying why you believe nonfiction should be valued over fiction. Good writing is good writing regardless of its form. I understand that in rooting for the underdog (as I am sure you feel like you are doing) you must be more vocal but you can not be less rational. I can understand irrational (emotional) pleas for any specific title but not for a genre as a whole.

    Which Monday morning scenario would make you happier?
    One of the fiction favorites getting the medal and 3 more fiction favorites recieving honors.
    or
    One of the fiction favorites getting the medal and along with some worthy fiction, one mediocre nonfiction “title from the depths of obscurity” receiving an honor.

    GO TEAM EXCELLENCE

  10. Jonathan Hunt says:

    Eric, I think you have leaped to several conclusions that are incorrect.

    First, I have not said here or elsewhere that the Newbery committee needs to recognize nonfiction to make up for past transgressions. I *have* implied, however, that the omission year after year after year indicates there may be other factors at play than the nonfiction simply not being distinguished.

    Second, I have not argued for mediocre nonfiction titles to win. Elsewhere on this blog, I have argued for CLAUDETTE COLVIN, MARCHING FOR FREEDOM, and CHARLES AND EMMA. I have also suggested several other titles as possible contenders such as ALMOST ASTRONAUTS and YEARS OF DUST, among others. I do find it frustrating that when nonfiction books are recognized by the committee, they have been universally praised and admired (HITLER YOUTH–six starred reviews, VOICE–four starred reviews and written by Coke . . . er, Freedman, AN AMERICAN PLAGUE–four starred reviews and an NBA nom, written by Pepsi . . . oops, Murphy), but even that is not always enough (WE ARE THE SHIP–five starred reviews), whereas on the other hand, you will routinely see fiction books come out of nowhere to pick up an Honor book (RULES and PENNY FROM HEAVEN–zero stars) or, occasionally, the Medal (THE HIGHER POWER OF LUCKY, KIRA-KIRA), and we always say, “Oh, that committee, they didn’t listen to the buzz, they read widely and did the hard work of uncovering these gems.” Fine, but find the nonfiction gems, too. Does anybody seriously think THE DUEL or SECRET SUBWAY or SAVING THE GHOST OF THE MOUNTAIN have that kind of one-in-a-million shot at Newbery glory?

    And third, I am a die-hard member of Team Fiction. I like the fiction as much as anybody, and if THE LOST CONSPIRACY were eligible for the Newbery, then it very well may command my first place vote. It’s certainly my *favorite* book of the year. But is it the best? And am I charged with picking the best book–or my favorite book? Can I vote for a book that I do not genuinely like, even if I find it distinguished, most distinguished? Or do I have to like everything I vote for? These are questions that committee members constantly wrestle with. So you vote and your top three choices are fiction. Fine, but how do you justify making a mock Newbery shortlist this year–as *many* have done–and include a dozen fiction titles, but no nonfiction. How do you look at that and say the problem is book rather than the reader?

  11. Jonathan Hunt says:

    And the same holds true for any underrecognized genre like picture books, poetry, and easy readers.

  12. Eric says:

    Jonathan, “then it all went wrong” implied to me that ignoring nonfiction was somehow *wrong*. Is it possible that we as readers or committee members find it more difficult to judge nonfiction work?
    As discussed in previous posts, I personally have trouble separating my appreciation for the form and appreciation for the content in nonfiction works. Not being an expert in a book’s topic (be it civil rights or Charles Darwin, or the invention of day-glo colors) I never know whether it’s the imparted knowledge that I’m finding interesting or the writing itself. In fiction we can usually attribute both the content and the style to the author but I don’t know how we can do this in nonfiction works.
    The 1793 epidemic that struck Philadelphia is an actual occurrence, we can’t give Murphy credit for the facts, only how he presents the facts. If we have not read other accounts of said event prior to encountering Murphy’s work our understanding of these events will likely always be linked to our discovery through Murphy’s prose. When we are fascinated by these event, (as we are with Colvin’s life, and Darwin’s marriage) do we give the authors credit for the events or simply for deciding to write about them? This is what I mean by separating the facts from the form. The nonfiction author’s task is to tell the story of these events/people in compelling ways and I do believe the authors in your original post do just that, but when it comes to determining the amount of credit I give to the author and as oppose to credit I give to the event/life it becomes a difficult determination (at least for me it is). Thinking about it another way, nonfiction is not so different from retelling well known stories/folktales/myths. Was the 1989 committee recognizing Hamilton for the events of the creation stories or for her form/style/way of conveying to her readers said events in a compelling and distinguished manner? Similarly if you had never encountered any of the stories you might have difficulty in determining what to attribute to Hamilton’s writing and what to attribute to the oral tradition. Might this year’s committee in a similar situation? I understand that committee members may fact-check significant nonfiction titles prior to their meeting but if they encountered the “stories” for the first time in the concerned titles, how is it that they separate fact from form when determining distinction. We can assume all committee members knew something about Lincoln prior to reading Russell’s picture biography, and therefore the award was certainly given to Russell based on how he presented the information and conveyed the story of Lincoln’s life, not because Lincoln’s life is interesting (which of course it is , but that isn’t relevant is it?). If committee members have insufficient background on the nonfiction subjects prior to reading this year’s titles, I am not sure how they are able to separate the distinction of information from the distinction of writing. I haven’t managed to get a hold of Claudette Colvin again but I will concede that its prose and overall style are both top notch. Even so isn’t nonfiction still fighting on an uneven playing field? The book must be so incredibly distinguished that it can overcome the fact that the events depicted within can not really add to its distinction resume, whereas in a work of fiction both the style and the events depicted (ie. the story) can be attributed to the author and each work to make a case for the books distinction. Hoose’s title may rightfully be awarded a medal or honor on Monday morning, but as a piece of reportage it should probably win a journalism prize as well [instead?] (here the prize committee can consider the research Hoose and others undertake, I don’t believe the Newbery committee is tasked with doing so, is the new nonfiction award’s committee?)

  13. Jonathan Hunt says:

    Eric, you bring up some good questions. I think we ask ourselves these often with fiction, though. One participant said she voted for MOUNTAIN over WYRM and CALPURNIA because MOUNTAIN seemed more individually distinct. She wasn’t sure she liked those latter stories own their own merit or because she highly valued the stories of Laura Ingalls Wilder and Madeleine L’Engle/E.L. Konigsburg. So even fiction can seem familar in its elements, but it’s a particular telling that we can find distinguished.

    The place where nonfiction suffers in the Newbery criteria is that much current nonfiction for children is very visual in nature. Indeed, many authors incorporate visuals that are primary sources, something that is highly prized in history, but cannot be discussed as a strength around the Newbery table. That definitely puts a book like MARCHING FOR FREEDOM at a disadvantage while a book like CHARLES AND EMMA, were it not for the age issue, would be well equipped to compete head to head with the fiction.

  14. Jonathan Hunt says:

    Let’s make a deal.

    WHEN YOU REACH ME (Medal)

    THE EVOLUTION OF CALPURNIA TATE (Honor)
    CLAUDETTE COLVIN (Honor)
    MARCHING FOR FREEDOM (Honor)
    WHERE THE MOUNTAIN MEETS THE MOON (Honor)

    Is this really so bad?

  15. Wendy says:

    Huh. Do you think that participant was interpreting “individually distinct” correctly? Based on what you’ve said here, I don’t. But it also seems very odd to me, because Where the Mountain Meets the Moon owes far more to The Wizard of Oz than Calpurnia Tate does to Laura Ingalls Wilder, and more to Chinese folklore than WYRM does even to A Wrinkle in Time. (I don’t fault it for either of those things, especially the second.) That doesn’t make any sense.

  16. Jonathan Hunt says:

    Wendy, well, I think it was someone else in the group that specifically said CALPURNIA was reminiscent of Laura Ingalls Wilder, and I may be misrepresenting or misquoting the person, but if you look at the criteria–

    • Marked by eminence and distinction; noted for significant achievement.
    • Marked by excellence in quality.
    • Marked by conspicuous excellence or eminence.
    • Individually distinct.

    –I do think there is room for that interpretation. Individually distinct, like every other clause, is subject to debate.

    I think you bring up good points. We can all probably trace different “influences” based on what we’ve read. But we’ve all read different books. Which is why we can only discuss the books under consideration for this year. Fleeting references to Wilder, Konigsburg, and L’Engle did slip out, but we didn’t dwell on them (and why we debriefed after the vote).

    Just curious. How would you interpret individually distinct?

  17. Wendy says:

    I don’t like that part of the criteria because of its use of “distinctive” in the explanation of “distinguished”. But while my heart wants to say that it means “unique”, as in “this book is awesome and I’ve never read anything like it”–I have a very qualitative approach to the Newbery criteria in my secret thoughts–I came away from the discussion last year, where we talked about this a lot, with the understanding that it’s supposed to mean the book stands on its own without need for other books or other specific knowledge; like, that’s where some series books have lost out. I’ve never been entirely sold on that, though.

  18. Nina says:

    Jonathan, the issue I have with your perspective is that this part doesn’t necessarily follow:

    “This year, if no nonfiction get recognized, we’ll know that it was the committee, not the books, that were not up to Newbery standard. So I’m not giving the Newbery committee a single book ultimatum (choose WHEN YOU REACH ME or else!), rather I’m saying some of the books listed above are worthy of the Newbery Medal. Shouldn’t one of them get at least a Newbery Honor?”

    I think Eric’s put very well the particular challenges that nonfiction has in achieving a Newbery. This doesn’t mean that there aren’t many–there ARE–nonfiction titles that ARE “deserving of a Newbery” this year. I agree with that part.

    But saying that the committee “isn’t up to the standard” if they don’t choose one of these books? I’m sorry, but that’s ridiculous.

    I’ll be sorely disappointed, surely, if no nonfiction shows up on the Newbery podium this year. However, we don’t know what happens in dicussion, except that we know the rigorous process should give these books their due.

  19. LR says:

    This is late to the game, but DaNae mentioned that she couldn’t find the Asian award that she’d heard about. It’s given by the Asian Pacific American Librarians Association, and it’s called the Asian Pacific American Award for Literature. It honors books by or about Asian Americans. I don’t think that it’s included in the Youth Media Awards press conference.

  20. Jonathan Hunt says:

    Wendy, there is language elsewhere that says it must stand independent of other media, and you could certainly argue that this clause supports that one. But I do think “individually distinct” connotes new and different (but not new and different for its own sake, but new and different and distinguished). And I think the wording of “contribution” certainly carries this connotation to.

    Nina, of course, you are right. That was a cheap shot. If the committee does not recognize book A,B,C then it’s really not about those books, but about books D,E,F that did get recognized. Nevertheless, if the committee does not recognize nonfiction this year, I’d like to see only a single honor book as I don’t think there are three fiction books that are more distinguished than any of the nonfiction.

  21. Jonathan Hunt says:

    I’ll further add that the challenges that Eric has mentioned do not stem from the Newbery criteria (which encourage committees to look at fiction, nonfiction, and poetry). The only obstacle the criteria place in the way is this clause: “Other components of a book, such as illustrations, overall design of the book, etc., may be considered when they make the book less effective.” So the challenges that Eric enumerates are very real, but stem from the reader, rather than the books.

  22. Jonathan Hunt says:

    Here’s the thing. We all prefer fiction to nonfiction. And when you get right down to the end of your discussion and you only get three votes, and the books are close, so close, who can fault anyone for picking the book their favorite? I can’t. But I would hope that people could vote for things that aren’t neccessarily their cup of tea with their second and third place votes. And therein lies the difficulty of the whole thing. All Nina’s honor books had first place votes on the final ballot. Most of mine did, too (with the exception of WYRM). To get a book to honor book status you either need several people to give it their first place votes or your need broad support with the lesser votes. The thing that further complicates it (and this happens with other groups of books, too) is that people don’t necessarily vote as a nonfiction block. You may like MARCHING and I make like CLAUDETTE and another person may like CHARLES, but just because we each find our own nonfiction book distinguished enough to merit a spot on our individual ballots there is no guarantee that we can form consensus around a single title. That’s a particular pitfall for the nonfiction this year, I think.

  23. Nina says:

    Jonathan, I love fiction more than nonfiction, but not everyone does.

    It’s not the criteria that are there, but the critieria that aren’t there that poses a challenge for nonfiction. If you look at the Sibert criteria, they are much more effective at drawing out the strengths of nonficiton.

  24. a teacher says:

    Jonathan: “I’d like to see only a single honor book as I don’t think there are three fiction books that are more distinguished than any of the nonfiction.”

    I’m not sure I like this statement because it contradicts what I’ve learned elsewhere on this blog.

    I thought that books were supposed to be held to their own standards . . . Does CLAUDETTE COLVIN do what it set out to do in a distinguished way? Does THE DUNDERHEADS do what it set out to do in a distinguished way? Does WHEN YOU REACH ME do what it set out to do in a distinguished way?

    When thinking about them in this regard, it’s obvious to me why works of fiction tend to dominate Newbery season. Why did Phillip Hoose write CLAUDETTE COLVIN? What was his purpose? Answer: To get her story out. Plain and simple. It’s an amazing story and it needed to be told.

    Now compare that to a work of fiction . . . WHEN YOU REACH ME. What did Rebecca Stead set out to accomplish by writing WHEN YOU REACH ME? What was her purpose? Answer: Lots of things! I think she wanted to write about friendships and family and growing up and prejudices and time travel all at the same time. That’s a pretty hefty task! Did she accomplish it in a distinguished way and if she did, moreso than Hoose did with his novel and it’s specific purpose? Personally, I think it’s a no-brainer.

    I would have no problem with CLAUDETTE COLVIN walking away Monday with some hardware, but not if it’s simply because some people feel that there was too much good nonfiction this year to ignore, and that one of them has to make the list. What if 3 fiction novels accomplish what they set out to do in a more distinguished way than Hoose and his novel . . .

    Fiction authors have a head start, because they come up with everything. All plot details, all character traits, all sequenced events. They have to come up with all of it from scratch. Nonfiction authors can’t say the same thing. Because at the end of the day, Phillip Hoose is trying to tell someone else’s story as best he can. And because Colvin is so incredible, her life and the events in it, have made that job very easy for him!

    In all of this, the one nonfiction work that I think is seriously getting left out of discussion is MOONSHOT. Did Floca tell the story of the Apollo mission in a distinguished (individually distinct) way? Did he accomplish what he set out to do better than Hoose accomplished what he set out to do? That’s a difficult question to answer because both are brilliant in their own way, but I’d have to lean toward Floca in this case, because think of how often the Apollo mission has been written about . . . and now how he has totally reinvented it! How many times has Colvin’s story been told in this format? Any way that Hoose decided to write the story is going to come off as “distinguished” because it’s such a fresh story. Can’t you see where some people don’t find Hoose’s novel quite up to Newbery standards when compared to some of the other fiction titles out there?

    I think CLAUDETTE COLVIN is a great story that should be read by many, but I also think that there are some great fiction works out there this year that accomplished what they set out to do in just as, if not more distinguished ways than Hoose did with COLVIN.

    I wish MOONSHOT would’ve been on your list instead of ALMOST ASTRONAUTS. I think it could’ve made for an interesting discussion.

  25. Jonathan Hunt says:

    While I’m a big fan of the judge-a-book-for-what-it’s-trying-to-do school of thought, it’s not the only way to evaluate books–and ultimately you do have to compare the books against each other and not simply against what they are trying to achieve.

    You are making CLAUDETTE COLVIN sound more one-dimensional than it actually is. Not only does the book inform, but it inspires, provokes, engages, and entertains.

    CLAUDETTE COLVIN is about friendships and family. CLAUDETTE COLVIN is about growing up. CLAUDETTE COLVIN is about prejudice. And CLAUDETTE COLVIN is about time travel. You mention that WHEN YOU REACH ME is about each of these things as if it is special in that regard.

    CLAUDETTE COLVIN tells a story just as dramatic and engaging as WHEN YOU REACH ME, but it does so in spite of the facts. It also incorporates excellent primary sources in the photographs that the committee will see, but not discuss. In spite of these disadvantages, CLAUDETTE COLVIN is poised to compete very well with the fiction.

    You make it sound like it’s easier to write good nonfiction than good fiction, but I would disagree, and I have heard many authors who write in both genres concur. Not only did Hoose track down Claudette Colvin, but he waited patiently and persistently, he did scads of research, he wrote eloquently and effortlessly, and he worked around the fact that there are only two surviving photographs of Claudette from childhood.

    Now I mentioned that my earlier responses to MOONSHOT were somewhat tepid, but the book has grown on me in subsequent readings. I don’t think it’s grown enough for me to seriously consider it for Newbery, but I do think it deserves to be in the conversation. Go MOONSHOT!

  26. a teacher says:

    I didn’t mean to imply that nonfiction is easier to write than fiction (nor did I say it).

    But in a discussion about the Newbery medal, I don’t see where Hoose’s tracking down of Claudette Colvin, waiting patiently, and doing research, really fit in. The Newbery medal doesn’t reward those things. So while we can admire Hoose greatly for what he’s done, can you consider that stuff when arguing CLAUDETTE COLVIN for the Newbery? I don’t think so. You have to rely on the text in the book and compare it’s writing to other books, not Hoose’s effort at bringing the story to the forefront.

    I’m just on the other side of the fence. Where you read WHEN YOU REACH ME as an honor, I read it as a truly special, clear cut winner. Where you read CLAUDETTE COLVIN as that, I read it as a book deserving of an honor but nothing more.

    I want CLAUDETTE to honor, I really do. I think it’s deserving of that. I just don’t want it to “rob” WHEN YOU REACH ME!

  27. Jonathan Hunt says:

    When you wrote this paragraph–

    Fiction authors have a head start, because they come up with everything. All plot details, all character traits, all sequenced events. They have to come up with all of it from scratch. Nonfiction authors can’t say the same thing. Because at the end of the day, Phillip Hoose is trying to tell someone else’s story as best he can. And because Colvin is so incredible, her life and the events in it, have made that job very easy for him!

    –it sure seemed like you were implying that fiction is . . . if not harder, then more of an achievement. You’re right that we could not consider Hoose’s story beyond what he has included in the text.

    I’d welcome WHEN YOU REACH ME as the Medal. Would I be thrilled with CLAUDETTE COLVIN? Of course, but I’m a realist. I just want the honor books to reflect some of the diversity of the books the committee is considering, and I want it to grow organically out of the process, and not be an agenda-driven thing. Would love to see CLAUDETTE as an honor book, but would also be happy to see a half dozen nonfiction titles, several picture books, and a couple of poetry books.

  28. Monica Edinger says:

    Jonathan has already done a great job articulating the strengths of the Hoose above. Not to diminish the heroism of Colvin, but for me the book is medal-worthy because of the way Hoose so elegantly wrote about put her story into a time, a movement, an historical era for young people.

    I think it is quite true that often works of nonfiction with information that is new, fresh, or previously unknown to us get a lot of attention. And certainly it is wonderful that this book did all of this. But it isn’t what makes me put it at the top of my list. It is there because I think the author did an incredibly job writing it, weaving in Colvin’s words and other words about that time and place. I think young readers have an anchor with Claudette, they can move their way through that story, her story, and learn not only about her, but about the people and events around her as well. That to me is the brilliance of this book.

    Oh, and go MOONSHOT!

  29. Erica S says:

    Couldn’t the ALA use the name “Newbery” and give out two Newbery awards each year and two sets of Honor awards; one all fiction, the other all non-fiction?
    I know it’s not what’s been done, but clearly creating a new name would do a disservice to the category that didn’t get to keep the original name, and keeping them in the same category also seems clearly to not be working.
    Maybe we could call it Newbery 2.0 and that would convince people that change is good?
    Why not?

  30. Nina says:

    Erica, ALA’s addressed this issue already though with the Sibert award. I think that splitting the Newbery itself would end up weakening it.

    I think of the Newbery-blogosphere as Newbery 2.0. ;) I DO think it allows us to see the most distinguished books of the year for ourselves, in a way that–I hope!–gives us a better appreciation of the “actual” winners, and an understanding that WE have a responsibility in championing distinguished books for children ourselves. The Newbery is just one (amazing) tool at our disposal.

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