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Heavy Medal: A Mock Newbery Blog
Inside Heavy Medal

Love, Love, Love

Jonathan says in a comment on Has the Newbery Lost its Way:

"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."

I’ve been thinking about how to address this issue, because in this final week…and in the final throes of our Mock Newbery voting…I do think a lot of our reactions are coming down to: "I just feel [this way] about [this book]"…."I just LOVE this one more."  The gut reaction.  Now, the gut can be a valuable advisor, but it’s that word "just" that gives me pause.

When I have strong emotional reactions to a title, positive or negative, it makes me hyper-critcial of those reactions. I re-read to look for evidence of craft in the writing that is informing my reaction.  If I can’t find it, on multiple re-reads, or in discussion with others that may be seeing something I dont, then I have to accept that my emotional response is informed in large part by my own tastes, biases, or reader preferences. And that should not enter into Newbery deliberations. 

It’s a difficult level to get to in a Mock, or online. I feel that our online discussion with Stead’s and Peck’s books started to get there.

In the committee, most members come prepared with flagged passages in the text to back up every judgment they profess. If they don’t have evidence, and their point is challenged, it’s a hard point to push.   

In the end: yes, you vote for your favorite. But when you’re on the Newbery committee, you make darned sure that "your favorite" is informed by the criteria, the evidence of craft, and the book’s ultimate effect on its ideal audience…however narrow that audience is and however different their tastes are than your own.   I think that is what Jonathan is asking the committee to do in reference to this year’s nonfiction.

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Nina Lindsay About Nina Lindsay

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

Comments

  1. Dean Schneider says:

    I just read Monica’s excellent list of seven favorites of the year at Educating Alice, so now I’m inspired to list my final favorite seven Newbery-type books–distinguished books with clear evidence of craft that became my personal favorites. Not predictions, just favorites that ought to be in the running:

    1. Marching for Freedom–Eliz. Partridge
    2. Claudette Colvin–Phillip Hoose
    3. When You Reach Me–Rebecca Stead
    4. Sweethearts of Rhythm–Marilyn Nelson
    5. A Season of Gifts–Richard Peck
    6. Tropical Secrets–Margarita Engle
    7. Moonshot–Brian Floca

    So, a fair amount of overlap with Monica’s list….

  2. Jonathan Hunt says:

    Nina, yes, that’s exactly what I was trying to say. :-)

    Dean, I’ve been trying to think of what my seven nominations would be. It’s so hard.

    1. CHARLES AND EMMA
    2. LIPS TOUCH

    These would be very difficult to build consensus around because they straddle the upper line of the Newbery, but they are so excellent that I’d simply have to nominate them. I wouldn’t expect either of them to get very far, however, but stranger things have happened . . .

    3. CLAUDETTE COLVIN
    4. MARCHING FOR FREEDOM

    I could have easily put THE GREAT AND ONLY BARNUM or TRUCE here, too. I think CLAUDETTE may be the easiest nonfiction title to build consensus around. CHARLES AND EMMA and WRITTEN IN BONE are “too old,” YEARS OF DUST and ALMOST ASTRONAUTS “too controversial,” and MARCHING FOR FREEDOM “too visual.” I may be wrong, but that’s what I suspect.

    5. WHEN YOU REACH ME
    6. HEART OF A SHEPHERD

    It would be really tempting for me to strategically use my nominations for some of the underappreciated nonfiction and picture book gems and ignore the middle grade fiction. WHEN YOU REACH ME is the best middle grade novel. A SEASON OF GIFTS, while also excellent, really doesn’t stand a good chance because of the previous accolades. Yeah, yeah, the rules expressly forbid that, but still. HEART OF THE SHEPHERD is my under-the-radar book.

    8. THE DUNDERHEADS

    I JUST LOVE THIS BOOK! (Sorry, Nina.) I also think RED SINGS FROM TREETOPS and ONCE UPON A TWICE are worthy of consideration, and while I personally couldn’t bring myself to nominate MOONSHOT, I would welcome the opportunity to discuss it.

  3. Briar says:

    Our 4th/5th/6th Grade Mock Newbery was today. The winner quietly crept up on us and swept it in the first ballot: PEACE, LOCOMOTION. I was rather surprised. Three honor books were also easily chosen by the number breakdown – they were a lot above the rest: SLOB, WHEN YOU REACH ME and SCAT.

    Of the three that didn’t make it, DARKWOOD had some hardcore fans pushing to make it a fourth honor book but it didn’t fly with the group. CALPURNIA TATE and LOCKED GARDEN were the other two rejected from our finalist list.

  4. Wendy says:

    Why couldn’t you bring yourself to nominate Moonshot, Jonathan? I can’t remember seeing that you’ve brought up any “issues” about it before. It’s still my number-2 choice at this point.

    We’ve probably talked A Season of Gifts to death, but if I were on the committee I wouldn’t be voting for it not because of “previous accolades”, but just because it isn’t that good. I’ve yet to read any argument on the book that makes me see anything particularly distinguished about it. And it’s my opinion that if it doesn’t take any honors (I agree that it’s unlikely to), it’ll be because of that, not because of awards for the first two books. (The racial insensitivity might not even come up, because I don’t think the book is distinguished enough to warrant that level of discussion, myself. Same with Almost Astronauts–I don’t think the writing is good enough to make the accuracy issues even a part of contention.)

    Last year I was trying to read everything that might win and was slightly embarrassed that I hadn’t read The Surrender Tree; this year I’m actually hoping to hear about at least a few less-talked-about books when awards are announced.

  5. Monica Edinger says:

    I have this vague memory of you, Nina, as our chair advising us to come into our meetings with a schizophrenic mindset; that is, ready to fight hard for our favorites yet be equally open to other people’s favorites.

    And I remember thinking both with my heart and strategically (along the lines of Jonathan above) when doing my nominations that year. That is, considering which among my favorites were consensus-builders, which were longshots people might discover and appreciate, and so forth. I did that with my list of seven this year too. There are, as I noted, many other books I could as easily have put on the list, some I like just as much as those I ended up “nominating.” It is a hard, but interesting exercise and I’m not sure I could do it today if I hadn’t done it for Newbery two years ago.

    Dean and Jonathan, I think it is neat to see your lists and see how often they overlap with mine. All the books on your two lists that I didn’t include are books I could easily have put on as well and I will be happy as can be if any of them end up honored.

    And I admit that some of them aren’t there because of the reasons Jonathan mentioned above. And a handful aren’t because I haven’t read them yet or well enough to make a decision. For example, I took a look at THE DUNDERHEADS in the bookstore, liked it, but didn’t feel I had enough sense of it to nominate it over others. Still, I can easily see myself being convinced about it just based on what was written here about it.

    I should say I’m very interested in taking this blog to the next level next year — to a virtual set of meetings. Seems that it might be possible with some of the new web tools out there. (wikis, nings, Google Wave — which I have and don’t understand as of yet.)

  6. Jonathan Hunt says:

    Wendy, oh, gosh, somewhere in the bowels of this blog, I made some really petty comments about MOONSHOT. I don’t remember where, exactly. It’s been interesting to read on Chasing Ray how many people think I hate WHEN YOU REACH ME, when I’ve actually only expressed a dislike for two books here–MOONSHOT and CALPURNIA. Now I mentioned the latter one is growing on me, and while I could be swayed in discussion, I’m not sure it could be among my seven.

    Let’s say I let CHARLES AND EMMA and LIPS TOUCH and A SEASON OF GIFTS go because they are lost causes and two thirds of the committee is probably nominating WHEN YOU REACH ME so it wouldn’t really need my nomination. That leaves me with CLAUDETTE, MARCHING, HEART, and DUNDERHEADS . . . Maybe I could nominate it, but I think more likely I would let you and Monica and Dean nominate it and convince me in the discussion.

    Heck, I may even change my mind on CALPURNIA on a second read. One of the horrible things about being on the Newbery committee is that you have to read books that you dislike several times. That helps you work through some of your negative reactions to see which ones are founded in the criteria and which ones are your baggage. Haven’t had to do that with CALPURNIA yet.

    I’ve always thought the racial insensitivity objections were the least significant obstacles to Newbery recognition for A SEASON OF GIFTS. Not saying they shouldn’t be or won’t be a factor. I just think people find other books that are more distinguished. But, then, I’ve said there aren’t but more than a teeny, tiny handful of worthy middle grade fiction (A SEASON OF GIFTS, WHEN YOU REACH ME, EVOLUTION OF CALPURNIA TATE, HEART OF A SHEPHERD, WHERE THE MOUNTAIN MEETS THE MOON).

    I’m all for surprises!

  7. Miriam says:

    This is one of the reasons that it’s good the Newbery committee is fairly large – one person’s gut reactions tell us more about the reader than the book, but fifteen gut reactions start to tell us something about the book. If no one on the committee love love loves the books, it’s probably not all that distinguished, and even more probably not going to get all that many kids excited about reading.

    It’s also a reason rereading is so crucial to really understanding a book’s strenghts; on a first reading of a book that really grabs me, it’s hard to get past the love love love (and in a way, I don’t *want* to; there’s too much pleasure in being swept away and absorbed in a book I love), but on a second or third reading I can think about it more.

  8. Miriam says:

    And rereading the post I realize I just repeated some of what Nina said. Sorry, Nina! I agree!

  9. a teacher says:

    “I have this vague memory of you, Nina, as our chair advising us to come into our meetings with a schizophrenic mindset; that is, ready to fight hard for our favorites yet be equally open to other people’s favorites.”

    This, and J-Lo’s “Oscar” comment that Read Roger posted and talked about, is why I’m all for some surprises come Monday morning. Sure, I hope that WHEN YOU REACH ME comes away a winner, but I like the idea of committee members coming to the table with “secret weapons” for a few different reasons:

    1. Everyone is supposed to come in with an open mind. So even though some come in with favorites and gut reactions, everyone is also supposed to listen to everyone elses favorites and why. Hoping that some committee members’ favorites are books that may have come in under the radar, I’m confident that an open minded committee would be able to find some very very distinguished writing that hasn’t been blogged about intensely.

    2. I love the blog posting I read somewhere titled, “Buzz begets buzz”. I’m sure that there are at least a handful of books buried in the To-Read piles of bloggers. Books that continue to get passed over for more buzzed about books. Lets face it, as J-Lo put it, not everything can be read. It’s physically impossible. So I like to think that the committee members have read more than just the “buzzed” about, starred reviewed books, and have come to the table with some heavy artillery ready to argue for their diamonds in the rough.

    I wouldn’t want the committee to pick some lesser quality obscure books simply for the sake of “shock and awe”, but I would welcome some well thought out surprises as well.

    I would be saddened if WHEN YOU REACH ME doesn’t come away a winner, but I would also be saddened if we weren’t made aware of some less buzzed about titles come Monday morning that we can all start reading and opening our minds to as well.

  10. LM says:

    Nina,
    I love your main point: in the wake of your personal reaction LOOK for hard evidence of craft and, well, LITERATURE.

    You and I had a back-and-forth a ways back about our differing reactions to Hunger Games/Catching Fire. Those seemed to boil down to our different POVs as readers (the grand view vs. the view through-the-eyes-of-the-protagonist). Such things as reading styles or personal experiences surely taint our literary tastes.

    I’ll tell you what always works for me when nailing down the Art of a book: It’s that sentence that makes you sigh. Either so perfect in its metaphor or so fresh in its observation that you want to write it on a 3×5 and post it on your wall to ponder over.

    I hope (I’m sure) the committee has their own collection of 3×5 “sighs”.

  11. Nina says:

    Monica, you mentioned that “For example, I took a look at THE DUNDERHEADS in the bookstore, liked it, but didn’t feel I had enough sense of it to nominate it over others.”

    My first reading of THE DUNDERHEADS was the same, but it was subsequent re-reads that really opened me to how remarkable it is. Same deal for me with CLAUDETTE. It took other people raving about it for me to come to it the right way, and now it’s definetely in my top tier. WYRM is the one I “love, love, love,” which is why I had to read it four times to convince myself that it is truly distinguished.

    I finally got my husband to read WYRM last night. I knew it’s not his type of book. I asked him this morning what he thought, and he started with: “Well, I have to point out to you that you have a soft spot for time travel books.” “True,” I replied, “which is why I asked you to read it. And?” He admitted: “I have to say it is one of the better books I have read.” Which, from him regarding a children’s book, is pretty high praise.

  12. Nina says:

    “a teacher,” I’m so glad to read your take on this. This is exactly how I hope people will come to this award, and for me is the whole point of doing the Mock Newbery and the blog.

  13. Wendy says:

    (that was me with the Buzz Begets Buzz post, a teacher, at sixboxesofbooks.blogspot.com–inspired by Nina’s comments about the possibly overlooked Book of the Maidservant.)

  14. a teacher says:

    Wendy . . . I thought that was a great post! Because it made me realize that while we have been discussing all these “buzzed” about books on here, I really hope that the committee members have read MORE than just the buzzed about books.

    I’m reading the buzzed about books so I can keep up with discussions on this site. But I’m not a committee member! I’m sure plenty of people are doing the same thing as me. Which means, lots of quality literature is probably sitting in piles UNREAD!

    So I guess I’m almost EXPECTING some lesser buzzed about titles come Monday, because surely, members of the committee are taking the time to read some of those books and other open minded committee members may find them distinguished!

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