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Heavy Medal: A Mock Newbery Blog
Inside Heavy Medal

Mock Newbery Mania

Yesterday, eighteen students and I discussed the following nine books.  I have encapsulated our discussion in brief annotations.
CLAUDETTE COLVIN . . . Students liked how Hoose wove Claudette’s voice into the narrative, and found the themes of the book very powerful, but while the arrest and trial were fascinating there was a noticeable lull in between those events.
DIARY OF A WIMPY KID: DOG DAYS . . . This one got slayed.  Everyone admitted it was light and funny, but most found that it had no deeper meaning . . . and yet it still got votes.
THE LAST OLYMPIAN . . . This one was praised for the humor and adventure, but like DOG DAYS, many found it did not offer something beyond mere entertainment.  Others found the classic good and evil themes good enough to sufficiently distinguish it.
THE MAGICIAN’S ELEPHANT . . . This one had mixed reactions, mostly based on expectations.  It wasn’t what anybody expected, and that delighted some and frustrated others.  A couple sixth grade students spoke eloquently about the themes of this book, about hope and miracles, and good things happening to unlucky people.
MOONSHOT . . . Another book that divided readers.  Some found the style succinctly captured the historical event, but others wanted more detail.  One reader had read T-MINUS and MISSION CONTROL, THIS IS APOLLO, and found them more detailed–and thus, in his estimation, better.
MURDER AT MIDNIGHT . . . Great storytelling–plot, characters, setting.  Some students gave up on this one before being hooked by the mystery, but those who read far enough found this a very satisfying story.  Broad appeal.
TRUCE . . . This one was praised to the hilt by the boys.  I had a pair of sixth grade boys and a pair of fourth grade boys who raved about it.  They liked the setting.  They found the history interesting.  And they appreciated how it showed that war is not inevitable, that people make choices that lead to war, and how they can choose peace instead. 
WHEN YOU REACH ME . . . I had a couple of boys say this was the best book they had ever read.  I also had a couple more students speak very passionately about it.  One student gave up on it, but everybody else that read it, found it a place for it on their ballot.
ZOOBREAK . . . Like DOG DAYS and THE LAST OLYMPIAN, this is a sequel, and that hampered this book somewhat.  The storytelling was good, but the style of writing was not as good as some of the other books.
As expected our first ballot, yielded two frontrunners.  Out of nineteen ballots, THE LAST OLYMPIAN had 7 first place votes and 41 total points.  WHEN YOU REACH ME only had 5 first place votes, but also had 41 total points.  Two more books separated themselves from the pack.  TRUCE had three first place votes and 25 total points and MURDER AT MIDNIGHT had no first place votes, but 22 total points.  We eliminated CLAUDETTE COLVIN and MOONSHOT because neither book had first place votes, and proceeded immediately to a second ballot.
On the second ballot, THE LAST OLYMPIAN retained its 7 first place votes, but dropped to 37 total points while WHEN YOU  REACH ME tied it with 7 first place votes, but jumped to 45 total points.  We declared WHEN YOU REACH ME as our winner in spite of the fact that it did not have either the necessary 10 first place votes and 10 point spread.  Part of the problem is that many students had both books on their ballots. 
We also had a controversial choice with the honor books.  We were split right down the middle as to whether to to recognize THE LAST OLYMPIAN as the only honor book or to also recognize TRUCE and MURDER AT MIDNIGHT which both slightly increased their support.  Thus, I decided that we would have three honor books, but the students would like me to note that THE LAST OLYMPIAN is really almost like a second winner.
WHEN YOU REACH ME by Rebecca Stead
TRUCE by Jim Murphy  

I’m appropriating the Meta-Mock Newbery list that Miriam has been keeping on a previous thread, and have updated it here with the Rockland County, NY and Middleton, Wi results along with Briar’s and mine.  Do chime in with late-breaking results.

When You Reach Me 14
Evolution of Calpurnia Tate 2
Where the Mountain Meets the Moon 2
Slob 1 
Love, Aubrey 1
Peace, Locomotion 1

Where the Mountain Meets the Moon 6 
Anything but Typical 4
Claudette Colvin 4
Evolution of Calpurnia Tate 4
When You Reach Me 4
Written in Bone 2
Marching for Freedom 1
Crossing Stones 1
Peace, Locomotion 1
Almost Astronauts 1
The Dunderheads 1
The Magician’s Elephant 1
Umbrella Summer 1
Year the Swallows Came Early 1
Chasing Lincoln’s Killer 1
Eleven Birthdays 1
Love, Aubrey 1
Wild Things 1 
Murder at Midnight 1
The Last Olympian 1
Truce 1
The Girl Who Threw Butterflies 1
Slob 1
Scat 1

Secret Keeper 1 
Jonathan Hunt About Jonathan Hunt

Jonathan Hunt is the Coordinator of Library Media Services at the San Diego County Office of Education. He served on the 2006 Newbery committee, and has also judged the Caldecott Medal, the Printz Award, the Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards, and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. You can reach him at


  1. I think we may be counting Middleton twice, actually…

    I also found a Massachussets one, with WYRM taking the win and The Secret Keeper as a single Honor.

  2. Jonathan Hunt says:

    Okay, I subtracted Wisconsin and added Massachusetts. I notice that WHEN YOU REACH ME also won the ACPL Mock Printz. Anybody want to speculate on the book’s Printz chances. I think it’s a realy possibility.

  3. Sondy at Sonderbooks says:

    Maybe a Printz Honor, but I don’t see WYRM beating out MARCELO IN THE REAL WORLD for the Printz.

  4. I think there are enough Printz candidates that are a) really good and b) more squarely in the expect age-range that WYRM is unlikely as a win, though *maybe* an honor?

    (Personally, I’m rooting for FIRE. Yes, it drags a touch in the sections dealing with Leck, but the characters and the way this generation deals with the sins of their parents are just so good, and the book is so absorbing and well written, that I’m willing to forgive it its few flaws.)

  5. Jonathan Hunt says:

    Yes, I agree. Can’t see WHEN YOU REACH ME taking the Award, but could very well Honor. And it stands a great chance of following THE HOUSE OF THE SCORPION and LIZZIE BRIGHT AND THE BUCKMINSTER BOY in being recognized by both committees.

    Here’s a far-fetched possibility: WHEN YOU REACH ME takes the Printz and MARCELO IN THE REAL WORLD takes the Newbery. MARCELO is on the discussion list for both Notable Books and Notable Recordings, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see it make both lists, and win some Belpre recognition. I can’t really see this scenario happening, but it could . . .

    CHARLES AND EMMA, another title many feel is too old for Newbery, is on the discussion list for both Notable committees (Books and Recordings).

  6. Why isn’t writing like that in the Percy Jackson series, considered “distinguished”? Doesn’t a book that is highly entertaining, have to be somewhat distinguished, in some way?

  7. WYRM will not win. I sooooo do not get the buzz over this book. I loved the author’s first book, First Light.

    I suspect it will be a title not on your list above. Only time will tell.

  8. Jonathan, your students have come up with some great results! I find it so interesting that WYRM and LAST OLYMPIAN ran neck and nect. I also appreciate the applause for MURDER AT MIDNIGHT, which I felt was very solid and appealing. It kept on not standing out to me among others we were looking at, but I do wonder if it couldn’t be one of the un-buzzed true contenders at the table…

  9. Our student’s are voting on their Mock Newbery as I sit and write this. I would be very interested in your requirements. Did you require that all the students read all the books on the list or did they get to pick and choose? I would really like a gander at your format. This is the second year we have done it at our school. I use the pronoun we recklessly because I really did nothing but help choose the books. Our gifted teacher did all the work. We have found the most difficult issue to be justifying getting enough copies of the books the kids read with the minuscule budget my district is able to grant.

  10. Jonathan Hunt says:

    1. Yeah, you could say that THE LAST OLYMPIAN accomplishes what it sets out to do just as well as anything else. That’s why I think you have to use that argument in tandem with the criteria.

    The place where Riordan falls down in comparison to his Newbery contenders is style and theme. He’s a great storyteller, and my kids love him, but even they could recognize these elements were missing in discussion. They just couldn’t bring themselves to not vote for it because it was their favorite.

    2. I did not require every student to read every book, although that would be ideal. I’ve never had the kind of budget where I could buy multiple copies of anything that wasn’t phenomenonally popular.

    Because I started in October rather than September, I didn’t have as many readers on various books as I would like. We’re now going to start reading for next year with some of the advance reader copies that I already have. So it should be much less of a problem next year.

  11. a teacher says:

    I like the brief description of each book your kids voted on Jonathan. I’d love to see this same thing for each of the books you and Nina discussed last weekend!

  12. What is most impressive is that your sixth graders READ ALL THOSE BOOKS! You are clearly passing on your passion for reading good books. Kudos. That seems to me to be the real stock in holding a mock.

  13. Jonathan Hunt says:

    Yes, a mock Newbery is a very enriching experience for students. If you’re looking to combine critical thinking with recreational reading, it’s the perfect activity. Throw out AR and do a mock Newbery.

    Let’s see. I’m not sure how much I can remember about the Oakland discussion.

    ALMOST ASTRONAUTS . . . We admired the perspective and the passion of this book. The research was impressive. And yet something about it bothered us and I’m not quite sure we ever put our finger on it. Ultimately, however, I think it just did not hold up to the other books on the table.

    CHARLES AND EMMA . . . Again, more passion, perspective, and research as evidenced by those wonderful quotes. We questioned whether this was a book for children. Would they really be interested in the Darwin’s marriage? (Me: Ever heard of this book called TWILIGHT?) We also found there was some repetition of information, and were not of one mind on whether this was a strength or a weakness.

    CLAUDETTE COLVIN . . . More wonderfulness. We thought Colvin’s contribution to the narrative was significant enough that she might have been a co-author and could have been credited as such on the book, but were hard pressed to see how that fit into the criteria. Some felt that the book design made the book less effective. I strongly disagreed with that point.

    THE DUNDERHEADS . . . We loved everything. Our only concern was how to judge this against some of the weightier books.

    THE EVOLUTION OF CALPURNIA TATE . . . All the literary elements of this one were lavishly praised. I whined about the slow pacing and asked what made this the best of this bunch.

    MARCHING FOR FREEDOM . . . Vivid quality to the writing. Primary source quotes and song lyrics on virtually every page. Wonderful focus on children during the march, but some found it hard to tell them apart.

    WHEN YOU REACH ME . . . More wonderfulness. We had a few questions about this one, but I have forgotten what they were. Based on the discussion, I was sure that WYRM and CALPURNIA were going to emerge as the leading fiction titles, which is why I was so surprised to see MOUNTAIN in the lead after the first ballot.

    WHERE THE MOUNTAIN MEETS THE MOON . . . We said lots of wonderful things about this. Our discussion of the characters were interesting because we felt they were more developed than standard fairy tale characters and not as developed as most novel characters (Calpurnia or Miranda vs. Minli, for example). We were not sure whether this was a strength of the book or a weakness.

  14. I’ll try to tack on to Jonathan’s comments regarding titles where our discussion differed…

    ALMOST ASTRONAUTS: Sounds like we were on the same page.

    CHARLES AND EMMA: We also questioned the audience, while remarking that literarily this was outstanding nonfiction writing. We found on the whole that the parts we responded to MOST strongly were things we thought were MOST interesting to adults; so, while it is certainly a distinguished book, and can certainly be included in the Newbery age range…is it a distinguished book FOR that age range? It did always hang on to a handful of votes through every ballot.

    CLAUDETTE COLVIN. I tried to steer us towards evaluating just the parts that were authored by Hoose, but also considering is authorship as the way he crafted, edited, shaped, and pieced together the parts by Colvin. Colvin’s language is her own, but the way it is used in the book is Hoose’s.

    DUNDERHEADS. I think many of us were compelled at the LAYERS of distinguished elements that we were able to uncover in such an “unweighty” book, and this is what made it truly distinguished. On the surface: great use of language, humor. Next layer: effective characterization with minimal text (a minor quibble: while most of the talents were ones that any kid could have, a couple of them (nails and hypnotizing) were out of the ordinary). Next layer: Rhythm and pacing is intrinically built as much as through what is left OUT as what is THERE. Sophisticated tone perfectly pitches to an audience a theme that is essentially simple, and true to audience: the best things in life are making your mother happy, and a bowl of ice cream.

    CALPURNIA TATE: While acknowledging the strength of characterization and setting in this story, many of us asked what it really adds up to. Late in the dialogue though, several others came out to say: this character and setting are the most vivid of all on the table, and therefore have the biggest impact with a certain readership. We champion a narrow readership with other books, shouldn’t it stand for this one too? I do feel like this was the most DIVISIVE book on our list…that neither side was able to persuade the other.

    MARCHING. There were plenty in “my” camp who felt this was a more compelling text that CLAUDETTE…Jonathan’s group latched on to the same ideas. It hung on very close behind CLAUDETTE in every ballot…making me wonder if it HADN’T been on our list, if its champions would have vaulted CLAUDETTE instead into higher place… ???

    WHEN YOU REACH ME. I think I said everything already.

    WHERE THE MOUNTAIN MEETS THE MOON. We noted the very same thing about characterization, but some felt strongly this was a weakness (one person pointed out that Minli is the LEAST developed character). Some felt the pacing was not engaging, especially at the end as it weakens the dramatic tension. I’d like to have been in Jonathan’s group to hear the discussion, as I’m feeling we didn’t quite do justice to this title. I do think it has several notable weaknesses (I still find the language itself stilted ), but it’s strengths are unique and well executed. A key I think is understanding it for its audience, which is young: just beginning to grasp what a narrative and character arc can be. I think that the structure and pacing are perfectly suited for this.

  15. Jonathan Hunt says:

    I’d guess that at least a third of CLAUDETTE COLVIN is her own words and it could be closer to half. But TO BE A SLAVE is about 90 percent slave narrative. I wonder how that committee gave it an Honor based solely on Lester’s text. They had to consider his role as an editor as well. I’m betting this committee does likewise.

    I wish I’d had WHERE THE MOUNTAIN MEETS THE MOON available to my students. I do agree that it reads young, and thus you should consider how a third and fourth grade audience would respond to the book.

  16. Jonathan Hunt says:

    Maricopa County (Glendale, AZ) Mock Newbery



  17. Jonathan Hunt says:

    St. Joseph County (IN) Mock Newbery

    Child participants



  18. Jonathan Hunt says:

    Ocean County (NJ, I think, but not sure)



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