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Heavy Medal: A Mock Newbery Blog
Inside Heavy Medal

Great Expectations

When ESPERANZA RISING was published, it immediately leaped to the top of my Newbery list and remained there for most of the year before being nudged aside in the fall by SILENT TO THE BONE.  Of course, the Newbery went to A YEAR DOWN YONDER and none of my top three–with THE ART OF KEEPING COOL rounding out my list–got so much as an honor.  I’ve been a big Pam Munoz Ryan fan ever since, but ESPERANZA RISING remains my favorite.  I do like THE DREAMER, would be pleased to see it recognized, and could even vote for it myself in the right situation.  I’m not crazy in love with it the way I was with ESPERANZA RISING . . . but I really want to be.  Do I like this book for its own merits?  Or am I simply a big fan of the author?

I was on the Rita Williams-Garcia bandwagon long before it was cool to be on the Rita Williams-Garcia bandwagon.  I especially love the fearlessness she displayed in EVERY TIME A RAINBOW DIES (a rape victim falls gradually falls for a boy who witnessed the act from afar) and NO LAUGHTER HERE (female genital mutilation).  That latter title was one of my personal favorites (THE SUNBIRD by Elizabeth Wein was the other) in the year that KIRA-KIRA won.  While NO LAUGHTER HERE would have made Scrotum Hysteria pale in comparison, you really have to marvel at a writer who can tackle such brutality with grace and tenderness.  I wouldn’t begrudge ONE CRAZY SUMMER recognition, and I would be genuinely pleased for the author, but I wish I loved this book as passionately as others do.  Again, do I like the book for its own merits?  Or am I simply a big fan of the author?

Now if you told me, I could only vote for middle grade fiction, then KEEPER, THE DREAMER, and ONE CRAZY SUMMER would be my picks right now (and probably in that order), but I’m feeling just a little bit ambivalent about them.  I can be convinced to support them more staunchly or abandon them altogether.  I obviously need more reading and discussion on these titles to clarify my position.  Here, as with KEEPER in my previous post, I am really not measuring these books against the Newbery criteria just yet, but rather trying to analyze my own personal reading experience.  In both of these instances my initial enthusiasm was tempered by the fact that I have such great expectations for their authors.  Of course, I’d never get to process this baggage at the Newbery table, but when push comes to shove, and I only get three votes, I’m likely to vote for the books that win my heart as well as my head.  The irony, of course, is that I have championed A CONSPIRACY OF KINGS and KEEPER as worthy contenders and yet I know that there are readers who will feel that Turner and Appelt didn’t live up to their great expectations either.

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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. Sondy says:

    Interesting. Because I haven’t read any other books by Rita Williams-Garcia or Pam Munoz Ryan, and I am crazy about ONE CRAZY SUMMER and THE DREAMER. On the other hand, I’m a little less enthusiastic about A CONSPIRACY OF KINGS — because I didn’t think it was quite as outstanding as Megan Whalen Turner’s other books.

    So maybe being a fan of the author actually makes you harder to please? Higher expectations?

  2. Nancy Werlin says:

    “Higher expectations?” says Sondy.

    I also think there’s the allure of the new and (therefore) glittery. We get an extra little burst of excitement from the feeling of discovery, and we also tend to downgrade what we’ve seen before, be it never so well executed. Familiarity breeds contempt; we love the new baubles. These are feelings we need to be aware of and guard against.

  3. Miriam says:

    I think we do develop higher expectations for authors with which we’re familiar, and that this changes the reading experience. I don’t find it disappointing,* though; it’s more that if my first exposure to an author overwhelmed me with joy/amazingness, later exposure is likely to only whelm me. And I often enjoy the experience of being whelmed every bit as much as the experience of being overwhelmed; it’s like meeting an old friend after an absence, there are new conversations to have, but it’s comfortably exciting rather than exhilarating. And we remember exhilarating more strongly—when I’m asked what my favorite books were this year, what comes out is likely to be the most positively memorable, with more strongly-remembered books overshadowing pleasant, softer reads.

    *unless, of course, the later-read books are significantly worse or do something aggravating. In which case I get a completely unwarranted feeling of personal betrayal: “I ran out to get this book with excitement because I loved your other book, and you made me read this?!” But that’s not the situation under discussion here…

  4. Nina Lindsay says:

    Having often shared Miriam’s asterixed reaction….I have to acknowledge the bravery of authors who must publish on the heels of success. A writer has to keep writing, and trust herself to be true to her voice. If she stops herself with “is this as good as ___?” then the writing dies.

    I do think that Jonathan’s process, of recognizing these expectations early on in the reading process, is ultimately important in the award process. That is: get it out, in order to get over it.

  5. My first Rita Williams-Garcia was last year’s Jumped. I loved that book and hoped it would garner some Printz love but to no avail. Nevertheless, it’s now in our 8th grade classroom libraries. Although I loved One Crazy Summer, I couldn’t help comparing it to The Rock and The River. I felt the author’s voice kept breaking through and it was distracting. It was also during a readathon… so i will have to revisit it, along with some other possible contenders.

  6. What Nancy Werlin says rings true.

  7. Marc Aronson says:

    what I love about OCS is that it is funny, astute about family — especially the POV of an older sister, and warm, but over its shoulder it so captures a political/cultural/racial moment. The one thing I don’t like is the cover art — not Rita’s fault and surely the paperback will be totally different.

  8. Jonathan Hunt says:

    Nancy, Nina, and Sharon raise good points about how our first impressions are often clouded by excess baggage that have little to do with the book and a lot to do with our perceptions and prejudices. Contemplating a follow up post on these points. Hmmm.

    Kathy, I liked JUMPED, but not as much as EVERY TIME A RAINBOW DIES or NO LAUGHTER HERE. I’m too lazy to look this up, but I think RAINBOW and LAUGHTER are in third person, while JUMPED and ONE CRAZY SUMMER are in first person. I wonder if some of my personal response is rooted in the narrative choice . . .

    Marc, I love the cover. I think it’s eye-catching and will lead people to pick it up, but I don’t think it represents the book very well, neither the subject nor the tone.

  9. Martha says:

    and Marc fortunately the cover should not be a consideration for the Newbery committee…

  10. Mr. H says:

    I have not read any of R W-G’s other works so ONE CRAZY SUMMER was new to me. I read it early in the summer after hearing praise for it on other book blogs as “the one to beat”. I was not particularly impressed . . .

    I’m sure it will be discussed at length on this blog so I’ll hold off till then! I’m looking forward to some debate!

  11. DaNae says:

    It is possible the expectation baggage got in the way of KEEPER for me. When I read THE UNDERNEATH I was overwhelmed with the use of language, the tangible setting, and the menace that lurked behind every page. While I enjoyed KEEPER it merely “whelmed” me. I am new to Rita Williams with ONE CRAZY SUMMER as well. I found everything about OCS Newbery fodder. THE DREAMER was another story. I too was a fan of EZPERANZA and NAOMI. THE DREAMER was lovely in every way except the way in which I can get my students to pick it up and read it. (Oh, stop reaching for your Newbery Criteria handbook already; I know that child appeal is NOT to be considered. As long as one kid is in the audience – criteria is met – check.)

    I do get excited when my favorites have a book coming out, especially if they have picked up medals in the past. I wasn’t disappointed with Jennifer Holm or Deborah Wiles’ offerings this year. Whether or not Newbery feels the same way will leave me chewing my fingernails in anticipation.

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