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Heavy Medal: A Mock Newbery Blog
Inside Heavy Medal

Newbery-Induced Attention Deficit Disorder

With the deadline looming for announcing the shortlist for the Oakland Public Library Mock Newbery, I’ve been frantically reading multiple books in an effort to make sure that no stone is left unturned.  I’m juggling no less than six books, trying to decide which ones might be the best contenders.  It’s probably not normal to read this many books simultaneously, but it happens quite frequently on award committees, particularly late in the year.

FREDERICK DOUGLASS by David Adler is a very solid biography with two starred reviews.  The book design is nothing special, and that makes it easy to overlook this one, but I find the text to be quite good.  I’ve always read bits and pieces about Frederick Douglass in other nonfiction books, but never a biography devoted exclusively to him.  Some of the reviews ding this one for not being as nuanced as it could have been.  I’ll have to see how that bears out.

A NEST FOR CELESTE by Henry Cole is an animal fantasy with a historical cameo from John James Audobon.  Unlike FREDERICK DOUGLASS, the package is extremely pleasing, heavily illustrated in the fashion of THE DOLL PEOPLE by Martin, Godwin, and Selznick.  But I find the writing to be extremely lackluster.  I’m not the biggest fan of animal fantasy, and this one should appeal to younger readers in the Newbery range.  I really want to love this one, but . . . not so far.  Maybe it will get better?

TURTLE IN PARADISE by Jennifer Holm has a great setting–Key West–and some wonderfully realized characters.  It reads effortlessly and, like A NEST FOR CELESTE, would be a great 4th grade Newbery book.  Of course, Holm has already won a pair of Newbery Honors for OUR ONLY MAY AMELIA and PENNY FROM HEAVEN.  Could this be her third?  I’m not sure.  I’m liking it, but it’s sort of middle of the pack for me.

THE BONESHAKER by Kate Milford is, by turns, by turns absolutely brilliant (the fantasy bits) and absolutely boring (the historical fiction pieces).  That’s a big oversimplification, but I find one chapter riveting and the next one a yawner.  I think this one is too long by half, but I’ll also acknowledge that this book suffers from the way I’m reading it.  I think I just need to take the plunge and commit to this one alone.  Where is a nice long plane flight when you need one?

THE FANTASTIC SECRET OF OWEN JESTER by Barbara O’Connor is another potential young book.  This one reads really well for those fresh off transitional chapter books: short chapters, short paragraphs, lots of dialogue, interesting characters and plot.  I like the premise so far, and definitely want to keep reading, but it doesn’t scream distinguished to me.  But I like it, and if you made me choose a book for 3rd graders, this would probably be the one.

CLEMENTINE, FRIEND OF THE WEEK by Sara Pennypacker is another good Newbery book for 3rd graders.  I haven’t read the other Clementine books.  I like this one, but I find myself comparing Clementine to Ramona, Junie B. Jones, Judy Moody, and several others of this ilk–not that I should, but I have a hard time shaking it off.  Then, too, I think the best transitional chapter books have gone graphic: CAPTAIN UNDERPANTS by Dav Pilkey and BABYMOUSE by Jennifer Holm.  I’m just having a hard time getting excited about this one.  Someone please help me see the light!

Well, what do you think?  Which book(s) should I finish?

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. Melissa (oddharmonic) says:

    I recommend finishing Turtle in Paradise — while it’s (pretty much) predictable, I found it satisfying.

    I don’t know about the new Clementine book for standing on its own; I’ve already read the rest of the series. I generally feel that Clementine has a voice that I like better than Junie B., but not quite as much as Ramona.

    I agree The Boneshaker would probably read best if not read simultaneously with other books. I read it in a couple of sittings in a rare period of not reading multiple books at once, although I tend to split my simultaneous reading into one fiction and one non-fiction, or at least different enough subjects/genres to keep things easily separated in my mind.

  2. What about FORGE by Laurie Halse Anderson?

  3. Jonathan Hunt says:

    My hold on FORGE just came in so I’ll go pick it up today. In terms of putting it on the Oakland Public Library Mock Newbery shortlist, a December 12 date makes it virtually impossible to include things published in late October and beyond. Hence, probably no FORGE, no SUGAR, no BARBIE, no TALE, among other things. Bummer. :-(

  4. I was also mixed on Boneshaker, though for slightly different reasons than you’ve stated (but much of my “meh” has to do with resolution, so you’re not there yet,) so I won’t push you to finish it… but it probably is best appreciated with a more concentrated read. I haven’t read any of the others, but I’m most curious about FANTASTIC SECRET OF OWEN JESTER, so you should totally finish that one.

  5. So let me get this straight . . . you are not willing to champion for books like TURTLE IN PARADISE and THE BONESHAKER because you are reading them quickly, and alongside four other books. But are very willing to fight for books like KEEPER, A CONSPIRACY OF KINGS, and ONE CRAZY SUMMER. Books you were able to read (possibly even re-read) independently, without the cloudiness of other titles getting in the way.

    That doesn’t seem quite fair to books like TURTLE IN PARADISE and THE BONESHAKER. I’m not necessarily knocking you Jonathan, as I realize reading everything and giving it all a fair shot is quite the task . . . it’s just a little upsetting if members of the actual committee read books in this way as well. Especially books like TURTLE IN PARADISE and THE BONESHAKER, books that should be fairly serious contenders.

    BTW, I just finished TURTLE IN PARADISE with my 5th graders and they LOVED it! It’s such an effortless read, but so perfect in many ways. I had my top choices as 1. THE DREAMER 2: KEEPER 3: MOCKINGBIRD but I’m shifting those around. New choices . . .


    Based on what else I’ve read, I don’t care about any others at this time. I just want those two recognized come Jan-Feb.

  6. Jonathan Hunt says:

    Mr. H, you misunderstand me. I am not willing to champion them because (a) I have not finished reading them and (b) if and when I finish them, I will not be willing to champion them unless I find them distinguished. That doesn’t mean that other people will not be willing to champion them. In fact, I sort of suspect they would. Hence, this post. I’m not sure how I got lumped into the fighting for ONE CRAZY SUMMER camp.

  7. With only moments to go before our Newbery club arrives for our second meeting. Let me chime in.

    CLEMENTINE: For Delineation of Characters and Appropriateness of style. I wish I could look up the page, but my copy is out of reach. Find the page where Clementine describes the way Mitchell says the word BASEBALL.

    TURTLE IN PARADISE: Easy to love – Setting, Characters. The plot gets a bit silly towards the end.

    OWEN JESTER: I really liked it and feel like it will be an easier sell to kids than O’Conner’s more distinguished POPEYE AND ELVIS.

    BONESHAKER had a great ending but really was sluggish off and on. It took me forever to get through it. The ending may have been worth it.

  8. Nina Lindsay says:

    Mr. H, to add on to what Jonathan said, let me just add something about how the actual committee members probably read. They can’t read all the way through everything, so many of them are probably putting things down if they’re not finding them compelling. They may be reading simultaneously, if that works for them…it seems to for Jonathan. (I have a different strategy, b/c it works for me: when my “to read” pile gets too unmanageable, I make a couple of hours to sit with the stack and read the first 5-10 pages of everything. I then sort into 3 piles: 1) want destperately to finish, 2) can’t tell; 3) seems pretty drecky. And then I start reading, one at a time, in that priority order.) Remember the committee members are depending on each other to keep each other up to do date on what seems strong and should be read completely. So you want everyone to read *widely* enough that they can each pick up on a variety of strengths, and bring a diverse group of strong books to the table.

    The committee members do, ultimately *compel* each other to give certain books thorough and thoughtful re-reads, and that through the nomination process. Jonathan and I are attempting an extremely rough simulation of that right now, trying to identify our “shortlist.”

  9. Sorry Jonathan, I don’t know how I lumped you in with the ONE CRAZY SUMMER camp either.

    I probably came off a little miffed, I’m not. I just feel bad for the books that are really good but have to be read in a hurried fashion and feel a little anger toward the books that garner a lot of buzz early on and get read carefully, multiple times, by many. I realize this can work against a book too!

    For example using you Jonathan (sorry) . . . What if the tables were turned . . . and TURTLE IN PARADISE was read earlier, all by itself, and KEEPER was balanced with 3-4 others? Isn’t it possible that you could’ve missed out on some of KEEPER’s “distinguishedness” due to being overloaded by other titles you were reading?

  10. Jonathan is How I Nicky Flynn, Finally Get A Life (And A Dog) by Art Corrieau on your shortlist? It came out in May, I haven’t seen it on many Mock list but thought it was very good. Its one of my wild card picks.

    The Boneshaker really worked for me. Though I intially put it down after the first few chapters. After reading two reviews I picked it up again. ( I did the same thing with Out of my Mind) The second time in I embraced the rhythm of Boneshaker and loved it. I agree it’s a story that needs single focus.

  11. Jonathan Hunt says:

    Mr. H, I do not *always* read books simultaneously, and often the ones I do read this way are midlist titles that are not getting any buzz anywhere, books the average or even avid reader would not be familiar with. In this case, I am reading quickly with the pressure of wanting to give lots of books a fair look for the shortlist. Would it be better if I spent this week reading FREDERICK DOUGLASS and A NEST FOR CELESTE, announce the shortlist next week sometime, and then continue with TURTLE, BONESHAKER, OWEN, and CLEMENTINE (so that, in effect, none of those latter books had a chance)? I don’t think so. But, also, don’t confuse my reading process with the committee’s. They (or at least significant a significant number of them) probably read each of these books months ago.

    Doret, I haven’t seen NICKY FLYNN yet. I’ll have to put a hold on it and check it out. Thanks for the tip. I’m 100 pages into BONESHAKER and 90 pages into TURTLE. I’ll focus on these two first and then probably alternate between FORGE and OWEN JESTER next week.

  12. Genevieve says:

    I recommend that you keep reading CLEMENTINE – the writing and character delineation are far better than Junie B. Jones, and the last part of the book is fairly different from the other Clementine books, with more emotional depth (but not in a manipulative way — it isn’t just that Clementine is grieving about something, it’s how she does so that rings true).

  13. Two books I think deserve to be tossed into the mix:
    Zora and Me by Victoria Bond and T.R. Simon (pub Oct 12)
    Grounded by Kate Klise (pub Nov 9)
    Both come out late, so they could suffer from the “late in the season” deficit disorder :-) But don’t let them get away. They are fine reads.

  14. Jonathan Hunt says:

    Just finished TURTLE IN PARADISE and CLEMENTINE. I liked both, just not in a Newbery sort of way. Will have to check out GROUNDED and ZORA AND ME. Thanks for the tip, Kate.

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