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Heavy Medal: A Mock Newbery Blog
Inside Heavy Medal

Too Old for the Newbery?

Last year, we considered the merits of some books–CHARLES AND EMMA and LIPS TOUCH–that were at the very top of the Newbery age range.  You’ll remember the revised Newbery manual has some specific guidelines for these kinds of books.

In some instances, award-winning books have been criticized for exceeding the
upper age limit of fourteen.

If a book is challenging, and suitable for 13-14-year-olds but not for younger
readers, is it eligible? Yes; but it can be given an award only if it does what it sets
out to do as well as or better than other, younger books that are also eligible.
Questions for committees to consider include these:
* Is there any 14-year-old for whom this book is suitable?
* If so, is it distinguished enough to be considered?
* If so, exactly what 14-year-olds would respond to it, and why?

A book may be considered even though it appeals to a fairly small part of the age
range if the committee feels that
* it is so distinguished that everyone of that age should know the book;
* it is so distinguished, in so many ways, that it deserves recognition for the
excellence it provides to a small but unique readership;
* it is exceptionally fine for the narrow part of the range to which it appeals, even
though it may be eligible for other awards outside this range.

So with this is mind, tell me what you think of the following.

AS EASY AS FALLING OFF THE FACE OF THE EARTH by Lynne Rae Perkins is a wonderful road trip novel.  While this one has a more conventional plot than CRISS CROSS, the main attraction here continues to be character, theme, and style.  This book has some of the best sentence-level writing of the year, perfectly capturing the world as only Perkins can describe it.  The plot-driven aspect of the book might appeal more to child readers than CRISS CROSS did, but do the older main character and the YA-ness of the cover pitch it to an older audience?

THE CARDTURNER by Louis Sachar reminds me of STARGIRL by Jerry Spinelli, that is, a book that is technically YA but so wholesome and engaging that it will appeal to many middle school readers, and possibly even some elementary readers.  I loved being immersed in the world of bridge, but then we like to play a similar game in my family–Rook–so the card jargon was not completely unfamiliar.  And it was just a great story.

THE WATER SEEKER by Kimberly Willis Holt is the story of a pioneer family in the American West during the mid-1800s.  It does not feel like your typical juvenile Newbery book, but it’s historical fiction (and we all know how much the committee loves this genre) and it just seems to transcend an audience category.  It’s my least favorite of this bunch, but has perhaps the best chance.

Now these may seem younger than CHARLES AND EMMA and LIPS TOUCH, but are they still too old for the Newbery?  And if not, are they distinguished enough?

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 agree. I see Newbery being too old. I believe that it is impacting the writing that is being geared toward 3-6. I am finding less and less and poorly written for that age group. If not newbery, then should ALA be looking for another type of award to give?

  2. The only one of these I’ve read was Cardturner. And it’s funny, Jonathan, but I, too, think that part of my love for the book springs out of my family’s passion for playing Rook.

    I also think it appeals to the math geek, game-loving side of my personality — I don’t think of it as appealing as much to your typical librarian types. But I do imagine there are lots of kids out there who will love it.

    Anyway, I loved it, and based on the Newbery criteria you quoted, it should definitely be eligible. But although it’s very very good, I didn’t quite think it was as distinguished as One Crazy Summer or A Conspiracy of Kings or The Dreamer. I’m not sure if I can put my finger on why, though.

  3. I just reread AS EASY AS FALLING and I’m pretty sure the only reason Ry was 15 is so he can carry a driver’s permit. I adore this book and agree with Jonathan about the writing.

    It never occured to me that THE WATER SEEKER might be considered YA. I was very let down by the plot.

    I’m looking forward to THE CARDTURNER, my copy should show up next week. I’m hoping it will appeal to my under 12 students.

  4. Count me in as one of the fans of CARDTURNER who…er..took the whale way out. While I liked it tremendously I’m not sure it would be in my top seven (say one of my Newbery nominees). That said, it definitely doesn’t seem too old to me.

    As for AS EASY AS FALLING OFF THE FACE OF THE EARTH it IS one of my absolutely favorites of the year and would definitely be among my nominees. (DaNae, I agree with you about the age.)

  5. I’m a big fan of Zachary Beaver, and I’m from Nebraska and an Oregon Trail buff. I was really looking forward to THE WATER SEEKER and ended up quite disappointed with the characters and the plot. I thought my expectations were maybe too high–so I’m glad to see I’m not the only person who was disappointed. Rats.

  6. I absolutely adore As Easy as Falling Off the Face of the Earth. I have a question: With the use of images, especially the dog’s journey, would it qualify for Newbery?

  7. Jonathan Hunt says:

    I read AS EASY AS FALLING in manuscript (sans illustrations–so I can vouch that it does work without them, and, yes, Barbara, the illustrations do not disqualify this book, but any award would need to be based exclusively on the text, however). It was probably one of the first 2010 books I read, and I probably need to reread it myself. The prose is effortless and effervescent in comparison to my current books, FORGE and BONESHAKER. Like Monica, I’m riding the whale way, way out with CARDTURNER, but probably not enough to warrant a nomination. THE WATER SEEKER started out promising, and I do think it’s well written, but somewhere along the way I lost interest in the plot and characters.

  8. Awww, you’re missing half the fun! The whale stuff is great! (But, okay, I’m a math/logic geek.)

  9. I thought The Water Seeker was excellent, and not too old at all. It’s been a while since I read it, but I noted at the time that I thought the characters and historical content were both engaging. It definitely wouldn’t have a wide child audience, but my library’s copy has had a nice respectable circulation.

    • Nina Lindsay says:

      I also think that Water Seeker is not too old at all, and was surprised to see Jonathan suggest it as such. I do agree that it wanders and loses focus in the second half…the only reason for me not considering it for the shortlist. I do think it’s a strong contender–the voice and style stand out as exempelary this year.

  10. Jonathan Hunt says:

    None of the three books mentioned above strike me, personally, as being too old for the Newbery, but since they are more likely to appeal to grades 7-9 in the Newbery range rather than grades 4-6, many people may think they are too old.

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