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Heavy Medal: A Mock Newbery Blog
Inside Heavy Medal

Top Seven

I solicited October (top three) and November (top five) nominations, and now it’s time for the final December (top seven) nominations.  We’re almost certainly a couple of weeks behind the real committee in that regard, and they did not have the luxury of tweaking their nominations with each successive round.  However, they not only had a huge head start on us, but they have the benefit of a shared suggestion list.  So here goes . . .

A CONSPIRACY OF KINGS . . . This one is dominant in all literary elements–plot, character, setting, style, theme–and is quite simply the best fiction book of the year.  People have questioned whether it exceeds the Newbery audience and they have questioned whether the literary elements can be appreciated on the merits of this single book, but to my mind nobody has brought a serious challenge to the literary merit of the book.

DARK EMPEROR . . . The poetry is divine: exquisitely crafted language poured into elegant forms. The sidebars are superb: lucid, concise, and engaging.  And the marriage of two (coupled with the illustrations that the Caldecott committee is surely considering) is just transcendent.  The more I read this one, the better it gets.  Like A CONSPIRACY OF KINGS, I think its biggest enemy is the perception that it is not a Newbery type of book, but it’s as distinguished as all get out.

SUGAR CHANGED THE WORLD . . . A book that will engage the mind as well as the heart, this is nonfiction writing at its finest.  The scope and ambition of the book are breathtaking, not to mention the passion and enthusiasm that exudes from every page–even the back matter.  Some people have noted some stylistic excesses, but to my mind these are differences of opinion rather than genuine flaws in the book.  And again, another book that defies the Newbery stereotype.

These three books are in my top three.  They are so different from each other that it is hard for me to rank them in order, and with the weighted ballot system I would allow the discussion to prioritize them, meaning that the book that appeared to have the most support would get my first place vote, the book that appeared to have the next most support would get my second place vote, and the book with the least amount of support would get my third place vote.  It’s also quite possible that one or more of these books would have so little support from the committee that I might replace it with one of my lower ranked choices.

KEEPER . . . Sometimes you read a book that you would normally hate, but somehow you just end up loving it, and this book definitely had that effect on me.  The literary elements–plot, character, setting, style, theme–are all strong here, but through two readings, my one concern has been the pacing of the novel, particularly the first half, and that suspicion was confirmed by our mock Newbery group.  Of my top five nominations, this is the only one that is a stereotypical Newbery, but then there is the elephant in the room: if this book gets chosen, it will make Scrotum Hysteria pale by comparison.

THE NOTORIOUS BENEDICT ARNOLD . . . This book has everything a boy could ask for in a Newbery book: adventure, courage, treachery, and intrigue.  A terrific piece of storytelling that rivals any of the novels in terms of the literary elements, and yet it’s built on a solid foundation of facts.  Well, I think it’s built on a solid foundation of facts.  Nina begs to differ, but I’ll let her address her own concerns.

With my final two nominations, I mulled several of my personal favorites–THE LEGEND OF THE KING, THE DREAMER, and CITY DOG, COUNTRY DOG.  In a real Newbery situation, I would have the benefit of knowing from the suggestion list how much support there is for each of these titles, and it’s quite possible that one or more of these would have filled out my final two.  But without the benefit of that knowledge, I am going to use my final two nominations to move toward consensus.

ONE CRAZY SUMMER . . . This one is strong in all of the literary elements, particularly the style (i.e. Delphine’s voice) and characters, and the book is the strongest middle grade fiction in these respects.  I don’t find the plot particularly strong, although we don’t feel a deficiency in this area when we are reading the book because we are so invested in the other elements.  In fact, I only feel it has an inferior plot when I compare it to A CONSPIRACY OF KINGS (which matches or exceeds the other strengths of ONE CRAZY SUMMER).  Where KEEPER has one big problem, I think ONE CRAZY SUMMER has a dozen niggling ones, but I’m sure people would dismiss my qualms just as easily as I am dismissing those about SUGAR CHANGED THE WORLD.

THEY CALLED THEMSELVES THE KKK . . . I have this ranked as the third best nonfiction book, but I think it may be easier to build consensus around this one than SUGAR CHANGED THE WORLD and THE NOTORIOUS BENEDICT ARNOLD.  I can definitely find room on my ballot for this one, as evidenced by the mock Newbery vote.  These three books are so different in terms of style, treatment, and subject matter (it’s the whole apples vs. oranges conundrum–within the same genre!) that I have been pondering how much my ranking of these titles is based on subjective considerations.  Hmmm.

So those are my top seven nominations.  What are yours?

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. Nina Lindsay says:

    Ok Jonathan, if I were nominating 7 they’d be, in alphabetical order:


    And 7 would be either CITY DOG COUNTRY FROG or ONE CRAZY SUMMER, depending on whether I felt I needed to make sure the Willems was at the table…or lend legitimacy to all of my others by including ONE CRAZY SUMMER. I feel strong about both of them. In fact, both might go in and KKK come out. It’s true that you really don’t know until you look at how the other nominations are shaping up…

    Notice how Jonathan and I each have a title in our top 7 that never showed up on our shortlist here? You’ll hear more about them….

  2. I’m having a problem that I suspect would be a big problem if I tried to be on the committee… I only want to put a title in my “top” category each year if I feel like it’s transcendent. Even though the vast majority of Newbery winners are just really good books, not masterpieces, I’m reluctant to get behind a book unless I feel like it’s the next Westing Game or Wrinkle in Time or at the very least, A Year Down Yonder. I don’t think one of those books is out there this year–at least, not that I’ve read so far. I’m really betting (and kind of hoping) that this year’s Newbery will be something not on the radar.

    I’d be fine with wins for lots of the books we’ve talked about (Conspiracy, Dark Emperor, One Crazy Summer, Sir Charlie [seriously], Sugar, maybe some others); I know I have no interest in seeing a few of them on the podium at all; there are many that I’m indifferent about. And I really like City Dog, Country Frog, but can’t seem to work up the enthusiasm displayed by many here–though I do think it’s closer to Newbery-level-in-a-few-words than anything else ever suggested in the blog.

    Anyway, in the interest of Playing Along, I’ll submit seven nominations with some reluctance:

    A Conspiracy of Kings
    One Crazy Summer
    The Night Fairy
    Sugar Changed the World
    Sir Charlie
    The Kneebone Boy
    Penny Dreadful

    I still have a few books left that I want to read and am hoping for greatness from.

    I get the feeling that former enthusiasm for Sir Charlie from both of you might have been tempered by discussion at the mock Newbery–true? If so, I hope you’ll share.

    Jonathan, I don’t think fallout from Keeper would be as bad as you’re thinking–definitely not as much as the scrotum issue. Reactionary bloggers have a pretty large voice in the kidlit blogosphere at the moment, and there are the recent highly-publicized book challenges and Speak Loudly stuff to think of, but in general I think people will be reluctant to be too loudly homophobic. I expected a fair amount of outcry about similar stuff in After Tupac and D Foster and hardly heard a word. (To my recollection, that was the first Newbery title to feature explicitly gay characters.)

  3. Mark Flowers says:

    In roughly descending order, my top 7 would be:

    Every Bone Tells a Story
    Kneebone Boy
    The Cardturner
    One Crazy Summer
    Kubla Khan, Emperor of Everything
    Sugar Changed the World

    With apologies to: Out of My Mind, Dark Emperor, and KKK.

    I like Country Frog, but I actually thought Willems’s text to Knuffle Bunny Free was stronger. I can’t get excited about The Dreamer or Mockingbird, but wouldn’t mind seeing them on the Newbery list.

    And I still have yet to read Conspiracy, Forge, Countdown and hundreds of others!

  4. I’ve been lurking for awhile, trying to get my head around all this, and have come to the conclusion that I’d be hopeless as a member of the Newbery committee. I’ve read many books that I think are “distinguished,” and can see why these are the titles everyone else is rooting for, but I just can’t get excited about them. Like Wendy said, nothing “transcendent.” Whereas most of the books I’ve really LOVED this year, I can also see aren’t quite Newbery quality. Or, they’re Conspiracy of Kings, which genuinely IS one of my favorite books this year, but I’M still not convinced it’s for the right age group or is good enough on its own. So, I guess I should just go for it and make it my top vote, since it seems to be the only 2010 book that has both quality and I-loved-it-ness going for it!

    Otherwise… I abstain. I just can’t do it.

  5. I’ve been listening in on this conversation, but not contributing much as I did most of my reading this year in the YA field. But– having finally gotten to read many of htese titles, I do want to share my top 7. Although my list is nothing like yours, it will make the point that a different committee would choose altogether different titles. So here goes

    What Happened on Fox Street by Springstubb
    A Conspiracy of Kings by Turner
    The Good, the Bad and the Barbie by Stone
    Out of My Mind by Draper
    The Dreamer by Ryan
    Crunch by Connor
    Snook Alone by Nelson

  6. Dean Schneider says:

    I think it’s been a good year, with a nice range of fiction, nonfiction, picture books, and poetry. 1 & 2 are my top choices; after that, there’s no order of preference:

    1. One Crazy Summer
    2. Keeper
    3. Moon Over Manifest (Great book not many seem to be noticing, a couple of starred reviews, though)
    4. Dark Emperor
    5. They Called Themselves the K.K.K.
    6. Sugar Changed the World
    7. Forge

  7. This is tough as there are still some books I have not read. Is it possible very few online participants will be able to vote because we are still trying to get copies of some of the books. Anyways, here are my 7 choices, and like Nina, I will list them alphabetically:

    1) Dark Emperor (Will it hurt this title that the author has a similar book out in the same year – I think this one has a stronger focus and thus does a better job of delineation of the theme)
    2) Finding Family
    3) Kakapo Rescue (great interpretation of the scientist in the field concept, superb delineation of setting, dramatic narrative)
    4) Keeper
    5) One Crazy Summer
    6) Out of My Mind
    7) Touch Blue

    I’m a little surprised Alchemy and Meggy Swann hasn’t had more discussion. On my table – Ninth Ward and Penny Dreadful, still waiting for Sugar Changed the World and Saving Sky.

  8. samuel leopold says:

    This is great!!!

    Here are my seven….in no particular order.

    * The good the bad and the barbie
    * The kneebone boy
    * One crazy summer
    * Sugar changed the world
    * Dark emperor
    * A conspiracy of kings
    *Moon over manifest

  9. Plain Kate
    What Happened on Fox Street
    They Called Themselves the KKK
    The Kneebone Boy
    The Clockwork Three
    The Cardturner
    City Dog, Country Frog

    (In the order they got added to my list, more or less)

    But my hold on Forge has GOT to come in soon!

  10. I haven’t read quite enough to have my final nominations, but here are my 7 at this point based on what I’ve read for my mock Newbery group:

    A Conspiracy of Kings
    The Dreamer
    Finding Family
    Kakapo Rescue
    One Crazy Summer (my hands-down favorite so far)
    Out of My Mind
    Turtle in Paradise

  11. I feel a bit hampered by my bias towards fantasy, but will give you a partial list on that basis:

    1. A Conspiracy of Kings
    2. The Night Fairy
    3. Dark Emperor
    4. The Dreamer

    I liked The Kneebone Boy, but it didn’t knock my socks off like my top two did. And although I thought City Dog, Country Frog was lovely, I’m not sure it truly competes with the books that are being discussed. A picture book’s heavy reliance on illustrations to round out meaning makes it a tough pick for the Newbery, of course. I suggest reading the text of CDCF all by itself… The same could be said of Dark Emperor, I suppose, but there the illustrations are not as necessary as in CDCF.

  12. Jonathan Hunt says:

    1. As Nina mentioned, each of us have a book that we feel really strongly about–THE NOTORIOUS BENEDICT ARNOLD and THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE BARBIE–that did not make our shortlist. Why? Well, both of them have late publication dates, and we know that would make it a challenge to get hold of them. And, second, we knew that adding three nonfiction books and one picture book wouldn’t go over too well with some of you.

    2. I still like SIR CHARLIE very much. I’ve always liked SUGAR better and then I read BENEDICT late in the year and liked that one better, too. After those two, I could really support a number of nonfiction titles (including BARBIE and WAR TO END ALL WARS), but KKK seems to have quite a bit of support so I included that one as a nomination. I’m also very high on KUBLA KHAN (which Mark nominated) and BALLET FOR MARTHA. So much great nonfiction this year.

    3. I completely get the feeling of being underwhelmed by a particular year’s offering where nothing really resonates very strongly with you. I’m pretty committed to the top half of my list of nominations (not invested in a particular order), but I could rotate about a dozen books through the bottom half. You can always use your nominations to challenge and stretch the committee in the fall, and since you’re voting for the Medal on the initial ballots, you really only need to find one or two that you think are Medal worthy come January.

    4. Although we have very different lists, Carol, they are the same where it is important. 🙂

  13. My seven, in no particular order…

    Sugar Changed the World
    The Dreamer
    Dark Emperor
    A Conspiracy of Kings
    One Crazy Summer
    Project Seahorse
    Kubla Khan, Emperor of Everything

    I had serious problems with the pacing of Keeper, although I loved the setting descriptions and the characters. Likewise, I also loved the drama and tension of Kakapo Rescue, but I was more impressed with the way Project Seahorse so clearly explained the challenges and the necessity of making the seahorse trade sustainable. Picking up City Dog, Country Frog and Every Bone Tells a Story at the library today!

  14. Cecilia, I too struggled with Keeper. I listened to it, and it just went maddenly on and on with nothing happening, but little reveals of the back story. I think I may have liked it much better if I wasn’t listenig to it, but to me that is not a sign of a good book. I recently went back to Natalie Babbitt;s “Jack Plank Tells Tales” which has been out several years and never got much attention the year it was released. It is really a wonderful read aloud and just a good if not better with the passing of time. I look for that longevity in a Newbery as I think it’s an essential part of a Newbery. I need to read more. I’m waiting for Sugar Changed the World and Notorious Benedict.

    And yes, Jonathan, similar in the essential places.

  15. Mark Flowers says:

    @ Carol and Cecilia. I too had problems with the pacing of Keeper, at least in the first 50 pages or so. But the more I thought and think about it, the more I think this was my problem, not the novel’s. A novel has every right to pace itself slowly, and I think it is encumbent upon us readers to come to grips with what the novel is offering us instead of what we expect/want out of it.

    In this case, the slow pacing creates an amazing amount of room to luxuriate in the characters, setting, backstory, etc. On the first read through, this is a bit frustrating (or was for me) because I wanted to know what happens to Keeper. But, even without having reread it yet, I can already tell that I am going to spend a lot more time drinking in those details and really figuring out what is going on in the backstory.

    None of this is to say that pacing can’t be a legitimate reason for criticizing a book. But I do think we (or at least I) need to be careful about how we frame that discussion. There are some amazing pieces of artwork (movies, music, books, etc.) that demand a lot of patience due to slow pacing, and we need to be sure we can distinguish between slow pacing and poor pacing, or pacing that doesn’t contribute to the novel meaningfully. Anyway, those are my thoughts.

  16. Jonathan Hunt says:

    I’ve spent lots of time thinking about the pacing of KEEPER. I’ve read it twice now and both times I felt the first third of the book was very slow. Our mock Newbery group noted that during this period of the narrative we are almost exclusively with Keeper, whether in the past of present, but as soon as the other backstories start to enter the narrative, the pacing, while still leisurely, seems to pick up.

    And it warms my heart to see a couple of nominations for KUBLA KHAN. I’m definitely on that bandwagon!

  17. 1. A Conspiracy of Kings
    2. One Crazy Summer
    3. Dark Emperor
    4. Keeper
    5. As Easy as Falling off the Face of the Earth
    6. The Night Fairy
    7. Countdown

    My top 3 are the ones I’m invested in, and after that the titles could be changed out with a slew of others (I’ve only reread One Crazy Summer and Dark Emperor, but rereading others might clarify my thoughts. I also haven’t read enough non-fiction, so I know my list is weighted towards fiction).

  18. Okay, I tried, but can’t resist playing.

    Four (in ABC order) I’d definitely nominate:


    As for the final three, I’d probably strategically pick from the following list (and they too are in ABC order). That is, as I did on the real committee, I’d look at the other nominations and decide if I want to pile up on a particular book, get a dark horse on the table, or even one that didn’t have a chance just to be sure it was in the conversation. So I’m sort of doing that here with the nominations already submitted.

    CITY DOG COUNTRY DOG (Can’t say I know this well at all. Had read it a while ago and then went back to see it again at the bookstore yesterday to read again after all the comments here. One I definitely am warming up to.)
    COUNTDOWN (The challenge to me is considering the documentary material that I think is an important part of the whole thing. I’d definitely want it in conversation with the hope that even if I couldn’t figure out how to discuss that material, someone else on the committee who loved it would have.)
    KEEPER (So much is beautiful about this book. I definitely liked the water imagery someone presented in the comments a while back. Helped me get the lengthy time of the boat.)
    SNOOK ALONE (For this group, I’d very likely include this as it seems to have been little discussed to date.)
    SUGAR CHANGED THE WORLD (I do love the passion and fresh way of looking at history in this book. I do wonder about sugar in other parts of the world, say China, where I’m told things happened very differently. That is, what is “the world” here?)
    THE WAR TO END ALL WARS (I was very impressed at how well Freeman managed to get across the senselessness of this war and how it happened. And he writes so beautifully!)
    ZORA AND ME (This is another bit of a dark horse that has been occasionally mentioned here. Very impressed by the writing of this one.)


    Every time Nina and Jonathan tenaciously remind us of criteria. I feel like the off-topic 2nd grader who wants to talk about hamsters, when the class is supposed to be focusing on arithmetic. I want to gush over my adoration for characters, turns of phrase, or the emotional connections I’ve felt to certain works. I’ve given up two of my favorites, SCUMBLE and CLEMENTINE due to lack of interest on other fronts. I have no idea how my choices will stack up with our group or the official committee, although over the past three years of predicting, I’ve had a better than 50% agreement with the officials (she boasts). I can see how consensus does its job in shaping the outcome. Big money is on ONE CRAZY SUMMER this year to take the whole shebang.

  20. Jonathan Hunt says:

    Okay, we’ve had 15 people respond with a list so far (some slightly more than seven, some less, plus rockinlibrarian with a single vote).

    KEEPER (7)
    OUT OF MY MIND (3)
    KUBLA KHAN (2)
    FORGE (2)
    CRUNCH (1)
    TOUCH BLUE (1)
    PLAIN KATE (1)
    ZORA AND ME (1)

    We nominated a total of 33 books, and I suspect if we had read more, and not been privy to each other’s choices, we would have spread out even more, probably to about 40-45 titles. Consider, also, the range of books nominated (multiple picture books, multiple nonfiction books). And, finally, four books seem to be in an excellent position. ONE CRAZY SUMMER, A CONSPIRACY OF KINGS, SUGAR CHANGED THE WORLD, and THE DARK EMPEROR have at least 8 nominations, all that they need is to convert their nominations into first place votes. Discussion changes everything, though. So one of these could slip in discussion, while any of those books with 3-7 nominations could rise. You can see that I sort of jumped the gun on consensus-building with my choices, as my top three–CONSPIRACY, SUGAR, EMPEROR–sit just behind ONE CRAZY SUMMER, a book which I can easily support (ditto for KKK), but in retrospect I probably should have cast those votes for CITY DOG, COUNTRY FROG, AS EASY AS FALLING OFF THE FACE OF THE EARTH, KUBLA KHAN, or THE DREAMER.

    Anyway, keep your lists coming in. They are very interesting . . .

  21. Jonathan Hunt says:

    Monica, actually sugar in China *is* covered in the book, albeit *very* briefly. There is a map on page 11 that shows the spread of sugar to China. Further, on page 18–

    The world of sugar centered on the Muslim Mediterranean, but it also stretched as far as China to the east and even Europe to the north. Marco Polo visited the empire of Kublai Khan in the 1280s. He noted that while the Chinese had known how to grow cane and produce brown sugar for over a thousand years, it was “certain Egyptians at the Khan’s court” who explained how to make the dazzling white sugar coveted by so many.

    I can definitely understand wanting to know more about sugar in other parts of the world–and kudos to the authors for making us so curious–but I don’t feel they have an obligation to go further in depth on any particular tangent unless they could tie it into their focus. Now if somebody can tie sugar in China to the African Diaspora, the Age of Exploration, the Age of Enlightment, the Industrial Age . . . well, I’m all ears.

  22. 1. City Dog, Country Frog
    2. Turtle in Paradise
    3. Night Fairy
    4. Clementine, Friend of the Week
    5. One Crazy Summer
    6. Keeper
    7. The Ghostwriter Secret

    4,5, and 6 could easily be replaced if i can ever get my hands on Sugar, Dark Emperor or Benedict Arnold. The latter of which i’m SUPER excited to read as he is a distant relative.

  23. It looks like Finding Family and Kakapo Rescue have 2 votes each (myself and Blakeney). Still not in the top group, but a small amount more support.

  24. Oo, I need to get reading in the next week!
    Wendy, I love that you mentioned PENNY DREADFUL. I’m on the last section of it and am finding it a strong and lovely book. It’s a librarian’s book — since Penny is a big reader and references classic children’s books.

    So I haven’t read nearly enough of the contenders, but for now my list will be:

  25. Jonathan Hunt says:

    Cheryl, I went back and double checked and I actually didn’t include any of your votes–TURTLE IN PARADISE wasn’t on the list, for example. Sorry. So I’ve amended the list above to reflect your nominations. I’ll post a revised list in awhile after all the nominations have trickled in.

  26. Oh, this is totally the wrong venue to say this, but–while I’m glad librarians like Penny Dreadful–I’d hate for it to get a reputation as a librarian’s book… many non-librarian friends have read and loved it (and I’m not a librarian or educator myself), and when I’m talking it up I emphasize that Penny loves to read but also DOES THINGS, and that’s the hook.

    I agree that the authors of Sugar didn’t have any obligation to show how sugar affected the *whole* world; even if it had never been used in China or Russia or anywhere else, it still would have changed the world, and I think they showed that effectively.

  27. I think it’s a mark of a distinguished book that SUGAR CHANGED THE WORLD make us ask questions and want to know more about different points of the topic. The first time I read it, I really wanted to know more about the replacement of cane sugar with beet sugar (and exactly what Marc’s relative invented). I’m curious to know how kids will react to the information and ideas, so although it’s a bit advanced for my class (and in no way related to any of my curriculum–but who cares about that!) I will probably read at least part of it to them and see what they say.

  28. I want to mention that I just read Heart of a Samurai and am quite taken with it. Monica, have you read it? The book is maybe sort of old-fashioned, but I think it would be a worthy Newbery honor. Even if there are already about a zillion books about sailing and ships in the canon.

  29. Wendy, I started and put it aside. I think perhaps it was the old-fashioned style that kept me from getting engaged immediately. Need to pick it up again! (I know the story from the Blumberg nonfiction account from a few years back.)

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