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Heavy Medal: A Mock Newbery Blog
Inside Heavy Medal

Marked: Kneebone, Sir Charlie, Keeper, and Dreamer

The Newbery Terms and Criteria provide the following definitions of “distinguished”:

3. “Distinguished” is defined as:

• Marked by eminence and distinction; noted for significant achievement.
• Marked by excellence in quality.
• Marked by conspicuous excellence or eminence.
• Individually distinct.

These definitions don’t seem to help me much on their own, but with a book in hand, I find them very useful to answer that question (in the words of the Eva Perry MockNewberiers, who wear the slogan on their t-shirts) “But is it Distinguished?” When looking for contenders for our Mock Newbery, I turn back to these definitions to try to answer that question, and look for evidence in the text. Lack of clear evidence is what relegated many excellent, noteworthy books to my “not quite” pile.

There are several titles on our shortlist that are definitely “marked”…with a unique style and voice that attempts to achieve something different and elevating with their subjects.  Whether or not they are successful is the point of debate, and their “conspicuousness” and “distinction” can create divided camps of “love it” or “hate it.”  These often provide the most provocative and interesting debates at the table, as committee members attempt to persuade each other past their emotional inclinations.

In our live discussion, neither DREAMER nor KEEPER fared quite as well as I expected…SIR CHARLIE was humbled, while THE KNEEBONE BOY had such a sure camp of support that it hung gamely onto that consolation spot of “not-quite-enough-for-an-honor-but-clearly-above-the-other-non-honors.”  I think all four are clearly “marked.”  Taking into consideration the complaints about each that have been aired, what would you say to your committee to convince the “haters” to “love”?

Nina Lindsay About Nina Lindsay

Nina Lindsay is the Children's Services Coordinator at the Oakland Public Library, CA. She chaired the 2008 Newbery Committee, and served on the 2004 and 1998 committees. You can reach her at


  1. Jonathan Hunt says:

    You know the one book that I feel I let down in this whole process is THE DREAMER. I read it nearly a year ago, was very impressed with it, lent it out in the fall, and could never get it back to defend it on the blog or in the mock Newbery. My hold is now in transit, but I’m not sure if I’ll be able to get it before leaving town next week. I still cling to the belief that THE DREAMER is one of the better middle grade novels of the year . . .

  2. I also lent my copy of THE DREAMER, so I don’t have the exact quote, but one element of the book that I felt made it very individual were the parts where objects took on a dream like or surreal quality in response to some thought or feeling of the character. The example I remember vividly is when Neftali is coming up with a name to write under so his father won’t find out about his poetry and when he writes Pablo Neruda, the words lift off the page and form a new suit of clothes, which he then tries on and finds that it fits. It was a great image and there were many of them throughout the story.

    When I asked my students who read this what made it a good book for kids to read, one girl said (I’m paraphrasing, don’t have her response page with me) “Kids should read this book because it will show them that it’s ok to be a daydreamer and it’s ok to be the person who you are.” I thought that was a pretty good synopsis of a theme of this book.

  3. I’ve now finished The Dreamer and I don’t have much to say, though it did grow on me; I 50-page-ruled it the first time around, but did find myself enjoying it when I made myself keep going. It will never be my kind of book, but part of the fun of this is trying to set aside that personal bias.

    That said, I’d like to hear others’ thoughts on the ends of chapters, where it shifted into poetry, at least visually. Personally, I found the ends of chapters hard to take; the prose was dreamy and simultaneously dark-tinted and naive (on the part of Neftali, not on the part of the author), which was great, but at the end of every chapter it drifted into poetry–and, for me, into sappiness. Did anyone who usually likes non-narrative poetry feel this way?

    Another way of looking at it–did anyone feel that the poetry was trying to hard, while the prose felt effortless? To get all metaphorical (appropriate for discussion of this book, yes?), the prose was following Neftali on his path to Pablo Neruda, and the poetry was pushing him there. I liked it best when the character was leading the book, not the other way around.

  4. Mark Flowers says:

    Dreamer and Kneebone Boy are really interesting to compare for me, because personally, Dreamer’s style left me flat while I was totally blown away by Kneebone Boy. But I agree that there is no question that they are “marked” – each has such a totally unique voice and way of presenting its story. The trouble, as always, is trying to suss out the difference between my personal biases (I’m partial to funny and quirky, not so much to dreamy) and the legitimate qualities of the books. In the end, I think I have to admit that The Dreamer is a really great book that I just didn’t personally connect with, and that Kneebone Boy may not be quite as spectacular as I feel it is (but it might be – still need to reread it). But I would love to hear more from people who loved Dreamer about what moved them so much, and from people who didn’t like Kneebone Boy.

  5. Am I the only one who couldn’t finish KEEPER? I haven’t attempted a second read because there are so many other books that I’d rather be spending time with.

  6. For me, the flights into poetry of THE DREAMER were a perfect tribute to the subject of the biography. I believe she used some of his actual poetry? I thought the poetic style went perfectly with the subject. When an illustrator does a picture book about an artist, they usually make the pictures in a similar style. I thought the author here did something similar with words. For me, it worked beautifully.

  7. Nina Lindsay says:

    Sondy, Ryan puts Neruda’s actual poetry at the end, but the “flights” within the text are her attempt to emulate it. And while Miriam feels that the “poetry was trying too hard, while the prose felt effortless”…I kept on feeling like both were trying too hard. I’m open to hearing that kids respond to it better than I do, but I’m still skeptical…because kids in a classroom setting will tell an adult that they liked a book whether or not they actually do.

    Martha, I had to start it several times. I felt the payoff was successful, but the roadblocks on the way are still there…

    Mark, I’m with you. I feel like there’s a camp of adult readers who are so disturbed by the undertones of the ending, and the implausibility of the way certain adults act in the story, that they can’t see the brilliance in it. It’s *supposed* to be implausible, and disturbing…in a wonderful way. In fact, I feel like this is the book A TALE DARK AND GRIMM *wants* to be…

  8. I agree, Nina, about Kneebone–most of the people I’ve heard commenting that they didn’t like it, or didn’t think it was successful, are disturbed by the tone of the ending; the facts seem to sad or serious for the tone and the rest of the book. I don’t think there’s anything one can do to change their minds; there are things I don’t have a sense of humor about myself. (I don’t mean that condescendingly or judgmentally.)

  9. Mark Flowers says:

    I’ve been reading everyone’s comments about Kneebone but haven’t waded in too much yet. The ending question is really fascinating to me, because I really have a hard time seeing the negative arguments about the ending. For me, the reveal about their mother’s mental illness made the whole book make sense, gave real gravity to a story that at times could have wondered off, and made me rethink what the story was *really* about. And as someone who has a *lot* of both personal and professional experience with mental illness, it never occurred to me for a second that Potter was trying to trivialize mental illness. To put it another way: I loved the first 4/5 of the book, but without the ending, I don’t think I would be nearly as committed to it as a *distinguished* book.

    Nina: “In fact, I feel like this is the book A TALE DARK AND GRIMM *wants* to be…”

    I couldn’t agree more. I liked Dark and Grimm fine, but thought Gidwitz wasn’t half as funny as he thought he was, whereas Potter really was quite funny. Plus, again, there’s the reality connection – Potter, by showing how her flights of fancy tie into the real world and real issues, gives her book a lot more power and depth, in my opinion.

  10. Nina Lindsay says:

    Mark, good point about the ending of KNEEBONE being the thing that makes the whole thing distinguished. I felt the same.

    Interestingly, felt similar about KEEPER. Still doesn’t rise as high as KNEEBONE for me, but I thought that the Jacques de Mer storyline coming to a close elevated the entire story, let it rest straddling both the magic and the real world…with that marvelous sense of “love makes all things possible”…

  11. Nina, you just nailed some of my feeling about KEEPER, though it still didn’t work as well for me. I loved loved loved the Jacques de Mer storyline… but whereas for you it elevated the entire story, for me it *almost* did but fell a bit short.

    The more I’ve had to think about KNEEBONE, the more comfortable I grew with the ending. And I loved it throughout, and the ending was so beautiful (even when I was wrestling with it, I thought it was beautiful).

  12. I still wish that somewhere in the criteria “of interest to children” were considered a bit more. Keeper was one that I can’t see my students liking. I wish there had been more buzz about Sonnenblick’s After Ever After, since it is one that students really enjoy AND has a lot of merit.

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