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Heavy Medal: A Mock Newbery Blog
Inside Heavy Medal

Too Many Books, Too Little Time

We’re quickly running out of time to discuss numerous other Newbery possibilities.  Betsy mentioned the usual suspects in her last Newbery/Caldecott prediction post, opining that we may well have a wild card winner this year.  So without further ado, some more wild card possibilities . . .

THE CLOCKWORK THREE by Matthew Kirby . . . This one has been mentioned a couple of times in the comments.  A solid debut with clever, inventive storytelling, but it lacked that extra something special.

FINDING FAMILY by Tonya Bolden . . . Another one that has been mentioned in the comments several times.  I’m intrigued by how she’s used photographs, but I haven’t read it.  Anyone care to argue its case here?

HEART OF A SAMURAI by Margi Preus . . . This one had four starred reviews, so it’s hard to call it a wild card, but we’ve barely mentioned it here.  I liked it (love the cover!), but as historical fiction, I find it standing in line behind ONE CRAZY SUMMER and FORGE, as fictionalized biography, it’s behind THE DREAMER and WICKED GIRLS, and . . . I guess I just preferred Rhoda Blumberg’s nonfiction account, SHIPWRECKED!

KAKAPO RESCUE by Sy Montgomery . . . Montgomery is a two-time Sibert Honor author, and I’d love to see her graduate to Newbery Honor status.  I think the series as a whole suffers from the same thing that may have hurt MARCHING FOR FREEDOM which is that the illustrations and book design are as prominent as the text.  Never been an issue for me.

LING & TING by Grace Lin . . . This one has four best of the year lists, but I just don’t think it’s quite up to Newbery standards.  I actually think BINK & GOLLIE and WE ARE IN A BOOK! are better books (although not nearly as well suited to be judged on text alone).

A LONG WALK TO WATER by Linda Sue Park . . . A short, powerful book about life in Sudan featuring contemporary and historical strands.  Could be a Newbery Honor, but strikes me as more of a Notable book.

MOON OVER MANIFEST by Clare Vanderpool . . . Three starred reviews.  Another one for the historical fiction heap.  Nina and I both tried this one as a potential shortlist book, but neither of us could make it past several chapters.  Good, just not compelling–at least not for us.  Maybe we didn’t read far enough in?

THE MYSTERIOUS HOWLING by Maryrose Wood . . . The first book in the Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place reads like Joan Aiken meets Lemony Snicket.  Would probably also make for good comparison with A TALE DARK AND GRIMM and THE KNEEBONE BOY, at least in terms of “intrusive” narrators.

PENNY DREADFUL by Laurel Snyder . . . Another one I haven’t read, but it has been mentioned in the comments.  Further arguments?

PLAIN KATE by Erin Bow . . . I haven’t been able to get back to this one, but I remain intrigued by the mystery of the shadow.  It is lovely and atmospheric, but it just took too long revealing some of its secrets.  Reminded me of Lyra and Pan among the Gyptians . . .

So please come forward with any comments on these books, other books we may have missed, or books we previously discussed that didn’t make our shortlist.  What’s your best wild card?

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 really liked THE MYSTERIOUS HOWLING, but would need to read it again to think about it for Newbery. I’m interested in how these whateveryouwanttocallthem narrators tend to be lumped together yet they don’t all work for me. That is, there are many books that are touted as great for fans of Lemony Snicket yet this Snicket fan often dislikes them. So I liked THE MYSTERIOUS HOWLING and A TALE DARK AND GRIMM yet not the sortofsimilarly narrated KNEEBONE BOY. I wish I had time to really examine these and their differences more closely. Is it taste or style or what that causes my differing responses to these highly regarding books? I wonder. I think maybe it is something about whimsy perhaps? I dunno.

    Of the other ones above that I’ve read I’d be easily convinced to move A LONG WALK TO WATER to a shortlist. I think Park did a fantastic job getting across Dut’s harsh and true story. (And, hehe, I very much like its back matter:)

  2. Children's Librarian says:

    I’ve read Tonya Bolden’s “Finding Family” and it is definitely NOT Newbery material. Yes, the text does stand apart from the pictures, but the story isn’t deep enough or well-written enough for it to crowd its way in with all the other books that have been mentioned. The sense of place is rather weak and the denouement is a bit of a let down after all that set up. I think if the book had had a better ending and a more seamless plot with more of a sense of real discovery it would have worked better. The author seemed to want to go that route but she didn’t quite make it all the way. I also think it’s more of a book that appeals to adults than children, and I personally feel that we need more Newbery books with child appeal. There have definitely been some in the past and I’d like to see more in the future!

    I also read “The Mysterious Howling”– by way of the audiobook– and while I dearly loved it I’m not sure how much my love was colored by Katherine Kellgren’s excellent narration or by the book itself. I do think it’s funny and well-written, but again, I don’t know that I’d peg it as Newbery material. Not because Newbery books can’t be funny, just because I would hesitate to call it the most distinguished book of the year.

    One book that I wish could end up on a Newbery shortlist is “Alvin Ho : Allergic to Birthday Parties, Science Projects, and Other Man-Made Catastrophes.” It’s hilarious and perfectly captures the child’s voice. The text does stand alone without the illustrations, even though the illustrations are funny. This is more of a sentimental favorite and I don’t expect anyone else to agree with me, but I would like to see a younger choice thrown into the mix every now and then!

  3. I did feel FINDING FAMILY by Tonya Bolden to be among my top 7 for several reasons. I thought the writing begged to be read aloud, which fit the nature of the book – sharing and revealing family stories. Delana’s voice – emotional and immediate – compels the reader through this short novel. For example, this passage on p.10 where the photographs are introduced to the reader for the first time …

    “Before the clock chimed, Aunt Tilley put down her hook and yarn, eyed me to do likewise with my needle and thread, then yelled like a house afire, “Time to visit kinfolk!” as she reached behind the sofa for the basket atop the sewing table. That’s where she kept the kinfolk now.”

    Or, on p. 99 after Delana (the 12-year old main character) climbs out her window to run to her friend Adena’s house after school (without permission) and Adena’s mother comes home …

    “Miss Lottie harrumphed, grabbed me by the arm, and marched me up the road. I tried to tell her she didn’t have to put herself out. I promised to go straight home. ‘Most surely, but not without me, missy. Something happen to you between here and home, there’ll be no living it down when folks find out you was last seen at my place.’ Miss Lottie had us walking faster and faster the closer we got to my home. And my heart, it thump-thumped louder. And louder. Lawdamercy, what would Grandpa do to me?”

    Delana’s voice is educated, yet naïve. The conversation she has with her mother’s cousin Ambertine, when Ambertine asks what she wants to do with her life, is eye-opening (p.66-74). We realize how sheltered Delana has been through her reactions to the question.

    After the death of her Great-Aunt Tilley, Delana begins to learn the truth about her mother and father in pieces. Her life story is slowly revealed through encounters with her mother’s first cousin, and, finally, her grandfather. Delana’s character grows and changes in subtle, yet believable ways. Nothing earth-shattering happens at the end, but, in my opinion, it is wholly satisfying.

    Likewise, her grandfather has a shift in attitude, as seen through Delana’s eyes, through the course of the book. We learn why he has sheltered Delana, feel her frustration and anger keenly, and then forgive him with her.

    I feel the book is unique and distinct – it introduces us to a well-to-do African-American family, one generation away from slavery, in 1905. I don’t know if this story has been told in children’s literature – perhaps it has and I’m not aware.

  4. I do feel FINDING FAMILY has child appeal on many levels – the mystery of Delana’s father’s identity (and therefore Delana’s identity and personal history), the unraveling of Aunt Tilley’s stories, the friendship between Adena and Tilley, and the way she views her relatives. I also recall feeling the taste of freedom Delana experiences when she walks around downtown all by herself – and makes her own decisions about how to spend her money. I was a kid who loved biographies, and this book, although fiction, would have appealed to me. I think this book has its child audience.

  5. Didn’t A LONG WALK TO WATER first appear as a newspaper serial? If so, wouldn’t that preclude it from Newbery consideration?

  6. In Finding Family, Delana makes a rite of passage when her protectors are disarmed and truths are gradually revealed about her parents in a way that strengthens her. The ending was indeed satisfying because her new sense of identity is reinforced by adding her photo to the rest of the family photographs. I find it distinguished in a lyrical writing style, setting, and characterization and in delineation of theme. I think the theme of finding your identity and a place and voice within a family is something many kids can relate to.

  7. I have expressed enthusiasm for Kakapo Rescue in earlier discussions. Since the Newbery criteria say that illustration and book design are really only considered if they detract from the text, I can’t see that excellent photos by Nic Bishop and appealing design could negatively impact this candidate. The organization of the text is strong, the writing style is engaging, and the inclusion of details about what the scientific team carry, the terrain traversed, and how they sleep in the forest are fascinating to young readers. The chapter on the parrot that tries to mate with the people on their way to the latrine is terrific – funny and informative in showing the changes in behavior that can come from human contact and removal from the wild. Thoroughly researched and documented, to me distinguished.

  8. I didn’t think the latest Alvin Ho book was very good at all. The first one was on the Heavy Medal shortlist a couple of years ago, and I think this one pales in comparison in every way–plus the slightly bizarre cowboys and Indians plot would likely be an off-putter for many.

    I liked Heart of a Samurai so much better than The Dreamer, but there’s nothing challenging or envelope-pushing about it.

  9. Peter, you are absolutely right about A LONG WALK TO WATER. Ah well….

  10. Funny you should mention it Jonathan, I began PLAIN KATE yesterday and was feeling the same Pullmanany atmostphere. Crazy about it so far, when I’m not whimpering in terror.

    I found the historical aspects of SAMURAI and A LONG WALK TO WATER facinating, but I’m afraid I never fully connected to the characters in either.

    KAKAPO will need to remain on my to-read list until TBOTB titles are announced? (Come on a little help here Monica)

    I managed to find the something special in CLOCKWORK. Next year in this time and place we will be all over Matt’s next book. I’m predicting it.

  11. Jonathan Hunt says:

    1. I read the ARC of A LONG WALK TO WATER, and I don’t recall the serialization being mentioned. Did the finished copy mention it? Maybe I just missed it, but, yes, ineligible . . . BUILT TO LAST by David Macaulay is too. I think it would be interesting to consider the text of that one because I do think it stands independently of the illustrations–and is distinguished.

    2. What I found lacking in THE CLOCKWORK THREE is theme. What does this story say about what it means to be human? I also can’t help thinking of HUGO CABRET now every time I read about an automaton (and, yes, Kate Milford, we’re looking at you, too). And . . . I wonder at what point, if any, the length of a book affects a child’s appreciations, understandings, and abilities. I know that Harry Potter has broken down any stereotypes we might have had about what children will read, and we have seen page counts shoot up dramatically, but if you look at the canon, only four books have exceeded 300 pages in the past dozen years since the advent of HP: two winners (CRISS CROSS and GRAVEYARD BOOK) and two honor books (PRINCESS ACADEMY and CALPURNIA TATE). And now this year there is a glut of big books: DREAMER, KEEPER, CONSPIRACY, MOON OVER MANIFEST, THE CLOCKWORK THREE, THE BONESHAKER, COUNTDOWN . . . History suggests that we might get a couple of these, but more likely one of them.

  12. DaNae, just tried to reactivate SLJsBoB twitter account, but am not being allowed to tweet (some problem with twitter I guess). Anyway — BoB is happening, but can’t say much more yet:)

  13. Jonathan Hunt says:

    But it’s safe to say that if you read Monica’s Fifty Favorites . . .

    . . . you’ll be covered. Now get reading!

  14. What about Crunch by Leslie Conner. Has anyone got an opinion on that one?

  15. I liked Crunch a lot as a book to read, but not as a Newbery contender–I don’t think it holds up in characterization or style compared to the rest of the middle-grade fiction we’ve been discussing. But it certainly has a place in the discussion mix–I can still name a dozen books that I thought were better than, say, Savvy.

  16. Just finished PLAIN KATE and really liked it.

  17. One book I loved this year but have not heard mentioned is Sources of Light by Margaret McMullan. The story begins in 1962 when Samantha Thomas and her mother move to Jackson, Mississippi where her mother will teach Art History at the local college and Sam will begin High School. They are still grieving the death of her father, a Vietnam War hero. When a colleague of her mother’s, a photographer named Perry Walker, comes for dinner, he gives Sam a camera and shows her how to use it. She begins seeing things in a new way, and with Perry’s help even learns to develop her own film.

    While Sam’s parents have always taught her to respect others, no matter what their skin color, that lesson seems to be in sharp contrast to what her peers and their families believe. And when her mother begins guest lecturing at the area’s all black college, they begin to fear for their safety. McMullan shows with clarity the terrifying reality of everyday life for blacks.

    During a trip downtown, camera in hand, Sam finds herself in the midst of a lunch counter sit in and instinctively begins shooting film. When the film is developed, Perry offers Sam an opportunity to publish the photos in a magazine but Sam isn’t sure. She keeps wondering what the right thing to do is and when she will know it. The story comes to a climax when Sam, her mother and Perry travel to a neighboring town to help register black voters. Though the story takes place in the past, many teens will be able to relate to the choices Sam and her mother are forced to make. This book was so well written that I just can’t forget it. The characters were so real and complex. My students read this book and many are favoring it for the Newbery. I haven’t heard anyone else mention it.

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