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Heavy Medal: A Mock Newbery Blog
Inside Heavy Medal

Coming down to it

With just a few days left until our ballot, I’m still deliberating on what three titles I will vote for, and in what order.

At the beginning of this month, Jonathan and I each posted on DARK EMPEROR, and it handily rose above the rest of the pack at our live discussion.  This is still easily in my top 3. In every single criterium appropriate to it, Sidman shows a variety of distinguished qualities. Something that stood out to us at the live discussion was how versatile she is with form. There’s an amazing variety in this collection, each one allowing for a slightly different tone.   The more we talked about the “sidebars” (I know some people balk at them being called such, but I haven’t found a better word) the more we appreciated them as a parallel text, equally distinguished.

CONSPIRACY OF KINGS continues to rise in my estimation every time we examine another fiction title on our shortlist.  Even if this isn’t Megan Whalen Turner’s best, that’s not a deliberation for us here.  Whether it stands alone is similarly not the argument at the table.  Whether we can find, in its text (not considering the text of its previous novels), evidence of “distinguishedness” IS the argument.  Setting: I found both the minituae more vivid than COUNTDOWN, the landscapes more evocative than FORGE.  Characters:  Even for those of us who thought we knew some of them previously, they all develop surprisingly, engagingly, and–because of the quality of voice–even slightly realistically to me than in ONE CRAZY SUMMER.  Plot: nothing else on our list touches it.  There’s also something amazing about the way that Sophos’ character development and the plot are married in their duplicity (meaning both sneaky and multiple).

SUGAR and KKK just grow richer to me as we continue to compare them. Each is such a strong example of totally different approaches to relating history to a young audience.  I know that some people are fonder of one approach over another, but I’m not sure that I find one ultimately more successful than the other. They’re both distinguished.

And CITY DOG COUNTRY FROG continues to vie for my attention. Sure, in some ways this is a “token” picture book on our list, but it wouldn’t be here if we didn’t think it couldn’t compete.  The quality of its success in plot, interpretation of theme or concept, appropriatness of style, are to me on par with CONSPIRACY or ONE CRAZY SUMMER….when you take the intended audience of each into consideration.

So how, on earth, do you or I decide which 3 titles to vote for on Monday morning?  We’re lacking most of the context…we don’t know exactly who we’re voting with as a body, or how each of us has really responded to each title. But we’re going to see if we can come up with a consensus among our twelve, of which title–we’ve convinced each other–is the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children published in 2010, according to the terms and criteria of the award.  I’ll point you to a posting from Emily Jiang, who participated in our live discussion on the Decemeber 12th, for some thoughts on how to approach your decision.

So, as you enjoy your new year celebrations, and the media’s glut of annual “lists,” start thinking about singularity, and which title you can most support for the gold (Mock!) Newbery medal.

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. Alas, I, for one, will not be able to vote as I have not been able to obtain all of the books.

  2. Jonathan Hunt says:

    Several people have suggested that they will not be able to participate because they couldn’t get all the books. I’d be curious to hear which books you couldn’t get hold of and why? If we see a pattern emerging it could help us plan this better in the future. FORGE and SUGAR had late publication dates (Oct 28 and Nov 15, respectively), but I would expect any reputable library to have the others ordered, processed, and circulating by now. Maybe it was just a time crunch and we should have added less than four titles? Help us out with some feedback . . .

  3. Jonathan Hunt says:

    A CONSPIRACY OF KINGS, DARK EMPEROR, and SUGAR CHANGED THE WORLD remain in my top three, but I am also very high on THE NOTORIOUS BENEDICT ARNOLD and CITY DOG, COUNTRY FROG. I know that none of these are typical Newbery books so I may be casting my votes for Honor books . . .

    When it comes to middle grade fiction, ONE CRAZY SUMMER, KEEPER, FORGE, COUNTDOWN, and DREAMER are all solid books by established authors. It’s not hard to see why ONE CRAZY SUMMER appears to have nudged ahead of this pack, and if I had to bet on a middle grade fiction, then I’d pick it, too, even if KEEPER still remains my favorite of this bunch. Still, I have found myself wondering if we’re simply chasing the buzz. Are these really more distinguished than my pet book, THE LEGEND OF THE KING, Nina’s darkhorse, THE KNEEBONE BOY, or various other books mentioned here–HEART OF A SAMURAI, MOON OVER MANIFEST, NINTH WARD, ZORA AND ME, and A TALE DARK AND GRIMM? I’m not sure . . .

  4. “Any reputable library”? Goodness! My library has done better this year than last year (budget issues, I’d assume), but I still had to use the surprisingly-good library network, one step easier than ILL, to get several of the books. This is the first place I’ve lived where the public library regularly transfers books to patrons from local school libraries (a thing that makes me feel guilty; surely there was some middle school student salivating for A Conspiracy of Kings while I had it?). And I live in a state capital.

    I suspect twelve might be a lot, and the extra step of having to request or ILL (or buy!!!1!) some of the titles might have put it over the edge for most people. Heck, you know how committed I am to Heavy Medal and the Newbery, but even for me, Forge is currently captive in the holiday-closed library and I won’t be able to get it until Monday evening, IF I can leave work on time, which rarely happens. And speaking of Forge, that brings up another barrier: I kind of dragged my feet on requesting/reading it because I didn’t think Chains was that great. I bet there are other people who didn’t want to read Conspiracy because they hadn’t read the others, or are just not interested in poetry, or for whom the idea of reading a whole book about Charlie Chaplin was yawn-inducing. When there are so many other books to read, you know…

    Anyway, that’s all personal and anecdotal, but just giving suggestions as to why there may not be so many who can vote on Monday.

  5. Sugar is in only one library in the state system. Others are in the system, but patrons have had the nerve to check them out and read them! My hold on Kneebone Boy has just come in, but the library is closed for the holiday. I confess that I really just was not interested in reading Sir Charlie. I am also reading from a different list for a local Mock Newbery, and there are only so many hours in the day.

  6. I have re-read each book on the list and find that 5 titles. in my opinion keep rising above the others as to the level of distinguishedness. I would be very happy with any of these 5 winning, I still cannot decide which ones will comprise my 3. So, I will read them again one more time. Cant wait to see the results from Monday’s votes.

    Conspiracy of Kings
    One Crazy Summer
    Dark Emperor
    Sugar Changed The World

    Also, since it is now officially 2011, what are some of the upcoming releases we should be looking forward to reading ?


  7. When there’s a lot of buzzon a book, that title will have a heavy holds list. I think my system does a great job of ordering, processing and getting the titles out for readers, but it’s still can be a wait if folks are ahead of you on the list.

    That siad, I don’t think you can worry about it. When I used to have a Mock discussion, some people were able to get and read all the books, and some were not, but enjoyed the vicarious pleasure of hearing the discussion, listening to the opinions, andhappily tolerate the spoilers. No matterhowmany actually vote, this discussion and process is hugely valuable and entertaining too.

    And, as Blakeney says, some of us are reading for other projects, awards, etc. I’m trying to get a jump on BBFA, finish with the rereading for another award and so am reading madly all I can as fast as I can.

    I think the most insightful thing you could do (Nina and Jonathan , hint, hint) is help us all look at the evaluating of apples and oranges and how that plays out on a widely varied list. Dark Emperor vs Conspiracy of Kings for example. how to cpmpare the two tasks each author set for themselves and how well they succeeded. And, if one task is easier than another (not sure about that) does it count? How does one
    s own personal preferences for one genre get roped in and takenn into account. There’s also the voting. I know that if I think othters are definitely going to mention a title that I love and want at the table, but I’m not sure about another, then I might be sure to include the one that has less support in my vote just to make sure that we have options on the table. On the other hand, I could reason that the quicker we reach the consensus the better. I’ve found inmock discussions, everyone likes to move toward coonsensus, but in the real deal, there is a certain amouont of trying to keep choices available.

    So much fun to think about.

  8. My school’s copy of KKK seems to be the only one in the county. Our county library system serves the second most populated county in Utah, but when it comes to keeping current with their collection for young readers, and obsessed old women, they tend to drag their feet. In fact they carry none of the non-fiction titles on your list. This normally wouldn’t be a problem as I am self-serving enough to shape my school’s collection to meet my needs. However I’ve had students checking out KKK from the time it entered the catalog. I should have hidden it. Pesky kids, don’t they know that their access to the books should be supplanted by my own? The soonest I can get my hands on it is Monday, and the chances that it will be read by the end of the day are not good.

  9. I broke down and ordered SUGAR and DARK EMPEROR. They arrived yesterday. This morning I was reading FORGE until 4 am — after the New Year’s Eve party! (Loved it!) I’m halfway through KEEPER.

    I still will probably run out of time. I didn’t get going on the list early enough. I still need to finish KEEPER, and read KNEEBONE BOY, SUGAR, DARK EMPEROR, KKK, and SIR CHARLIE. I could do it — if I weren’t trying to post my 2010 Sonderbooks Stand-outs and do some other things today.

    Still, I’m enjoying the process. Even deciding my own favorites of what I read in the year, it’s hard to decide between ONE CRAZY SUMMER and FORGE. I read them so far apart. I can see how the Newbery committee also needs to set aside time to reread — and take notes!

    One thing I did notice, reading FORGE right after COUNTDOWN: Laurie Halse Anderson inserts historical material with a contemporary quotation at the head of each chapter. This is a beautiful level of “documentary material” for me. Gives you the flavor, and an authentic voice from the time — but it doesn’t pull you out of the story. For me, FORGE knocked COUNTDOWN completely out of the running.

  10. Our 26 or 28 public library system doesn’t have any copies KKK or Dark Emperor in circulation yet. Even when they do put copies into the system, usually for the first month, they are only available to patrons at that library – holds and ILLs are not permitted. While they have 1 copy each of Sugar and Kneebone, I haven’t been able to get them for that reason (they’ve had them in circulation for less than one month).

    I’ve ordered all the books for my school library, with the exception of KKK (our library only goes through grade 6). Some of the titles have been backordered for some time now with Permabound (Sugar, Dark Emperor, Kneebone) and I have no estimate on when they will be arriving.

  11. I’ve been able to get my hands on all of them (currently about 2/3rds of the way through Sir Charlie, which will get me through all of them), but I did need to purchase Countdown, Sugar, and Sir Charlie. Sir Charlie’s my fault (I picked the wrong library when I put my hold down, and didn’t realize until I was heading out of town for the holidays), but I’ve had one of the oldest holds on Sugar and it came in after I’d left on my holiday travels and NYPL surprisingly only has one copy of Countdown actually in circulation, with many more on order but not yet in.

  12. Barring an unexpected surge of WOW from the final third of Sir Charlie, I’ve got my top 5, but nudging that down to a top three is being… difficult. The five in the running for me are KKK; City Dog, Country Frog; Countdown; Kneebone Boy; and Conspiracy of Kings (it’s grown in my memory). I *think* Kneebone gets the top spot, but I’m having trouble figuring out which two I want to pull my support from. Even if I came up with a decisive personal top three, I wouldn’t be surprised if I did some strategic vote-shifting on a second or honor ballot.

  13. I managed to find all of them, but that was partly because I bugged the librarian at my school to order some of them last school year! I’m the unofficial collection development advisor. Right now, Conspiracy of Kings is in my top slot, the other two are a complete toss up between Sugar, Dreamer, One Crazy Summer and Dark Emperor.

  14. Jen Baker says:

    I managed to get ahold of all of them but Sugar Changed the World (our library’s copy was received at the end of November but hasn’t been processed yet and Illinois state budget cuts mean we only get copies from other libraries if we don’t have a copy – I have a hold on our copy, but am not likely to see it by tomorrow). I did have copies of Countdown and One Crazy Summer from ALA this year since buzz on those was happening early enough for me to know to grab them. Little to no trouble getting ahold of everything else, but finding the time to read them all during the holidays? That was a much bigger problem. Next year I’m going to have to start much earlier if there’s an online option again.

  15. I’ve managed to get my hands on everything except Sugar (2 copies in the county, both checked out, I’ve had it on hold since early December). I’m halfway through Forge (which I was reluctant to read since I didn’t think Chains was particularly distinguished – the characters fell flat for me) and I have Sir Charlie sitting on my shelf (flipped through it). I’ve been distracted by reading for a Mock Printz this Saturday and trying to get through a few Morris and YALSA Non-fiction finalists before the awards are announced. Maybe if the online voting deal had been announced with your initial shortlist, that might have got some of us reading more seriously, and sooner. (I went to a local Mock Newbery in early December and had been focused on that list).

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