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Heavy Medal: A Mock Newbery Blog
Inside Heavy Medal

Best Books Revisited

The Cybils shortlists were announced today.  Talk about wild cards!  I think many of these shortlists have so many wild cards that it begins to undermine them as a representation of the best of anything.  And before you begin to flame me, dear Cybilians, note the word begins.

The Bulletin Blue Ribbons were also released today.  They, too, eschewed the obvious middle grade fiction choices (such as Anderson, Appelt, Ryan, Wiles, and Williams-Garcia) for more idiosyncratic picks such as JAKE by Audrey Coloumbis and GROUNDED by Kate Klise.  I’m kind of pleasantly surprised by this because I’m sort of conflicted about the middle grade fiction myself.

In any case, both the Cybils shortlists and the Bulletin Blue Ribbons underscore the very real possibility that the consensus public opinion about the middle grade fiction may or may not be validated by the Newbery committee.  I have compiled the results of Booklist, Bulletin, Horn Book, Kirkus Reviews, Publishers Weekly, and School Library Journal.  No book made six lists.  All titles are included, regardless of Newbery eligibility.

FIVE LISTS

THEY CALLED THEMSELVES THE KKK by Susan Campbell Bartoletti

THE WAR TO END ALL WARS by Russell Freedman

BALLET FOR MARTHA by Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan

ONE CRAZY SUMMER by Rita Williams-Garcia

FOUR LISTS

INCARCERON by Catherine Fisher

LING & TING by Grace Lin

KAKAPO RESCUE by Sy Montgomery

SNOOK ALONE by Marilyn Nelson

FEVER CRUMB by Philip Reeve

MIRROR, MIRROR by Marilyn Singer

THREE LISTS

SHARK VS. TRAIN by Chris Barton

THERE’S GOING TO BE A BABY by John Burningham

MOCKINGJAY by Suzanne Collins

REVOLUTION by Jennifer Donnelly

CLEVER JACK TAKES THE CAKE by Candace Fleming

THE EXTRAORDINARY MARK TWAIN by Barbara Kerley

BUNNY DAYS by Tao Nyeu

AS EASY AS FALLING OFF THE FACE OF THE EARTH by Lynne Rae Perkins

HEART OF A SAMURAI by Margi Preus

THE THINGS A BROTHER KNOWS by Dana Reinhardt

THE DREAMER by Pam Munoz Ryan

REVOLVER by Marcus Sedgwick

DARK EMPEROR by Joyce Sidman

UBIQUITOUS by Joyce Sidman

THE RING OF SOLOMON by Jonathan Stroud

ART & MAX by David Weisner

A CONSPIRACY OF KINGS by Megan Whalen Turner

CITY DOG, COUNTRY FROG by Mo Willems

TWO LISTS

KEEPER by Kathi Appelt

FORGE by Laurie Halse Anderson

SUGAR CHANGED THE WORLD by Marc Aronson and Marina Budhos

BORROWED NAMES by Jeanine Atkins

MIRROR by Janine Baker

LIZARDS by Nic Bishop

COSMIC by Frank Cottrell Boyce

ME AND YOU by Anthony Browne

ALCHEMY AND MEGGY SWANN by Karen Cushman

FARM by Elisha Cooper

BINK & GOLLIE by Kate DiCamillo and Allison McGhee

SIR CHARLIE by Sid Fleischman

THE BOSS BABY by Marla Frazee

LAFAYETTE AND THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION by Russell Freedman

A TALE DARK AND GRIMM by Adam Gidwitz

TURTLE IN PARADISE by Jennifer Holm

KUBLA KHAN by Kathleen Krull

NINI LOST AND FOUND by Anita Lobel

FINNIKIN OF THE ROCK by Melina Marchetta

TRASH by Andy Mulligan

THE SKY IS EVERYWHERE by Jandy Nelson

YUMMY by G. Neri

THE BOYS by Jeff Newman

THE FANTASTIC SECRET OF OWEN JESTER by Barbara O’Connor

MR. ELEPHANTER by Lark Pien

I SHALL WEAR MIDNIGHT by Terry Pratchett

THE CHICKEN THIEF by Beatrice Rodriguez

WHAT IF? by Laura Vaccaro Seeger

THE NOTORIOUS BENEDICT ARNOLD by Steve Sheinkin

THE MARBURY LENS by Andrew Smith

A SICK DAY FOR AMOS McGEE by Philip Stead

THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE BARBIE by Tanya Lee Stone

THE WHITE HORSE TRICK by Kate Thompson

THE QUIET BOOK by Deborah Underwood

COUNTDOWN by Deborah Wiles

KNUFFLE BUNNY FREE by Mo Willems

WE ARE IN A BOOK! by Mo Willems

HERE COMES THE GARBAGE BARGE by Jonah Winter

THE CURSE OF THE WENDIGO by Rick Yancey

share save 171 16 Best Books Revisited
Jonathan Hunt About Jonathan Hunt

Jonathan Hunt is the County Schools Librarian at the San Diego County Office of Education. He served on the 2006 Newbery committee, and has also judged the Printz Award, the Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards, and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. You can reach him at hunt_yellow@yahoo.com

Comments

  1. Wendy says:

    I’m not flaming you, Jonathan (I roll my eyes equally at ALA people who an be a little snooty about the Cybils, and Cybils people who can be snooty about the ALA awards, and of course there’s overlap etc etc), but I don’t quite understand how differences between the Cybils-nominated books and what’s being popularly buzzed for the ALA awards undermines credibility for the Cybils. Different criteria, etc etc. Actually, you might be selling Heavy Medal a bit short if you aren’t realizing how much of the buzz is created right here. I keep noticing, when people post their favorites of the year in the comments, how many of them are from the HM shortlists or have been widely discussed here. I bet our lists would look very different if we were random people brought together just to vote. If it weren’t for Nina’s championship, would Kneebone be in the conversation at all? Not that it isn’t a great book. I’ve also had a few people react with surprise to the idea that The Good, the Bad, and the Barbie is considered a Newbery contender, if they haven’t been reading along here.

    My point, I think, is that one committee’s/blog’s/journal’s/reader’s wild cards are another committee’s/etc sure things, and vice versa.

  2. Jonathan Hunt says:

    Wendy, I don’t think the differences undermine the Cybils, but rather their own criteria (“yummy and nutritious”). I’ll illustrate with books from several years ago . . . The really yummy (i.e. popular) books were ECLIPSE and HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS while the really nutritious books (i.e. literary) were things like THE WHITE DARKNESS, TAMAR, and RED SPIKES. Most people really don’t want to see awards go to either extreme. ABSOLUTELY TRUE DIARY was the best of both worlds (“yummy and nutritious”), but what if ABSOLUTELY TRUE DIARY has won too many awards or . . . will win too many awards? I guess, what I’m trying to ask is if you don’t want ultra-popular or ultra-literary and you also want to eschew the sorta good-sorta popular books that have been buzzed to death, then what’s left to pick? BELLY UP, BECAUSE OF MR. TERUPT, and BETTI ON THE HIGH WIRE–that’s what. But are these really better than ONE CRAZY SUMMER? And then NINTH WARD is stuck over there on fantasy and science fiction? Weird.

  3. Eloise says:

    No weirder than that Reckless by Funke is on the middle grade SF and Fantasy list. Funke’s earlier books were MG, but Reckless seems pretty clearly 12 and up to me. If a book is nominated for the MG list, but is a better fit for the YA list, does it get moved over? Or does the panel have to decide between putting it on the wrong shortlist or having it not show up on any shortlist at all? If the latter, I would think that would cause some erratic results.

  4. Jonathan Hunt says:

    FEVER CRUMB is also published as YA. NINTH WARD is the only one that truly looks middle grade to me. DRAGONBREATH is a transitional chapter book like CLEMENTINE and ALVIN HO. I’m not sure I understand the rationale behind splitting the science fiction and fantasy list into MG and YA categories anyway since fantasy readers tend to read indiscriminately (i.e. children will read adult fantasy and adults will read children’s fantasy). I’m also not clear on the rationale for splitting fantasy and science fiction off from regular fiction. One of the biggest impediments to “regular” readers is the serial nature of the genre, but there’s nary a sequel to be found, namely MOCKINGJAY, MONSTERS OF MEN, BEHEMOTH, CURSE OF THE WENDIGO, A CONSPIRACY OF KINGS, THE WHITE HORSE TRICK, and I SHALL WEAR MIDNIGHT. More weirdness.

  5. Angela Carstensen Liz B says:

    the cybils always manages to include a bunch of books i haven’t read.

    personally, I am befuddled over the omission of FINNIKIN. I agree with RECKLESS as being middle grade, but I disagree with YUMMY being high school in the GN category.

    as for category: if a title is nominated for the “wrong” list/genre/age, discussion is had amongst organizers about the proper place to put it.

  6. Wendy says:

    Jonathan, SF/Fantasy was split into MG and YA (last year, I think) because of the number of books nominated and the length of the YA books. The category had gotten unwieldy.

    Why is a rationale needed to split SF/Fantasy from “regular”? The idea is to recognize more books. It does lead to some complications between what is and isn’t fantasy, and can lead to some great books that aren’t quite SF/Fantasy “enough” slipping through the cracks at some point.

    But I think you either misunderstand or misstate the purpose of the Cybils, because there isn’t a mission to leave out “ultra-popular or ultra-literary” books, nor is there one to leave out buzzed books.

    An interesting difference is that the panel judging the final winners out of the shortlists is not involved in, nor privy to, the discussions of the panel that chose the shortlist in the first place. My panel of judges was dead curious about what exactly made the first round choose the books they did, but we just had to go with their choices.

  7. I agree that the Cybils always raise up for me some books that weren’t on my radar screen, but they also highlight others that had not made it to the top of my TBR pile. The ARC of Betti on the High Wire has gotten some strong support at our elementary school, and I have kept meaning to read it.

    I especially appreciate how many categories the Cybils awards have. Their middle grade graphic novels are spot on, from the ones we have in our library. Meanwhile, Smile, and Walker Bean all get checked out constantly. And they don’t get that sort of recognition in many other places.

    I agree with Wendy – one person’s favorite sure-thing might be another person’s “huh? this?”

    It’s all about giving books some exposure so we can help get the right book into the right child’s hand. Our tastes are eclectic, but surely so are our students’!

  8. Sondy says:

    I love that the Cybils have a separate Fantasy/SF category. Because people who love Fantasy (like me) tend to not be as crazy about contemporary, and vice versa. I’ve heard a Newbery committee member from last year admit that she doesn’t normally read Fantasy at all. I’m glad that all the judges and panelists for Fantasy/SF are people who love to read Fantasy/SF. (And I am going to keep applying until I can get on the panel!)

  9. A word about books with “x” number of reviews: I once had a director who insisted we only order books with ‘good’ reviews from specific sources, including SLJ. Our patrons were miserable. We did not have the books they wanted to read – and isn’t that the point of a library?

    Reviews – whether from Horn, SLJ, our our lowly blog, are just one of many tools. So are award lists. Case in point? “One Crazy Summer”. Ordered it as soon as it came out. It has checked out three whole times – and one of those was my mother, who I hand-sold it to after it made the NBA list.

    Does that mean it’s a bad book and the reviewers/panelists are all wrong? Of course not. It means – shocking statement here – we are all different. We all have different reading tastes. We all have different opinions of what is good and what is bad. “We” including readers, reviewers, panelists, librarians, parents, teachers, etc.

    If we all agreed on what books were good and which aren’t worth our time, we wouldn’t need panelists or bloggers at all, would we? We could just have one solitary judge reading each book as it came out and telling the sheep which ones to read and which ones to skip.

    There were some books I was passionate about that didn’t make Cybils either. And I was a panelist! But, did you see how many nominees there were? In YA Fiction alone there were 182, and we had to narrow that down to seven. That took months of discussion, culminating in a five-hour, sometimes very painful chat. Each of us had favorites that were cut, but all agreed that the final seven were worthy of people’s attention. Another seven people might have come up with a completely different list of books – and might have been just as ‘right’. (Oh, and for the sake of future panelists, please do not ask them to combine the sci-fi with the ‘regular’ YA – they need to have some time to eat and sleep!)

    Many of these lists included books I had not heard of. I like that. I will order most of those. Not all. I am thrilled with some of the winners (yeah for After Ever After!) and puzzled by others. That’s okay. I am perfectly comfortable with people having opinions that aren’t the same as mine.

  10. Sheila Ruth says:

    Hi Jonathan,
    As the Fantasy/SF organizer for the Cybils, I just wanted to clarify a couple of things:

    1) We do not intentionally exclude “buzzed” or popular books. Some of the books that we’ve selected over our five years have been popular books, and others have been relatively unknown. We do try to find books that have both literary merit and kid appeal, whether or not they are already popular. Many of the panelists also go into it with an eye towards finding “undiscovered gems,” which is why some (but not all) of our picks may be relatively unknown books.

    2) The reason the SFF category was split by age group was in part because of the unwieldy nature of the category, as Wendy mentions, but it was also in part because of the difficulty of comparing books written for such widely different ages. Although we have always tried to evaluate the books in relation to the age range, many of us felt that the books for younger readers were not getting a fair chance against the books for older readers in spite of our best efforts. Also, some of the criteria for a good middle-grade book are different from the requirements for a good YA book. This year we had a great panel for the younger SFF age range, who were all passionate about finding good books for younger readers.

    3) The younger age range for SFF is actually “Elementary & Middle,” which is why you have books like DRAGONBREATH in there. DRAGONBREATH was initially nominated in the Early Chapter Books category, but it didn’t meet their criteria so it was moved. (I believe it was too long for that category). RECKLESS was difficult to place, as it seems to fall in a gray area between MG and YA, and there were arguments going both ways.

    4) We also don’t exclude sequels or require that they stand alone, however, they tend to not fare as well as non-sequels, partly because some panelists do feel personally that sequels should stand alone, and partly because sequels often don’t live up to the first book in the series. Most of the sequels you mention were strong candidates for our shortlist, and in fact A CONSPIRACY OF KINGS just missed being a finalist by a hair. But in the end, several panelists felt that it wasn’t as strong as THE THIEF, and that its appeal was primarily to fans of the series.

  11. Jonathan Hunt says:

    Sheila, thanks for your clarification. Some follow-up comments.

    It seems like the reading load of the round one panelists is a major factor in the splitting of categories, not the only factor, but a major one. Another justification that people have mentioned here on the blog is that it provides even more titles for readers (i.e. that the Cybils serve as a list as much as an award–a collection development tool, if you will).

    Does this create a curious dichotomy? I think so. I certainly think it is in the best interest of the panelists to give their attention to fewer books rather than more books. But is it helpful for readers (users of the Cybils) to have DRAGONBREATH and NINTH WARD and FEVER CRUMB/RECKLESS in the same category? The reader of the latter two is more likely to be the same reader of the books listed in the YA category (as you acknowledge), the reader of DRAGONBREATH is more likely to be in the early chapter book category (as you also acknowledge), and . . . well, I was a fantasy reader as a kid, and one of the reasons that I never asked adults (teachers or librarians) for book recommendations is because you ask for a fantasy book and they give you something like NINTH WARD. Although you can make an argument for magical realism under the fantasy umbrella, I think that particular book would serve the reader better in the fiction category.

    I can only think of three reasons to split SFF off from regular fiction (and *only* split off SFF and not other genres). First, these books do tend to run longer than your average book. Second, many readers dislike the genre and creating a separate category allows them to read only the “good stuff.” And, third, those readers tend to be too finicky about sequels. But now we have SFF readers who are finicky about sequels, so for me what was one of the best arguments for the separate category is now a moot point.

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