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Heavy Medal: A Mock Newbery Blog
Inside Heavy Medal

Nice surprises?

Though there’s a lot of popular support for certain titles this year, nothing seems “obvious” to me for the Newbery.  And I’m one who’s always happy to have the committee pull a title out of left field. With so many strong atypical-Newbery titles out there this year, I’ll only be surprised if there isn’t something surprising up on the podium.

So, looking back to Jonathan’s Too Many Books, Too Little Time... here are some titles that remain some of my favorites, even though they didn’t make it to our shortlist. I wouldn’t be surprised or displeased  to see them honored in some way on Monday January 10th.

The Good the Bad and the Barbie

I posted on this way back in September. I’m impressed with how well Stone tackles a thorny issue…the shape of her argument reminds me slightly of Bartoletti’s in KKK. She lays an historical foundation, letting others speak … inserts an authorial judgement here and there to provoke the reader to read critically (the first one I found is on p.40 “Is having a lot of things supposed to make us happy?”) … and waits until the final chapter to give us her assessment.  I thought this almost restrained, but a colleague of mine thought it was too much–she wanted, I think, a “form your own opinion” factual cultural history.  I think Stone still allows for the reader to form her own opinion…and in fact opens herself for argument.

I only had issues with a couple of places in which Stone seems to address an adult audience, distancing a child audience (p.65 “We are sometimes unaware of things that come out of our mouths that make an impact on the girls in earshot.” and p.92 “…it can be helpful for kids to express their frustrations…Kids are well aware that Barbie is not real..). But these are extremely minor.  So why didn’t this show up on our shortlist?  Simply because there was a lot of strong nonfiction…a lot of it with late pub dates, and we had to choose.   I think SUGAR is still the stronger contender for Newbery….but don’t miss out on BARBIE.

Alchemy and Meggy Swann and What Happened on Fox Street

I posted on these, as a pair, back in October.  Didn’t get quite enough enthusiasm to push my own enthusiasm to the “must be on our shortlist!” level.  They linger with me though, as tightly-crafted engaging narratives each with unique style, and offering complexity and depth on par with some of our heftier choices…but to a young audience.  I’m glad to see them hang on in people’s favorites lists.

Mirror, Mirror

Marilyn Singer is a fabulous writer of poetry for kids (her Creature Carnival still one of my all time favorites). Her style is deft, her voice natural, her sense of audience keen.  My jaw still drops everytime I open Mirror Mirror…I can’t even imagine trying to do what she’s done with her original form: “The Reverso” (sort of a poem palindrome).  Through these pairs, she evokes snapshots of character from well-known folktales, and the form enhances a sense of voice and rhythm…attention to these is heightened, especially when reading them aloud.

This certainly is one of the best books of the year.  But I think that Sidman’s poetry is more defensible by Newbery criteria alone…Singer’s is certainly accomplished, but I worried a group of Mock Newberiers might not be able to find it distinguished.

Kakapo Rescue

Thanks everyone who mentioned this one!  I’ve always been a fan of Houghton Mifflin’s “Scientists in the Field” series, and not only does this one not disappoint, it’s riveting.  I think it takes a lot of time for people to tease out how to evaluate non-standard-looking Newbery titles against the Newbery criteria and against other contenders, and in a Mock discussion I just think we didn’t have room for this one. It’s a very long shot for Newbery, but I’d love to see it honored somewhere in the awards and Notables.

There’s some other favorite longshots out there that I’m not so keen on…notably A Tale Dark and Grimm (great, but too gimicky and uneven for me to see it as distinguished) and The Notorious Benedict Arnold (I almost feel like I shouldn’t go there…but I just felt that Sheinkin missed on giving readers the level of transparency of research they deserve.  Everything is thoroughly documented, but we don’t get any sort of inkling (as we do with SUGAR, for instance) about the context of the sources.  So there’s a lot of clearly fictionalized/embellished conversation/thoughts quoted, as if we’re to assume that they must be factual.)   I haven’t tried to stir much up on these (well, until now), because I still think they’re as strong or stronger than a lot of the more “typical” Newbery fare being touted online, and in the end I’m most interested in the unexpected Newbery…the one that forces us to think creatively about what–in our time–makes distinguished literature for children.

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. Our Mock Newbery club got clear winners in the first vote this year. 40 kids, grades 4-7. We only read fiction this year, so that may need to change in future years… We will see if I can convince the 4th Graders of that fact.
    Mock Medal: OUT OF MY MIND

    Today is the pizza party where I try to prepare them (again) for the fact that these are not likely to be the ACTUAL winners on Monday… : )

  2. I’m wondering if this might be the year for something a little less literary among the honors–Origami Yoda, one of the fantasies, Popularity Papers, etc. And looking at the list of books people have voted for on Goodreads (, though of course many people who nominate/vote don’t keep the criteria in mind, I see many books that certainly have a shot and have hardly been discussed at all. I’ve heard good things about The Red Umbrella and haven’t been able to get my hands on it.

    I also won’t be surprised to see The Night Fairy among the honors. I read it as an ARC, and thought it was good, but assumed that “more” would come out later in the year that were as good or better. With a little distance, I appreciate it more.

    This year has been more polarizing for me, and I think others, as well. I really dislike some of the favorites. (Some I dislike personally as books, others I don’t think are distinguished at all, so I dislike them as award possibilities…) So odds are I’m going to be irritated on Monday… but, I hope, pleasantly surprised as well.

  3. I purchased the book BECAUSE OF MR. TERUPT because I noticed it as one of those titles that quietly crept up in conversations here and there but never once, has been fully discussed anywhere that I can find.

    I’ve recently begun reading it and find it a shame it’s been left out of any discussion. Because it’s rather good . . .

    By the way, Wendy, I know your feelings on COUNTDOWN, but what about ONE CRAZY SUMMER? You said you really dislike some of the “favorites” . . . care to elaborate? Just curious being as I usually like what you have to say.

  4. If you look at the number of votes received on Goodreads, it’s pretty interesting.

    ONE CRAZY SUMMER is far and away the leader, with 55 votes out of 202 total voters. One-fourth of the voters are picking it. (I didn’t mention MOCKINGJAY because I don’t see it having a realistic shot.) —> Probable winner (I hope not!)

    After ONE CRAZY SUMMER there is COUNTDOWN (39 votes), OUT OF MY MIND (33 votes), THE DREAMER (22 votes), and KEEPER (21 votes). —> Honors?


    I too, have the feeling that there will be some surprises!

  5. I think that in past years there hasn’t been a strong correlation between what books received medals and what was high on the Goodreads poll (impossible to say now, because people continue to vote after the award is given). In the last two years the winner was near the top, and I think most of the honors were somewhere in the list, but not necessarily high up there. The Surrender Tree, I think, wasn’t on the list at all. (That probably ended up being my favorite book of that year, but I hadn’t paid any attention to it beforehand.)

    Every year as we get closer to the announcement I find myself wanting to be less negative, but since you asked, I like One Crazy Summer, but not (to varying degrees) Keeper, Dreamer, or Mockingbird, and although I guess you couldn’t call it a favorite, Barbie is the only book I’ve rated one star all year; I couldn’t manage to write a thoughtful response about it here that didn’t just sound rude. Never did find my “this is IT” book this year!

  6. Mark Flowers says:

    @ Wendy – I love rude reviews, and would be very interested to hear what you have to say about Barbie. I liked it, but would be fascinated to hear a counterargument.

    I, on the other hand, couldn’t even make it all the way through Mirror, Mirror (and it’s only 32 pages long!). It was just too cutesy, and in a lot of cases I felt like there was no particular reason for the “reverso” poem to exist at all. Oh well.

  7. Wendy, how did you feel about ALMOST ASTRONAUTS? The only reason I ask, is because I think I’m forming a negative opinion about Stone’s style of writing (valid or not) . . . I feel like she sneakily included her judgments in the midst of her fact telling and in that case, while her accuracy or lack of inclusion of some particular plot elements were called into question, it all began to feel very preachy and intentionally done. I didn’t like having the feeling of being tricked when I was done reading it. Obviously though, others LOVED the book.

    I personally do not see this being a problem with a book like THE GOOD THE BAD AND THE BARBIE (I have not read it, just speaking in terms of plot description) but find it interesting to hear Nina say that some within her circle found the book “too much”. Now hearing that you did not like the book as well, just makes me wonder . . . what about it did Nina’s colleagues find to be “too much”? What about it caused you to not like it? Maybe you don’t even want to get into it . . . I’d understand!

  8. I didn’t care for Almost Astronauts either, but that had a better sense of organization and purpose to it, both things I found lacking in Barbie. In fact, I think I found it lacking in every Newbery criterion that was relevant. I swear, I’m being honest and not just looking for an argument. I wouldn’t have minded if Stone had taken a side and written the book that way; and I didn’t necessarily need a form-your-own-opinion book. But she seemed to be striving for a “fair and balanced” book, and I don’t think it succeeds. It read as if almost every criticism of Barbie got twice as much apologizing and/or explaining away. I found it confusing; if the author thought such-and-such was important, then how could she also believe such-and-such [opposing viewpoint]? The presence of the author is very strong throughout. This isn’t always a bad thing, but here, I did not find it effective; maybe it seemed like she was trying to please everyone. I think my general feeling can be expressed as “pick a side, or keep yourself out of the book”. I also thought the writing was full of cliches and quite repetitive.

    So, interpretation of theme or concept? It’d be easy to say “yes”, because yeah, everything is about Barbie. But what is the theme, exactly? On anything I can come up with (balanced view of Barbie, cultural history of Barbie), I don’t think it is distinguished in interpretation.

    Presentation of information including accuracy, clarity, and organization? I assume the historical stuff is accurate, but I found the presentation muddled. The historical and Barbie-art chapters were well-delineated, but the rest wasn’t. The only part of this that seems trustworthy/usable as a resource is the historical section.

    Development of a plot? I don’t think this is really relevant here.

    Delineation of characters? Well, Ruth Handler comes across fairly vividly, although there were moments when I felt she must be leaving things out. This one’s a wash, if it’s relevant.

    Delineation of a setting? Either irrelevant or unsuccessful. (I’d go with irrelevant.)

    Appropriateness of style? One of my main problems. It definitely doesn’t seem to me like a “presentation for a child audience”. Nina mentions above a couple of places where the author seems to be addressing adults, and I think there are more; and I think, while the book reads very fast, that the way it’s organized would be off-putting.Would middle school girls like it? I think they might check it out, if they’re way beyond Barbie enough not to feel like it’s babyish to even talk about Barbie, but I don’t think it’s presented in a way to interest them.

    Pretty pictures, though.

  9. Mr. H.
    I too am disheartened that Because of Mr. Terupt has not gotten more attention. I have loved the since I read the advanced reading copy. And everyone I’ve recommended it to has loved the book.
    I’m also a little disappointed that Drizzle hasn’t been thrown into the mix. But I am glad to see A Tale Dark and Grimm gaining attention, as well as Moon Over Manifest. Both are excellent.

    keep reading,
    dave r

  10. Our Mock Newbery club picked (after two rounds of voting)
    Winner – The Cardturner

    Honors – The Dreamer, One Crazy Summer and Keeper

    Their was A LOT of discussion (they use a modified version of the Newbery forms) about Out of My Mind and the Dreamer and emotional integrity as well as Delphine’s voice in One Crazy Summer. They talked about the absence of moms in a lot of books and what they thought was appropriate for this age group. They were torn over Cardturner and it’s “language” and I had to curtail the discussion!

  11. Jonathan Hunt says:

    Eva Perry picked OUT OF MY MIND with AFTER EVER AFTER, HEIST SOCIETY, KEEPER, and ONE CRAZY SUMMER as Honor books . . .

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