Follow This Blog: RSS feed
Heavy Medal: A Mock Newbery Blog
Inside Heavy Medal

Twas the Night Before Christmas

Okay, okay, it’s not the night before Christmas . . . but it sure feels like it.  I can’t shake that breathless sense of childlike anticipation, knowing that the committee is at this moment wrapping my presents and putting them under the tree.  Metaphorically speaking, that is.  On Sunday morning, they are most likely finalizing their honor book choices and writing the press release which must be turned in by noon, before wandering the exhibit floor and attending various dinners–all with their very best poker faces.  So I’m posting too late for any last minute lobbying, but I’ll still offer up some final thoughts on the Newbery and other major awards.

For a second straight year, I am going against the grain.  ONE CRAZY SUMMER has emerged as the popular favorite, and I think there is an excellent chance that it will be held up over the podium tomorrow, and it would be a good choice, but one of many good choices.  I’m still partial to KEEPER as the best middle grade fiction, however, and having finally reread THE DREAMER now remember just why I found it so distinguished on the first read.  I feel about THE DREAMER the way Nina feels about FORGE: distinguished in all aspects, but not necessarily most distinguished, hence my annoyingly inaccurate “honor book” label.  One of the more impressive things was the character development of Neftali, how the events of his childhood shaped him into the socially conscious artist that he became.

“Nephew, they may have silenced La Manana, but they will never silence my pen.”

Neftali looked into his uncle’s determined face.

He did not see a man defeated by exhaustion.  He saw a man ready to fight another day.

He did not see a man covered head to toe in soot.  He saw a man covered in righteousness.

He did not see a man’s red and blurry eyes.  he saw an intense resolve to speak for those who could not speak for themselves.

Neftali reached out and gripped his uncle’s palm and held it tight.  “Nor will they silence mine.”

Because of the oppressive, autocratic nature of many Latin American governments over the years, it is the artists–the poets, the painters, the playwrights–who have emerged to serve the same role that the press, that investigative journalism, has played in our country.  It is the artists who serve as the social conscious of the nation, often giving their art a double meaning in order to criticize and voice opposition.  (If you read the graphic novel, MR. MENDOZA’S PAINTBRUSH, this past year then you saw another manifestation of this.)

I know Pablo Neruda may not seem like the most child-friendly subject for a fictionalized biographical treatment, but he is revered as one of the best writers in the Spanish language.  My wife, born and raised in Guatemala City, attended the finest schools, read lots of Neruda (loves him), but no Shakespeare.  And yet we wouldn’t think to question the child appeal of a similar treatment of Shakespeare . . . Perhaps this defense of THE DREAMER is too little, too late, but I would be happy to see it recognized by the Newbery committee, and think it’s virtually a shoo-in for the Belpre.

My top three Newbery choices remain atypical–A CONSPIRACY OF KINGS, DARK EMPEROR, SUGAR CHANGED THE WORLD–and I still have not been able to nudge one ahead of the others because they are so different, although I suspect that DARK EMPEROR may be the easiest to build consensus around.  I’d also like to see the Caldecott committee recognize DARK EMPEROR for Rick Allen’s wonderful illustrations (and likewise CITY DOG, COUNTRY FROG; yes, Willems’s text is awesome, but Muth’s illustrations are equally deserving).

I also expect that A CONSPIRACY OF KINGS and SUGAR CHANGED THE WORLD are being seriously considered by the Printz committee.  I don’t think that the Newbery field is perhaps as wide open as some have suggested, at least not in comparison to the Printz field where the strongest books are either nonfiction (THEY CALLED THEMSELVES THE KKK, THE WAR TO END ALL WARS, SUGAR CHANGED THE WORLD, THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE BARBIE, and THE NOTORIOUS BENEDICT ARNOLD, a book which could have emerged as this year’s A SEASON OF GIFTS if more people had cared to read it; Nina and I clearly have strong and opposite reactions) or fantasy (INCARCERON, FEVER CRUMB, THE RING OF SOLOMON, A CONSPIRACY OF KINGS, and FINNIKIN OF THE ROCK to name a few).   The realistic fiction, whether historical or contemporary (REVOLUTION, REVOLVER, THE SKY IS EVERYWHERE, and WILL GRAYSON, WILL GRAYSON), hasn’t won the consensus popular opinion vote the same way that, say, MARCELO IN THE REAL WORLD or THE ABSOLUTELY TRUE DIARY OF A PART-TIME INDIAN did.  So that will be an interesting list.

We’ve discussed and quickly rejected BINK & GOLLIE, LING & TING, and WE ARE IN A BOOK! for Newbery consideration, but  they could all be recognized by the Geisel committee.  And I don’t care if the Geisel committee is tired of giving the award to Mo Willems; his book is still the best of the bunch.  I’m also intrigued by Roger Sutton’s argument for MIRROR, MIRROR as an easy reader, and I’d like to suggest my own Geisel darkhorse, FEEDING THE SHEEP by Leda Schubert.  Yes, dear readers, it’s come to this: Geisel darkhorses.  What’s a kid to do?  Tis the night before Christmas, after all.

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’m grumpy that I forgot to take myself off the schedule for work on ALAYMA day this year and will miss being part of the immediate online discussion. But today I’m surrounded by a whole bunch of semi-dark-horses–literally, they’re strewn around me–and I’m trying to decide what to read, and whether I ought to choose what I think has the best chances or what I might enjoy the most. (I always breathe a sigh of relief after my reading returns to normal, when Newbery season is over.) Moon over Manifest? Benedict Arnold? Boys Without Names? Owen Jester? The War to End All Wars? A Long Walk to Water? (that’s eligible, right? I haven’t seen much discussion about it.) Zora and Me? The Hard Kind of Promise? The Books of Elsewhere: The Shadows?

  2. Jonathan Hunt says:

    We think A LONG WALK TO WATER is ineligible by virtue of being previous published serially in a newspaper.

  3. Ha! You and I must have been writing our blog posts at the same time. Mine is more about anxiety:)

  4. I’m right there with you on the anticipation fixation. I will be up all night peeking under the wrapping paper.

    I’m so glad it is in the Pacific time zone this year, as it will be during school hours. I am rescheduling Kindergarteners. And I have permission from thier teachers to bring the Newbery Club down to the library. I expect there will be much non-library goings on tomorrow morning, which will rival your most vigorus sporting events.

    Thank you Jonathon for your lovely comments on THE DREAMER. They reminded me how impressed I was with the book. The subject matter may not be child-friendly, but the writing and presentation certainly are. My students who read the book felt like they had tapped into something special. Not many voted for it however. I will shed no tears when it walks away with an honor.

  5. Nina Lindsay says:

    Jonathan, your post echoes a lot of the thoughts I’m hearing here at the conference. No one feels confident in predictions. The field seems wide open, and people run hot and cold on a lot of field. The only thing for sure it seems it that we’ll get some audible gasping along with gulps of joy on the floor at the press conference. Can’t wait!

  6. Yes, Jonathan, night before feeling is right on the money. Who will get the present they asked Santa for?

    By the way, I have started reading Benedict Arnold and it has drawn me in. One question, though. What do you or anyone think of the break in voice when the author says suddenly something like “we don’t know.” I was so absorbed in the narrative style telling that I found the reference to research jarring. Glad this title was recommended and now plan on reading it completely rather than just sampling.

  7. I’m looking forward to watching the webcast — 10:45 East Coast time. One problem: I’m supposed to be at work at 12:30. If the webcast takes more than an hour, I will simply be late! Because of course they will announce the Newbery last.

    I’ve been amazed that some of my librarian friends didn’t even realize the announcement is tomorrow. Thanks for building up my anticipation and making me so aware of some of the choices.

    Jonathan, thanks for mentioning DREAMER – I think it’s brilliant. Though part of the brilliance is how well the pictures work with the words, which unfortunately can’t be considered for the Newbery. But maybe some other awards….

  8. Jonathan Hunt says:

    Blakeney, I liken it to when a singer changes registers, going from a head voice to a chest voice. Noticeable, but not unpleasantly so. One of the great things about prestigious awards is that they can serve as a model to both publishers and authors, and it’s my fervent wish for this book. If more nonfiction was written this way (and like CHARLES AND EMMA) then I think we’d see more enthusiasm for reading nonfiction from both adults and children. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see this sneak in and pluck the Sibert away from KKK, WWI, KAKAPO, SUGAR, and BARBIE–and it could also do some damage in the Newbery and Printz fields.

    Sondy, the awards should take little more than an hour so you should be fine. They’ve added a new one this year: The Stonewall Book Award which ought to go to WILL GRAYSON, WILL GRAYSON. Probably no suspense there.

  9. Jonathan Hunt says:

    Check out Peter Sieruta’s blog, Collecting Children’s Books, for more ruminations on the Big Day . . .

  10. Kristin McIlhagga says:

    Thank you so much for these last minute thoughts. I had hoped to read the “Top 15” over break and participate in the online discussion, but extending deadlines for my ph.d. work prevailed. That being said, reading the posts here, along with everyone’s comments, is often as valuable as my course work. I’m now faced with a pile of books and only this evening to read. Your thoughts about Dreamer are lovely, and I think that is who I shall be spending my time with this evening.

  11. Speaking of Twas the Night Before… Check out Susan Kusel’s poem:

  12. I’ve my picks down for posterity. May tomorrow be kind.

  13. Okay, my just-read, Zora and Me, is great and should have gotten more attention. I’d like to see some love from both Newbery and CSK.

  14. Jonathan Hunt says:

    DaNae, would you take TURTLE IN PARADISE over A CONSPIRACY OF KINGS?

    Wendy, I brought up ZORA AND ME, but didn’t get many responses. I liked it very much, too, and wouldn’t be disappointed with either Newbery or CSK. I think the plot is a bit tidy at the end (but, hey, at least they tried something a bit more ambitious) and the other elements are all very strong.

  15. I know it is not fair, but my frustration with A CONSPIRACY OF KINGS for Newbery is that I can’t hand it to my students cold. I’ve had a few older students read the series, mostly after they have moved on to Jr. High. I couldn’t in good conscience encourage this year’s Newbery readers to tackle it as none of them had read the first 3. I know 10-12 year olds are not the cut off, and I’m not being logical regarding the criteria.

    When I think of other series books which have won, THE BLACK CAULDRON, THE HIGH KING, I find that coming to either one of those cold would be easier to digest for young readers. (Did I mention I have a son named Taran?)

    I won’t cry if Turner garners a medal, or an honor. I would gladly forge a crown for her. But in my world it would be a mostly unreadable winner for my students. You convinced me that it deserves to be honored. I’m sorry, I’m sure you expected more of me after listening at your and Nina’s knees these past few years, but when it comes to what I WANT to win, I filter it through my student’s eyes. Don’t fret, I rarely get what I want.

  16. And now I’m the kid who is up before everyone else impatiently waiting. Not long now.

  17. Thank you, Jonathan!

  18. I’m up now as well. Can someone verify that I should be seeing a spirialing circle on the awards viewer. I really don’t want to find out at 8:45 that my district has the video blocked.

  19. I’m getting nothing on the page . . . no spiraling circle, nothing.

  20. Our Morris Award winner will get announced too. Not much speculation on that or the YALSA Nonfiction. Is it because the use of the shortlist narrows it down?

  21. Yep.

    It’s asking me to download Flash 10 and I already have. It’s not streaming for me. Didn’t last year either!

  22. Augh. I don’t have the new flash on my work computer. 🙁 I hope someone will be posting the winners as they are announced!

  23. It’s working!

  24. Jonathan Hunt says:

    Crap! I’m in the same boat. Work computer is not cooperating. I hate it when they are on the West Coast. Aaargh.

  25. Jonathan Hunt says:

    Working for me, too. Link did not go live until 7:30.

  26. One Crazy Summer wins the Coretta Scott King!

  27. Could have a lot of medals on it’s cover . . .

  28. The Dreamer wins the Pura Belpre!

  29. THE DREAMER’s cover won’t be completely empty! Winner of the Belpre! Now if only a shiny gold medal could join that silver one . . .

  30. Kakapo Rescue wins Sibert!

  31. Interesting, none of the informational texts mentioned on here (KKK, SUGAR, BARBIE) were acknowledged for the Sibert . . . different criteria or overlooked?

  32. Sibert honors are Ballet for Martha and Lafayette and the American Revolution.

  33. Newbery winner is Moon Over Manifest
    honors: Dark Emperor, Heart of a Samurai, One Crazy Summer, and Turtle in Paradise

  34. What the Hell?

    Whoes REad it?

  35. Ha ha ha! I just KNEW this was gonna happen this year!

    Congrats to TURTLE IN PARADISE though!!! Jonathan, what have you say about THAT?!

  36. Lots of fun surprises this morning. I think the Geisel Committee did an especially wonderful job choosing three truly distinguished early readers.
    Atlanta had 4 inches of snow last night and now there aren’t any bookstores open. How am I going to read Moon Over Manifest today???

  37. Jonathan Hunt says:

    Mr. H, what do I say about TURTLE IN PARADISE winning a Newbery Honor? I think that it will be a popular book with students, particularly the younger set, from 3rd to 5th grade. I also think Jennifer Holm is one of the nicest people I’ve ever met, and I’m genuninely happy for her, even if the book was not my own personal choice.

  38. I was just messing with you . . . I do wish you would have given it the time and effort you gave some of the other titles down the stretch, then maybe not only would you believe that it will be a “popular” book with the 3rd to 5th grade set, you may actually see it as the “distinguished” work that it is!


  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by SchoolLibraryJournal. SchoolLibraryJournal said: Twas the Night Before Christmas « Heavy Medal: A Mock Newbery Blog […]

Speak Your Mind