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Heavy Medal: A Mock Newbery Blog
Inside Heavy Medal

Warm and Fuzzy

Jonathan mentioned feeling “warm and fuzzy” about DARK EMPEROR, and I’ll lay claim to the same feeling…not only do I feel particular affection for it as the dark horse winner of our live Mock Newbery (and of course also for ONE CRAZY SUMMER which pretty handily landed the win in our online voting), but its place among the honors strengthens every other title’s place there, by proving that the committee process worked in recognizing a true variety in  “distinguished literature for children.”

Vicky Smith at Kirkus did tell me to consider MOON OVER MANIFEST for our shortlist here, and her post on “getting it right” is well deserved. MOON shows remarkable complexity and attention to audience in its multilayered “interpretation of theme or concept”…a confluence of themes of “story,” “home” and “belonging.” (Interestingly, I also see that theme in ONE CRAZY SUMMER and TURTLE IN PARADISE…though each of their distinguished elements is drawn out differently…). I applaud this year’s committee for keeping it interesting, and getting a debut author on the podium…even though I know this was not part of the agenda.

I share Jonathan’s hope that “a diverse mix of titles [through the decades] grows organically from the consideration of the entire field.” He hastens to add that “A committee can’t really go in with that as an agenda” and the ensuing comments on that post circle back round our usual and vital debate about how to (or not to) interpret results.  I believe that it’s this debate that keeps the Newbery thriving in our profession…keeps it responsive both to changes in the field of publishing, and to its original core purpose which has proven it stands the test of time.  The mere fact that the results truly cannot be predicted is a measure of its strength.

Jonathan and I will be taking just a little more time this month to finish commenting on the winners and their reception, and take a quick look ahead to next year.  And try to answer the question of whether it was Snooki, or–my guess–Tiger Mom that edged out the interest for the Newbery/Caldecott winners on the Today Show.

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. Jonathan Hunt says:

    I’m not going to be able to read this one before the end of the month, unfortunately. I toyed with the idea of downloading it to my computer for the long weekend, but I’m too old school, I guess, preferring the actual book. I’d welcome more comments from those who have been able to get and read MOON OVER MANIFEST. What do you think?

  2. I am puzzled, to say the least. It’s a fine book, but according to Newbery criteria, and in comparison to other (even similar) books published last year, I didn’t think it approached distinction. I hate saying that because I generally suspect people who don’t like the Newbery of being haters. I secretly thought to myself that anyone who didn’t think When You Reach Me was good enough for the Newbery was either not getting it or doing it on purpose. I hope I’m not doing either of those things with Moon Over Manifest. But I thought it was, overall, kind of weak and often contrived. I can’t come up with any of the criteria in which I think it excelled. (In contrast, while I didn’t think Turtle in Paradise was a Great book overall, I thought its sense of setting was well-done enough to merit the Newbery Honor all on its own, and in combination with perfectly acceptable other-elements, it makes a fine honoree for me. And all the other choices are beyond-reproach honorees for me.) So I very much look forward to detailed, positive analyses of Moon Over Manifest according to the Newbery criteria by anyone who wants to try. I probably won’t agree, but I’ll be interested.

  3. I returned to MOON OVER MANIFEST this week (after having read and skimmed it a while back) and quite enjoyed it. It takes a while to kick in, but there’s a lot there. Impressive debut. I like the weaving in and out of all the different stories. I did find myself wondering a lot about Abilene (the mc) — when did she go to school? Learn to garden? Play with other girls? Etc etc.

  4. I’m going to disagree with Wendy and say that the depiction of setting in Moon Over Manifest was extremely distinguished. I thought Vanderpool managed to make the town of Manifest a fully realized place.
    For me the Moon Over Manifest’s greatest achievement is in the delineation of characters. Not just how well each of the town’s many characters were drawn but the way in which we meet and get to know each character was truly remarkable.

    As I wrote on my blog yesterday, I do have a minor gripe about the organization of the plot, namely the way Ned’s letters were presented to the reader. Since I cannot fully describe my issue with the letters without major story spoilers I’ll hold off.

    Overall though, I think that Moon Over Manifest is a wonderful edition to the Newbery canon.

  5. If you have an Amazon ID you can actually “Look Inside the Book” and read the vast majority of the first 87 pages of Moon over Manifest. Some pages are skipped but you can get a good idea of the style and flavor.

    The book starts out as a a home spun historical fiction set in the depression year of 1936 featuring spunky girl protagonist, 12 year old Abiline Tucker, who is sent away by her father (Gideon Tucker) to his hometown of Manifest Kansas to live with an old friend for the summer.

    For the first 87 pages the book’s historical style is a lot like those by Richard Peck (A Long Way to Chicago and A Year Down Yonder). It’s also probably a bit reminiscent of Calpurnia Tate. The problem for me is that, unlike the tight story-telling of Richard Peck, this story seems a bit disjointed and meandering. Is it fair to judge a book by the first 90 pages? Yes, if those pages throw up all kinds of roadblocks to wanting to even continue. Some of the commenter/reviewers on Amazon and SLJ said that the story doesn’t really kick in until half-way (or even two-thirds of the way) through the 80,000 word book. That’s 40 to 50,000 words into the story, whereas Peck’s books are already finished around the 30 to 35,000 mark.

    By page 87 there is only an inkling of the beginnings of a mystery to be solved. If there is a mystery, it needed to become apparent much more quickly.

    I guess later in the book the plotting actually shifts intermittently between the year 1936 which is Abaline’s story and the 1918 story of her father’s childhood. Some of the adult Amazon reviewers complained that they had trouble following the shifting of time.

    One Amazon adult male reviewer who gave it 5 stars called it, “an interesting and insightful tale of budding self-awareness, not only for the narrator, but for a town that has held its pain in too long and is in danger of death unless something is done.” He went on to say that, “Abiline (the MC) is the catalyst to the town’s salvation just as another young person had been eighteen years earlier.” This reviewer also said he, “often found himself reflecting on the various metaphors and deeper meanings that present themselves on various levels: the compass that has lost its magnetism, the gate to “Perdition,” the church in the bar.” The same reviewer said, “The book, however, really shows its greatness the second time around.”

    So the book may be an excellent choice for the most avid readers (adults) who have no problem savoring a four-hour, twelve-course meal, and for those who can delight in all the nuanced themes and subtle metaphors. But this book’s success in child-friendliness or page-turning story-telling is debatable. I’m a plot-driven kind of guy, and if a book (i.e. story) isn’t meeting my expectations, I give myself permission to put it down without finishing. Since Moon over Manifest won the award (and for curiosity’s sake), if I had the full book in my hands I may make an exception. But without the award…probably not.

  6. Aw, come on, Richard. 🙂 I’d have to argue it is NOT fair judging a book that long by reading most of it’s first 90 pages. It’s fine to express how they made you feel, but you can’t draw conclusions about the entire book from that small bit of info, any more than looking at only one quarter of a Picasso would allow us to judge it’s merit. And clearly you have picked out others’ negative reviews to quote, but not the positive ones.

    As for the mystery not starting soon enough, that’s a personal preference, not a requirement. A lot of classic mysteries take forever to get going, but they aren’t necessarily considered poorly written because of that.

    You say you’re a guy who loves plot-driven books. Fine. But you know not everyone else is, obviously. So there’s room to disagree here on what makes a “distinguished” book. Also, I may be wrong, but it feels to me like you think “nuanced themes and subtle metaphors” are a bad thing in kids books. But remember — the award isn’t about personal preference or ease of reading, it’s about most distinguished.

    I haven’t had a chance to read Moon yet, and I really think until we do we must withhold our opinions, as hard as that may be to do.

  7. Nina Lindsay says:

    Richard, interestingly, it turns out that page 83 was as far as I got on my first reading. It does really kick in and build later on…and the slowness is part of the recipe for the richness of characters and complexity of theme. She’s got basically 4 narratives going on….the present of the story, the past of the story, Ned’s letters, and the newspaper column. It takes a while for those layers to build.

    Many commenters here praised KEEPER despite its slow build. It’s still a shorter book overall, but even so, shouldn’t the same pacing/structure be allowed of MOON?

    And remember too that there are many young readers out there who YEARN for long and meaty. And that the award does not have to go to a book that’s going to speak to the broadest tastes.

  8. I like a long and meaty book, myself, despite all my railing against books that are “too long”. I’ll rejoice as much as anyone in a delightfully long book that I can be absorbed in for days; it was the same when I was a kid. But the key is “meaty”. I asked people who loved Keeper here how they felt the slow pace and length added to the book, and got good responses about how both corresponded with the theme and the writing. It didn’t make me love the book, but helped me understand that the pacing and length could be seen as features and not bugs. I’m not convinced the same thing is going on here.

    Nina, you bring up the four different narratives. It’s an interesting idea, but I didn’t think they fit together that well. A few others who have read the book mention being puzzled… there are things that just don’t seem to make sense. Perhaps they make more sense on a second reading.

  9. Jonathan has said often that the re-reading is where the richness becomes apparent, and also where the flaws become glaring. I have read MOON OVER MANIFEST and found it deliciously entrancing. I too struggled, but only for about 30 pages, and then the unfolding mysteries of Abilene’s Dad, the church in the bar and the freindship engaged me and led further into the story. What is distinguished for me is the way the weaving of the story reveals to us and to Abilene the answers to big questions. I love the big questions! Not every book is for every reader, and I freely admit that a different group of fifteen could have found different titles to recognize, but I’m totally with Vicky Smith on the ‘getting it right.’

  10. It’s too bad that this book will never have to undergo the scrutiny that contenders like Sir Charlie, One Crazy Summer, and Mockingbird received.

    Teri-K accused me of picking out negative reviews. Not at all. In fact if you look at my comment I quoted the comments of a 5 star Amazon reviewer. He absolutely loved the book, and all of his comments were very positive. Then to throw up the comparison of viewing only 1/4 of a Picasso painting is pretty farfetched. Of course you view a painting in its entirety. A painting on the wall of a museum doesn’t reveal itself a little bit at a time…it hits your eyes as a whole.

    Then there is the claim that a book must always be judged in its entirety. But, how many times have you walked out of a bad movie. I know I have.

    What everyone seems to forget here is that these books are meant to be read by kids. I contend that for kids in this day and age, the book’s plot must contain a compelling storyline as the primary requirement to hold a middle grade readers interest (especially boy-readers). There is nothing wrong with nuanced themes and subtle metaphors as long as the story itself was good enough to keep the pages turning. By the same token, there’s nothing wrong with high word count books as long as the reader’s interest is held (4 of the Harry Potter books were well over 160,000 words each…with one of these over 250,000).

    If I’m a Newbery judge and by page 90 nothing about the story has grabbed me…if the story is up to this point rudderless and I’m bored, or confused…I’m going on to the next book.

    Many commenters are quick to defend the book…and yet have niggling reservations…

    Eric Carpenter said, “I do have a minor gripe about the organization of the plot, namely the way Ned’s letters were presented to the reader. Since I cannot fully describe my issue with the letters without major story spoilers I’ll hold off.”

    Wendy said she, “generally suspects people who don’t like the Newbery of being haters.” But then she goes on to admit, “four different narratives…it’s an interesting idea, but I didn’t think they fit together that well. A few others who have read the book mention being puzzled… there are things that just don’t seem to make sense. Perhaps they make more sense on a second reading.

    So should a confusing plot or story line trump the other categories of “distinction”?

    Nina explained the author’s story technique, “basically 4 narratives going on….the present of the story, the past of the story, Ned’s letters, and the newspaper column. It takes a while for those layers to build”.

    When it comes to “second readings” I thought the usual benchmark was…will the story hold up to a second reading as well as it did for the first. In other words, will I enjoy it every bit as much the second time as I did the first time through.

    Now the benchmark seems to have been turned on it’s head…will the book make more sense to me by reading it for a second time. Will the second reading end my confusion? If that’s the new benchmark…then…Houston–we have a problem.

  11. I agree with you Richard. No way should a second reading of a book be “required” in order to see its distinction.

  12. Jonathan Hunt says:

    Because the Newbery audience for a book can be a special reader rather than an average reader, I don’t necessarily have a problem with the length and/or pacing of several of the books. Taking my Newbery lens off, however, I do have to wonder about the editorial decisions that get made regarding some of these long juvenile books. For example, Monica mentioned KEEPER would be a hard sell for her average fourth grader, while Dean mentioned he had an eighth grader who loved it. It makes me wonder if there was ever a conversation between author and editor regarding how the length may affect the audience (e.g. if you cut 25% of the pages it will dramatically increase your audience, particularly in the younger grades). Did such a conversation happen with KEEPER? With MOON OVER MANIFEST? THE BONESHAKER? A couple dozen other juvenile novels? It’s hard to argue that CALPURNIA TATE and MOON OVER MANIFEST are too long when–hello, Newbery!–but would either book have found its optimal child audience without the award? Is there a point when the length and/or pacing does inhibit children’s understandings, abilities, and appreciations–and if so, can such a point be recognized objectively? My questions are not about Newbery books in particular, but rather long juvenile books in general . . .

  13. Richard, I was sympathetic to your cause until you started taking my remarks out of context. I have not, for a moment, praised this book. I did not “admit” anything. Yet you have used my remarks in an effort to somehow show up people who are “quick to defend” this book. That kind of cherry-picking use of out-of-context remarks makes me doubt the validity of the rest of your comments, because I don’t know where else you’ve done it.

    And I assure you, I don’t think any of us ever forgets that these books are intended for children and that the Newbery is about “presentation for a child audience”. Outside of the Newbery committees themselves, I doubt there is a group of people who spends more time examining and considering the Newbery criteria than those you find right here.

    Whether a book can still be “distinguished” if it really takes two readings to understand was a point much discussed a few years ago, when Jellicoe Road won the Printz. While there are a rare few people who enjoyed it a lot, and even claimed to understand it, on a first reading, pretty much everyone I know (including myself) has said “OH!” on the second reading only. Now, that may be a non-standard way of reading, but is it somehow “wrong” because it’s different? I’m still conflicted. But the excitement and awe I felt on my second reading of Jellicoe Road made me very glad that it had won the Printz. (Well, I didn’t necessarily like it better than Nation or Tender Morsels, but I’m glad it was on the podium.) The reward was perhaps even better than if I had understood it on the first read. So if a book’s distinction only shows up on the second read–non-standard, yes. Against the rules? No.

  14. Wendy, your absolutlely right…my appoligies.
    In skimming over the comments I totally missed your misgivings towards this book.

    You stated:
    “But I thought it was, overall, kind of weak and often contrived. I can’t come up with any of the criteria in which I think it excelled.”

    Again my apologies.
    Also my use of the use “admit” was stupid.

  15. “Is there are point when the length and/or pacing does inhibit children’s understandings, abilities, and appreciations–and if so, can such a point be recognized objectively?”

    For the “special reader”, probably not. For the “average” reader, definitely. I’m reading THE CANDYMAKERS to my class right now, by Wendy Mass. She visited our school last year so we’re all about Wendy Mass right now!

    The story itself, is cleverly structured but pretty basic writing and language. Four characters. Four sections of the book. Each section retelling a candy contest from different characters’ point of view. We’re in the fourth character now and I’m just blown away by the number of things my class, even some of my best, attentive readers, have forgotten about previous characters’ versions of the story. The book is 453 pages long! There comes a time for the average reader, that there’s just too much information to sort out and remember.

    And to Wendy, I too feel conflicted. I’ve read WHEN YOU REACH ME now out loud to two different fifth grade classes and it just gets better and better each time. I’m seeing why it’s distinguished more and more (maybe not a good example because I knew after the first read that WYRM was great!) . . . THE WESTING GAME only gets better with age too!

    I just feel like most kids do not re-read books to look for their distinction. It’s easy for a committee of adults to sit around a table, re-reading contenders, nitpicking this and that. That type of discussion is probably needed to argue books against each other and find THE most distinguished. But if a book’s distinction is so far buried in its pages, that only with multiple reads does it really come out, I have a hard time not wondering if something else could’ve fit the bill bettter.

    I don’t know. It’s been rehashed on here before so we surely don’t need to go into it all . . . just a sticking point that doesn’t seem to go away for me.

  16. Mr. H.

    I just pulled out my copy of When You Reach Me (40,000 words). I too enjoyed that book and can’t think of a greater contrast to this year’s winner. I think WYRM reads a little younger than Moon Over Manifest and don’t know if it falls outside the 5th grade range. WYRM starts out with a bang. I checked my copy and the crazy guy on the corner (the Laughing Man) is introduced by page 16.

    Contrasting the fast paced WYRM to the first 90 pages of MOM is painful. And 90 pages is really before MOM even morphs into its more difficult 4-part story line. Assuming it is appropriate for 5th graders I’m wondering how MOM would fair as a read aloud in your class?

  17. Richard, you said, “It’s too bad that this book will never have to undergo the scrutiny that contenders like Sir Charlie, One Crazy Summer, and Mockingbird received.”

    It seems like it’s getting that here. But more importantly, I’m sure the committee gave it intense scrutiny.

    One thing I’ve learned from this blog is that “distinguished” is VERY subjective, and different committees will pick different books. But I have come to respect the process. I have come to respect the judgment of the people on this particular committee.

    Anyway, I haven’t yet gotten my hands on a copy of MOON OVER MANIFEST. But when I do read it, I’m not going to approach it with the spirit of, “How could they call this distinguished with these particular flaws?” Instead, I will be curious to find out what in this particular book convinced a panel of judges to call this book distinguished.

    I guess I’m trying to say that we’ve got past the point of trying to predict the winner. Now that a winner has been chosen, with all we know about the process, I’m more interested in pointing out what qualities of this book are particularly distinguished. What does the author do right? Okay, it doesn’t need to go through the “scrutiny” that the titles went through when we were trying to predict the winner. It did win. Can we figure out why?

  18. While rereading isn’t required, of course, how else can you be open to other people’s ideas? Seems to me you have to be willing to listen and be willing to reconsider a book and how else to do that other than to reread it? The Newbery Committee is 15 people working to reach consensus. If you refuse to be open to other people’s POV about books and be open to a reconsideration of your own you are doomed for a miserable experience. That is — if you go into those meetings only prepared to arguing for the books you loved on first readings you may find that not enough other committee members feel as you do. And so you reach out to other books, those you may not have connected to on first reading, but on subsequent ones. And as you talk and hear from those who did love those books you rethink and reconsider. And you may end up falling deeply and completely in love the second time around. (Doesn’t that happen all the time in romances after all? The overlooked guy or gal reconsidered? Isn’t that the basis of Jane Austen’s works, for example?)

    My biggest worry when on the Newbery Committee was that I would have to settle. That is, support a book I didn’t love, love, love. I’ve heard of that happening. I’m sure it happens. I know it happens. Fortunately it didn’t for me.

    There are so many books that I’ve started and put aside only to return to them when others (often others here) have made compelling cases for me to take second looks. And I’m always glad I did. I was one of the biggest champions around for WHEN YOU REACH ME, but its brilliance only hit me on a second reading. I’m delighted that this year’s Newbery Committee has me going back to books I’d not taking a close enough look at. Wendy specifically asked me about HEART OF A SAMURAI and I meant to read it, but didn’t get around to it (partly because the first couple of pages didn’t grab me). Now I will:) And I’m glad to have returned to MOON OVER MANIFEST and read it with new eyes.

  19. I understand completely that the rereading process is a complete necessity for the Newbery committee. Having read the true contenders over and over, they will obviously know these books inside and out, unlike the average reader. This I understand.

    The thing I’m wishy-washy on, is when a book is selected that takes two or three readings to fully grasp for the average reader. WHEN YOU REACH ME is not that type of book. To me, it’s distinction hits you immediately on a first read, and only gets better (more fun) with further rereadings. Besides, WHEN YOU REACH ME is a book that is built around it’s “twist” or “surprise ending”.

    I think a book’s distinction better clearly stand out on a first read and only get better with rereadings. It should not confuse readers on a first read, forcing a second, more careful read that hopefully will lead to enlightenment. That’s just my opinion though. This is difficult for a committee of readers to see, because they HAVE TO read and reread these titles for discussion purposes. I understand.

  20. Nina Lindsay says:

    While some of us may have to re-read MOON to fully appreciate it, that tells me only that some of us are not the ideal reader for this book. It’s not my personal type, frankly, which I’m sure was an ingredient of me giving up on page 83.

    But the award, remember is NOT for the “average reader.” I hope we never start picking books that only speak to the “average” reader! How dull and useless that would be. This book DID get the “level of scrutiny” as every other eligible book at the committee table…just not here. And after finishing it (for the first time), I can start to see the richness in there for the RIGHT reader. I’m looking forward to my re-read…probably in a few months.

    Richard, you have said you haven’t read the book. Mr. H, have you? I can’t recall.

  21. No. I haven’t read it.

    I’m not really even talking about MOON OVER MANIFEST. I’m just talking about re-reading text in general . . .

    And you are totally correct. I surely would not want books that speak to the “average reader” either. Lots of WIMPY KID and PERCY JACKSON then!!! But I do think that there needs to be a balance and sometimes I have to wonder if that’s taken into consideration, or if the group of adults that are deciding upon these books can get swayed because of their rereadings of text, without remembering or realizing that the majority of kids, even those “special readers” are NOT going to be rereading MOON OVER MANIFEST. They are going to read it once and form their opinions.

    Maybe it’s not the committee’s job to take that into consideration . . . as it’s not really present in the criteria . . .

    But if it takes a group of 15 well-read adults, 2-3 readings of a book to come to a consensus that the text is in fact, the most distinguished text written for kids, it makes me scratch my head a bit . . . to me a child audience should not have to read a text 2-3 times in order to see it’s distinction. I hope that’s not the case with MOON OVER MANIFEST, but by piecing together the reactions I’m seeing, I fear it may be. If I gave the book to my best 5th grade reader, I would hope they would read it and say something like “It’s not for me, but it’s great writing and I can definitely see why it won” and not something like “Eh, it was pretty confusing and I think I may have to read it again in order to see why it won the medal.” The latter would present a problem in my opinion . . .

    After following this site for a few years now though, I do have a different perspective of what this award actually is. It’s adults deciding what’s distinguished for kids. It is what it is and there’s always going to be differing opinions . . . it’s just all fun to discuss! I think it’s fairly obvious that the adult committee members always have the best interest of children in mind, I just wonder sometimes if their judgment can be clouded by multiple readings of text and hype built up around the table itself . . .

  22. Nina Lindsay says:

    Thanks Mr H. Let me assure you that there’s no “hype” around the Newbery table. I’ve talked about this before, and it’s hard to describe, but the process really makes committee members rigorous about focusing only, ultimately, on the comments coming from each other. They may have informed their own thoughts from hype-filled-forums like this one (:)), but the committee process has a way of deflating hype. Partly, I believe, due to the confidential nature of the discussions.

    So, Richard and Mr H, understanding that neither of you have read this book, let me say that I think you’re mis-interpreting what others have said about second readings. Carol, above, said “Jonathan has said often that the re-reading is where the richness becomes apparent, and also where the flaws become glaring.” This is different than saying a second reading might be “required to see its distinction.” MOON had how many starred reviews? I’m sure that those reviewers did not read it twice. Many people mentioned this title to me as something to check out for Newbery potential after their own first reading. When a committee, however, is trying to decide which SINGLE title among many distinguised ones is the “most” distinguished…that where the multiple readings very well may be necessary to fully analyze the levels of distinction in the text. These re-readings are done in a very different way than any normal reading of a book. In fact: if the author’s work doesn’t show obviously on first read, sometimes that in itself is a mark of distinction.

  23. I have just finished Moon over Manifest and would enjoy comments from those who have read it. I can see reasons why it was selected. There are twists and turns to the plot from the two time periods that come together in unexpected ways. Secondary characters are presented playing important roles in moving the plot along by revealing information and in the development of the main character, Abilene. The adults are fascinating, and every kid should have a Shady to support and guide them. The setting is well realized as far as describing small town life and the Depression and fighting conditions for WWI soldiers. Language is vivid. The three girls do a lot of kid-like things, and I loved it when Lettie said that she knew it wasn’t real but it was okay to play along. A model for pretending.

    I can see a few issues that could be raised. Well skillfully woven into the fabric of the story, there are quite a few convenient moments – finding the box, the cemetery stone and the book at the school, making the connection with Sadie. Some of the characters are a bit one-dimensional. I couldn’t tell how large the town was because it felt really small, but there are miners from 21 countries with each country having an organization, and there is a high school.

    Overall, I thought it was a rousing adventure, mostly distinguished in the use of language and the intricacies of the plot. However, I did not find myself as emotionally invested in the main character as I was for One Crazy Summer and Keeper.

  24. Seems like Blakeney got a lot out of Moon Over Manifest on the first read.

  25. Jonathan Hunt says:

    Has anyone ever started a book, put it down for lack of interest, only to pick it up sometime later, finding it wonderful? So what accounts for the difference? The book has remained the same, but the reader has changed. I was listening to Lynne Rae Perkins’s Newbery Medal speech in the car the other day, and was struck by how she captured the complex act of reading so perfectly with this line: “It takes two people to make a book–a writer and a reader–and it’s not clear-cut who is doing the giving and who is receiving. The roles of giver and receiver go back and forth like alternating current, when there is a connection.” Some people will find that connection on the first read, some people will not get that connection until a second read, and some people may never get it.

    I like how Vicky Smith described the Newbery as a false god, that is, that in truth there many “most distinguished contributions” rather than a single one. And I would add the average reader to the list of mythological creatures. It is helpful for us to speak of the average reader, but such a person does not exist. Perhaps average reading response would be a more accurate term, but one still fraught with ambiguity.

  26. I think Mr. H. and I are on the same wavelength. I worry that some of these award books are becoming unreachable in the eyes of vast majority of children. Earlier in the comments Jonathan said, “The Newbery audience for a book can be a special reader rather than an average reader”. That’s true, but unfortunately, it seems more often than not that the Newberry Awards are geared towards “that special reader”.

    The trick to get children reading is to put a book in their hands that they will enjoy. The pages must keep turning.

    What is distinction?

    Maybe distinction in children’s books are those books that show distinction in all the required areas…but at the same time don’t loose all semblance of “child-appeal”. I think things have strayed too far over into the adult realm by defining “distinction” with a set of adult eyes, tastes, and sensibilities.

    Nina said:
    “When a committee, is trying to decide which SINGLE title among many distinguished ones is the “most” distinguished…that’s where the multiple readings very well may be necessary to fully analyze the levels of distinction in the text. These re-readings are done in a very different way than any normal reading of a book. In fact: if the author’s work doesn’t show obviously on first read, sometimes that in itself is a mark of distinction.”

    I find that last sentence a little puzzling. How could it be a good thing when reading an author’s book for the first time and the work doesn’t “show enough” to make an impression on the reader? How can that possibly be a mark of distinction? How is that going to prompt the child to keep the pages turning?

    Nina also said:
    “While some of us may have to re-read MOON to fully appreciate it, that tells me only that some of us are not the ideal reader for this book. It’s not my personal type, frankly, which I’m sure was an ingredient of me giving up on page 83.”

    I myself didn’t read the “whole” book, but did read a 87 page excerpt out of Amazon. That was where I would have ended anyway. If I was on the Newbery committee I would want a show of hands of those who were so non-pulsed by a book to be unable to finish a first reading.

    Finally Jonathan asked,
    “Has anyone ever started a book, put it down for lack of interest, only to pick it up sometime later, finding it wonderful?”

    My answer to that is no. Obviously, if there is a book I start reading and enjoy, and it keeps me engaged, I’ll finish it. And on a second reading it may be even better (When You Reach Me). There are books that start out with a wimper, and I may read the first few chapters, then do a reboot and try again from the beginning…and finally make it all the way through. These books almost never turn out to be wonderful, but more like meh…not deserving a re-read. But if I have to put a book down…that’s it…

  27. What Newbery book has lost “all semblance of child appeal”? I can’t name one (okay, maybe Dobry, but that’s almost irrelevant). With phrases like “strayed too far” and “becoming unreachable”, it sounds like you think the Newbery used to do a better job than it has lately–a suggestion I always find laughable, even from Anita Silvey. Even a cursory look at the list of Newbery winners should be enough to disabuse anyone of the notion that the winners used to be more “child-friendly” as a rule.

    I think you’re hung up on wanting the Newbery to be something other than what it is. Child readers of Newbery-winning books don’t have to be able to recognize that said books are considered (by the committee, at least) to be the most distinguished works of literature that year. A medal sticker is the equivalent of a knowledgeable adult handing a child a book and saying “This is quality literature”. Look at it from this angle: most of the English-language classics in the world that were written for adults have zero reader’s appeal for most adults. Does that mean they aren’t most distinguished? I couldn’t make it all the way through The Scarlet Letter, but I’m not going to say it isn’t distinguished.

    I think you misunderstand Nina’s remark (I had to read it a couple of times myself)–I think she means that when you don’t see the hand of the author hard at work on the first read, when it all seems effortless and simple and sometimes even obvious, because what else would happen with these characters in that situation?–that is in itself a mark of distinction.

    Finally, I think you’re really missing out if you never pick up books again after not being thrilled by the first part. If it isn’t worth it to you, fine, that’s no skin off my nose. But I have often been impressed by (or fallen in love with) books that I only picked up again after others urged me to try, or because I didn’t happen to have anything else around to read. Sometimes I just wasn’t in the right mood for the book at the time, or at the right place in my life for it to hit home. That wasn’t a fault of the book.

  28. I agree with Wendy that with the arts and the craft of writing a product that seems effortless often took great skill to create and that skill is not obvious on the first examination. Once you have been impacted by experiencing it, you can go back and look more closely to see what caused that impact. On this second look, you are more likely to see how skillfully the creator used elements.

    I have to confess to Jonathan that I had read about 150 pages of Conspiracy of Kings early in the fall and was relieved when the local Mock Newbery dropped the book and I did not have to finish it. However, all the discussion here prompted me to pick it up again, and it read much more easily (though still not in my top choices). Sometimes my reaction varies based on what I just finished reading and the contrast to the next book. And as for what a reader brings to a book, I remember hating Pride and Prejudice in high school while in my 30s, I ended up reading all of Jane Austen, having finally reached a life stage where I enjoyed her work.

    I would hesitate to associate child-friendly with length. Moon offers many child-friendly episodes as the three girls sneak around in search of the spy and Jinx and Ned get into various kinds of mischief.

    Finally, I would point out that the Newbery committee, I think, is specifically instructed to complete each book.

  29. Jonathan Hunt says:

    Which books should have won this year, Richard? I think TURTLE IN PARADISE, ONE CRAZY SUMMER, and HEART OF A SAMURAI are all child-friendly titles. But there wasn’t anything on the horizon like WHEN YOU REACH ME, THE TALE OF DESPEREAUX, or HOLES. So what would you have picked as the most distinguished contribution that also had broad child appeal. Which books?

  30. First of all, to Nina, I didn’t explain myself well on what I meant by “hype” around the Newbery table.

    I remember reading about this last year on this site and it was you that made me realize that online hype doesn’t carry over to the committee. That’s not what I meant though by “hype”.

    What I meant was hype that is generated AT the Newbery table, by committee members. Lets say for example, that this year YOU were on the Newbery committee. You would’ve probably championed KNEEBONE BOY pretty heavily. What if you were the only one? Is it possible that committee members would give in to you and meet you in the middle, keeping KNEEBONE BOY in the discussion as long as possible . . . even though it was never in anyone’s top three and maybe deep down, still not? Does this happen?

    As for the whole re-reading issue, Wendy and Nina have me seeing this in a different light and I’m kind of coming around on all that I’ve said.

  31. There sure is a lot of ground is being covered here, which is a testament to the vitality of the blog. Thanks, Nina, Jonathan and everyone else who has contributed.

    I am reading Moon Over Manifest aloud to my fifth grade class right now. They are enjoying it and have asked me every day if we are going to have read aloud, so I think it’s going well.

    As for a slow beginning, I understand how some might have had that experience, but I did not. Looking at my ARC, I started marking it up on page two, and I was immediately drawn into the story. I wanted to know what was going to happen to Abilene, what Shady was up to and, mostly, if Gideon was going to come back. All of that was in the first twenty pages. I didn’t find it slow, but I know of other really satisfying books that have a slow start. Whenever we read The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle I have to remind the kids to stick with it. It does not get off to a rollicking start, but it’s worth the wait.

    I know that a lot of people want the Newbery Award to go to a book that a broad range of kids will pick up and love. I have the same interest because I’d love nothing more than for my entire class to be knocked out by the winner. It doesn’t always happen that way, though. My fifth graders couldn’t relate to Criss Cross, and they were ambivalent about The Higher Power of Lucky. So what? There are so many great books for kids to read. it doesn’t make sense to fret about whether or not my students will like the winner from any given year. Also, it’s just not the way the criteria is written. Newbery committee members are not charged with finding a book that is both distinguished and has broad appeal. The book has to be appropriate for the audience, but that is not the same as having broad appeal, or being the “kind of book” that hordes of kids will check out from the library. It’s just not in the criteria. Also, do we have the same problem with a book that seems “young”. Does anyone think that Despereaux was a bad choice because it did not appeal to older readers? Did we see lots of sixth grade boys gushing about that book? Just wondering.

    “If I was on the Newbery committee I would want a show of hands of those who were so non-pulsed by a book to be unable to finish a first reading.”-Richard

    With regard to first and second readings, not every book strikes each reader in the same way. However, if you are on a committee and there are many people who believe that a book is not just good, but distinguished, it’s your job to figure out what they are talking about. That doesn’t mean that everyone has to agree, but it does mean that you can’t dismiss a book just because you didn’t like it the first time around. I’ve often been convinced to have another go at a book because of something that someone has said about it. I couldn’t get through Conspiracy of Kings on the first try, but listened to others, tried again and loved it. I don’t think I gave it a fair shot the first time around. I was too willing to dismiss it b/c it was hard in the beginning.

    Lastly, I don’t buy the theory that there is “hype” around the Newbery table. No way. People spend an enormous amount of time and energy preparing for Newbery, reading, taking notes, rereading, doing research and then rereading again. I just don’t think that any favors are being handed out when it comes time to vote. When it gets right down to it, everyone wants what they think is the “best” choice to win. You only get three votes. No way you’re going to throw one away to make someone else feel good.

  32. Jonathan Hunt says:

    Mr. H, you also have to remember that one person is only 7% of the committee. One person does not have the power to singlehandedly sway the committee in any one direction with an agenda. What’s the least amount of support on the committee it would take to get a book into position to be recognized with at least an honor? I’d guess you need 5 people (a third of the committee), at the very least, and probably closer to 7 or 8 (half the comittee). And you’d need that many people, given the fact that each person probably has a dozen titles they’d like to see honored, and their loyalty is already being torn in several different directions. Like Brian said, nobody is going to do anybody favors with only three votes. If I was on this committee my votes would have gone to DARK EMPEROR and ONE CRAZY SUMMER, leaving me with one left . . . Maybe I would have voted for MOON OVER MANIFEST (still haven’t read it), maybe I would have voted for A CONSPIRACY OF KINGS or SUGAR CHANGED THE WORLD (especially if they were in striking distance–but they just as easily could have been taken off the table even before the voting started if I was only one that liked them), or maybe I would have voted for KEEPER or THEY CALLED THEMSELVES THE KKK or THE DREAMER.

  33. Jonathan’s correct. There were no books comparable to Holes or When You Reach Me in this year’s contestants. . I know it’s hard to judge “child appeal”, or give it some sort of letter grade. Jonathan mentioned TURTLE IN PARADISE, ONE CRAZY SUMMER, and HEART OF A SAMURAI which he felt were child friendly. Nina liked KNEEBONE BOY. I think all four of these books would pass muster.

    I’m glad hear the feedback from Brian in regards to his fifth grade class. Of course a Newberry winner doesn’t necessarily need to bowl everyone over. And the age range is always going to come into play. Some years an older book will win, some years a younger book. Hopefully the Honors selections fill in the gaps.

    Some may argue for more popular readalouds in the classroom like Wimpy Kid or Percy Jackson. But isn’t that just a waste of time since the vast majority of students have already read these books?

    Or have they?

    I wonder if 75% of 5th grade boys ever sit down and read anything for pleasure. Some parents never read to their children. That means classroom readalouds may be the only exposure these kids have to help them “turn-on to reading”. The selection of appropriate reading materials also depends on your audience. In a high-income suburban school, a 5th grade teacher might not fret about trying a Higher Power of Lucky…or a Criss Cross. I’m only guessing, but this sounds like Brian’s situation. Props to Brian!…as it sounds like the kids in his class are high achievers getting lots of exposure to many varieties of books…including the difficult ones.

    But maybe in the lower to middle end of the spectrum, one needs to fret about the selections, since these readalouds may be the student’s only exposure to reading for pleasure. In this case wouldn’t Holes, The Graveyard Book, The Giver, Bud not Buddy be more effective? I may even suggest that the teacher stoop to Percy Jackson and Wimpy Kid.

    Wendy wanted to know what Newberry winners lacked child appeal. She cited a single one, the 1935 Newberry winner entitled Dobry.

    I need only go back six years to uncover three:
    2007: Higher Power of Lucky
    2006: Criss Cross
    2005: Kira-Kira

    One more thing to about first readings to contemplate.
    Readalouds have the deliver the goods on “the first reading”.

  34. Sorry about the miscue.
    The last two sentences should have read.

    “One more thing about readalouds.
    Readalouds have the deliver on the first reading.”

  35. Oh man!…someone shoot me!

    “One more thing about readalouds.
    Readalouds have to deliver on the first reading.”


  36. Richard, what you said wasn’t that too many of the Newbery winners had “limited” child appeal… you said, or at least implied, that they had lost “all semblance of child appeal”. All three of the books you listed have plenty to interest children/young teens in them. Criss Cross, in particular, is a book I would have been crazy about when I was twelve. And I think everyone has always acknowledged that many of the Newbery winners are not aimed at the “average” child… that isn’t what’s in question. My point in repeating your words was to ask whether you really think that the Newbery committees used to select books with wider-ranging appeal, which is what it sounds like you think.

  37. Nina Lindsay says:

    Mr H @ 6:07, I think I see what you’re asking now. But I’ve never witnessed committee members giving into each other just to meet in the middle. The *process* is what creates the consensus, but the *discussion* and members’ votes are always about the BOOK first, not the consensus first. Make sense? I have seen members (I’ve been one) champion their single-nominated book over and over…and then the first round of voting comes…and, either the title has won a few votes, or, more often, it’s got just one single vote. The anonymous ranked voting is part of what helps to deflate any “hype.”

    In fact, pretty much every actual first Newbery ballot I’ve ever seen has a very good handful of titles that have only one vote. That’s where the person championing it sees whether they were able to sway anyone or not. In a second ballot (when necessary), sometimes those single votes move, sometimes not. Sometimes the lone voter offers to remove it from the table before proceeding to a second ballot.

    I think I was confused by the word “hype” because nothing I’ve ever seen at a committee discussion remotely resembles that. The level of discussion is extremely intense and detailed, and because time is tight, the chair curtails anything that is not focussed and on point, or anything that starts to repeat. There’s no room at the table for hype!

  38. Mark Flowers says:

    @ Richard:

    Here’s some completely non-scientific numbers for you. My library system’s (Solano County) total circulations for four books:

    2007: Higher Power of Lucky – 316
    2006: Criss Cross – 430 (half of these are in Young Adult, btw)
    2005: Kira-Kira – 557
    2005: The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan – 938

    Does this mean anything? Not a whole lot – but it does mean that the three books you mentioned are being checked out, and have *some* child appeal. Is that because of the the gold sticker on the front? Partly. But I’d call that a good thing, since those three books happen to be fabulous.

    On the main topic that seems to be happening here, I think what Jonathan and Nina keep reminding us is that the Newbery has a very specific purpose – to name the most distinguished book for children. That’s not always going to be a book with a lot of child appeal (personally, I feel that some the ones with child appeal mentioned so far–Graveyard, When You Reach Me, and don’t get me started on Richard Peck–are among the committee’s lesser picks (but I don’t want to get in an argument, I just bring it up as an example of personal taste). That’s not only OK, it’s *good*. Usually, books with high child appeal (gold ol’ Percy and Wimpy Kid) find their audience just fine–so it’s really important to have an award that aims kids at books that they might not have thought of, but that are really quality literature. If they don’t like it? If you don’t like it? If I don’t like it? Oh well, read something else.

  39. Wendy, I’m trying to scan through my previous comments to answer your concerns.

    Wendy, you said:

    “Richard, what you said wasn’t that too many of the Newbery winners had “limited” child appeal… you said, or at least implied, that they had lost “all semblance of child appeal”.”

    Wendy…I’m not sure that’s an accurate accounting of what I wrote…
    Here is verbatim a copy of my comment…I said:

    “The trick to get children reading is to put a book in their hands that they will enjoy. The pages must keep turning.
    What is distinction?
    Maybe distinction in children’s books are those books that show distinction in all the required areas…but at the same time don’t loose all semblance of “child-appeal”. I think things have strayed too far over into the adult realm by defining “distinction” with a set of adult eyes, tastes, and sensibilities.”

    So as you see, I was trying to define distinction. If you want to make the leap that my generic definition of distinction somehow then carried over as a blanket statement, and tarred and feathered all Newberry winners as having lost all semblance of child appeal… you are entitled to your interpretation. But I think your conclusion is a bit of a stretch.

    Wendy you also asked…whether I think the Newbery committees used to select books with wider-ranging appeal.

    My answer is…yes. I think there has been a narrowing of child appeal in last seven years vs. earlier times. It’s the very thing Anita Shivey was writing about. Commenter Brian said, “My fifth graders couldn’t relate to Criss Cross, and they were ambivalent about The Higher Power of Lucky.” “Couldn’t relate” + “ambivalence” = “limited child appeal”.

    Wendy you said, “everyone has always acknowledged that many of the Newbery winners are not aimed at the “average” child.”
    But, if the winners aren’t aimed at the average child, wouldn’t one of the expected outcomes be “a narrowing” of child appeal over the total child population?

    Specifically, I think When You Reach Me(2010) and The Graveyard Book(2009) have fairly wide child appeal.
    I think Kira-Kira(2005), Criss Cross(2006), and The Higher Power of Lucky(2007) have a more narrow or limited child appeal.
    Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! Voices from a Medieval Village(2008) is an interesting case. At first blush, one can argue that it has limited child appeal. Yet, as a readaloud and classroom aid in teaching the children about the middle ages by dressing-up in period costume, reciting lines, building sets, and presenting full-blown productions…it’s fantastic!!! It’s one of those rare books that excels in a group or classroom setting.
    Moon Over Manifest(2011) has not yet had a chance to be judged by the child population.

    Those numbers are surprising! They actually look extremely good for the three books that I consider to be narrow in child appeal! I wonder what the falloff is for the ensuing years? How does Lightening Thief hold up in ensuing years vs. how the other three hold up. The falloff or lack thereof is the real proof in the pudding. Of course I would expect a spike in Lightening Thief when the movie hit…which for that year is not fair comparison. Also a lot of kids actually go out and buy a personal copy of Lightening Thief…but not so much for the others. Having said this—those numbers are still surprising!!!

  40. Well, Richard, that’s exactly why I asked for clarification about what you were saying.

    You say the last seven years have produced winners with limited child appeal compared to earlier times, but what earlier times are you talking about? I–along with many others–thought Anita Silvey’s piece on that had flaws, omissions, and leaps of logic, all water under the bridge now. It’s easy enough to cherry-pick a few popular titles over the first eighty years of the award while ignoring the many that aren’t and never were popular choices with children.

    I don’t think it’s particularly telling that a fifth-grade class was unenthusiastic about Criss Cross, which is a. a book aimed at older children and b. a book that is not particularly well-suited to reading aloud, given the varying formats of the chapters.

    But in any case, it seems like what you’re arguing is that books without wide appeal to children don’t make good Newbery winners, which is not in the criteria and doesn’t reflect what the Newbery has ever been, so I shrug my shoulders.

  41. Jonathan Hunt says:

    Richard, you are doing the two things that annoyed me to no end as a committee member. First, you are criticizing the child appeal and/or popularity of the winning book(s) . . . No, it’s not the criticism, it’s the implication that a committee’s competence somehow directly correlates to the child appeal and/or popularity–that’s what I find annoying. And second, you are criticizing the winning book, but you haven’t really put forward something else so that we can criticize the popularity and/or child appeal and/or literary merit of *your* books. You mentioned you are fine with the three fiction honor books–TURTLE IN PARADISE, ONE CRAZY SUMMER, and HEART OF A SAMURAI–but you haven’t really vigorously supported them. I do think these have child appeal, but are they popular? Nope. If you want popular I give you THE STRANGE CASE OF ORIGAMI YOGA and BIG NATE: IN A CLASS BY HIMSELF, but strangely nobody’s whining that both of these got overlooked by the committee.

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