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Heavy Medal: A Mock Newbery Blog
Inside Heavy Medal

Five Years Ago

On January 23, 2006, five years ago today, that most awesome of Newbery committees–yes, dear readers, I speak of the 2006 Newbery committee–revealed to the world that Lynne Rae Perkins had won the John Newbery Medal for CRISS CROSS and that WHITTINGTON by Alan Armstrong, HITLER YOUTH by Susan Campbell Bartoletti, PRINCESS ACADEMY by Shannon Hale, and SHOW WAY by Jacqueline Woodson had earned Newbery Honors for their respective authors.

CRISS CROSS came up in our recent discussion of rereading, popularity, and child appeal.  It’s definitely a book for a special reader, probably an older special reader in the junior high grades, and I don’t think it lends itself well to reading aloud or class discussion.  Since winning the Medal, Perkins has published two picture books (PICTURES FROM OUR VACATION and THE CARDBOARD PIANO) and, this year, AS EASY AS FALLING OFF THE FACE OF THE EARTH, which we discussed here.  The Greenwillow question: Can Lynne Rae Perkins win the Caldecott before Kevin Henkes wins the Newbery?  Hmmm.

WHITTINGTON is probably the most conventional of these Newbery books, fitting squarely in the juvenile fiction category, but I worried that its audience would not extend beyond third grade teachers looking for CHARLOTTE’S WEB readalikes.  I’m surprised to see it has circulated quite well in our junior high library–I think it’s a combination of the paperback cover and the page count–but I think we are the exception rather than the rule.  Armstrong has since published two more novels, RALEIGH’S PAGE and LOOKING FOR MARCO POLO, but neither one has been greeted as warmly as his first.

Conversely, HITLER YOUTH seemed better suited for junior high grades, but it had high circulation statistics in my elementary libraries, and I had students as young as third grade checking it out.  Bartoletti published THE BOY WHO DARED, a fictionalization of one of the profiles in HITLER YOUTH, and then, this year, THEY CALLED THEMSELVES THE KKK, which we also discussed here.  Will we really have to wait another five years for the next Bartoletti?  I hope not, but if they’re all going to be this good . . . well, okay.

Shannon Hale has been the most prolific of our authors, publishing two more Bayern books (RIVER SECRETS, FOREST BORN), another standalone (BOOK OF A THOUSAND DAYS), two graphic novels (RAPUNZEL’S REVENGE, CALAMITY JACK), and a pair of adult novels.  Like WHITTINGTON, this one did have a couple starred reviews, but was nevertheless something of an idiosyncratic pick (i.e. the unique product of these 15 committee members, perhaps not as likely to be replicated by other random groups of 15 people–okay, you can probably lump SHOW WAY in this group, most committees would have recognized it for the art rather than the text).  The thing about prolific fantasy authors is that their name functions as a brand name, and I think the recognition has turned PRINCESS ACADEMY readers into Shannon Hale fans.  The Monday morning calls are one of the best parts of the committee experience, and Shannon has preserved hers for posterity here.

Since SHOW WAY, Woodson has received Newbery Honors for FEATHERS and AFTER TUPAC AND D FOSTER, but has also published PEACE, LOCOMOTION (a sequel to LOCOMOTION) and PECAN PIE BABY (a picture book).  SHOW WAY was our fourth and final honor book announced, and it was quite a surprise (and a bit of a lovefest for Jacqueline with her also winning the Edwards Award earlier in the morning).  It was the first picture book recognized by the Newbery committee since LIKE JAKE AND ME twenty-one years earlier.  But it was a pleasant surprise: many people expected the book to be recognized by the Caldecott committee.  As much as we “hyped” DARK EMPEROR here, I think most people suspected it had a better shot at the Caldecott, too.  I’m not sure that I would call SHOW WAY a free verse narrative poem, but it comes awfully close.  So I do feel a little deja vu . . .

I couldn’t stay mad at the Caldecott committee for long, however, because they did recognize a couple of my favorite picture book texts in ZEN SHORTS and SONG OF THE WATER BOATMAN.  The Printz committee selected JOHN LENNON and A WREATH FOR EMMETT TILL.  The Coretta Scott King recognized DAY OF TEARS.  And months earlier, THE PENDERWICKS had won the National Book Award.  So I felt pretty lucky that most of my favorite books that we didn’t recognize got some major award love elsewhere.

And speaking of deja vu, that feeling is compounded by the fact that ALA Annual (and thus the Newbery/Caldecott banquet) was held in New Orleans just nine months after Hurricane Katrina.  And ALA Annual this year?  Yep, New Orleans.  It will be good for us to see how the city has been able to rebuild itself these past five years.  New Orleans, here we come!

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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. Kris says:

    Jonathan,

    I remember that happy day so well and was so proud of the work our committee did, as each Newbery Medal committee should. I really appreciate what Nina wrote about a body of strong literature coming to the fore with the Newbery Medal; not every child will love the Newbery Medal winner, but we are fortunate to live in a time when superbly talented writers for children and teens are sharing their talents with us. So much focus is put on the one book that wins, but I’m always happy to see that there’s more than 1 honor book (I don’t know if you agree)–because as objective as we try to be in determining which book is most distinguished, there are usually more than 2 books each year in that range.

    Thanks for your blog. I appreciate the thought you put into your writing and the research you’ve done.

  2. Jonathan Hunt says:

    Kris, I personally prefer more honor books than less honor books, but I think the former option is always fraught with compromise because the honor book process (unlike the Medal winner process) is not set in stone, it’s going to vary from comittee to committee. There’s a great line in the play/movie Shadowlands (about C.S. Lewis and his marriage to a cancer-stricken American divorcee). She tells him at one point, “The pain then [i.e. of losing me when I die from cancer] is part of the happiness now–that’s the deal.” So that’s the outlook I take on the Newbery Medal and Honor books in a given year. The same process that gave me TURTLE IN PARADISE and HEART OF A SAMURAI (which I liked, but never rose in my estimation to the level of *most* distinguished) also gave me DARK EMPEROR (which very much *did* rise to that level). As much as I’d like to pick and choose, they are a package deal. The pain is part of the pleasure–that’s the deal.

  3. Kris says:

    I agree with your last point–because there are 15 very different people in the room, the honor books would be different each time. Do you think there should be a certain # of 1st place votes in order for an honor book to qualify? Or would that give away a certain amount of info about how the books rated? I think it might give the committee a certain degree of reassurance if it was quantified in this way. Hmmm. I bet this has arisen before.

    I also agree with you about Turtle in Paradise and Heart of a Samurai–I was surprised to hear those titles read–but because I trust the hard work the committee does, my hope is that those books deserve their Newbery Honors. Perhaps it’s my failing as a reader that I didn’t recognize their distinction. I am happy to recommend them to readers interested in those topics or that love historical fiction.

  4. Jonathan Hunt says:

    If the honor books are really supposed to be runners-up (i.e. books that would have won the Medal but for . . .) then I think you’d be hard pressed to name more than one or two honor books each year. When you get 3 to 5 then my suspicion is that the committee has chosen to reach down and be more inclusive. And I don’t have a problem with that. In fact, I would like to see the Newbery return to the years of 6 to 8 honor books . . . but not all honor books are created equal (and I do think it does sort of cheapen the honor to lump something which had the support of half the committee with something that had a third). I’ve mentioned this before, but what about designating the true runner(s)-up with a silver Newbery Honor and the others with a bronze Newbery honor. The Carnegie Medal (UK) used to have this kind of two-tiered honor system (commended and highly commended). In this scenario, let’s say ONE CRAZY SUMMER was clearly the runner-up (give it the lone silver) and then give bronze stickers to DARK EMPEROR, HEART OF A SAMURAI, and TURTLE IN PARADISE . . . but since we’re not under the pretense any longer that the former books were true runners-up then why not reach down even further and add a couple more bronze Newbery Honor books . . . Again, this is just pure speculation on my part. Or what about simply a return to the years of publishing a longlist of nominations?

  5. Kris says:

    How long ago was it that the Newbery Committee published a longlist of nominations?

    And if the Carnegie Medal used to use the 2-tiered honor system, why did they end this practice? That would be revealing.

    Also wondering how the publishing world/authors/readers would interpret gold, silver & bronze. I like it personally–it’s like the Olympics–and it gets more titles out there for the public to see and look for, as well as more solidly validating the gold & silver(s).

  6. Jonathan Hunt says:

    Kris, it was back in the early 70s. They only did it for, like, three years. Peter Sieruta actually had the lists up on his blog several months ago.

    The Carnegie Medal shifted their eligibility period (it’s now more like the Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards than the Newbery/Caldecott) in order to allow school children to shadow the Carnegie. That’s when I noticed they simply went from a shortlist to a winner. Maybe they do have the commended/highly commended distinctions still, but I’m not aware of it.

    I think adding a bronze Newbery would please the people who think too many honors dilutes the prestige of the award and those who long to have the glow of the Newbery touch more books than just a precious few.

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