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Heavy Medal: A Mock Newbery Blog
Inside Heavy Medal

Being Ten

Who remembers it? Those double-digits felt to me both enormous and miniscule.  Two starred-review novels this year hone in on that condition from a character-driven perspective. And they’re under 300 pages.

Mo Wren Being TenMO WREN, LOST AND FOUND by Tricia Springstubb is a sequel to one of my almost-top-ten favorites from last year, WHAT HAPPENED ON FOX STREET.   Beyond a nicely solid episodic structure with plenty of dramatic tension and just enough credibility-stretching for a ten-year-old audience….I particularly appreciate Springstubb’s ability to communicate complex ideas in a tangible way.  p.9 “But the older you got, the more complicated life was. It began to resemble origami, where what you see is a crane or a rabbit, but not the dozens of folds and creases that went into creating it.” That’s a lovely thought, and a lovely sentence, for anyone of any age. But a ten-year-old will get it, and a ten-year-old would think it too.

Junonia Being TenKevin Henkes’ JUNONIA gets farther into an interior voice.   His character and his story are for a noticeably younger ten-year-old.  Henkes’ Alice is turning ten, while Springstubb’s Mo is on the far side, and it shows.    Henkes’ language evokes pure emotion in a way that makes it physically understandible to his audience (p.14 “‘Oh,’ was all Alice managed to say. Disappointment seepend into her. Her face was a sad moon. Her big family was shrinking.”). I think of this as narration of Alice’s feelings, not her thoughts.  The wonderfully short narration of the disappointments on the way to Alice’s tenth birthday is experiential and unique. The TREE OF LIFE to Springstubb’s TRUE GRIT.  But both with happier endings.

Either or both of these might make my top ten.  What do you think?

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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 ninalindsay@gmail.com

Comments

  1. Jonathan Hunt says:

    I haven’t read MO WREN, LOST AND FOUND yet. I did like JUNONIA, but as much as I adore Kevin Henkes for his picture books (love! love! love!), his middle grade novels are very quiet. focused on and attuned to the inner lives of their characters–and I found this to be true of JUNONIA, too. So while I admire the book, it’s hard for me to jump on the Newbery bandwagon, let alone drive it.

  2. Elle Librarian says:

    I read Junonia and appreciated it. But, like Jonathan, I did feel like too much time was spent on exploring Alice’s emotions.

    One book for this age group (around age 10) that I’ve been dying to read is Hound Dog True. I hear a lot of love for that one, but haven’t checked it out yet!

  3. Misti says:

    I loved WHAT HAPPENED ON FOX STREET last year, and am equally fond of MO WREN, LOST AND FOUND — I’m hoping it gets the recognition that its predecessor missed out on.

  4. Jonathan Hunt says:

    I missed A CROOKED KIND OF PERFECT, so I was keen to try HOUND DOG TRUE when it started getting buzz, but this one didn’t work for me on any level. JUNONIA seems like a plot-driven novel compared to this one. :-(

  5. I was a big fan of A CROOKED KIND OF PERFECT, but having read both HOUND DOG TRUE and JUNONIA I’m with Jonathan regarding the minimalist plot for the former.

    And while I admit that JUNONIA isn’t my sort of book as such, there was a lot to like about it. In particular the different little set pieces throughout. Quietly charming, I’d say.

  6. hammockreader says:

    I liked Junonia, but I thought it was a bit overwritten. It was full to the gills with metaphors and similies. I’m going to alert my teachers to use it for teaching those devices.

  7. Eric Carpenter says:

    I remember noticing some stunningly well written passages in JUNONIA but in between these passages I was either bored at the lack of story momentum. I also remember being frustrated by the actions of the characters. By the end the whole thing just made me feel uncomfortable. I know I wouldn’t want to have been in that beach house witnessing Alice’s friend’s breakdown and the explanation just made it worse. I wouldn’t want to be in that room and I don’t particularly want to read about a 10 year old character reacting to the scene.

    In the back matter for HOUND DOG TRUE the author states that originally the story started out as a picture book and then evolved into a novel. I read this before reading the book and all I could think about the entire time was how badly I want Daniel Pinkwater to turn his picture book UNCLE MELVIN into a novel. This really doesn’t have anything to do with HOUND DOG TRUE other than (the presence of an oddball uncle) but it does show that book didn’t capture my attention enough to even think about the narrative while reading it.

  8. Alys says:

    A commenter on GoodReads MockNewbery called Junonia “A quiet book about disappointment”. I thought that was a very apt description. Personally I felt like it was a book I *should* like – lots of lovely language and emotional depth and so on – but I just…didn’t. A little too introspective and melancholy for me. I suppose arguments for being distinguished could be made for various aspects, but the total package just felt lacking, especially when compared to some of the other offerings this year.

  9. Mr. H says:

    JUNONIA, while a good little book, is still hard for me to frame an argument around when comparing it to work like OKAY FOR NOW and THE TROUBLE WITH MAY AMELIA because there’s not near as much there.

    I know, I know . . . that’s not the point. JUNONIA isn’t those books and isn’t even trying to be, and we have to weigh it for what it IS. It’s just difficult to put into words.

    Also, I feel like OKAY FOR NOW is only more firmly rooting itself as the top contender based on initial comments on this site. Look at how rapidly the conversation grew surrounding it. The PENDERWICKS and AMELIA conversations have kind of gotten off the ground, but so far, nothing is quite comparing to OKAY FOR NOW.

  10. DaNae says:

    I’m going to echo the lack of vividness surrounding JUNONIA. I’m with Eric on the uncomfortableness as well.

    Nina, I did not know about the new MO book. When I read ONE DAY AND ONE AMAZING MORNING ON ORANGE STREET this summer I think I had residual FOX STREET memories swirling about. Two books with vibrant neighborhood settings.

  11. Rebecca Hachmyer says:

    I’m about half-way through MO WREN and I’m enjoying it, but I’m not sure that I’m 100% in favor of the narrative style. There are some moments when the narrator slips into Mo’s first-person head that I appreciate:

    Mo lowered her eyes. “I’m sorry,” she said.
    “All right then,”
    I didn’t say what for.
    “You scared the stuffing out of me.”
    I wish we never moved here. (p.90)

    But there are other moments when the narrator abandons Mo’s perspective and seems to creep into the minds of others (it doesn’t read like Mo’s observations), which I find a bit sloppy in such a character-driven story:

    “Shawn stayed on the floor till Mr. Grimm made him get up. The rest of the afternoon didn’t get any better for him” (p. 95).

    That being said, Alice McKinley’s story (Naylor) is wrapping up so I’m excited to find a new motherless JFIC protagonist to follow!

  12. Jess says:

    I thought Henkes really captured in words what it’s like to be a kid – that for me was the real strength of the book. Even during the uncomfortable moments (or maybe especially), all of the characters felt like real, vivid people. I also thought the setting was nicely done. While the plot doesn’t feel remarkable, I agree with Mr. H that we have to “weigh it for what it IS.” It didn’t wow me the way, say Okay for Now did, but it felt like it did well what it set out to do.

    I’ll have to check out Mo Wren when it makes it back to the shelf.

  13. Nina Lindsay says:

    In some ways it’s the simplicity, the “lack of,” in JUNONIA that makes me want to give extra consideration to it. It’s far too easy in award discussions for “lots of” distinguished to start feeling like “more” distinguished, and that’s not necessarily the charge of the committee. We all know that longer books tend to win the Newbery.

    Eric, you say: “I know I wouldn’t want to have been in that beach house witnessing Alice’s friend’s breakdown and the explanation just made it worse. I wouldn’t want to be in that room and I don’t particularly want to read about a 10 year old character reacting to the scene.” Well, I actually feel exactly the same. But I’d ask…is there a child audience who WOULD like to read about it, and if so, does Henkes pull it off in a distinguished way?

    Rebecca, you clued in on the one minor slip up that I’ve noted in Springstubb’s Mo Wren books–that occasional slip of perspective. It doesn’t sink the effect of the book to me. I have to wait to measure it against others to see if I feel it’s enough of a problem in a Newbery discussion.

  14. Wendy says:

    So… I really did not care for Junonia. I did not think it was a good book at all. (If my writing sounds stilted, it’s because I’m putting a lot of effort into not using words and phrases that my mother always says are rude and uncalled for.) While Nina’s suggestion that the book’s statements about Alice represent her feelings and not her actual thoughts is helpful–because I absolutely cringed at the idea that the author thought this is the kind of thing a child thinks–I don’t see the point of a whole book where the author attempts to put into words things that are better felt. You get passages like “Alice leaned into her mother to make her stay. In response, her mother leaned into Alice. At that very moment, Alice loved her mother so completely she thought they might fuse together and melt away.”

    The characterization of Alice is pretty solid–I say that reluctantly, because I disliked her, but she’s all there. I wouldn’t say that of any of the other characters. The setting is certainly good enough. I didn’t think the development of plot was distinguished; it was there, but nothing special. But where I think this book really falls down is the style. (I was surprised to see any accolades here; it took me a while to formulate anything to say.)

  15. Wendy says:

    I read Mo Wren last night and liked it a lot; I thought it was better that What Happened on Fox Street, which I found kind of boring and forgettable. My first impulse, though, is to wonder what exactly makes THIS book stand out for anyone as a Newbery contender–it feels like a pretty ordinary book. But when I do that, I realize that I’m comparing it to a whole lifetime of books read, books spanning sixty or seventy years of writing and beyond. It feels ordinary compared to, say, Gone-Away Lake or Anastasia Krupnik, but what doesn’t?

    One reason I liked this book better than the first: characters. I continue to not have a very good sense of Mo herself, but the best thing about this book was the characters of Shawn and Carmella, who felt more real and intriguing than anyone in the first. (I know we aren’t comparing it to Fox Street for Newbery purposes, but thinking this way helps me focus.) Dottie, too, is vivid, as are some of the secondary characters.

    Whatever town they live in continues to be the most happily diverse place this side of the It’s a Small World ride–it reads so much like a fantasy to me that it’s startling every time Cincinnati is mentioned, because Cincinnati is a place in the REAL world–but Springstubb makes it work. There’s fantasy as well in the climactic scene at the opening of the restaurant (all too good to be true), but it grows fairly organically from the plot and the characters. But Springstubb didn’t take some of the easy As she could have–Mo doesn’t find out that it’s [spoiler]‘s sister who has the yellow sweater, Mrs. Baggott doesn’t wear the blue sweatshirt to the opening, etc.

    And though I hate to phrase things in the negative: you all know how much I hate books that are too long, and how I think MOST books are too long, right? The best thing I can say about Mo Wren, and it is not meant to be faint praise in the slightest, is that never once did I think “this feels SO LONG” while reading this book. Nowhere in my review will the phrase “good book, but too long” appear. This is an all-too-rare quality this year.

  16. marjorie says:

    Chiming in belatedly — I know I’m in the minority, but I loved Junonia. As I said on Goodreads, echoing another reviewer, it reminded me of Mrs. Dalloway. It’s true that nothing HAPPENS — it’s all about the emotions and tiny changes in a female protagonist’s head. But for me it felt so real and touching and momentous despite being writ so small. And I loved the art! My own very-much-in-her-head 9-year-old loved it, but I do see why this book is not to everyone’s taste. There’s no sweeping, external drama, and Alice is so often sour and guarded and self-absorbed. But for kids who like quiet, interior books, I can see it being appealing, and I do think there are 8-10-yr-old future Virginia Woolf readers out there who can relate to Alice’s moodiness, her fragility, her habit of obsessing about something that’s both trivial and not. I thought Henkes did a beautiful job portraying a girl who wants things to be different and sort of knows she’s making things harder for herself but still can’t be flexible. Finally, I do think this book might work for a subset of young girls who are good readers but easily scared — it’s a very emotionally delicate but MANAGEABLE book. Know what I mean? I keep wanting to use old-fashioned words like “ardent.” (When Life Gives You OJ has way more action, and a totally different tone, but it falls into that same category of emotional yet COMFORTABLE. The category of books for kids for whom A Monster Calls or Akata Witch might as well be a live grenade.) I do seem to know kids who get stressed out by lots of suspense — what can I say, I live among the neurasthenic Manhattanites–and the fact that this books is so restrained and subtle may appeal to them.

    All that said: My mock vote’s still going to Amelia Lost. :)

  17. Jonathan Hunt says:

    It’s hard for me to relate to the emotionally delicate child, so maybe that’s why JUNONIA didn’t resonate with me. Me, I like Iorek Byrnison ripping Iofur Raknison’s heart out and eating it. I had a teaching colleague that would get wound up about our core lit–BRIDGE TO TERABITHIA and MY BROTHER SAM IS DEAD–and neither one fazed me much at all.

  18. marjorie says:

    I’m trying to think of what I loved at 8-11…I know at 11 I started ripping through James Bond, Shogun, The Thorn Birds, Leon Uris’s Exodus and all of John Jakes’s historical-sexy stuff. And by then I’d already devoured the Narnia books and all the Holocaust/Pale of Settlement/pogrom kidporn. I loved Judy Blume, but her books had way more humor than Junonia and the conflict was more externalized. The upshot: I’m not at all sure I would have liked Junonia as a kid. But I knew my own kid would. (And I predict my younger one won’t. Childrearing! It’s wacky stuff!) So Jonathan, I do hear you.

  19. Sheila Kelly Welch says:

    I know I’m joining this discussion late but wanted to add my support for JUNONIA. Someone participating in the Mock Newbery discussion on Good Reads said they thought Alice was spoiled, and others have said they disliked her. I wonder why. Alice is pretty much a well behaved, quiet kid who doesn’t act out her feelings. Of course, Alice is a lucky little girl, having two loving parents, money to travel, special adult friends, etc. But I don’t think that means she’s spoiled.

    Alice lives in such an adult world and is tuned in to the subtle ebb and flow of relationships. To me, she seems like a mature ten-year-old, struggling to hang onto the stability of her younger life but beginning to realize that things change, and not always for the better. During the short vacation, she also grows more self-aware, learning some things about herself that make her uncomfortable.

    The construction of the story is like the setting — small, contained and quite beautiful. Framed by the bridge, where Alice feels suspended between childhood and adulthood, the plot might be unexciting for some but powerful for others. I think I would have loved this book when I was ten. To me, JUNONIA is a miniature treasure, as perfect as a junonia

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