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Heavy Medal: A Mock Newbery Blog
Inside Heavy Medal

Full frontal evidence

In comments on OFN: The Gloves Come Off  I brought out the first sentence of Schmidt’s novel as evidence of a tone that I think contributes to the book’s success.   In Newbery discussion, committee members are often called upon to produce several pieces of evidence, in the writing, for their argument. “I think it works” and “I disagree” don’t cut it.  The award is given to words, and the evidence must be in the words.

Not every distinguished book must show itself off on page 1…but many do.  Here are some of my favorite examples of distinguished elements on page 1.  You already know the first, and can probably guess the other two, but I’ll put the titles at the bottom for just a little mystery.

Development of a Plot:

The sun sets in the west (just about everyone knows that), but Sunset Towers faced east. Strange!

          Sunset Towers faced east and had no towers. This glittery, glassy apartment house stood alone on the Lake Michigan shore five stories high. Five empty stories high.

          Then one day (it happened to be the Fourth of July), a most uncommon-looking delivery boy rode around town slipping letters under the doors of the chose tenants-to-be. The letters were signed Barney Northrup.

          The delivery boy was sixty-two years old, and there was no such person as Barney Northrup.

Delineation of setting & Appropriatness of style:

There was a hand in the darkness, and it held a knife.

The knife had a handle of polished black bone, and a blade finer and sharper than any razor. If it sliced you, you might not even know you had been cut, not immediately.

The knife had done almost everything it was brought to that house to do, and both the blade and the handle were wet.

Delineation of Characters:

This story begins within the walls of a castle, with the birth of a mouse. A small mouse. The last mouse born to his parents and the only one of his litter to be born alive.

“Where are my babies?” said the exhausted mother when the ordeal was through. “Show to me my babies.”

The father mouse held the one small mouse up high.

“There is only this one, “ he said. “The others are dead.”

Mon Dieu, just the one mouse baby?”

“Just the one. Will you name him?”

“All of that work for nothing,” said the mother. She sighed. “It is so sad. It is such the disappointment”


I could go on and on, but you get the idea. When reading for the Newbery, committee members are looking for these kind of identifiable passages of distinguished writing, as well as where something is clearly not distinguished: where it is passé, or flat, or boring.  As it gets later and later in the year and committee members have really read hundreds of books, it doesn’t take that many pages to discern  if something  is at one extreme or the other.  And if you pick up any past Newbery winner or honoree, it shouldn’t take you too many pages to see it either.   What are your favorites?

(Mine above, were The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin, The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman, and The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo.)

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. One thing I find always illuminating is reading a contender aloud. I may have found the writing distinguished already, but reading it aloud, moving those words on my tongue, somehow really crystalizes for me their exceptional qualities. I had that with the second and third of your examples and it also happens with Charlotte’s Web.

    And so, if the books seem potentially of interest to my fourth graders I read them aloud. It is what really convinced me last year of the distinguishedness of A TALE DARK AND GRIMM, in particular given that intrusive narrator that might otherwise seem too much like others.

    And when I was on the 2008 Newbery I found reading aloud I AM NOT JOEY PIGZA incredibly helpful both for appreciating even more the glorious language, but also to better see those very problematic parents through kids’ eyes.

    Right now I’ve just started reading aloud Deedy and Wright’s THE CHESHIRE CHEESE CAT for this reason (and because I was curious how the many literary allusions to Dickens and others would work for kids).

  2. This is a really helpful post, Nina. A really concrete explanation of how this all works. Thank you!

    Especially interesting to me are the three books you chose to highlight. I recognized each at once, and in two cases, immediately felt a sense of deep appreciation, as I recalled loving the book on first read. But the third is a book I do NOT love, precisely because I feel that what makes the writing memorable is that it is overwritten, to the point of being distracting. Though I’ll admit that if I were looking to build a case for it, I could pull out lines that reveal it to be clever and well written.

    Interesting to think about how some books would be easier to argue for than others.

  3. Jonathan Hunt says:

    “The snow lay thin and apologetic over the world. That wide grey sweep was the lawn, with the straggling trees of the orchard still dark beyond; the white squares were the roofs of the garage, the old barn, the rabbit hutches, the chicken coops. Further back there were only the flat fields of Dawsons’ Farm, dimly white-striped. All the broad sky was grey, full of more snow that refused to fall. There was no colour anywhere.”

    This is from the first page of THE DARK IS RISING. I especially love the personification of snow here. It’s both apologetic and refuses to fall. And coupled with the lack of any color–already that wonderfully ominous sense of dread and foreboding is beginning to grow.

  4. Jonathan Hunt says:

    And as I mentioned in my previous post, I’m also quite fond of SIR GAWAIN THE TRUE by Gerald Morris from this year–

    Now, everyone who knows anything at all about knights knows that they used to dress in metal suits and bash each other off their horses with pointy sticks called lances. This only makes sense, of course. Anyone who happened to have a metal suit, a horse, and a pointy stick would do the same.

    I love the humor here, a delightful combination of sarcasm and irony. Because, of course, in such an oversimplification it doesn’t make sense at all!

  5. Mark Flowers says:

    Ooh – I want to play:

    “Not long ago in a large university town in California, on a street called Orchard Avenue, a strange man ran a dusty shabby store. Above the dirty show windows a faded peeling sign read:

    Used Merchandise

    No one knew for sure what A-Z meant. Perhaps it referred to the fact that all sorts of strange things–everything from A to Z–were sold in the store. Or perhaps it had something to do with the owner’s name. However, no one seemed to know for sure what his name was.”

    That’s the first few lines of THE EGYPT GAME. I love the sense of mystery, leavened by a certain amount of ironic humor–exactly what makes the novel so great.

  6. “There is no lake at Camp Green Lake. There once was a very large lake here, the largest lake in Texas. That was over a hundred years ago. Now it is just a dry, flat wasteland.”


  7. “It was a dark and stormy night.”


    (Okay, sometimes it takes more than an opening sentence for a novel to show that it’s distinguished.)

  8. My favorite is from an Honor book:
    “I didn’t know how long I had been in the king’s prison. The days were all the same, except that as each one passed, I was dirtier than before. Every morning the light in the cell changed from the wavering orange of the lamp in the sconce outside my door to the dim but even glow of the sun falling into the prison’s central courtyard. In the evening, as the sunlight faded, I reassured myself that I was one day closer to getting out. To pass time, I concentrated on pleasant memories, laying them out in order and examining them carefully. I reviewed over and over the plans that had seemed so straightforward before I arrived in jail, and I swore to myself and every god I knew that if I got out alive, I would never never never take any risks so abysmally stupid again.”

    I quite like the ones mentioned in the post too.

    I think Monica has a good point about how illuminating reading a book aloud can be. I didn’t fully appreciate The Tale of Desperauex until I read it aloud. I liked it plenty, but didn’t marvel at it until I read it to my daughter. I am gaining a greater appreciation of Point Mouette as I’m reading it to her right now as well.

  9. As for captivating beginnings, Deedy and Wright’s CHESHIRE CHEESE CAT opens: “He was the best of toms. He was the worst of toms.”

  10. “Frankie was the first to know. Frankie was the first to know most things–but since he hadn’t spoken since he was eight years old, it didn’t matter what he knew. He couldn’t tell anyone. Not so they could hear anyway. He sat at the dinner table, picking at his potatoes and pot roast, when a sound blew in from the wide expanse of the prairie.” The Mostly True Story of Jack by Kelly Barnhill

    “I was seventeen years old when I saw my first dead body. It wasn’t my cousin Oslo’s. It was a woman who looked to have been around fifty or at least in her late forties. She didn’t have any visible bullet holes or scratches, cuts, or bruises, so I assumed that she had just died of some disease or something; her body barely hidden by the thin white sheet as it awaited its placement in the lockers. The second dead body I ever saw was my cousin Oslo’s.” Where Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley

  11. How about . . .

    “My brother Wilbert tells me that I’m like the grain of sand in an oyster. Someday I will be a Pearl, but I will nag and irritate the poor oyster and everyone else up until then.”

    Talk about setting the tone for a book. This line is just about PERFECTION!

    – from THE TROUBLE WITH MAY AMELIA, by Jenni Holm.

  12. “You wouldn’t think we’d have to leave Chicago to see a dead body. We were growing up there back in the bad old days of Al Capone and Bugs Moran. Just the winter before they’d had the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre over on North Clark Street. The city had such an evil reputation that the Thompson submachine gun was better known as a “Chicago typewriter.”


  13. Whoops–

    A LONG WAY FROM CHICAGO by Richard Peck.

    The first line is certainly an attention-getter, but the paragraph lays out the time period, too, and sets the reader up for a contrast with the notorious gangsterland of Chicago, which the small-town setting delivers on.

  14. I am hoping that this thread is not finished. There is a book that I would be happy to provide full frontal evidence for but:

    Would somebody PLEASE (Nina, KT are you here, anyone, Buehler, Buehler) resolve this question for me:

    I have heard people speak as if Patrick Ness’s A Monster Calls is eligible for the Newbery AND I have heard folks state categorically that it is NOT eligible (all experienced children’s lit pros). Would somebody who really knows the fine print details of eligibility AND this particular book PLEASE answer the question once and for all, Is Patrick Ness’s A Monster Calls eligible for the Newbery or not?

  15. “When May died, Ob came back to the trailer, got out of his good suit and into his regular clothes, then went and sat in the Chevy for the rest of the night.”

    (Missing May, Cynthia Rylant)

    Character and setting beautifully established in just a few words.

  16. Jonathan Hunt says:

    Ed, I understand the frustration with A MONSTER CALLS. I wanted to wait until it was published to actually discuss it, so now that it has been, I’ll address it in my next post–unless Nina beats me to it.

  17. Reading through the criteria, I cannot see why A MONSTER CALLS would NOT be eligible. It was published in the UK first, but within the same year of its published date here in the US. Ness is apparently a US citizen even though he currently resides in London. And even though the idea was spawned from Dowd before her death, Ness claims the story is original. So I guess I’m not so sure why this is being questioned. Didn’t Neil Gaiman publish the opening chapter of THE GRAVEYARD BOOK in a year previous to him winning the medal. And he still won!

    I too, would love to see what Jonathan and/or Nina have to say about this. I received the book in the mail on Monday afternoon and hopefully will be able to dive into it soon!

  18. Nina Lindsay says:

    Well Jonathan will beat me to it because I’m still waiting for my copy.

    Ed, I have an answer for you but it’s not going to be satisfying. The bottom line is that eligibility cases like this are not always cut and dry, and we will never know…unless it snags a medal…whether or not the committee et al has determined that it is or not. Any eligibility issue that is unclear is researched by the chair and discussed between the chair and priority group consultant. The priority group consultant (an appointed member who is the liasion between the award committee chairs and the ALSC staff and exec committee) may discuss with the exec committee, board or previous chairs to fully determine precedent and intent of the definition; but the final decision remains confidential. Followers of this blog will remember how I gamely knocked THE GRAVEYARD BOOK out of the running.

    Complicating this one is that there appear to be three different eligibility issues. The revised Newbery Manual has an appendix detailing how to interpret these. You all have expanded on these in the comments above but here are some of the “expanded definitions” from the manual. If you look it up (google “newbery manual”) you’ll find even more elaboration and examples than I’m pasting here:

    “SIMULTANEOUS – means “at the same time.” For purposes of these awards, “published simultaneously” means that a book was first published in the United States within the same calendar year that it was first published in any other country, whether or not the actual dates of publication are identical.”


    “The intent is to insure that a book is a NEW creation, and not a re-creation from some other work. This does not mean that some minor portion of the work cannot have appeared elsewhere. It does mean, however, that no significant part of the book under consideration was originally part of another work.”

    “FIRST PUBLISHED IN THE UNITED STATES – means that the acquisition of the book and the editorial work were done by a publisher with editorial offices in the United States that publishes books under U.S. publishing conventions for a United States market. A book may be eligible if published “simultaneously” (see above) in another country, provided the acquisition and editorial work were done jointly or originated in the U.S.”

    “RESIDENT – means 1) that the author or illustrator has established and maintains residence in the United States, U.S. territory, or U.S. commonwealth, as distinct from being a casual or occasional visitor.

    “Or 2) that the author/illustrator meets one of the following criteria:

    “a) The author/illustrator, a citizen of another country, holds a “green card” and is a Permanent Resident Alien.

    “b) The author/illustrator lives for at least 6 months EVERY year in the United States, regardless of where the book was actually written.

    “c) A resident is also an individual whose permanent home is in the US but who is outside of the US for a temporary purpose. For example, an individual goes on vacation in another country or works there temporarily. The individual still maintains residency in the US and intends to return.”

  19. Nina,

    Thanks and even though the answer is, as you suggest, unsatisfactory (I like cut and dried), it is still very much appreciated. We shall see this January.


  20. Monica, chime in if you are listening, found evidence that the ediotrial for A Monster Calls was a joint effort on both sides of the altantic. I don’t want to search back though my Twitter feed to find where she first posted the link, so hopefully she can tell you herself.

  21. I’m not Monica, but I do have the link she shared:

  22. KT Horning says:

    Ed, trickier than publication date might be the “original work” part, given the genesis of the book from Siobhan Dowd’s brain. Very tricky indeed!

    This is one for the ALSC Executive Committee to decide, after weighing all the evidence and interpreting the terms. But that would only happen IF someone had put it on the table for the real Newbery Committee to consider. They wouldn’t spend time on eligibility for a book that hadn’t been seriously suggested or nominated. That’s the part of the process that’s confidential and that we can’t know, not the specifics of eligibility decisions.

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