We haven’t had the raging “upper age limit” debate yet, even though one of the frontrunners, OKAY FOR NOW, should have stimulated it. Let’s look at a few titles that are all solidly “12 and up” titles, and therefore must be at least considered by the committee.
In the Terms & Criteria:
2. A “contribution to American literature for children” shall be a book for which children are an intended potential audience. The book displays respect for children’s understandings, abilities, and appreciations. Children are defined as persons of ages up to and including fourteen, and books for this entire age range are to be considered.
Further elaboration on how to interpret this start on p.77 in the manual, but the upshot is: if a fourteen year old is potential audience, the book is eligible.
Recall that for the Newbery Committee….no other awards exist. They must not bring into consideration whether or not a title is eligible for other awards. So, on this post, comments with the word “Printz” are verboten. Here we go.
SIDEKICKS. Alright, this wouldn’t make my top ten, but it is funny and fast-paced. High on mood and plot, if pretty simplistic with character. It’s slick, and it’s surprising, and it made me snort with laughter. Jack D. Ferraiolo works for an animation production company and writes for television, and it shows: his narrative is highly visual and loaded with conversation. The tension is well-tuned, yet in a familiar and predictable way that suits many readers. It’s like a Matt Damon or George Clooney action flick with just enough high-falutin’ ambience for NPR snobs (uh, me). It is so well directed to its audience, and so different than the bulk of what this audience usually finds bound in 300 pages with a spine label, that I hope the committee takes some notice of it as a point of comparison for narrative craft.
The characters in BLUEFISH own their stories from the start. Schmatz creates a pair in Travis and Velveeta that are on par in believability and vividness with Schmidt’s. You know them within a few pages, and can sense immediately the outline of what each is hiding, although it takes the entire book for them to slowly reveal themselves. Readers get an uncannily real sense of that “feeling” of being in middle school…the kind of live tension and angst and excitement in the air. The story loses its energy for me towards the end, as the fairly predictable resolutions start to lay themselves out. Perhaps it’s the only way for the story to have resolved itself, though it bears an interesting comparsion to the opposite kind of four-ring-circus finale that Schmidt employs in OFN.
One of my esteemed colleagues whose book-opinions I value put this on her “overwritten” shelf in Goodreads. She and I will have a talk. Meanwhile, the illustrative point is that CHIME is not for everyone. What some might call “overwritten” is a crackling original wit that speaks perfectly to a young teen mind without dumbing down: p.177 “It takes no more than a single brain cell to flirt, making it perfect for Cecil and leaving me another few billion to admire the paper napkins, which Eldric had folded into pagodas.” It makes magic real and tangible, not swirly or vague: p.309: “Stepmother’s cheek slipped from her bones, splatted onto the gallows floor…” or p. 252 “It eddied, then boiled. I’d seen this before, the wave rising from the river, too tall, too straight, defying gravity . Now a face, taking shape beneath the cap of foam, whirpool eyes, deep-sea mouth– Mucky Face, poised to leap and crush….His belly was liver-gray. No schoolgirl paintbrush water for Mucky Face.” Briony’s story–in the end, one of young teen angst, guilt, and lust that any young reader can identify with–is couched within a steam-punky British swampland at the end of the new railroad line, where magic and Industrial-age technology are butting heads–literally. The setting is on par with the best of the best fantasy writers: McKinley, LeGuin … the sentence-level writing as dazzling as Laura Amy Schlitz… the off-beat humor as Horvath’s… ok. You see I like it. There are flaws, though I see them as small overall. The biggest contention with this book will be its age level. Though as firmly “12 and up” as the others, it’s certainly got more to it, more that will be better appreciated by some readers when they’re older. “Some” being operative by the definition of the award. For as long as this book is more distinguished for some 13 and 14 year olds than other contenders…it should be highly considered. Why are we so ready to see a medal on OKAY FOR NOW–certainly a title whose best appreciators might be older than 14?–if not for CHIME?
Which gets, btw, my “most deceptive cover” of the year award. I hope it sells well, but it sells wrong.