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Heavy Medal: A Mock Newbery Blog
Inside Heavy Medal

Girls Club

I’ve tried to make some headway through a pile of books that I think of as “girly.” That’s perhaps not a nice thing to call them….but they have covers that specifically would have put me off when I was in the intended age range, and so I just always have a harder time getting to them.   Nevertheless, there are of course some delights in here, specifically: 

THE TROUBLE WITH MAY AMELIA.  Here’s where I admit that I still haven’t read Holm’s “OUR ONLY…” (so many book so little…whatever. Lame excuse).  But I bring it up to point out that here’s a sequel that stands alone.  Not that sequels must, but it attests to Holm’s clarity in character, voice and setting that the world she develops is instantly believable and recognizable to someone who’s never been to it before.  A refreshing pace and balance of humor and seriousness make this both a meaty and digestable read. Most of you of course already discussed it here.  Mark called the pacing and characterization “rushed,” but I just found them…unencumbered. Well-integrated.The characters were developed through conversation and action, the plot perfectly intertwined to move the characters along.   

I’m curious to know what others think of the startling number of capital letters in this story.  For some reason, they seem to work for me here, where they don’t for me in LIESEL & PO or THE MOSTLY TRUE STORY OF JACK.  I think it’s because here they’re illustrative of May Amelia’s very deliberately articulated voice, rather than being used to try to denote importance to an otherwise vague noun.   

I must say: ICK on the cover.  This is actually a worse sell than CHIME.  If it wasn’t for the cover I’d have read this long ago. The girl picture is far too old, too clean, and too aware of the her cute cap sleeve.  Not May Amelia.  


Sarah Weeks’ PIE takes the cake for being absolutely no longer than it needs to be.  A mystery and frienship story with an absurdist twist, every side character is memorable and the plot zips along to an almost abrupt but wholly satisfying ending.  As in MAY AMELIA, the plot serves the characters perfectly and vice versa. No word wasted. For instance, a side scene on p. 120 in the ARC that transpires in a blip of conversation appears to be a tone-setting moment to further establish the parents’ characters:  

But a thorough search of the kitchen confirmed what Alice had said: The pie was nowhere to be found.  

“That’s odd,” said Alice’s father. “I had the exact same experience today with my shoes and I still haven’t figured out where they are.”   

“If you’re talking about your black wing tips, George, I stuck them in a box out on the curb this mroning for the Salvation Army to pick up.”  

“You gave away my shoes?”  

“You said they pinched.”  

“They did,” said Alice’s father. “But other than that, they were perfectly good.”  

“Can we get back to my pie, please?” said Alice’s mother. “Tell the truth, George. Did you eat it?”  

Oh, I know these people well. And though they seem incidental, the shoes turn up later.  

Weeks also gets the award for shameless but forgivable pandering to Newbery nerds.  I don’t think she’ll mind if I quote from page 28 of the ARC:  

 “The Blueberry Award was established in 1922 to celebrate the most distinguished contribution to American pie making. Each year during the month of August, people from all over the country would box up their pies and deliver them to the Blueberry committee for consideration. The committee members would carefully evaluate the pies, “Blueberry Buzz” would spread as the top contenders emerged, “Mock Blueberry” clubs would choose their own favorites, and finally on the first Monday in September, amid a great deal of fanfare, the Blueberry committee would announce the winner.”  

Still on my “girly covers” pile:  HOUND DOG TRUE, THE FRIENDSHIP DOLL, and TRUE (–SORT OF) . Some of these I’ve cracked and sampled.  Admitting that my readers-block with these is purely of my own weirdness…any of these I should really, really, make sure to finish?

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. I like the “idea” behind the cover of MAY AMELIA, but I feel that an illustrator should’ve been brought in to illustrate the exact same thing. That way the girl featured could’ve been a more accurate May Amelia. A Jenni Holm novel deserves so much more than a cheap stock photo. Why do publishing companies do that?

  2. Ah, perhaps you’ve hit on the reason why I haven’t read any of these yet. Except THE FRIENDSHIP DOLL, which I read because I met the author. I wanted to like it, but didn’t quite work for me. The story is broken up into episodes with different girls, and the moralistic tone was a little too strong for me. I’m thinking very young girls who still love dolls may like it. But it’s definitely a girly book.

  3. I haaaaaate all covers with photos on them. On adult books as well as on kid books. HAAAAAATE. (And on books for tweens and teens–tho i’m sure i’m preaching to the choir here–not only do those images muscle in on a kid’s power to imagine what the main character looks like, but they also contribute to girls’ ever-growing obsession with looks, perfect bodies, needing to have long and non-kinky/curly hair to be pretty…they reinforce the TONS of unspoken messages girls get about what they should prioritize in life, even when those messages explicitly contradict what’s inside the FREAKIN’ BOOKS. And now I’m hyperventilating and all spitty.) Where was I. Oh right. My just-turned-10-year-old is drawn to photographic covers, and my librarian and bookseller friends tell me that most girls are, so hey, commerce will out. FEH. (BTW I liked May Amelia very much and thought Pie — with a super-cute illustrated cover, yay– was sweet.)

  4. I just met with my 5th and 6th grade Newbery Club. I’d planned on talking about setting as relating to Newbery criteria.

    Left with the books still resting on the shelf I went from MAY AMELIA, to THE PENDERWICKS, to INSIDE OUT AND BACK AGAIN. All of which have covers which repel half my population. We spent some time talking about looking past the covers and also how pink bra straps did not belong in 1900.

    (It’s really not a good idea to say bra strap in front of sixth grade boys)

  5. You’re so absolutely right about the cover of May Amelia. It does an absolute disservice to this book, not reflecting the setting, tone, time period or characters. I’d also argue that it really won’t help draw readers into the story, either. A real shame, because it’s a fantastic book. May Amelia’s spirit and voice shines through on every page.

    I’d definitely encourage you to move A Friendship Doll to the top of your TBR pile. I was amazed how quickly I connected with each character, really feeling the dilemmas they faced. It is not easy to write short stories for middle grade readers. Larson did a remarkable job developing full characters with emotional resonance and unique perspectives, shedding light on how the Depression affected a range of children. The historical details are rich and interesting, woven throughout each story. The final chapter effectively brings the story to the present day, providing a sense of closure and possibilities.

    But girly girls? That’s not a good description of May Amelia, for sure. She has inner strength, a strong voice and courage that I’d want any of my daughters to have. A girly cover, maybe? But thankfully we get way more than the cover promises.

  6. Hound Dog True is a lovely book. Linda Urban has a unique voice and her characters here are beautifully crafted. Go for it!

  7. Jonathan Hunt says:

    On the other hand, Nina, if you read HOUND DOG TRUE and dislike it as much as I did, I fear that the negativity here would be overwhelming. :-(

  8. Jonathan, have you read True…Sort Of? I’m curious about whether you’d like it more or less than Hound Dog True. I just finished Hound Dog True about ten seconds ago and thought that, if nothing else, it’s blissfully short. Someone somewhere said it was even slower than Junonia, but I liked it a dozen times more. (This is not saying anything.) The thing I notice in all three books: WAY too many grown-ups fixing everything and being There for the kids. Even in True…Sort Of, in which one of the central themes is grown-ups not helping. Small as an Elephant also has this problem. The strongest parts of that book are when Jack is interacting with other young people.

    I really do think Urban gets credit for telling a simple story in a few pages–she keeps the book free of extraneous plot-points and characters, and the story has a nice shape to it, ending at the perfect moment. I just thought it was sort of sticky-sweet and that there was too much stuff for the adult audience–something I’ve been finding in spades this year in middle-grade fiction. Do authors not get, or just not care, that kids couldn’t care less about commentary on the “tween” phenomenon (which, contrary to popular opinion, is neither a new concept nor a new word, seeing as Noel Streatfeild used it in Party Shoes), or how rockin’ librarians are?

  9. Jonathan Hunt says:

    I haven’t read TRUE (SORT OF . . .) beyond the first several pages. IDA B and EMMALINE weren’t my cup of tea so I set it aside, waiting for the buzz to motivate me to pick it back up. I did like the length of HOUND DOG TRUE and I liked the third person present tense narration, but the completely introspective nature of the book drove me nuts, and I just didn’t believe in the character. Having taught fifth grade for six years, she just didn’t seem very real to me. And the fact that she aspired to be a . . . custodian . . . well, that was a 360 degree eye roll, right there.

  10. I rolled my eyes, too (because it seemed so… self-conscious), and yet I’ve known many kids on the fringes, as it were, who were friends with the custodians–the custodian was the safe person. Friendly, never got you in trouble, never asked you to do anything, often a little different himself. (I’ve met female custodians as an adult, but never, never as a kid in the 80s/90s.) Like Brian and the custodian in The Breakfast Club. (This is why I’m guessing people made friends with the custodian, anyway.) And for those kids, the custodian wasn’t even their fun uncle. So while I thought it was sort of overdone, it had the ring of reality for me. SPOILER ALERT (if such a mild book can HAVE spoilers): as a teacher/librarian, weren’t you kind of creeped out by a budding romance between the principal and the custodian?

  11. Elle Librarian says:

    I just finished WITH A NAME LIKE LOVE – many distinguished qualities, fast read – highly recommend it. Fans of the Penderwicks would love this tale.

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