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Heavy Medal: A Mock Newbery Blog
Inside Heavy Medal

The slow course to a shortlist

Those of you who have been here before know that it’s about time for me and Jonathan to start settling on at least half of our shortlist….and we will. Soon. This year has more leisure in it than last, since our final mock deliberations don’t have to transpire until mid January. We’ll be doing an online vote again as well, all dates TBA.

I like a shortlist that stretches the boundaries of the criteria..that gets people to think outside the box regarding the Newbery. I think it brings a better understanding of the award, and of the varieties of quality in writing for children.

This is why I have a short temper when someone is so ready to dismiss a title because they “can’t see it” for the award. The Newbery is nothing about what any one committee member’s expectations are. It is about the best of one year’s books, and about how a room of fifteen dedicated critics can hash out a consensual example of “most distinguished.” If a book is eligible, and good: it needs to be discussed. If you can’t see it, that doesn’t mean that others can’t. You’ll need to articulate exactly why is it less worthy than other contenders.

Besides a short practice round at the summer Annual conference, the actual committee generally doesn’t engage in any discussion of titles with each other until they’ve each made their nominations, considered the whole shortlist, and come to meet together in January. They’ve likely discussed their favorites (and least favorites) with colleagues or kids, and followed reviews and blogs. But the true shortlist is comprised of titles that members feels strongly they can make a case for, and those nominations force the other committee members to sit up and take notice. Nothing comes off the table after that except by consensus, and usually not until the first votes are cast.

Of course, we’re doing it differently here. Jonathan and I are picking the shortlist, and we’re having it all out before we narrow it down. But I’m always in for a surprise once we start truly pitting shortlisted titles against each other, for it’s a that point it becomes hard to make this about whether any one of us cares for or doesn’t care for any given title….it’s about how each of the best measure against each other.

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. Very exciting! I feel like I’m so much more prepared this year, to participate. I’ve read 13 “strong contenders” and counting!

    How many titles will you have? Do you and Jonathan choose them all or do you get input from the comments here? I forget . . .

    Four titles I have seen pop up occasionally in “Newbery” type discussions are OKAY FOR NOW; A MONSTER CALLS; INSIDE OUT AND BACK AGAIN; and THE TROUBLE WITH MAY AMELIA. I have read all four and while I dislike INSIDE OUT AND BACK AGAIN, I do hope all four make it onto your short list, even if it means sacrificing a title or two in the attempt to create the type of “outside of the box” discussion you allude to. I know me saying that probably makes your short temper even shorter . . . maybe I’m just thinking too much about the SIR CHARLIE inclusion last year and not enough about the great discussion on THE DUNDERHEADS from a few years ago and even the ELEPHANT AND PIGGIE books from this year.

    Either way, I’m excited for you to start narrowing down the field!

  2. Thanks so much for doing all the hard work so I can easily pick the best books to read aloud to my class!

    I read the galley of Okay for Now and LOVED it so much that I immediately read it to my class. Alas, we didn’t finish by the end of the school year, but several students had bought a copy to read over the summer. They were really into it.

  3. I hope that you or Jonathan gets a chance to read TUESDAYS AT THE CASTLE, by Jessica Day George. It’s a simple fantasy middle grade novel, but I thought it had an innovative plot, realistic characters, and a wonderfully imaginative setting. It was just out this week.

  4. Has anyone taken a serious look at THE LOST CROWN, by Sarah Miller? Like CHIME, it’s on the upper end of the reader’s age spectrum, and like AMELIA LOST we know how it ends . . . badly. But also like AMELIA LOST, the writer, by skillfully (artfully?) piecing together the events that lead to the known conclusion, still compels us to keep reading.

    Sarah Miller has done something remarkable in her book: first of all, she transcends the whole “missing princess” myth of Anastasia by squarely placing the youngest tsarina in the midst of where she always was, with her family. Then she shows us what the last couple of years might have been like for Tsar Nicholas’s four daughters whose world went from one of imperial vastness and unimaginable wealth to basically being entrapped on the top floor of a country house, and finally being lead into the cellar for execution. Miller tells the story through each of the tsarinas’ four voices, alternating from chapter to chapter so that the reader sees their situation through a kind of prism. Each sister is clearly delineated via their unique first-person voices, quite the authorial accomplishment.

    Clearly a work of fiction, at the same time Miller provides a sharp and intimate look at this moment in history, the complete and utter end of the imperial rule of Russia, the overthrow of a government, from the inside of the family that embodied it. It’s supported by photographs of the Romanov family and detailed notes at the end. The portrait of each of the daughters that grace the chapter headings feel like ghosts watching as we turn the pages. Nevertheless, Miller hasn’t forgotten that this is not a historical treatise; it’s fiction and as such she doesn’t forget to give us characters who are filled with yearning and heartache and plenty of reasons to keep reading even though we know what is ahead.

    It’s such a well-written book, such a haunting story. Just thought I’d muddy the waters by throwing it in here because it does seem to lie on the edges of what is thought of as “Newbery,” but in my opinion definitely holds up under close scrutiny.

  5. Jonathan Hunt says:

    I haven’t even heard of THE LOST CROWN, much less read it, but I did read this author’s earlier book, MISS SPITFIRE. This is not in any way relevant to Newbery consideration, but one question I have for authors who repeatedly write fictionalized history is this: What attracts you to writing these stories as novels rather than nonfiction?

  6. I can tell you that as a reader, I like reading these as fiction because it gives authors freedom to explore characters’ thoughts in a way that would annoy me mightily if it was nonfiction. Jonathan, you come off a bit critical or skeptical; was that intentional?

  7. As an author of a fictionalized history—a.k.a. a historical novel—I can say that for me one reason I chose the genre was precisely what Wendy mentions: the ability to give a character thoughts that I couldn’t have if I were writing nonfiction. (My novel is based on a medieval autobiography that an illiterate woman dictated to a priest, which already raises huge questions about fictionalization, both on the part of the subject and her scribe.) For me, one of the driving forces behind the novel was being able to invent, through research, the story of someone who has been marginalized by the historical record, someone whose presence was recorded, but whose name and life were erased because of her low social class.

  8. Jonathan Hunt says:

    Not critical or skeptical, Wendy, but curious. I’m not necessarily puzzled that a novelist would make that choice, but to make it repeatedly makes me curious. I think it also depends on the historical record, too.

  9. Hey, that’s got to be The Book of the Maidservant! I read that this summer lying in a hammock on an Amazon riverboat. I wish I’d taken a picture for you. It provided for some fascinating cognitive dissonance.

  10. I think there’s also a stark difference between hist fic based on otherwise “unknown” people (BOOK OF THE MaIDSERVANT) and that of recognizable figures. I think that latter is an unusual challenge …

  11. Jonathan, I think it’s a terrific question. I personally have never felt drawn to writing a fictional account of a real person, (nor brave enough to be honest) but that could be because I haven’t found the right subject for me. Nevertheless, when done well I think this kind of narrative allows for a unique perspective that gives us a fuller picture of a person or an incident. When I visit schools, I remind kids that the most powerful sentence/question in the entire history of humankind contains only two small one-syllable words: what if? And to me at least, when an author can take the “facts” of a person’s life, and say “what if I can inhabit that person in such a way that he or she becomes more than a historical figure, without distorting the facts?” then I think illumination can occur. There’s a fine line there, isn’t there? The question is always about that distortion because obviously just the fact that the author is imposing thoughts and feelings upon a real person is a distortion. So, keeping everything in context, making sure that the character appears accurately in time and place, is critical.

    And Nina, you’re also right, I think the more well-known a person is, the more constrained the license would be to create an authentic, but nonetheless fictional character.

    As to why fiction rather than straight-ahead nonfiction? I think it mostly depends upon which direction that all-powerful “what if” tugs. Just the facts ma’am works better for some of us than others. But I also think that in some cases, there are just so many gaps in the historical record that fiction tends to allow for filling in. With Sarah Miller’s book, the Tsar’s family was isolated. They were basically under house arrest, cloistered only with themselves and a few trusted servants who were allowed to stay with them until the very end. The conversations, dreams, fears, arguments, etc. that would have taken place between them, in that very small closed-in circle, could only be imagined methinks. And Sarah Miller does a crackerjack job of imagining them.

  12. Jefferson’s Sons is an interesting exploration of the issue you raise, Nina–as the protagonists fall under the “otherwise unknown” heading and the prominent secondary character of Jefferson is about as well-known as it gets, with Sally Hemings occupying the space between.

    I think that book will speak to and reach children about that situation, as fiction, in a way a nonfiction exploration of the issue probably wouldn’t have.

  13. Jonathan Hunt says:

    Well, I think it’s interesting how three authors can be intrigued by the same historical event–the downfall of the last czar of Russian–and one will decide to write a nonfiction account, another might write a fantasy novel in which names, dates, and places have changed but the basic template remains, and yet another will decide to write a fictional recreation that hews as close as possible to the historical record. Same inspiration, three different genres!

    We’re looking forward to reading JEFFERSON’S SONS. We’ve both had problems getting a copy of the book, but now that’s been fixed, and we’re just waiting for them. I’d like to revisit your fiction/nonfiction comparison of slavery when I have read it.

  14. I’m really looking forward to the eventual discussion of Jefferson’s Sons. I think somebody else said this, essentially, but I think it’s a book in which the highs are so high that they might outweigh the lows.

  15. Beth Wright Redford says:

    Good year for fantasy – THE MOSTLY TRUE STORY OF JACK and THE GIRL WHO CIRCUMNAVIGATED FAIRYLAND were both very strong.

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