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Heavy Medal: A Mock Newbery Blog
Inside Heavy Medal

90% of Everything Is Crap!

While we are charged with only discussing the given books in a particular year, it’s entirely unreasonable to expect that our views of what is–

  • Marked by eminence and distinction; noted for significant achievement.
  • Marked by excellence in quality.
  • Marked by conspicuous excellence or eminence.
  • Individually distinct.

–are not colored by what we have read in previous years.  In an article that I seem to reference annually here, “Finding Literary Goodness in a Pluralistic World,” Deborah Stevenson explains this better than I can.

In the face of all that pluralism, how then do we find our good books? Though much of the writing on literary merit is valuable, I think that such reflections can only feed consideration to a certain extent, and that just as one learns writing by writing, one must learn reading by reading. We each of us have an individual map of literature, constantly being redefined on multiple axes every time we read. (I visualize it as functioning like the fascinating map on the site at www.literature-map.com, where input from users on their favorite authors creates a constellation of literary names grouped according to user-determined kinship, and where the map is always in gentle motion as new input continuously redefines the relationship of its elements.) A new book gets slotted into the constellation according to its relation to what’s already there; “good” is a book that’s in some ways like books of its kind that have already been judged good, and not so much like books of its kind that have been judged lacking. That’s why external checklists of literary merit aren’t sufficient to enable somebody new on the scene to judge in the same way as an experienced reader; why, ultimately, writing about what makes a good book can’t provide a methodology to those who haven’t already found many books good, who have no series of data points for “believable characters” or “absorbing plot” or “lively dialogue.” That’s also why it’s more challenging to judge books of genuine originality or books in a scarcely populated genre (is a biography in a poetry sequence form that’s less good than Marilyn Nelson’s superb Carver lackluster or merely excellent?); why books in densely populated genres need to achieve more demonstrable excellence to stand out (yet another metatextual fiction based on fairy tales has to work hard to be more than simply more of the same); why read-alikes are some of the most popular and useful forms of reader’s advisory.

Thus, while this checklist helps us–

  • Interpretation of the theme or concept
  • Presentation of information including accuracy, clarity, and organization
  • Development of a plot
  • Delineation of characters
  • Delineation of a setting
  • Appropriateness of style.

–it’s really only by reading widely in the field and comparing books against each other that we are able to ascertain which books are truly distinguished.  Newbery evaluation is not an absolute value judgement, but rather a relative one.  Everyone can be an A student, but not everyone can be the valedictorian.

It is very difficult to judge books of genuine originality or books in a scarcely populated genre.  In other words, it’s difficult to judge books in a vacuum.  We need multiple points of reference to determine whether something is good, and just how good it is.  If we do not read lots of easy readers, picture books, poetry, fantasy, or whatever (fill in the blank), then it will be hard for us to evaluate those genres.  Over the course of our Newbery year, however, we can make a concerted effort to read widely in our weaknesses, and gain an understanding and appreciation of them.

On the other hand, when we read extensively in a densely populated genre–middle grade novels, for example–a book does need to achieve more demonstrable excellence to stand out from the crowd.  It’s harder to be impressed by the same old, same old.  At least, it should be that way.  Oh, look, a shiny new bauble: yet another historical fiction with a dead mother and a quirky voice and a feisty heroine!  It’s like we’ve never read this story before?  Yes, something weird happens with the Newbery, something Martha Parravano notes in “Alive and Vigorous,” another article I seem to reference quite frequently.

Reading through the oeuvre of Newbery winners, one sees a range in quality from . . .“respectable, worthy books of the traditional award-winning kind” to books of undeniable greatness . . . Is there an identifiable kind of book that tends to win the Newbery Medal? And what does that mean for the rest of children’s books?

Even the most cursory glance back through Newbery history reveals that there is indeed such a thing as a quintessential Newbery book. Call it the ur-Newbery. It’s fiction, with an older (twelve-ish) protagonist who is nevertheless not an adolescent (not preoccupied with adolescent concerns). The main character can be either male or female . . . He (or she) must face some adversity, must struggle against himself, or someone close to him, or with some idea or stricture, to find the right form of self-expression, the best way to be human; and if along the way he can have adventures that occur against a background of sweeping events and perhaps even face a threat to his own or his family’s survival, all the better. So many Newbery books fit that mold. . .

I think that’s why a little ping of recognition goes off in our heads whenever we come across a book like Johnny Tremain, or The Midwife’s Apprentice, or Out of the Dust. We read them and say to ourselves, “That’s a Newbery book.” And we’re not wrong to do so. These are the books and the themes that exemplify the power of children’s literature; they are why so many of us find children’s literature so compelling and so rewarding.

Nevertheless, it seems to me as if we are adhering more and more to this fixed notion of what a Newbery book should be. The adventure may sometimes be more internal, the venue more personal than the Revolutionary War or the Dust Bowl. But the essential elements remain, and the package is that of middle-grade fiction, slanting up slightly toward the upper ages.

So while we should be more critical of middle grade novels because we read so many of them, the power of the Newbery canon has subconsciously shaped what we look for in a Newbery book, almost as much as–if not more than–the actual criteria themselves.  When we finish a new book don’t we tend to make a snap judgment–Newbery/not Newbery–and don’t we do so on the basis of the all the previous Newbery books we have read, books which tend to conform to the pattern Parravano just described?  The previous four books we have discussed–SIR GAWAIN THE TRUE, HEART AND SOUL, I BROKE MY TRUNK!, BETWEEN SHADES OF GRAY–fall “outside the box” of the traditional Newbery book, but do they really not exhibit distinction and eminence in the stated criteria?  Or is it just that they do not fit into our own personal Newbery constellations very well?

We’re fond of little games and exercises here to reassert the importance of the criteria which, contrary to popular opinion, do not favor middle grade novels. You’ve all heard of Sturgeon’s Law, right?

I repeat Sturgeon’s Revelation, which was wrung out of me after twenty years of wearying defense of science fiction against attacks of people who used the worst examples of the field for ammunition, and whose conclusion was that ninety percent of SF is crud. Using the same standards that categorize 90% of science fiction as trash, crud, or crap, it can be argued that 90% of film, literature, consumer goods, etc. are crap. In other words, the claim (or fact) that 90% of science fiction is crap is ultimately uninformative, because science fiction conforms to the same trends of quality as all other artforms.

Yep, 90% of everything is crap–even Newbery Medal winners.  In Parravano’s article, this “crap” is euphemistically called respectable and worthy; the other 10%, undeniable greatness.  (RIFLES FOR WATIE is respectable and worthy, for example; THE CAT IN THE HAT would have been undeniable greatness.)  So, here’s your assignment.  We’re going to comb back through the list of Medal winners for the past fifty years (because those are more likely to still be read today), and we are each going to identify, the five novels–10%–which are undeniably great.  We can each pick different books and we can each use whatever criteria we like.  I’m going to pick THE HIGH KING and THE GREY KING because I loved those as a child–and I love them still.  I’m also going to pick THE WESTING GAME which I think is the greatest Newbery Medal book ever, truly a one-of-a-kind book, and I’m going to go with CRISS CROSS, another one-of-a-kind book, not nearly as beloved, to be sure, but one I cannot be objective about.  And, finally, I’ll take HOLES as my kid’s choice pick, the one with the broadest appeal for the widest range of ages.

Now it’s your turn . . . Oh, it’s hard, isn’t it?  Only five!  It’s virtually impossible.  Let’s pick fifteen then; that’s 30%.  We’re talking Newbery Medal winners here, after all!  So, my fifteen might look like this: A WRINKLE IN TIME; FROM THE MIXED UP FILES OF MRS. BASIL E. FRANKWEILER; THE HIGH KING; MRS. FRISBY AND THE RATS OF NIMH; THE GREY KING; ROLL OF THUNDER, HEAR MY CRY; BRIDGE TO TERABITHIA; THE WESTING GAME, MANIAC MAGEE; THE GIVER; WALK TWO MOONS; HOLES; THE TALE OF DESPEREAUX; CRISS CROSS; and THE GRAVEYARD BOOK.  You might quibble with some of my choices (I just did this quickly on a whim), but there will probably be some crossover with your top fifteen novels.  From your point of view, however, your list will not have the “weak links” that mine does.  This is your Newbery constellation.  Are you set?

Okay, now tell me which of the novels published this year deserve to be in the company of your top fifteen novels?  Personally, I don’t think any of them belong with mine.  OKAY FOR NOW comes the closest, however, and probably THE PENDERWICKS AT POINT MOUETTE after that, but I do wonder if PENDERWICKS is really better than everything else, or if I simply like it better.  That’s my problem with most of the novels this year: I like lots of them, but are any of them demonstrably better than the others?  They’re nice, but probably better suited to state reader’s choice awards than the Newbery–and some of them have no business even being in the conversation at all.  But enough about me, I want to hear about you.  Did you find a novel from this exercise that passed the test and would fit in your Newbery constellation?  Tell us about it.  And if you didn’t find one, then why lobby for respectable and worthy rather than undeniable greatness, for A students (or worse!) rather than valedictorians?

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Jonathan Hunt About Jonathan Hunt

Jonathan Hunt is the County Schools Librarian at the San Diego County Office of Education. He served on the 2006 Newbery committee, and has also judged the Printz Award, the Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards, and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. You can reach him at hunt_yellow@yahoo.com

Comments

  1. Wendy says:

    I’m going to be grumpy first before anyone’s even had a chance to respond and point out that most of your readers haven’t read all the Newbery books, so it’s going to be all skewed. You want people to quibble with your list, right? I mean, I don’t really care about what other people choose as favorite books, but if that’s what’s interesting here, the two books that immediately popped out to me as weak links in your list are Maniac Magee and Walk Two Moons.

    I did a similar list a few years ago and people can look here if interested. I also did a post where I chose my favorites and what I thought were most important to know from each decade here</a.

    But to summarize: my top five are The Westing Game, Mixed-Up Files, The Witch of Blackbird Pond, A Wrinkle in Time, and The 21 Balloons. Since you want me to choose ten more, I'll go with The Wheel on the School, Criss Cross, Mrs. Frisby, Hitty, Good Masters Sweet Ladies, When You Reach Me, Lincoln: A Photobiography, Dear Mr. Henshaw, The Grey King, and Onion John. Except for The Grey King, I read all of those first as an adult. (I thought I'd read Dear Mr. Henshaw as a kid, but when I got to it, I realized I'd given it up after the first chapter.) Pointing out the weak books in my list, as anyone else sees it, is encouraged. Choosing the top five was easy; the top fifteen is much harder and deciding what to put as the last title was wrenching. It could easily have been about five other books.

    My problem in the past, as I've mentioned in previous years, is that I have trouble championing anything for the Newbery unless I feel like it could stand with my top five. When You Reach Me is the only book I've read in the past four seasons (which is as long as I've been in the Newbery prediction business) that I've felt that way about. But it isn't as much fun if you don't have a horse in the race, and you've just got to acknowledge that most years don't produce A Wrinkle in Time. Don't we still want to choose the year's best?

    You're just asking about the novels, right? I don't think now that any of them stand in my top 15, but with some perspective of time, it's possible. There are several that I think could fit in fine with the 90 winners. I'm surprised you find Penderwicks more distinguished than May Amelia, which I think would be a worthy (if sort of unexciting) winner. Jefferson's Sons could certainly be on there, and No Passengers Beyond This Point, which is perhaps taking my top spot eventually. Okay For Now rates. And The Ballad of Lucy Wu… sigh. That and Drawing From Memory (not a novel) are the only eligibles I've rated five stars this year. I thought it was one of those "does what it does perfectly" books (and I do wish you would read it, Jonathan, since it seems like you're in the mood for lighter fare this year). But it WOULD seem out of place in the canon.

    Other readers might find this useful as a reference in answering Jonathan's question: the Goodreads Newbery poll. Not EVERY book we’ve discussed on here is listed, because not all of those books have much support (oddly, NONE of the true non-fiction is on there yet, except one I’m about to add), but most of the novels are there.

    Here’s hoping I formatted all my HTML correctly. Apologies if I didn’t.

  2. Wendy says:

    Nope, I didn’t format properly somehow. Here’s that second link with the best-of-the-decade picks. The bit near the end that looks like it’s meant to be a link isn’t.

  3. Wendy says:

    Hrmph. I missed your “last fifty winners” criterion. I think it’s kind of silly, because people are going to choose what’s “more likely to be read” for the most part anyway, and a few of the books you’ve disqualified ARE widely read. (I bet more kids today read Caddie Woodlawn than Missing May.)

    But that means I have to remove Hitty, The 21 Balloons (tragic, that), The Wheel on the School, The Witch of Blackbird Pond (you’re killing me! I’m increasingly convinced that this “last fifty years thing” is irrelevant), and Onion John. I replace them with It’s Like This, Cat, I, Juan de Pareja (see what I mean about the last fifty years?), A Year Down Yonder, A Single Shard, and–pulling teeth to get one more out–I guess The Graveyard Book.

  4. Billy says:

    Okay, I am an avid reader of Heavy Medal and to the best of my knowledge have read every post you and Nina have done the past few years. I even had the wonderful experiene of participating in the live discussion myself a few years ago (“A Drowned Maiden’s Hair” was crowned the well-deserving champ) and had a wonderful correspondance with Nina for a while thereafter (would love to hear from you Nina…drop me a note! :) ). So, I am quite possibly your biggest fan, and I always feel kind of guilty for not having/making resquisite time to comment…

    …but I’m going to jump on the bandwagon with Wendy and get a little grumpy. But please bear with me for a little bit here. It gets sunnier at the end.

    This whole exercise is inherently unfair on multiple levels. First, I don’t but into the pessimistic philosophy that ninety percent of everything is crud. I am realistic, though, and would definitely vouch to say that ninety percent of everything is foregettable or does not rise above average. But let us assume that two thousand children’s books are published every year, if only ten percent are good then we still have two hundred books. And if only one in ten of those is good enough to be a real contender for recognition, we still have twenty contenders, which we know is a smaller figure than the real committee almost certainly debates every year.

    Secondly, comparing current crops of books with your favorite great masterpieces is unrealistic, unfair to the authors who are working hard and creating great work in the medium we all love, and in general just setting yourself up for diappointment. As Wendy points out, you have to acknowledge that most years won’t produce an all-time masterpiece, and there is nothing remotely wrong with that – we are simply here to acknowledge who did the greatest of last year. Since I’m a film enthusiast, I’ve come up with a good alternative. Let’s say you asked a bunch of people to name the five best Pest Picture Academy Award winners ever. According to the American Film Institute (this is from the 100 Years Greatest list…just trying to leave my personal opinion completely out of it), your answer might be “The Godfather”, “Casablanca”, “Gone with the Wind”, “Lawrence of Arabia”, and “Schindler’s List”. So, quick, what films from last year can stand up to those? Anyone? Well, “The Social Network” was excellent and “The King’s Speech” was great in many ways as well, but…nope. Not even close. As a matter of fact, probably nothing from the last ten or fifteen years is as good as any of these, and it would be ridiculous not to acknowledge everyone who did a great job behind “The King’s Speech” because it was obviously not up to the Brits behind “Lawrence of Arabia”, because quite simply, ninety nine percent of everything ever made won’t be as good as “Lawrence of Arabia”. Similarly, comparing books to “The Westing Game” and “From the Mixed-Up Files” just is not fair, because ninety-nine percent of everything ever published won’t be anywhere near being possibly in the leauge of being as good – that is why they are all-time favorites of many people.

    Also, the reason that the award has held up almost a century later is that the commitees and criteria are really great at doing their job. I’d vouch to say that the vast majority of Newbery winners are very good books, and a majority fall into the “great” category. And the books that some consider all-time best, great, good, okay, or just not that readable will vary based on person to person, no matter how well-read, enthusiastic, and objective you are. Although I agree with Wendy on the awesomeness of “When You Reach Me” and am going to agree with both of you that “Criss Cross” was fantastic (no matter how many eye-rolling naysayers there are, Perkins more than earned that gold with each page), don’t sue me, but I personally consider “The Graveyard Book” one of the weakest in the whole canon. For me it showcased some nice writing but had too many incosnsistencies of plot and character (if you ask I can give some examples in a further comment.). And I fully support “The Higher Power of Lucky”, another book many people seem to not care for as much, and found it engaging and beautifully nuanced. And I actually consider “Walk Two Moons” in the leadership position for my favorite book of the last twenty years; it is just so moving and original in not only its use of language but in its melding of plot and creation of character that it has always been a favorite and stuck with with me. So it all depends (but it sure does me old heart some good to see a fellow “Twenty-One Balloons” aficianado…that is one of my personal favorite winners ever!). And the fifty-year rule IS really random; I guarantee you more people read and love “Island of Blue Dolphins” every year than “Kira-Kira”. Guarantee it.

    Jonathan, I love your ongoing fight for variety. And while I too am rather tired of the historical plucky heroine with the desceased parental figures, , I don’t think we should hold that against an author who rises above the cliche. But I suspect we are in agreement on this. If I do read a book with that type of story, I don’t hold it at a disadvantage, as long as it is good – that is, is the actual story itself is original and avoids cliche and I can believe in the character as a person, and the writing is rendered with skill, I am going to like, or even love, the book, just like any other genre. And I have to say I do not think an book with a sparser genre or one that toys around with form or style is at a disadvantage when it comes to evaluation skills, at least not for me. If a book is original in this manner and the idea is executed well from a literary standpoint, I give the author great points; and I see no reason why the Newbery committee would not/should not as well. I really do think that this was perhaps the major factor in “Good Masters! Sweet Ladies!” winning; when I read it for the first time I thought it deserved to be a top contender not just because of the excellent writing but because of the wonderful way in which Sclitz used different text formats, ideas, and techniques to create a truly original and one-of-a-kind reading experience.

    To conclude my long burst of virtual and metaphorical wind, I have to say that I haven’t read any of the big contenders yet this year, mostly because I usually wait for the shortlist and serious talk to come out here, because I really trust you and Nina’s opinion (and enjoy letting you do some of the work for me…more time next year…must be more prepared next year…). But what we seem to be doing this year is mostly eligibility discussions, is-it-too-old arguments, why-is-it-too-young? arguments, insisting on all-important versatility, picking apart generalities and details, criteria interpretations, and other such abstracts (which, mind you, I usually enjoy), rather than some real head-on analysis of this year’s top contenders. Far be it for me to suggest how to run things, but I really think you two are the best in the business (and I read and like a lot of blogs around and about the business) and I am really dying to hear more juicy run-downs from you, so I can really know what to read and get a picture of the state of the field. Jonathan, I understand you love “Amelia Lost” and I am really interesting in reading it soon. Howza ’bout a nice post on how that should be the winner so far…I truly would love to see it!

    Thanks for reading! Would love to hear some thoughts.

    Billy

  5. Billy says:

    Wow. That was really long. I mean me. I really must comment more often, I have too much pent-up commenting energy – can I copyright that? ‘Cause I know some people who might suffer with it besides me. In the meantime, I think I’ll just blame the really little comment boxes for making me look bad! :-)

  6. Kim Bradley says:

    I must be the only person who considers PENDERWICKS to be a poor take-off of LITTLE WOMEN.

  7. Cindy says:

    Kim- No, you’re not. I felt like the author had a list of situations that make up a “classic children’s book”, then checked each off as she was able to work it into the story!

  8. Jonathan Hunt says:

    I really don’t care whether or not you agree with my top fifteen of fifty (or thirty of ninety), whether you would include honor books, too, and I really don’t care whether I’ve read yours or you’ve read mine. My point is that each of us have a picture of what a Newbery winner should be, a picture that is informed by the very best Newbery books that we have ever read, a picture that most of us probably began developing *long* before we even looked at the criteria very closely or knew of their existence. Most of the books that we read this year will fall short of the Great Ones (whatever those may be for each of us).

    But there is a knee-jerk reaction to a book that doesn’t fit the mold–SIR GAWAIN, HEART AND SOUL, BETWEEN SHADES OF GRAY, I BROKE MY TRUNK!–that simply doesn’t exist for the middle grade novels, no matter how poorly written, and in spite of the fact that they are just as far removed from the Great Ones. If there are no Great Ones in a given year, then, fine, pick your best available novel, but don’t pick RIFLES FOR WATIE when THE CAT IN THE HAT is on the table and don’t pick IT’S LIKE THIS, CAT when WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE is on the table. Don’t ignore Sara Pennypacker because she is too young and Megan Whalen Turner because she is too old.

    Please don’t get hung up on the Sturgeon’s Law exercise. Go back to the Stevenson article–It’s why books in densely populated genres need to achieve more demonstrable excellence to stand out (yet another metatextual fiction based on fairy tales has to work hard to be more than simply more of the same)–and tell me which of the middle grade novels has achieved *demonstrable* excellence, not just I-love-this-book-so-much excellence. Which one can we point to and, from a more objective place, say this one is distinguished, this one separates from the pack? At this point, the only novel that does that for me is probably OKAY FOR NOW (in spite of its flaws). I like PENDERWICKS, but I’m not convinced it’s any better than a dozen other novels I could mention. So I continue to read the novels, and I hope to begin rereading later in the fall after the shortlist is finalized, so maybe I’ll change my tune. We’ll see.

  9. Briar says:

    A WRINKLE IN TIME, HOLES, and WALK TWO MOONS are my top three favorite books, period, not even thinking about the Newbery. If I had to pick two more, it would probably be THE WESTING GAME and THE GIVER.

  10. Briar says:

    And no, I haven’t read anything yet this year that I would put in their company. AMELIA LOST stays with me the best so far, though I have a lot of reading to do still.

  11. Jonathan Hunt says:

    On my own personal literature map, there is a Newbery constellation, but there is also an easy reader constellation. Seuss, Eastman, Lobel, and Marshall are stars in my easy reader constellation. They are the Great Ones, the ones I measure the other easy readers against. Willems belongs in that category, and I’ve gotten no argument here on that point, but I still don’t understand the dismissive comments, mentally folding up the tent, so to speak. It’s not like I was trying to enter a respectable and worthy easy reader into the Newbery conversation–I wasn’t arguing for FLY GUY or AGGIE AND BEN–no, I was arguing for one of the undeniably great easy readers. Hence, my question: Is the problem really I BROKE MY TRUNK? Is it really the criteria? Or is it that our own personal Newbery constellations do not have enough easy readers in them?

    I also have a nonfiction constellation on my literature map. Quite a few of the stars in my nonfiction constellation overlap with my Newbery constellation, too: THE VOICE THAT CHALLENGED A NATION, HITLER YOUTH, AN AMERICAN PLAGUE, CLAUDETTE COLVIN. As I’ve said before, AMELIA LOST feels like part of a set piece for me. I get that little ping of recognition that Martha talked about.

    I have other constellations, too. I know some people would like to keep their constellations segregated–young adult books in the Printz field, easy readers in the Geisel field, nonfiction books in the Sibert field, middle grade novels in the Newbery field–but I simply cannot do this if I read the Newbery criteria.

  12. Alys says:

    The main character can be either male or female . . . He (or she) must face some adversity, must struggle against himself, or someone close to him, or with some idea or stricture, to find the right form of self-expression, the best way to be human; and if along the way he can have adventures that occur against a background of sweeping events and perhaps even face a threat to his own or his family’s survival, all the better. So many Newbery books fit that mold. . .

    Maybe I’m missing something, but this is so generic that to me, it says “book with a narrative structure.” Of course it’s the Ur-Newbery, because, seriously, can you not slot just about every book with a narrative structure into this description?

    Some of this year’s discussion that are not typical middle grade novels:

    Amelia Lost: faces adversity in gender discrimination, struggles to find self-expression, faces a threat to own survival. Check, check, and check.

    Sir Gawain: faces adversity, finds the best way to be human (the character development is great!) through struggling against himself, has adventures. More checks.

    Heart and Soul: This ones doesn’t have a single protagonist, but if you look at the force of history as a whole…well, there’s lots of adversity to struggle against, there’s finding how to be human, finding self-expression, and certainly a lot of struggling against self and others, both as individuals and as a society.

    The only one that doesn’t fit neatly into this criteria is I Broke My Trunk.

    That’s not to say that there doesn’t need to be a conversation about knee-jerk reactions or that “dead mother historical fiction” isn’t overly represented, or that we need to see more non-narrative based winners (like poetry, or non-historical nonfiction). But at the same time, I think it’s a false argument to say that the award is somehow flawed based solely on the idea that most winners have a plot and character development.

  13. Jonathan Hunt says:

    Alys, in your quotation of Parravano you conveniently left out the previous sentence which was part of the description of the ur-Newbery: It’s fiction, with an older (twelve-ish) protagonist who is nevertheless not an adolescent (not preoccupied with adolescent concerns). And, of course, when you include that then none of those four books actually qualify, do they? I agree that it’s a false argument to say that the award is somehow flawed based solely on the idea that most winners have plot and character development. But who made that argument? I certainly didn’t and I see nothing from the other comments that can be construed in such a manner. Am I missing something?

  14. Jen B. says:

    I’ve only read 28 of the winners from the past 50 years, so with that caveat, I found 8 that I would consider for my top five. The Westing Game is an easy choice – read it as a kid and loved it, reread then and have reread it several times as an adult and still love it. A Wrinkle in Time and Dicey’s Song would also go in my top five because I read them as kids and they vividly stuck with me – A Wrinkle in Time I’ve reread since then, but Dicey’s Song I can’t believe some of the stuff I remember when I haven’t read it in years and years and years. I didn’t read A View from Saturday until I was an adult, but I am convinced I would have loved this as a child – it actually reminds me of The Westing Game in some ways with how the pieces all fit together by the end. For the last one, I actually think I’d pick Joyful Noise – I don’t read a lot of poetry, but when I read this I loved the sound and feel of the language in my mouth. I think I also loved it because I was reading it for Newbery week in a children’s lit class and it was so different from everything else I was reading. So there’s my top five, in no particular order:
    A Wrinkle in Time
    The Westing Game
    Dicey’s Song (not what I would have expected when starting this exercise)
    The View from Saturday
    Joyful Noise

    The three that didn’t quite make the cut were A Year Down Yonder, Holes and Maniac Magee and past that I’m not sure which seven would round out my top 15 (although there’s 3 I know for sure wouldn’t make it: Sounder, The High King and The Giver).

    Of course, I haven’t been reading with the Newbery criteria in mind until quite recently, so these are much more of a personal top 5 rather than a critical top 5. I tried judging critically based on my memories of reading these and decided I was not succeeding rather monumentally. So I just went with what felt best in my mind since it is just an exercise to get us thinking. I haven’t read Good Masters, Sweet Ladies or Lincoln (leaving me at two for four of the non-novel winners) so I am definitely curious if reading those would change my list.

  15. Jen B. says:

    I forgot to compare to what I’ve read for this year (which is not much unfortunately) and of what I’ve read that could stack up to these I’d say Okay for Now, Chime (but the themes do feel YA to me), Amelia Lost.
    If honors were included, Frog and Toad would easily make my top 5 and I do think Willems stands up to these as belonging in the cream of the crop category. Of the three Elephant and Piggies published this year, I found Happy Pig Day to be the best overall, but I’d have to go back and look at it for just the text to see if the text alone is the best of the three. Should I Share My Ice Cream? fell a little flat for me, so I’d probably champion one of the others, but Elephant and Piggie definitely fit in with my top 5 in my mind.
    Picture book wise I really enjoyed The Queen of France by Tim Wadham, but have no idea if he’s eligible and didn’t read the text with the Newbery in mind. I’ll have to see if I can grab it to reread and see if I could see it with my top 5.
    Must read more contenders!

  16. Mr. H says:

    Wow, first of all, I just realized in counting that I’ve only read 23 of the 90 winners (is that right?). Of those, 20 have been won in the last 50 years. Going by that, to answer the “original” question . . .

    1. The Westing Game (study this in school every year as a novel unit with my 5th graders and it only gets better and better and better)

    2. Holes (read in college and totally turned me on to the world of children’s literature)

    3. From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler (only found this a few years ago, but ranks as one of my favorites)

    4. When You Reach Me

    5. Maniac Magee (I would only include this for nostalgia purposes, I remember reading this multiple times as a youngin’ and always listing it as my favorite book – sure, now as an adult, I agree with some of the complaints Wendy mentions in her blog, but don’t find them to be as “serious” as she does – it’s still great in my opinion)

    If I removed Maniac Magee I think I would add 5a. Dear Mr. Henshaw and 5b. Walk Two Moons (do NOT agree with Wendy on this one!)

    Rounding out Jonathan’s original question, there are TWO books this year that I have read that I can totally see falling on my list someday (and even fitting in today) . . .

    OKAY FOR NOW and
    THE TROUBLE WITH MAY AMELIA

    However, THE TROUBLE WITH MAY AMELIA may be due to my fondness of TURTLE IN PARADISE which I really thought belonged on MY list last year!

  17. Wendy says:

    “But there is a knee-jerk reaction to a book that doesn’t fit the mold…that simply doesn’t exist for the middle grade novels, no matter how poorly written”

    I think there’s absolutely a knee-jerk reaction against middle-grade novels that are truly badly written. I wouldn’t call a single one of the novels we’ve discussed badly written. And some of the ones I think are mediocre at best are ones other people think are well-written. Say, Junonia. When people are championing novels that you think are mediocre, they aren’t thinking “This is poorly written but I’m going to talk about how great it is anyway”–it’s a difference of opinion, right?

    The difference in my mind is that people sometimes knee-jerk against what you’re grouping as the out-of-the-box books without even having read them, and if they do read them, approach them with that belief. Okay, I can see your point.

    (I don’t actually think Between Shades of Gray is that far outside the canon, but then, I also don’t think people are knee-jerking. It’s getting some good discussion.)

    There’s a point where there’s nothing more one can explain or detail about why a book is distinguished. You can quote a passage and say “isn’t this great sentence-level writing?” and (I have noticed in previous years) my response is nothing but a puzzled “No”. And that works both ways–you can say “You really think that’s the best writing of the year?” and at some point all I have left to say is “Yes.”

    Kim, I think most people who have read much classic children’s literature acknowledge that about the Penderwicks, and actually, I think that’s what the author was more-or-less intending. I think there’s much more of Elizabeth Enright and Edward Eager in there; looking at it from a “modern retelling of Little Women” angle actually makes it more interesting to me. But that that was the intent doesn’t lessen the effect Cindy talks about, and I was lukewarm on the first and second books. I think the third book is the best of the three, because the writing and characters have come into their own much more and it feels like less of a take-off. Have you read it?

  18. Mr. H says:

    Having said that, I’m really confused as to what the meaning of this post even is. It seems to go against everything you’ve ever said on this site. You’ve always said, hammered home even, that we have to argue books against books, within a given year, and match them up to the criteria. Now you’re saying we can’t possibly do that?

    Or are you merely giving us a frame of reference when deciding on our own personal choice for the Newbery Medal? It feels like much more than that though . . .

    And your RIFLES FOR WAITE/THE CAT IN THE HAT and IT’S LIKE THIS CAT/WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE argument seems like an awfully bad case of “Monday morning quarterback”. No one has a crystal ball. You have no idea what is going to stand the test of time. You may have ideas, but you don’t KNOW. No one here was on the Newbery Committee in 1958 either. We have no idea if THE CAT IN THE HAT was on the table. Maybe it was and the committee couldn’t come to an agreement on it’s “distinguished” qualities at that time. I feel like this discussion has already been had on this site.

    It feels like you are wanting us to replace RIFLES FOR WAITE with OKAY FOR NOW, and THE CAT IN THE HAT with I BROKE MY TRUNK and modernize this debate. You cannot possibly do that in the context with which you’ve set up. You have to argue OKAY FOR NOW against I BROKE MY TRUNK in the “here and now”. You cannot possibly look ahead and predict how well either will hold up. What if Mo Willems releases a dozen more ELEPHANT AND PIGGIE books and in 5 years, I BROKE MY TRUNK doesn’t even stand up in your own personal canon of ELEPHANT AND PIGGIE books? What if you award I BROKE MY TRUNK a Newbery Medal and Mo Willems goes on to release a dozen more ELEPHANT AND PIGGIE books that are all better than I BROKE MY TRUNK, and I BROKE MY TRUNK doesn’t even end up being “the book” that everyone thinks of when they think of the series? That’s why I thought you HAVE TO argue for the here and now. You can’t talk about something like future timelessness of a book. You can’t possibly form an argument around that when debating Newbery titles for this year. And I don’t think YOU ever have, but maybe I’m generalizing things you’ve said with things I’ve picked up in the comments here over the years. It all gets blurry.

    I really can honestly say, that when I read up on this year’s books to maybe contribute on this site and follow along with the discussion, I never compare them to the books on my all-time top 5, or 10, or 25. Never. I compare them to each other. I love I BROKE MY TRUNK. I have purchased SEVEN Elephant and Piggie titles for my daughter since you started the discussion Jonathan. Just so you know that I do LOVE the book. But if I’m comparing how “distinguished” the characterization of Elephant and Piggie is for a 4-5 year old reader to how “distinguished” the characterization is of Doug for a 12 year old reader, seriously, I have to side with Doug. And it has nothing to do with I BROKE MY TRUNK not fitting into my own personal canon of “What a Newbery Should Be.” It’s that I truly think Doug’s characterization is more “distinguished” for it’s age range than Elephant and Piggie’s is for its age range.

    This whole post is very interesting, but really confusing to me. It’s almost as if you didn’t sway enough people on I BROKE MY TRUNK, and this is your attempt at stomping your feet. Or like I said earlier, are you merely trying to give us a frame of reference when deciding on our own personal “contenders” each year (comparing them to our all-time favs) and I’m just making more out of it than I need to?

  19. Mark Flowers says:

    I’m just going to go with my top five

    1) WESTING GAME – cannot agree more with Jonathan that this is THE Newbery title.
    2) THE HIGH KING
    3) MRS FRISBY
    4) HOLES
    5) BUD, NOT BUDDY

    What can stand with these five from this year? Realistically, probably nothing. Possibly the PENDERWICKS. I think I could see OKAY FOR NOW edging in my top 20 or so. (Wow – it appears my tastes overlap significantly with Jonathan’s)

    But, you ask “why lobby for respectable and worthy rather than undeniable greatness?” and I answer: well, there can’t be a WESTING GAME every year. It only came out once. Also, I don’t think anyone wants to argue for “respectable” rather than “great” but sometimes we don’t know how great a book is going to be until years later. We try to find the best book of the year, and sometimes it turns out to have staying power, and sometimes it doesn’t. Doesn’t mean we don’t try.

  20. Regarding bad writing, one thing I’ve noticed about Newbery winners is that the most memorable books are frequently not the best written. The actual writing style of The Giver, Mrs. Frisby…, The Mixed of Files…, or Number the Stars, actually leaves something to be desired. I suppose it isn’t bad, per se, but it just can’t compare to the beautiful prose of The Graveyard Book or The Higher Power of Lucky.

    However, I think most people would agree that The Giver is simply a better and more memorable novel than The Graveyard Book. The lesson here is that story is more important than writing style in determining what books are great.

  21. Wendy says:

    …floored by these examples of “not the best written”. This is, again, a difference of opinion (and I’m pretty sure a minority opinion!). But then, I dislike “beautiful writing”.

  22. Jonathan Hunt says:

    Mr. H, you’ve got a very formidable top five, one that I think it will be difficult for any novel to crack. Interestingly, both of your books from this year are sequels of previous Newbery Honor books, and in formal Newbery discussions we would never compare the two, but since, for this exercise, we are trying to determine which books from this year would fit in our Newbery constellation (i.e. all-time great Newbery books), then I’m going to ask you how you think they each compare to their predecessors. Personally, I find THE WEDNESDAY WARS to be the better book. Not sure about OUR ONLY MAY AMELIA, however; it’s been too long since I’ve read it. I do think both OKAY FOR NOW and THE TROUBLE WITH MAY AMELIA are among the strongest books of the year, and worthy of Newbery consideration–and recognition–but I don’t think either one compares favorably with your top five (I think you could build a solid case for OKAY FOR NOW in the top third, however). My two cents, for what it’s worth.

    Wendy, I absolutely think there is a higher tolerance in Newbery discussion for average and mediocre books, if not poorly written, especially when it comes to middle grade fiction. Look at Nina’s Rotten Tomato post which mentioned LIESL & PO, BREADCRUMBS, and THE MOSTLY TRUE STORY OF JACK. Each of these are respectable and worthy; none of them are undeniably great. But what if I wanted to talk about respectable and worthy easy readers? Or respectable and worthy nonfiction? Yes, I’ve made a point to go out of my way to talk about nonfiction, some of which are just as respectable and worthy as the novels I’m complaining about. But each of those nonfiction books has lots of critical praise; I didn’t start pulling rabbits out of the hat. I’m only bringing the best of the best of these underlooked genres, not the stuff that’s merely average. So why can’t we plainly see that many of the middle grade novels, as “good” as they are, simply don’t measure up to the Newbery greatness that we all want to see recognized?

  23. Wendy says:

    Well, okay, it was the “poorly written” that got to me. If you’re stepping away from that, fine. I think more people have read the novels and it’s easier to get under their spell, simple as that. But “So why can’t we plainly see that many of the middle grade novels, as “good” as they are, simply don’t measure up to the Newbery greatness that we all want to see recognized?”–I think we do. This site wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for people talking back and forth about which books are good and which aren’t good enough. Why do you think we don’t? Or are you suggesting that more of the novels should be dismissed out of hand?

  24. Mr. H says:

    The problem I’m having with this year, is that I like OKAY FOR NOW and THE TROUBLE WITH MAY AMELIA so much, that nothing else I’m reading can quite compare. I’m having trouble building a top 3 or top 5, because I only have these two I really really love.

    I finished A MONSTER CALLS and while it was a really well written book, I’m just not seeing child appeal. Not at all. (I know that’s not in the criteria!)

    For some reason, HIDDEN is sticking with me. I’m almost finished reading PIE by Sarah Weeks and I really like that, much more than some others I’ve tried.

    I wish I could find a third title to align with OKAY FOR NOW and THE TROUBLE WITH MAY AMELIA, a third title that kind of comes from nowhere, but I’m not finding anything to come close.

  25. Mr. H says:

    And interestingly enough, I have not read THE WEDNESDAY WARS and OUR ONLY MAY AMELIA. Argh!

    THE WEDNESDAY WARS is going to be the first book I crack into when award season is over!

  26. Jonathan Hunt says:

    I’m trying to catch up to this discussion in between classes and during breaks. I think Mr. H’s second reponse had already been posted before I got my first one up . . .

    My intention is not to argue for I BROKE MY TRUNK! I think I did that (quite successfully, I might add) in two previous posts. Rather, I noticed that each of the four previous books that we had discussed (BETWEEN SHADES OF GRAY, I BROKE MY TRUNK!, SIR GAWAIN THE TRUE, and HEART AND SOUL) seemed to have people that couldn’t “see it” (as Nina mentioned) as a Newbery book.

    This post, then, represented an attempt to define how our perceptions of what we read in the present is shaped by what we have read in the past, and I lead with Stevenson and Parravano because I agree with them. I do evaluate books on multiple levels for various types of goodness–and I do re-orient my definition of goodness based on what I have read. And I do make snap judgments about Newbery worthiness. I have a sense of this even before I really sit down to think about it in terms of the criteria. I have those little pings of recognition that Martha described–and they aren’t based on the criteria as much as an innate inner sense that has been refined by reading not only books in the Newbery canon, but reading everything. So I *always* do the “illegal” comparisons. I just don’t bring them up around the Newbery table. :-)

  27. Using the excellent criterion of “the ones that I like best” I’ll put in my top 5:
    WHEN YOU REACH ME, HOLES, THE VIEW FROM SATURDAY, THE WESTING GAME, and ROLL OF THUNDER, HEAR MY CRY. (It’s interesting to see the side discussion about TWG as the top Newbery of all time; in the UK, TOM’S MIDNIGHT GARDEN was picked as the Carnegie of Carnegies. I’m reading it now and trying to piece together what that designation means. There is something extremely subtle in its construction and the narrator gets to the heart of Tom’s concerns with such perceptive simplicity; I’d say that those are undoubtedly distinguished things, but the reasons that we all (or so many of us)love TWG are completely different–it’s bold and clever and brilliant in a different way.)

    It’s impossible (for me) to predict how well one of this year’s books would stand against my top 5 in part because I already know that every book in my top 5 has been chosen as the most distinguished book of its year, and because I read each of these as an adult, I’m carrying some of the weightiness of that medal around as I read. Since we’re talking about gut reaction here as well as official criteria, I have to wonder if part of my reaction to OFN is that I already know that the author has won several awards, and I’ve enjoyed his past books, so I’m primed to receive this book well.

    I love the idea of the reading constellation, and the sense that we will never ever truly finish learning how to read.

  28. Mr. H says:

    Jonathan, I’m doing the exact same thing! Lunch break . . . PM break . . . now back to writing class!

    I guess I see what you’re talking about and now my initial reaction looks awfully “knee jerk”ish in a way!

  29. Kim Bradley says:

    I’ve not read either the second or third Penderwicks novel. I really disliked the first enough not to bother. My daughter read the second, and enjoyed it, but it’s not something she rereads, and now (she’s now 13) she’s not interested in the third. (But that may be due to the third not having any dragons–she’s hit the Tolkien age!)

  30. Ronnie says:

    I don’t Sturgeon’s law leads to a statement that 90% of Newbery books are crap. He’s talking about much broader artistic categories. Saying 90% of Newbery winners are a level below the cream of the crop is accurate, but I don’t think Pavaronno’s “worthy” = “crap” at all. Are others in agreement that the Newbery books we least admire are really bad books?

    So if it’s true that Newbery Winners tend to have similar qualities, are there also a qualities that many “Extra Special Newbery Winners” share? Based on what’s been posted I think there might be: Multiple viewpoints (Westing Game which everyone loves, Criss Cross which is generally unpopular but gets support in this discussion, View from Saturday); Non-linear narrative (When You Reach Me, Criss Cross, Walk Two Moons), Unconventional style (Westing Game, When You Reach Me, Walk Two Moons, Holes, Mixed Up Files).

  31. samuel says:

    Great discussions….I like this kind of analysis.
    I have read all the Newbery winnes and my personal top 15 in order are….

    1. the westing game
    2. the giver
    3.the bronze bow
    4. the view from saturday
    5. out of the dust
    6. a wrinkle in time
    7. I,juan de pareja
    8. when you reach me
    9. holes
    10. a gathering of days
    11. the high king
    12. bud not buddy
    13. number the stars
    14. from the mixed up files of basil e. frankweiler
    15. maniac magee

    Actually, out of the last 50 winners, I find that I do not personally like 20 of them….so I guess only 40% of those are crap to me.

    Thanks for suggesting this, Jonathan.

    And I see Okay for now and Sparrow Road as the only books this year coming close to feeling at home with my top 15.

    Thanks for letting me share.

  32. samuel says:

    My daughter just told me there is no such thing as winnes—-I meant winners—-…..

    sorry…..long day teaching.

  33. Brandy says:

    I’m loving everything about this post (which I agree with) and the comments (which made me rethink my position-I still agree).

    I have read 30 of the past 50 winners and could narrow it down to a Top 4 (couldn’t decide who would get the fifth spot):
    A Wrinkle in Time
    The Westing Game
    Walk Two Moons
    Holes

    Included in those 50 winners is also a book that makes my list of “Books I Detest So Much I Nearly Threw It At a Wall”. I would have if it hadn’t been a library book.

  34. Eric Carpenter says:

    This is fun. I’ve read all but three medal winners (but all of last 50 yrs) and there are only a few i dislike (Bronze Bow).
    My top 15 (books I loved reading and enjoy rereading even more) is something like this:

    1. Westing Game
    2. Mixed Up Files…
    3. When You Reach Me
    4. View From Saturday
    5. Holes
    6. Carry on, Mr. Bowditch
    7. Dear Mr. Henshaw
    8. Onion John
    9. Jacob Have I Loved
    10. Dark Frigate
    11. Maniac Magee
    12. The High King
    13. Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH
    14. The Grey King
    15. The Story of Mankind

    When I first read OKAY FOR NOW my initial reaction was that I had just read one of my new favorite newbery medal winners. After three subsequent readings I place it at number four on this list.

  35. Nina Lindsay says:

    Westing Game
    graveyard book
    good masters sweet ladies
    visit to William blames inn
    grey king
    mrs frisby
    holes
    when you reach me….

    but I’m not going to play part 2, at least tonight. I’m a little behind folks, with this particular week in Oakland. But I will say:

    Hi Billy!

    This illegal comparison game is one that’s often played at award committee orientations. It’s actually a very useful way to start, for all the reasons in the Stevenson article. It grounds you…and also outs your personal favorites.

    If you haven’t caught on yet, Jonathan and I are manipulating you as we try to wrestle out our shortlist. So, patience! We dotake your input seriously (mr h, my reply to your comment on the previious post.). Different tools are useful for different takes. The Goodreads poll is handy to get a sense of the general din, but at some point it is just din. it’s also important to remember that even what we’re talking about here doesn’t really compare with what the committee is considering. They’re shutting out the din, or at least filtering it…. which allows them a clearer context for measuring those books against each other.

  36. Jonathan Hunt says:

    Yes, I remember having dinner with my Newbery colleagues the evening before our first official meeting and we had these conversations about the Newbery canon (favorite Medal books, favorite Honor books, what should have won, etc). It’s a nice way to get in touch with people’s tastes without discussing the books which, of course, everyone is dying to do.

    Mr. H, you said something about I BROKE MY TRUNK above, but I want to move the discussion to that thread so I’ll quote you and respond there . . .

  37. Genevieve says:

    The top five in my Newbery constellation of greatness, in order (though 4 and 5 are probably tied):

    A Wrinkle in Time
    The Westing Game
    When You Reach Me
    Bridge to Terabithia
    From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler

    I read four of my top five as a child, and re-read them as an adult — both my childhood self and my adult self found them great.

    The rest of my top fifteen, more or less in order:

    Holes
    Bud, Not Buddy
    The Giver
    Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry
    Good Masters! Sweet Ladies!
    The Hero and the Crown
    Number the Stars
    The View From Saturday
    The Higher Power of Lucky
    Maniac Magee

    Of these, the only ones I read as a child were Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry and The Hero and The Crown.

    The books I read this year that fit into this constellation for me are Okay for Now (which I thought was Newbery quality as I read it, and immediately began to re-read it, unwilling to leave it behind so soon), I Broke My Trunk (which fits into my Frog and Toad Newbery Honor constellation easily), The Penderwicks at Point Mouette, and The Grand Plan to Fix Everything, which I’m re-reading now. Amelia Lost did not impress me as much as it did the rest of you (I did not love it like Marching For Freedom and Claudette Colvin, or like it as much as The Lincolns), but I certainly see it fitting into the Newbery order even though it’s not my pick. I think I didn’t like Amelia as a person while reading it, but that probably makes it a better book since it shows the person beneath the legend quiet well.

    I need to read Drawing From Memory and keep reading No Passengers Beyond This Point to see if I would add either of them.

  38. Genevieve says:

    I just put Drawing from Memory, Sir Gawain the True, Heart and Soul, and Jefferson’s Sons on hold.
    I do have a strong constellation of easy readers from the past for comparison to I Broke My Trunk, but if I were to read any other strong easy readers from this year, what would they be?
    I’m also have Toys Come Home by Emily Jenkins waiting at the library — Toys Go Out was such an excellent book that this one could end up in my Newbery grouping. (As an early chapter book, I guess I would compare it Sir Gawain, and what would it compare to historically from the Newbery canon? I don’t think the comparison chart would be Litt House and Ramona — more like the early chapter book non-Newbery canon, which for me would include Clementine, My Father’s Dragon, and the first Alvin Ho book.)

  39. Jonathan Hunt says:

    Newbery chapter books might also include SARAH, PLAIN AND TALL; THE WHIPPING BOY; and 26 FAIRMOUNT AVENUE.

    As for good easy readers from this year, they are hard to identify because so few of them get starred reviews. Elephant & Piggie always gets great reviews, but not many starred reviews. Some of that has to do with quality in the genre, some of it also has to do with series. My recommendation would be to track down trusted authors and/or series, so I haven’t read any of these, but–

    AGGIE GETS LOST by Lori Ries
    BENJAMIN BEAR IN FUZZY THINKING by Philippe Courdray (Toon)
    FLY GUY VS. THE FLYSWATTER by Tedd Arnold
    FROG AND FRIENDS by Eve Bunting
    BEST IN SHOW by David Catrow
    MR. PUTTER AND TABBY RING THE BELL by Cynthia Rylant
    THE LION AND THE MICE by Ed and Rebecca Emberley
    BUTTERFLIES by Nic Bishop (an adaptation?)
    NINA IN THAT MAKES ME MAD by Hilary Knight (Toon)

  40. Peter says:

    I’m still trying to figure out why BETWEEN SHADES OF GRAY is considered an “outside the box” choice. To me it seems like a quintessential Honor Book from the seventies or eighties when three similar “girl refugee” titles were cited: THE UPSTAIRS ROOM, THE ROAD HOME and UPON THE HEAD OF A GOAT. Then NUMBER THE STARS won in 1990. All these books seemed to cast a long shadow on Mock Newberys, as it seems like every year a Holocaust memoir, or an historical novel of a young person facing the horrors of war or diplaced by war appears on these lists. (Even INSDE OUT & BACK AGAIN kind of falls in that category.)

    I did read BETWEEN SHADES OF GRAY but maybe I’m not understanding something about this book that makes you group it with SIR GAWAIN THE TRUE, HEART AND SOUL, and I BROKE MY TRUNK! — which really do seem much more untraditional than BETWEEN SHADES OF GRAY as Newbery contenders.

  41. Peter says:

    Correcting the above title before someone else does: David Kherdian’s book was called THE ROAD FROM HOME.

  42. Jonathan Hunt says:

    Peter, I personally don’t see *any* of them as outside the Newbery box, but if you read the comments in BETWEEN SHADES OF GRAY, you’ll see that your co-author very much does–and quite a few people agree with her. Clearly, if one’s Newbery constellation includes the books you mention, then it doesn’t seem outside the box at all–or, at least, less so.

  43. Sondy says:

    Genevieve, thanks for finally mentioning my favorite Newbery: The Hero and the Crown. A Wrinkle in Time is close behind. Or maybe Witch of Blackbird Pond. To round out the top five, let’s add Jacob Have I Loved and The High King.

    But if you count honors, one of my all-time favorite books (if not THE favorite) is The Blue Sword. The first book I ever sat down and read all over again the moment I finished it.

    However, I have no illusions that anyone else shares my opinion! I like the way the Newbery committee attempts to make something subjective as objective as it can, trying to look at elements that go into making a book “distinguished.”

    And no, I don’t think that 90% of Newbery Medal books are crap. VERY loose use of Statistics, Jonathan! Suppose each year’s books are laid out by quality on a bell curve. That’s a fairly reasonable hypothesis. Then if you take books from the top of the curve each year, will the resulting distribution also be a bell curve? I think it would “normally” be skewed.

    But I admit it makes for an interesting exercise.

  44. Blakeney says:

    I am sorry that I cannot read every message before responding. Sorry if I repeat. I would like to point out that the year It’s Like This, Cat won the Newbery (1964) is the same year that Where the Wild Things Are won the Caldecott. In those days, there was one committee for the two awards. I don’t know what the guidelines were then, but it is not as if they did not recognize Where the Wild Things Are. I find this whole discussion just another tactic to pressure committees to recognize books other than novels. I don’t have a problem with their recognition when warranted, but I feel the hammering away at the point on this blog pushes committees to be sure to have a nonfiction or easy reader title on their list. Let’s let the most distinguished books speak for themselves and steer clear of quota systems.

  45. Jess says:

    Sondy, you’re not alone! I don’t know if The Hero and the Crown would make my top five Newberys, but The Blue Sword would be at the top of the list of my favorite honors (as well as towards the top of my list of favorite books in general).

    My top five might include:
    The Giver
    From the Mixed-Up Files
    Bridge to Terabithia
    A Wrinkle in Time
    and the fifth title would be a tie between several others – Despereaux, A Year Down Yonder, The High King, The Hero and the Crown, Out of the Dust, and Holes.

    I’m sure the list would change if I reread the whole canon as an adult. The first four on my list are ones I read for the first time as a child and have since reread as an adult. The fact that I loved them both then and now is what makes them ‘cream of the crop’ for me.

  46. Genevieve says:

    I’ve now read a few of the easy reader books that Jonathan suggested as comparison for I BROKE MY TRUNK — I read Nina in That Makes Me Mad, Benjamin Bear in Fuzzy Thinking, and a couple others. I found that the text of I Broke My Trunk was head and shoulders above the others, which were perfectly fine easy readers but not especially distinguished in their text (in delineation of characters, plot development, theme, etc.). Having read these comparison books, I am perfectly happy to keep supporting I Broke My Trunk as one of the most distinguished contributions to children’s literature this year.

    I also read some chapter books, including Sir Gawain, which I did think was a strong book. However, the chapter book that struck me as most distinguished and that has stayed with me the most was TOYS COME HOME, by Emily Jenkins. There’s a very perceptive review of it here, that articulates why it is distinguished: http://sharingsoda.blogspot.com/2011/10/review-toys-come-home-by-emily-jenkins.html The reviewer says “Each word is chosen so carefully, to convey exactly the thought or emotion the character experiences. From the first moment of the story, when Stingray first becomes aware that she is sentient, and that she has found a new home, the reader is just immersed in this gorgeous stream of consciousness that conveys exactly what it would be like if toys had feelings. And the toys in this book have many feelings – joy, sorrow, grief, loneliness, uncertainty, fear, bravery, love. They question their existence and speculate about the girl’s feelings for them. They watch out for one another, and over time, grow from uncertain newcomers into leaders. “

  47. Jonathan Hunt says:

    You know, I still haven’t looked at TOYS COME HOME. Will have to put it on hold. In any case, we have several chapter books that have gotten some buzz here: CLEMENTINE, ALVIN HO, TOYS COME HOME, THE TROUBLE WITH CHICEKNS, and SIR GAWAIN THE TRUE. Will be interesting to see if any of these can break through to Newbery recognition . . .

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