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Heavy Medal: A Mock Newbery Blog
Inside Heavy Medal

What Are We Missing?

Last night, INSIDE OUT & BACK AGAIN by Thanhha Lai won the National Book Award.  I was leery of predicting a winner after anointing ONE CRAZY SUMMER last year, but privately I thought it was a 50/50 chance between OKAY FOR NOW and CHIME, but–surprise!–the National Book Award never goes where I think it will.  We were decidedly lukewarm about INSIDE OUT & BACK AGAIN when we discussed it earlier.  Should we take a second look at it?

I do have one final point I’d like to make about JEFFERSON’S SONS, but I’m going to take a breather and come back to it later.  Hopefully, people will catch up on their reading and continue to weigh in with opinions, both good and bad.  I had actually meant to follow the shortlist with this post since it’s a logical and natural progression, but people did seem anxious to discuss JEFFERSON’S SONS.

We’re virtually at the halfway point of Heavy Medal season.  We’ve been blogging for just over two months now with just over two months to go until the announcement.  We’ve been able to feature quite a few books here during that time, and many more have been discussed in the comments.  I know that it can be frustrating to wait and wait and wait for us–oftentimes in vain–to feature your favorite book.

Lately, I’ve noticed people squeezing suggestions into various threads, but here’s a central location for all of them.  Here’s your chance to pitch your favorite book to us.  Tell us what we’re missing–and, more importantly, tell us why it’s a Newbery book.  As Wendy has mentioned before, it does occasionally resemble an echo chamber here, and now that we’ve announced our shortlist, it’s likely to become even more so.

It hardly seems fair to focus on a small handful of books when so many other worthy books get barely a passing mention here and there in the comments–if at all.  But the same thing happens in Newbery discussion: some books get five to ten minutes in discussion while others command thirty to forty five.

We will try to maintain a dual focus from here on out: uncovering new books and honing in on the top contenders (regardless of whether they actually made our shortlist).  Incidentally, the Newbery committee will be doing the same thing as they focus on their nominated books while trying to find that undiscovered gem.  Here’s a list of books we’ve already featured . . .

CHIME by Franny Billingsley

THE PENDERWICKS AT POINT MOUETTE by Jeanne Birdsall

BOOTLEG by Karen Blumenthal

JEFFERSON’S SONS by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

THE MONEY WE’LL SAVE by Brock Cole

THE CHESHIRE CHEESE CAT by Carmen Agra Deedy and Randall Wright

SIDEKICKS by Jack Ferraiolo

AMELIA LOST by Candace Fleming

DEAD END IN NORVELT by Jack Gantos

JUNONIA by Kevin Henkes

BABYMOUSE: MAD SCIENTIST by Jennifer Holm

THE TROUBLE WITH MAY AMELIA by Jennifer Holm

A VERY BABYMOUSE CHRISTMAS by Jennifer Holm

TOYS COME HOME by Emily Jenkins

THE GRAND PLAN TO FIX EVERYTHING by Uma Krishnaswami

INSIDE OUT & BACK AGAIN by Thanhha Lai

ALVIN HO: ALLERGIC TO DEAD BODIES, FUNERALS, AND OTHER FATAL CIRCUMSTANCES by Lenore Look

BLESS THIS MOUSE by Lois Lowry

FLESH & BLOOD SO CHEAP by Albert Marrin

THE MANY FACES OF GEORGE WASHINGTON by Carla Killough McClafferty

NEVER FORGOTTEN by Patricia McKissack

THE ADVENTURES OF SIR GAWAIN THE TRUE by Gerald Morris

HEART AND SOUL by Kadir Nelson

A MONSTER CALLS by Patrick Ness

AKATA WITCH by Nnedi Okorafor

SECRETS AT SEA by Richard Peck

CLEMENTINE AND THE FAMILY MEETING by Sara Pennypacker

THE QUEEN OF WATER by Laura Resau and Maria Virginia Farinango

MUSIC WAS IT by Susan Goldman Rubin

DRAWING FROM MEMORY by Allen Say

BLUEFISH by Pat Schmatz

OKAY FOR NOW by Gary Schmidt

WONDERSTRUCK by Brian Selznick

BETWEEN SHADES OF GRAY by Ruth Sepetys

THE BERLIN BOXING CLUB by Robert Sharenow

SWIRL BY SWIRL by Joyce Sidman

MO WREN, LOST AND FOUND by Tricia Springstubb

BLOODY TIMES by James Swanson

THE GIRL WHO CIRCUMNAVIGATED FAIRYLAND IN A SHIP OF HER OWN MAKING by Catherynne Valente

QUEEN OF THE FALLS by Chris Van Allsburg

ISLAND’S END by Padma Venkatraman

YOUNG FREDLE by Cynthia Voigt

BLIZZARD OF GLASS by Sally Walker

CHARLES DICKENS AND THE STREET CHILDREN OF LONDON by Andrea Warren

PIE by Sarah Weeks

HAPPY PIG DAY! by Mo Willems

I BROKE MY TRUNK! by Mo Willems

SHOULD I SHARE MY ICE CREAM? by Mo Willems

share save 171 16 What Are We Missing?
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:

    Some of these I’d love to see get more time (I actually did make some notes on Drawing From Memory, and I don’t think we’ve even begun to explore the possibilities in Akata Witch).

    Great Wall of Lucy Wu (excellent characterization of kids that feel both real and unique; development of a plot and theme that ought to be tired, the elderly relative coming to live with the family, the kid who doesn’t want to go to Chinese school)

    No Passengers Beyond This Point (every aspect, I swear)

    One Day and One Amazing Morning on Orange Street (an intriguing little book I just finished that manages to squeeze a lot of characters and plot threads into very little space, without actually seeming crowded, and it definitely has a superb sense of setting; this is for the age group somewhere between Clementine and May Amelia. I think the writing style in this book is great; the author manages to use words normal kids use, like poop and fart, without making me uncomfortable [was not a normal kid] and without seeming like she’s trying too hard to fit in with Kids Today. Also, she has this clever way of writing a paragraph that starts to seem like a cliche and then throwing in a joke that makes it real and funny instead.)

    Here, I’ll even quote the first paragraph, which is a good example. “It was a hot summer day on Orange Street, one of those days that seem ordinary until you look back on it. Lawn sprinklers sparkled, mourning doves cooed, and the sky was an amazing blue, as it always was in LA. Even at eight AM, the sun looked like a giant egg yolk. In fact, a few parents made a joke about the sidewalk being hot enough to fry an egg on by noontime. One grumpy kid wondered aloud why anyone would be dumb enough to do that.”

    That sets up the tone of the book: it seems like it might end up being all “beautiful writing” and “figurative language”, but then you’re regrounded in normal life. This points up, too, that while there are parents in the book, it’s very much kid-focused–with the exception of one elderly lady, and a secondary character of a hip male nanny, played in my imaginary movie by Corbin Bleu.

    The book reminds me–in this respect but no other–of The Westing Game, in its effective use of an ensemble cast and multiple sets.

  2. Mr. H says:

    Wendy, about NO PASSENGERS BEYOND THIS POINT . . .

    My kids voted it over THE TROUBLE WITH MAY AMELIA and BREADCRUMBS as our next read aloud. We are over half way done, and really really struggling.

    The kids are confused and literally the only reason they want me to read on is so we can finish it and see what the heck is going on.

    Is the payoff worth it?

    I would love to discuss this one though, to maybe help me see what I’m missing. It’s intriguing, it’s just so darn confusing.

  3. Eric Carpenter says:

    BIGGER THAN A BREAD BOX. Laurel Snyder
    This one’s got a lot of traditional newbery appeal.
    –Female protagonist dealing with divorce/seperation.
    –New girl in town making new friends, missing old friends.
    –realistic contempory setting.
    Plus there is a fantastic ‘Eagerian’ magical device.

    I think the interesting blend of realism and fantastic really sets this story apart. Instead of bogging down the narrative trying to explain the magic (as seen in SMALL PERSONS WITH WINGS) Snyder allows the magic to just be and allows the rules of the magic to reveal themselves slowly as an intergal part of the narrative.
    These characters and the setting all seemed incredibly realistic AND believable; I think the magical elements juxtaposed with these very true characters creates something quite unique and more importantly quite enjoyable.

  4. Genevieve says:

    I actually thought INSIDE OUT AND BACK AGAIN was quite good, though it’s been a long time now since I’ve read it so I don’t have too many specifics. I remember feeling that it set the scene well (in Saigon particularly) and I liked how it dealt with Ha’s struggles in school where she clearly knew that she was very smart and capable but couldn’t communicate that to the teacher (who wasn’t taking the trouble to see that). I’ve seen that school story before from a third-person perspective and from the teacher’s perspective, but I don’t remember reading it from the student’s perspective (though it may well have been done). The verse form worked for me.

    Mr. H., the reveal in NO PASSENGERS freaked me out and made me dislike the book (which I had been enjoying), but that may be because I come to it with adult memories/emotions — the students may not have the same reaction and maybe they’ll think it’s cool. It was well crafted, and I did like the conflicts on the way to the resolution and liked the characters very much – I just can’t see myself ever wanting to reread it.

    I thought LUCY WU and BIGGER THAN A BREAD BOX were both excellent books that I’d recommend to kids, and I’d like to see them discussed, though GRAND PLAN TO FIX EVERYTHING and PENDERWICKS would be my top choices for that age range. Really liked the Eager-inspired magic device in BREAD BOX, including learning the rules of the magic, trying to thwart it and being thwarted by it, just as discussed in HALF MAGIC.

  5. Mr. H says:

    I know it’s on your list above, but I don’t feel like it was ever really discussed, just casually thrown out there in one of Nina’s posts:

    PIE by Sarah Weeks.

    - female protagonist dealing with the death of her beloved aunt
    - great cast of supporting characters
    - complex relationship between mother and daughter (mother wasn’t the biggest fan of her sister)
    - the dead aunt is developed as a character brilliantly through pitch perfect flashbacks
    - there’s humor
    - there’s mystery (why leave the pie crust recipe to a cat, and who’s after it)
    - interesting setting (1940s), although I do feel the setting could’ve stood out more than it did

    Right now, it’s in my top 5. Easy.

  6. Mr. H says:

    Also, about PIE . . .

    I love how each chapter ends, in a way, like a classic television show leading into a commercial break. Always a perfect cliffhanger of sorts, often times humorous in a way. Then the next chapter is begun with a pie recipe from “Aunt Polly” complete with Polly’s notes about baking instructions, and characters that enjoyed it. Just really added an extra layer of depth to this story.

    But, I wouldn’t expect anything less from the lady who wrote SO B. IT, which I thought was brilliant, and still to this day get just about every girl in my 5th grade class to read and enjoy!

  7. Sondy says:

    I still want to speak up for TUESDAYS AT THE CASTLE, by Jessica Day George. It’s my favorite children’s fantasy novel of the year, even after having read SIR GAWAIN. The setting is brilliant — we’ve got a castle that adds rooms on its own whim. The plot is excellent, with the King and Queen possibly killed and missing, and the children left in charge, trying to keep the kingdom from being taken over. The characters are distinctive. They save the kingdom in very child-like ways, and the different characters have established different characteristics and remain true to them.

    I also was very impressed with THE GREAT WALL OF LUCY WU and BIGGER THAN A BREAD BOX.

    But my favorite is still TUESDAYS AT THE CASTLE.

  8. Wendy says:

    Mr. H, to be honest I was skeptical about No Passengers as a readaloud for that reason, but I don’t like being read to so I’m no judge. I do think the kids will be intrigued by the resolution.

    (And this is certainly no slight against Bigger Than a Breadbox, which I didn’t mention because I knew other people would, but girl protagonist dealing with divorce is not really a common Newbery plot. There are actually still more boy protagonists than girls among the Newbery winners as a whole. Even in the oft-referred-to last ten years, I see four boys if you count Despereaux, which I do; four girls; two ensemble casts. 2007 was a weird year that kind of epitomizes, in winner and honors, the kind of books that people tend to think get Newbery attention, but the real story is much more diverse in all ways, though girls do have the edge in the last ten years of honor books. Now, missing parents, of course, are common–but not so much the mid-divorce aspect of Breadbox.)

  9. Genevieve says:

    I’ll join Sondy in praise for TUESDAYS AT THE CASTLE – my favorite fantasy this year, too (my top picks have been realistic novels, but I may have loved this as much). Hadn’t ever read anything by Jessica Day George and I’m now going through her older books and enjoying them greatly.
    TUESDAYS is going to have two sequels, but it certainly felt stand-alone, not like the opener of a trilogy. The adventure in this book definitely ended, no cliffhanger.

  10. Genevieve says:

    Oh, I particularly loved how the castle added and changed rooms according to the family’s needs (especially as they found themselves staving off the usurper), or to favor a visitor the castle approved of, or disfavor a visitor the castle disapproved of. Handled with humor and making the castle sentient, deeply involved in thwarting invaders and selecting new rulers (rather than that occuring strictly through inheritance).

  11. Eric Carpenter says:

    Mr. H. I thought for sure you’d bring up Helen Frost’s HIDDEN. I think it’s among the top verse novel in years and the strongest of 2011. IO&BA left me cold. I didn’t think the form contributed much to the narrative. Engle’s HURRICANE DANCERS read like half a good book but I was hoping to get much more of a story.
    HIDDEN on the other hand made use of its unique form to tell a compelling story that could not have been the same written in prose.
    I would love to hear what readers thought of the coincidences contained in the story and how they compare to the “inplausiblities” some have pointed to in OFN.

  12. I believe that Icefall by Matthew Kirby should be considered. As I new talent he really hits the mark. His first book, Clockwork Three blew me away. His command of language and characterizations are incredible. He has a gift of taking intricate detailed pieces fit together creating an amazing work of art. Please read my reviews, read his books.

  13. Kathy J says:

    I am going to second Margie’s shout out for ICEFALL. I read and enjoyed THE CLOCKWORK THREE, but this one blew me away. The setting is very well-realized — you can feel the cold seeping into your bones as you read. Kirby’s writing is very assured — he takes a large cast of characters, puts them in an isolated fjord and then sets a poisoner among them — and makes it all work, keeping the reader guessing right up to the final reveal. And in the midst of all this is a moving coming of age story involving Solveig, the middle daughter of a Viking king, who has been ignored by her father all her life but who finds her voice through storytelling. I’ve really been shocked that this one hasn’t gotten more buzz, more starred reviews, more everything!

  14. Paula Gallagher says:

    I’m also going to chime in for BIGGER THAN A BREADBOX. Laurel Snyder does a bang-up job capturing big emotional concerns that tweens frequently deal with–from the harshness of divorce to the cliques at school. So much rings true here. The adults are three-dimensional and present in Rebecca’s life. I love the ending of the book; there is no neat resolution. The magic comes in just the right amount, and in a way that can generate meaningful “what would you do?” discussion. My daughter’s class is reading this aloud right now and everyone is enthralled.

  15. Mr. H says:

    Eric, I’ve recently finished PIE and THE TROUBLE WITH CHICKENS and TOYS COME HOME and I’ve been so impressed with them, that I just totally forgot HIDDEN. Don’t know if that’s a good thing or not . . .

    I read it because you had suggested it and it was accessible to me. Didn’t expect to like it as much as I did.

    As far as verse novels go, I thought it was twice the book INSIDE OUT AND BACK AGAIN was, but that just won the National Book Award. So what do I know!

    I felt too, like there was no reason that INSIDE OUT AND BACK AGAIN needed to be written in verse and to me, that feeling got in the way of enjoying the book and taking much away from it. It felt a little artsy for the sake of being artsy, if that makes any sense. HIDDEN on the other had, was brilliant. Verse with a purpose! Plus, as the two girls’ voices begin to come together near the close of the book, it gets to be pretty powerful.

    I could definitely get behind HIDDEN. Thanks for reminding me!

  16. Mr. H says:

    Also, I am reading ICEFALL at home right now and loving it! There was a lot of love for Kirby’s THE CLOCKWORK THREE last year . . . never read that, but halfway through ICEFALL, and I’m definitely on the bandwagon.

  17. Genevieve says:

    Mr. H., I would love to see discussion of TOYS COME HOME! Beautifully done, love the characterization, strong use of theme, well written on a sentence level.

    I should probably read HIDDEN now.

  18. Again about, Matthew J. Kirby’s ICEFALL. I do cover this more in depth in my review (http://bit.ly/mZLQTt) but he employs a writing/literary device of Solveig telling a series of stories within the overall narrative that slowly unravels the personalities of all the characters as well as revealing the shifts in Solveig’s thinking about each of them that is brilliantly flawless. I do freely admit that I have read ICEFALL twice and a copy sits on my personal bookshelf.

    And this insight probably has nothing at all to do with the Newbery selection but as a reader and reviewer nothing endears me more to an author than their being open about their process in bringing a title to life. Here is the link to Kirby’s web site which is an enjoyable read in itself. http://matthewjkirby.com/kirbside/

    Now I’m off to move PIE to the top of my pile and also to find a copy of BIGGER THAN A BREADBOX.

  19. Nina Lindsay says:

    I’m kind of with Eric and Mr. H on INSIDE OUT AND BACK AGAIN…it felt more driven by the form than by narrative or character. However, I do want to say that I think the voice is *very* strong and evocative, and I’m delighted to see it get the NBA. This is a writer with a lot of promise.

  20. Doret says:

    Clara Lee and the Apple Pie Dream by Han
    Halfpott Horton by Angleberger
    Death Paper Strikes Back by Angleberger
    Circus Galacticus by Fagan

  21. Elle Librarian says:

    Recent noteable books I’ve read that are not already on this list and in others’ comments here include SPARROW ROAD and WITH A NAME LIKE LOVE.

  22. Dominique says:

    I’ll second WITH A NAME LIKE LOVE. It had a great mystery to pull you through but was beautifully written as well. That one is a contender and worth a read.

  23. DaNae says:

    Has there been an indeapth discussion of BLUEFISH? I was kind of waiting because I liked it very much I did have a problem with some of the logic.

    I’m in the middle of WITH A NAME LIKE LOVE and TUESDAY’S AT THE CASTLE. So far so good.

    I will dance quietly in the corner over all the well deserved love ICEFALL is getting. I hope a discussion follows.

  24. Genevieve says:

    I don’t think we have discussed BLUEFISH, and I’d be interested.

  25. Sandy D. says:

    Has “Hurricane Dancers” been mentioned yet?

    I read around the time I read “Inside Out and Back Again” and though I liked the poetry of both, “Hurricane Dancers” made a deeper impression.

  26. Blakeney says:

    I appreciated the verse in HIDDEN because I felt it helped keep things impressionistic in the first part of the book when the girl (and the other girl) did not know exactly what was going on and could hear or see or feel but not understand through all senses. In the second half, it more traditionally allowed the focus on emotions. However, I was bothered by the giant coincidence of the two girls going to the same camp and being in the same cabin and both doing lifesaving, which seem figuratively and literally to be rather obvious symbolically.

    INSIDE OUT AND BACK AGAIN gave glimpses into place and people and the protagonist’s heart through verse pictures. How refreshing to have supportive brothers. My only very small compliant was what felt to me like a rather abrupt ending.

    TOYS COME HOME was a delightful romp. I had not read the earlier books and did not feel I missed anything, undoubtedly because this is a prequel. Great characterization and voice (Plastic talks in short, repeating bursts) matched to the creature. What a world – towels are animate but not Barbie! Many satisfying moments in each chapter seem to work like the slingshot rescue of the sheep and his thrill at eating real grass.

    SIR GAWAIN … was looking like a top choice but has suffered from the fatal flaw – the political remark on the economies. It has grated on everyone I know who has read it.

  27. Sondy says:

    Put me down as someone who didn’t mind the political paragraph in SIR GAWAIN one bit. I thought it was funny, and fit with the context of the narrator explaining how they did things then (and how that’s different from now).

    But I still wasn’t very impressed with SIR GAWAIN. I’m having a hard time putting my finger on why I don’t think it’s tremendously distinguished, though. It is well-done. But not a stand-out, to me.

  28. Hammockreader says:

    I just finished ICEFALL. It is magnificent. For all the reasons stated already. But also for the power of storytelling.

  29. Jonathan Hunt says:

    Blakeney, I’m still puzzled by the economic remark being so problematic. If I thought the narrator was making a satirical allusion on a particular topic that would date fairly quickly, I would probably be annoyed, but I think it’s a blanket philosophical statement that could apply to any number of current political situations.

    Sondy, do you think your not being impressed has anything to do with it being a chapter book for ages 6-9? Its simpler literary elements might pale compared to middle grade and young adult novels, but it can still be more distinguished for its audience–if that makes any sense.

  30. Mr. H says:

    The political remark in SIR GAWAIN was a downer for me as well. I just think it totally detracted from the story because it was so out of place compared to all the author’s other sidebars.

  31. Charlotte says:

    My own pick is Where Do You Stay, by Andrea Cheng. I think the writing is brilliant–she does a wonderful job, in particular, of creating back story with an economy of words that is stunning.

  32. Kate Coombs says:

    I’m still pulling for Young Fredle to win something. It’s a poignant coming-of-age story, and I loved it even though I’m not usually a big talking animal fan. It has humor, adventure, philosophy, friendship troubles, differences with family, and even a few scares.

  33. Sondy says:

    Jonathan, I’m not sure quite why SIR GAWAIN didn’t quite rise to the top for me. I was comparing it mostly with TUESDAYS AT THE CASTLE, which is only for a slightly older age — but it is for an older age.

    And, yes, as I thought about it, my objections leaned toward it seemed too “light” to be called “distinguished.” But you make a good point that this makes it ideal for its intended readership.

    Still, TUESDAYS is light, but the plotting and characterization seemed much more brilliant.

    I guess I thought SIR GAWAIN was very good, but it didn’t stand out to me. I feel like I’ve read that sort of book before. (Though, no, I can’t name one.) I’ll have to keep thinking about it.

    I think you’re saying we should compare it with books for a similar audience? And talk about how well it does for the audience it’s trying to engage?

  34. Jonathan Hunt says:

    TUESDAYS AT THE CASTLE has twice as many pages, no illustrations, and I’m guessing smaller font size (I can’t tell from the preview at Amazon because it’s for the Kindle edition of the book). TUESDAYS has 25 chapters; SIR GAWAIN has 10. SIR GAWAIN has just under 14,000 words. I’m not sure what the word count for TUESDAYS is because it’s so new that it’s not listed at AR Bookfinder yet, but I’m guessing it has between two to three times as many. Nina said that more doesn’t necessarily always translate to more distinguished, and we do have to take the different needs of the audience into account. A chapter book audience is different from a middle grade audience just as a young adult audience is even different still. Take the 240 pages of TUESDAYS and stack it up next to CHIME, DAUGHTER OF SMOKE & BONE, and THE SCORPIO RACES. Now which one seems insubstantial?

  35. Jonathan Hunt says:

    DRAGON SPEAR by Jessica Day George has 248 pages and just under 60,000 words. We can probably assume that TUESDAYS is pretty close to that since it’s published by the same publisher for a middle grade audience. Even if we estimated TUESDAYS at 40,000 to 50,000 it’s still substantially more than chapter books such as THE TROUBLE WITH CHICKENS (under 8,000), SIR GAWAIN (under 14,000), TOYS COME HOME (under 16,000), and CLEMENTINE AND THE FAMILY MEETING (under 17,000), and ALVIN HO (under 22,000).

  36. Genevieve says:

    I thought Sir Gawain was quite good, but I thought Toys Come Home was more distinguished for a similar audience. To my mind, Toys had stronger characterization, more graceful language, extremely strong use of theme, and well-done plot. It’s very strong in humor as well (the fear of the towels, StingRay’s wild assertions when she doesn’t want to be caught not knowing an answer, etc.).

  37. Jonathan Hunt says:

    TOYS COME HOME is going through processing at my library, and I expect my hold to be filled in the next week or so. It may be that I will agree with you Genevieve. We shall see.

  38. Jonathan Hunt says:

    You know most of these chapter books, like easy readers, don’t often get starred reviews, but Kirkus really goes out of its way to draw attention to the genre. They didn’t star THE TROUBLE WITH CHICKENS (its lone star came from PW.) But they were the only star for SIR GAWAIN, CLEMENTINE, and ALVIN HO. And they starred TOYS COME HOME (one of two) and JUNONIA (one of three). But none of these chapter books made their best of the year list. :-(

  39. DaNae says:

    I was happy to see an early chapter book in the list. I find good books in this genre to be true treasures. I will admit that I found GAWAIN kind of boring. Which for the genre does not bother me at all. I also find MAGIC TREEHOUSE and SECRETS OF DROON pretty yawn worthy as well. There are no shortage of readers for these books among my students and I’m sure I will find eager readers for Morris’s Knights.

    I think the trick with a good early chapter book is clarity for the target age. There can’t be much subtlety or the need to draw on previous knowledge, because the readers have very little previous life experience. I found this to be a problem with THE TROUBLE WITH CHICKENS. Although I found it very amusing much of the humor was lost and, worse, confusing to the first graders I read it too. SIR GAWAIN dealt great with clarity and there were even some nice surprises at the end of the story.

    The great early chapter books tackle clarity with aplomb and also give something to older readers. This is where books like ALVIN HO and CLEMENTINE shine. Where I see readers outgrow books like TREEHOUSE and DROON and never return, older fans of Alvin and Clementine will stop in their tracks and pounce on new offerings even though they are out of the target age. I do place Clementine and Alvin slightly above Gawain in reading level so the comparison may not be fair. (Also I will admit to being a deranged Alvin and Clementine fan. I have a dream that they will grow up and marry each other and ask me to be their flower girl.)

    I’m not sure if what I’m talking about translates into the realm of distinguished. But look at the Easy Reader choice and the picture book choice. Both PIGGIE AND GERALD and THE MONEY WE’LL SAVE have broad appeal across my k-6 students. I know, I’ve tried them out on the full range. They also make me happy (not a criteria, I know). Does some sort of universalness figure into what is distinguished? Or am I just wading into “popular” waters?

    I am finding TUESDAYS AT THE CASTLE to be a perfect thrid to forth grade book. Although I’ve had a sixth grader read it 3 times.

    I’m sneaking TOYS COME HOME for the long weekend. I very much enjoy the first book in the series.

  40. Sheila Welch says:

    I have two more books to suggest for consideration and discussion. THE SUNDOWN RULE by Wendy Townsend and EDDIE’S WAR by Carol Saller both made the Kirkus list of Best Books for Children of 2011 and have gotten other glowing reviews. The quality of the writing in each is excellent.

    These books are published by Stephen Roxburgh’s new venture http://www.namelos.com.

  41. Jonathan Hunt says:

    For me, I’ve struggled to read every single middle grade book over 300 pages. There hasn’t been one that I’ve zipped through, not one I haven’t thought that it didn’t have pacing and plotting issues of one kind or another. That’s not to say that I’m against all fat books–Laini Taylor, my dear, *you* can have as many pages as you want!–but I just haven’t found a middle grade novel this year that works better because of its fat size. SIR GAWAIN, in contrast, was light and breezy, had many of the literary strengths of the longer books, but with a third of its size. Personally, I’d rank it higher than all of the chapter books I just mentioned, but I haven’t read TOYS COME HOME yet. I will say that I really appreciate the humor, and we all know how subjective that can be!

  42. Sam Bloom says:

    This seems like a natural moment to mention how hard a time I’ve had getting through some of the big fat books this year. After Amelia Lost, I would probably have to say Bluefish and Junonia are next on my list. I remember a passing mention of Junonia, and I can definitely appreciate concerns about its slight plot. But a second read really brought out distinguished qualities in characterization, setting, and theme. Style was already a strength, and just made that much stronger on second read. And yeahh, it is less than 200 pages! A bonus for me this year!

    Bluefish is one I’ve somewhat forgotten a month or two after, but I remember really being impressed by the characters and language. Yes, I realize it is not a good sign to remember so little about a book one puts in one’s top 3. But I also remember not really having any problems with it, so maybe that is why it has stuck in my mind as one of the strongest titles of the year.

    One last thing – Johnathan, I must say I was quite impressed with your case for I Broke My Trunk in the post/thread of the same name. I was a doubter in the first E&P discussion, but you’ve won me to your side. You too, Ed!

  43. Wendy says:

    Any thoughts on Divergent? It doesn’t look like the kind of book I usually read, or the kind of book I usually take seriously for the Newbery, but it’s climbing in the polls. Is that devoted fans or is there something there?

  44. Mr. H says:

    Jonathan, I think you totally touch on what the real problem of garnering Newbery support for SIR GAWAIN will be . . . subjectivity.

    It’s not quite as easy to compare SIR GAWAIN simply to other early chapter books, and I think you touch on this. You have to consider genre as well. Slapstick humor is very subjective. People either love Monty Python or they hate Monty Python.

    In this way, I personally think TOYS COME HOME has a better chance of withstanding the test of time. It has a “classic” feel to it. The language is just awesome. StingRay’s naivety plus the deeper themes about friendship, and belonging, and family are addressed in a very age-appropriate way. A way that gets readers of that age to think about the themes on their level. Ask questions. Make connections.

    I’ve read three early chapter books this year to compare to. THE TROUBLE WITH CHICKENS is my personal favorite, but I definitely see the problems that DaNae raises. However I’m also wondering how that fits into a Newbery discussion because of we only have to judge it based on what it is and if what it is is a tip of the hat to hard-boiled detective, film-noir, than it does that very, very, very well for this age range.

    TOYS COME HOME would maybe be the one I’d argue for the Newbery, because I think the most common ground could be formed around it.

    While I enjoyed SIR GAWAIN, I think it will be extremely difficult to build consensus around it because of it’s particular style of humor.

  45. Mr. H says:

    And I still personally, think that even if you can argue SIR GAWAIN’s particular brand of slapstick “distinguished”, it suffers from the political aside. I found nothing “distinguished” about the “economies” remark and in fact, think it hurt the entire narrative the book had created. It felt so, didactic, given our society’s current economic struggles. I don’t think it belonged in a book for this age-range at all.

  46. Sondy says:

    Jonathan, interesting that you mentioned CHIME, SCORPIO RACES, and DAUGHTER OF SMOKE AND BONE — they are my top favorite YA fantasy books of the year. (NOT necessarily in that order! I haven’t decided what order yet.) And, yes, TUESDAYS AT THE CASTLE definitely holds up in their company. Though I will cheat when I do my own Stand-outs list and put it in an entirely different category, so I can put TUESDAYS firmly at Number One. (If I were forced to rank them together, well, I’d have a hard time. But TUESDAYS would definitely not be last.)

    Can I compare SIR GAWAIN with CLEMENTINE AND THE FAMILY MEETING then? CLEMENTINE, in my view, has much stronger characterization and plotting.

    I have read lots of young chapter books that I enjoyed lately. (Though most turn out to have been published last year.) To me, the Cybils winner FREDDIE RAMOS TAKES OFF stood out as just right for the age level and interests. Another brilliant one was LULU AND THE BRONTOSAURUS. But these are all from different years, so I know they don’t matter to SIR GAWAIN. Except that I didn’t feel it was quite “distinguished” in excellence above the other books. It feels like an excellent contribution to children’s literature, but not necessarily one of the top contributions of the year.

  47. Nina Lindsay says:

    Wendy, I’d call DIVERGENT a Hunger-Games-Lite. Sounds like fans to me.

  48. DaNae says:

    Sondy, I thought of another ineligible book that parallels GAWAIN perfectly and does it better. THE NO. 1 CAR SPOTTER by Atinuke is early chapter book perfection.

    I’m with you on the Freddie Ramos as well. (I’m sorry I’m so off topic. I just love talking great early chapter books.)

  49. Sondy says:

    With back-up from DaNae, I think what I’m trying to say is that I think I can spot distinguished early chapter books. I don’t think I’m biased against them altogether. But Gawain just wasn’t quite there for me. I do think it was close, and I’m not disappointed it has a spot at the table.

    Actually, realizing that I would stand TUESDAYS AT THE CASTLE proudly among my favorite YA fantasy of the year, and even next to OKAY FOR NOW encourages me that I’m not biased against “light” books.

    (Alas, DaNae, my library system doesn’t have THE NO. 1 CAR SPOTTER.)

  50. Jonathan Hunt says:

    Wendy, one thing I always look at when I visit the goodreads poll is how many of them are one-book voters. For DIVERGENT, 4 of the 10 people who voted for it did not vote for another book. For OKAY FOR NOW, of the 103 voters, 46 did not vote for another book, and another 17 only voted for two books. In contrast, AMELIA LOST has 16 voters, none of them one-bookers, and only one two-booker. These polls are a good measure of popularity among readers, but without an identifiably broader reading base, it’s hard to take it too seriously (but then you already knew that).

    Mr. H, yes, I think the humor is the key to building consensus here. As I stated in my last post, I think Morris uses several different kinds of humor, but they will need to strike a chord with voters in order to be seen as truly distinguished. It’s true of SIR GAWAIN, but it’s also true of any funny book. I think, for example, that DEAD END IN NORVELT will have the similar challenge of forming consenus around its distinct brand of humor.

    It amazes me that you are getting hung up on those couple sentences. Would you let a couple sentences put OKAY FOR NOW out of the running? What about TOYS COME HOME? I was reading Amazon comments on it yesterday and one father objected to a line about axe murderers in the basement. While he thought it funny, he felt it completely unappropriate for such a young audience–too scary.

    Sondy, I think that CLEMENTINE is a wonderful comparison. I’m not going to fault anyone who prefers the characterization in Clementine, but then that book is first person and features one character predominantly. GAWAIN is third person, and while Gawain is the main character, there is really an ensemble. So while I do not fault anyone who favors the former, I personally prefer the characterization in the latter. It’s cartoony, but it’s meant to be cartoony. On the other hand, I completely don’t understand where you’re coming from in terms of plot. Go back and read my post about this. Morris develops a plot with four mysteries and foreshadowing for most of them. How, pray tell, is CLEMENTINE superior?

  51. Sondy says:

    That brings up a side point. In the committee considerations, is originality considered? I think of this more with the Caldecott. For example, HUGO CABRET was ground-breaking. But WONDERSTRUCK, though excellent, is not a completely new format.

    So I know we’re talking about the most distinguished contribution of this particular year. But can’t breaking convention be included in that? You don’t have to totally ignore what’s gone before, do you?

    For example, one of the interesting things about CHIME is its unusual fantasy setting. That’s also one of the interesting things about TUESDAYS AT THE CASTLE. It’s almost a typical medieval fantasy — but the twist of the magic castle makes it quite different. How much is innovation taken into account?

  52. Jonathan Hunt says:

    Sondy, no you really cannot discuss originality in depth, at least in terms of what has come before. You can compare the setting of TUESDAYS to all the settings in all the novels that the committee read that year, and you can argue that the setting for TUESDAYS is individually distinct. When a book like HUGO comes along, I don’t think anybody actually needs to say it’s groundbreaking; it’s kind of a foregone conclusion.

  53. Jonathan Hunt says:

    Would you argue that the growing castle thing is new? I haven’t read it, but I reviewed THE MUSEUM OF THIEVES by Lian Tanner and FLY TRAP by Frances Hardinge this past year, neither one of them are American, but they both seemed to have growing, shifting, changing buildings as a plot device. Doesn’t strike me as terribly new . . .

  54. Mr. H says:

    Personally, as I said, what bothers me about the “economies” remark is how didactic it came off, given the rest of the narrative. It really didn’t belong in a book of that nature. It was a sentence with an intent to voice the author’s opinion, even though that opinion was going to go right over the top of the heads of the age of kids that author was writing for.

    The other problem, when comparing it to OKAY FOR NOW, is the word count. When OKAY FOR NOW has 77,000 words, an odd sentence that may not fit the narrative, to me, doesn’t hold as much weight if the rest of the narrative rings true. When SIR GAWAIN has only 13,000 words to work with, an odd sentence stands out much more, and weighs more heavily on the narrative, in my opinion. When “competing” for the Newbery, I feel like there’s a smaller margin of error for an early chapter book that’s small in page count. Is that fair? Or am I looking at that wrong?

  55. Nancy Werlin says:

    On the topic of growing/moving castles, we must also remember HOWL’S MOVING CASTLE by Diana Wynne Jones, and perhaps also Catherine Fisher’s INCARCERON.

  56. Jonathan Hunt says:

    I don’t fault your logic, but if, say, two sentences can take down SIR GAWAIN then we only need ten to take down OKAY FOR NOW. I think we presented ten sentences, but it still didn’t convince you. ;-)

    The “didacticness” of the passage in question didn’t bother me because I feel it was worked convincingly into the world of the novel. When you start off with “Now, everyone who knows anything at all about knights knows . . .” Well, you’ve already set up a bossy narrator who’s going to tell you exactly what he thinks of the story, and exactly what you ought to think, too. Right?

  57. Mr. H says:

    Touché.

    It personally still doesn’t ring true to me, but I also am afraid for you to pick apart my favorite, OKAY FOR NOW, any more than has already been done!

  58. Sondy says:

    Okay, well, good, we aren’t considering originality! :)

  59. Wendy says:

    Count me as one who, while not particularly taken with Sir Gawain (will save comments for the specific title discussion), wasn’t bothered by the “economies” remark. Like Jonathan, I thought it was completely in tune with the rest of the asides and humor. If I hadn’t had that sentence pointed out to me beforehand, I don’t think I would have thought twice about it. Since it was featured here before I read it, I noticed it particularly, but only thought “huh, I was expecting something stronger”.

    Mr. H, you say “It was a sentence with an intent to voice the author’s opinion, even though that opinion was going to go right over the top of the heads of the age of kids that author was writing for.”

    I think you’re reading your own interpretation of the sentence into the text itself. Taken at face value, there’s nothing there that kids won’t understand. Why take it at anything else? The author doesn’t say anything about particular companies or countries or economic policies or his own politics, except to say that honor is not as important as it should be, and that is basically the theme of the book–that honor is important. What opinion is it that you see here that you think will go over children’s heads? At least from my reading, whatever that is is not something found in the text.

    I know you’re not the only one who feels this way, that it’s been brought up here by others and in other places, but I suspect pretty strongly that it’s the high emotion brought up by the Occupy stuff at this moment, as well as the general cruddy-economy stuff, that is coloring the general reaction to this paragraph. I don’t think in five or ten years that people will even notice it. (I mean, if things get better in the world.)

  60. Mark Flowers says:

    I, like Jonathan, am totally befuddled by the emphasis on a single line in GAWAIN.
    1) I thought it was a hilarious line
    2) Even so, it hardly struck me as central or anything worth especially remembering (and I had forgetten it entirely until so many people brought it up here)
    3) The book *is* didactic, and that doesn’t have to be a negative. We can’t award the Newbery based on didactic content, but that doesn’t mean a book *can’t* be didactic. The whole book has the narrator explaining various topics and concepts to the reader – the very definition of didactism. If one of those explanations rubs some people the wrong way, that doesn’t seem like a good reason to dismiss the book.

  61. Genevieve says:

    I agree with Mark and Jonathan: the line about “economies” didn’t give me any difficulty with GAWAIN (I thought it was fairly funny), and I don’t find that one line, even if slightly problematic (though not to me), outweighs the rest of the book. Jonathan’s point about OKAY FOR NOW is well taken — that book is probably my top choice, and I found that the issues people pointed out were far outweighed to me by the strengths of the rest of the book.

  62. Sara Ralph says:

    I’m so sad that many of these are not available in my public or school library (I am the librarian, but with limited collection development budgets and my desire to stay firmly within what is appropriate for K-5), which limits my ability to discuss. Your blog has encouraged me to pull some books off my shelves, most notably QUEEN OF THE FALLS and AMELIA LOST. I adore Elephant and Piggie, and was intrigued by your analysis of I BROKE MY TRUNK as a Newbery contender.

  63. dave r says:

    I know this was mentioned earlier in the thread, but I’m surprised WITH A NAME LIKE LOVE has gotten more notice.
    It truly fits the definition of “distinguished.”
    Spectacular voice, great characters, compelling storyline, and terrific pacing.
    This is one dark horse I’d be ecstatic about if it won.

  64. dave r says:

    Sorry, that should be “hasn’t gotten more notice.”

  65. Sam Bloom says:

    Jonathan and Nina, I apologize if there is another thread to which I should be posting this info – but I did want to share that today the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County held its FIRST EVER Mock Newbery!

    WINNER: Inside Out and Back Again (Thanhha Lai)

    HONOR: Small as an elephant (Jennifer Richard Jacobson)
    Amelia Lost (Candace Fleming)

    We also discussed Okay for Now by Gary Schmidt and Junonia by Kevin Henkes. It was a great discussion and this blog was mentioned on several occasions!

  66. Elle Librarian says:

    Dave – WITH A NAME LIKE LOVE was mentioned by SLJ as one of the best books of th year! See the SLJ main homepage for a link to the “best books”. I agree that this book deserves a little attention.

  67. Mr. H says:

    I just completed my second reading of PIE by Sarah Weeks, this time aloud and to my fifth grade class. I hate to do this to my favorite Ms. Jenni Holm, but I have to place it squarely in my #2 spot behind OKAY FOR NOW, supplanting THE TROUBLE WITH MAY AMELIA (or just bumping it to my #3).

    PIE is just really really good. There’s so much about it that’s good. The things I mentioned above that I like about it, come through even stronger the second time around. I think my favorite are the cast of characters and how unique and alive they are on the page. I felt the same way with SO B IT.

    And there are just subtle ways that Weeks writes, that I thought were clever, and taught my 5th graders a thing or two about crafting a story. For those that have read the book, I love the scene when Alice and Charlie are spying on their principal and they hear a mysterious THWACK – GRUNT, repeated over and over. After the two are caught snooping around, my students were wondering about the sounds that were repeated, and what their source was. Well, we find out, but Weeks doesn’t “tell” us. She “shows” us, and it’s just subtly clever.

    If you haven’t read PIE, read it.

  68. Jonathan Hunt says:

    Both Nina and I really liked PIE and it narrowly missed our shortlist. :-)

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