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Heavy Medal: A Mock Newbery Blog
Inside Heavy Medal

Small Press Newbery

It’s always a pleasant surprise when a small press is able to break through to the big time.  It last happened just a couple of years ago when A RIVER OF WORDS by Jen Bryant, illustrated by Melissa Sweet (Eerdmans) won a Caldecott Honor.  We’ve already discussed a couple of small press titles here, but didn’t note them as such: THE CHESHIRE CHEESE CAT by Carmen Agra Deedy and Randall Wright (Peachtree) and THE MANY FACES OF GEORGE WASHINGTON by Carla Killough McClafferty (Lerner).  While I think the former title probably has the best chance of any small press title, here are several more for your consideration.

You may be familiar with the excellent anthology STEAMPUNK! edited by Gavin Grant and Kelly Link or you may be familiar with Link’s own story collection, PRETTY LITTLE MONSTERS, but you might not know that this husband and wife have their own small press, Small Beer Press, which has just started a children’s and young adult imprint, Big Mouth House.  THE FREEDOM MAZE by Delia Sherman is one of the first titles.

This time slip novel, at once, pays homage to classic children’s fantasy like E. Nesbit and Edward Eager and confronts readers with the world of an antebellum sugar plantation and the moral outrages of slavery–think THE DEVIL’S ARITHMETIC meets slavery and the civil rights movement.  When thirteen-year-old Sophie is dumped at the ancestral family home to spend the summer with her grandmother and aunt, she soon finds herself whisked back in time 100 years, where she is mistaken for a slave and treated as one.

Please check out Cory Doctorow’s review at BoingBoing and Brit Mandelo’s review at  I definitely think it’s one of the stronger novels of the year.  How strong?  I’m not sure.  I’d definitely put it in a top ten list of middle grade novels, but I’d need to do some rereading before I could rank my fiction choices, to see whether it would be at that top of my top ten or the bottom of my top ten.  It was just published recently so I’m not sure how many people have read it . . .

Donna Jo Napoli has written a steady stream of novels, most of them quite good and many of them worthy of Newbery discussion.  Her latest project, TREASURY OF GREEK MYTHOLOGY, published by National Geographic, is a collection of Greek myths.  Some people may not think such a piece of literature is eligible, but according to the criteria, “It may include original retellings of traditional literature, provided the words are the author’s own.”

How do you get something from nothing?  Not easily, it would seem.

From empty Chaos, somehow sea and earth and air appeared.  They drifted around, pieces of each getting lost in the other.  No water was swimmable, no land was walkable, no gas was breathable.  Anything hot could quickly turn cold.  Anything cold could burst into flames.  Shapes shifted, textures shifted.  Objects merged one into the other effortlessly, then suddenly–slam!  One or both turned inexplicably hard.  What was heavy became weightless.  What was weightless crashed through earth and sea and air, shattering and splattering and scattering bits of everything and nothing.

Rules of nature?  They didn’t operate.  Indeed, there was no nature.  There was nothing reliable in this turmoil except lack of order.  And lack is the essence of need.

Out of that original need came the mother force, Gaia.  All on her own.  Need can do that.

The past two small press Newbery titles were both from Front Street–WHAT JAMIE SAW and CARVER–and Stephen Roxborough’s new publishing venture, namelos, has another intriguing candidate: EDDIE’S WAR by Carol Fisher Saller.  Several people have mentioned it here and there in the comments.  It’s still on hold at my library, but I appreciated the preview at Amazon.

Miss Fenton, the librarian, saw me.

I knew her from church.

“Eddie Carl,” she whispered,

“may I help you?”

I pointed.

Smiling, she walked to a rack of papers

draped over wooden bars.

“Let’s see,” she said,

still whispering.

St. Louis Post-Dispatch

or Peoria Star?”

She nodded toward the old man.

“Mr. Mirga has the Canton Ledger.

St. Louis was foreign,


St. Louis . . . what you said,” I decided.

I turned the big pages,

sniffed the ink,

grown-up, important.

Soon I could read the headlines:

“Kills Sweetheart, Takes Body Home”

or “Liverpool Farmer Found Dead in Bed.”

And the advertisements:

“Doan’s Pills clean out kidney poisons:

Clean out your 15 miles of kidney tubes.”

Or “Indulge in gold while a roast is cooking.

Set the Therm-O-Matic and all is safe.”

You could learn just about anything

kneeling on a chair,

elbows on the paper,

at a yellow pine table at the public library

in Ellisville, Illinois.

Jonathan Hunt About Jonathan Hunt

Jonathan Hunt is the Coordinator of Library Media Services at the San Diego County Office of Education. He served on the 2006 Newbery committee, and has also judged the Caldecott Medal, the Printz Award, the Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards, and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. You can reach him at


  1. Karyn Silverman says:

    There’s really no way to justify reading The Freedom Maze that I am seeing, given my YA/blog obligations right now, but OH! I so want to read this one. The minute those Youth Media Awards announcements happen, I am cracking it open and ignoring everyone else until it’s done.

  2. Jonathan Hunt says:

    Karyn, while I have called THE FREEDOM MAZE middle grade, there are many who would probably call it YA. There’s some frank sexual stuff: Sophie getting her period, for example, or the attempted rape of one of the slaves. It’s not terribly explicit, but not the stuff you see everyday in juvenile novels either. So in truth, it kind of straddles juvenile and young adult, perhaps in the way that, say, A MONSTER CALLS and THE APOTHECARY do, and I could see both the Newbery and Printz committees reading it. I’ll also add–if anyone needs further incentive–that this is a novel that Nina and I are divided on, and that if we can get enough readers, we’ll almost surely have a very spirited discussion.

  3. Sheila Kelly Welch says:

    I’m going to read THE FREEDOM MAZE as soon as I can. I like the title, and I find time slip fantasy stories, in general, appealing.

    EDDIE’S WAR is a beautifully told story, full of restrained emotion with a gentle touch of humor. When I read your post concerning long novels, Jonathan, I thought of this sparely written story that spans years and manages to tell so much in so few words. I’m glad you featured it in this post.

  4. I agree with you that it is refreshing to see the works from small presses succeed.

    Newbery has had quite a few successes and I am glad to see it.

    Treasury of Greek Mythology and Eddie’s War both look intriguing, I will have to check them out. Thank you for bringing them to my attention.

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