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Heavy Medal: A Mock Newbery Blog
Inside Heavy Medal

Getting Serious Again

Well, it’s mid-December and that means that the Newbery committee trades its final two nominations.  With the three in October and the two in November, it’s a total of seven nominations.  Those seven nominations help the committee narrow their focus from several hundred books to several dozen books.

The last time we talked about nominations a couple of months ago, I mentioned a dozen books that I would consider for my seven spots . . .


AMELIA LOST by Candace Fleming


BLUEFISH by Pat Schmatz

BOOTLEG by Karen Blumenthal


THE FREEDOM MAZE by Delia Sherman

A MONSTER CALLS by Patrick Ness

OKAY FOR NOW by Gary Schmidt



WONDERSTRUCK by Brian Selznick

This list holds up well for me, and I think most of my nominations are already represented here, but I’ve read (or reread) some very strong candidates in the past couple months that I would add to the mix (and if I had read as broadly as the committee, I would undoubtedly add more) . . .

I BROKE MY TRUNK! by Mo Willems


NEVER FORGOTTEN by Patricia McKissack


PIE by Sarah Weeks


Now if I were on the committee I would be able to gauge how much support there is for each title based on the number of suggestions it has received up to this point, and that would inform which books I would choose to nominate.  Suggestions, you’ll remember, are traded throughout the year–even during the nominations process in the fall–and are not accompanied by an extended statement of support so it’s sometimes hard to tell whether a suggestion means “worth a look” or “best book ever.”  So . . . without the benefit of knowing where anybody else stands, and realizing that I have the luxury of delivering all seven of my nominations not only late, but simulatneously . . .

AMELIA LOST by Candace Fleming . . . This is probably the only title I cannot be strategic about.  It’s a top three book for me.  Thus, I would nominate it regardless of how much or how little support it had among the suggestions.

BOOTLEG by Karen Blumenthal . . . I haven’t pushed this book much, and I think it’s nearly the equal of AMELIA LOST, but it’s likely to appeal to a slightly older audience so I think it will be harder to build consensus around it.  Still, I find myself returning to this one, especially since I remain ambivalent about most of the middle grade fiction.

THE ADVENTURES OF SIR GAWAIN by Gerald Morris . . . Best chapter book of the year.  It’s definitely a darkhorse, but it’s particularly valuable to me as an illustration that a book need not have 300 plus pages to be a distinguished work of fiction.

I BROKE MY TRUNK! by Mo Willems . . . Best easy reader and another dark horse.  This one can compete with the big boys–but only if you look at it through the eyes of an emergent reader.  If my first, second, and third graders–largely English learners–got a Newbery vote, this one would win hands down.  Wouldn’t even be close.

THE MONEY WE’LL SAVE by Brock Cole . . . Best picture book text and . . . well, you know the theme.  This could benefit from some Goldilocks logic.  While some may feel that there’s not enough text in I BROKE MY TRUNK! to merit serious consideration, others may feel there’s too much text in SIR GAWAIN to judge it by different standards than the fiction from the older end of the spectrum.  THE MONEY WE’LL SAVE may be just right: a significant picture book text that obviously works different than a novel.

I’m going to spend my final two on middle grade fiction, and I’ve narrowed it down to these three, but I can be convinced to look in another direction.  I would go into the discussion with an extremely open mind.

A MONSTER CALLS by Patrick Ness . . . This is the only one from this group I’ve reread, and while I admire it very much on an intellectual level, it fails to move me–except at the very end–and I very much want to have a bigger emotional response to it.

OKAY FOR NOW by Gary Schmidt . . . I’ve described this as a flawed novel, but I still think it could be the easiest book to build consensus around, and I could cast my vote here, although it wouldn’t be my initial preference.  Since I anticipate this would be a strong contender, it’s one that I might pass over to highlight another deserving book.

THE PENDERWICKS AT POINT MOUETTE by Jeanne Birdsall . . . I can’t shake the feeling that this is a guilty pleasure, but I distinctly remember distinguished elements all the way through.  If I reread this over my break, and love it all over again, this one could rise higher.

So, there’s my seven . . . er, eight . . . nominations.  Your turn.  What are you putting on the table?

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. I had a huge emotional response to A Monster Calls. I watched two students lose mothers to cancer this year, and I think this book accurately captures the painful emotions. The book is absolutely brilliant.

  2. I feel pretty strongly about Breadcrumbs. Someone on Goodreads hated it recently, because they felt that the elements of despair were piled on too numerously in the first part (divorce, adoption, new school, money problems).

    But dude, I’ve been there. I’ve been there _this year_. And to add the (inexplicable) loss of a friendship to that? That should break Hazel. But it doesn’t, and that makes her a hero and the character I can get behind most confidently this year.

    Add to that the distinguished setting and thematic interweaving of fairy tale darkness and realistic loss, and you have a distinguished book.

    I’m not sure about its chances, but it would be the one I’d be pushing right now.

  3. I agree about the special-ness of Amelia Lost. I finally read Bootleg and loved it, though not as much as Flesh and Blood So Cheap, by Albert Marrin — if I’m gonna add another non-fiction title to my imaginary list, it’s that. And I have no idea whether it would be for Newbery or Caldecott, or even if it’s eligible, but I loved Emma Dilemma SO SO SO SO SO MUCH. Lone voice in the wilderness, c’est moi.

    Did not love Breadcrumbs. Found it a bit self-consciously poetic and found the conclusion not so satisfying.

    Can’t read A Monster Calls. Just can’t. My 10-yr-old daughter’s been trying to get me to read last year’s Milo: Sticky Notes and Brain Freeze for months and I CAN’T I TELL YOU. Dead moms are my Kryptonite.

  4. Elle Librarian says:

    I have several books that I would put in the “I liked this, BUT . . .” category. I’m having a hard time finding 7 (or 8) that I can really champion with my whole heart.

    My “top” list changes from day to day and I need to go back and re-read. But, right now, my top 8 would be (you added one, so I figured I could, too) – in random order:

    WITH A NAME LIKE LOVE (middle grade), QUEEN OF WATER (my one “older” pick), I BROKE MY TRUNK (easy reader), QUEEN OF THE FALLS (biography), TROUBLE WITH MAY AMELIA (middle grade), JEFFERSON’S SONS (middle grade), INSIDE OUT AND BACK AGAIN (middle grade), SWIRL BY SWIRL: SPIRALS IN NATURE (poetry)

  5. My reading scope is far more limited than most. I’ve counted 20 books I’ve read that are eligible so asking for 7, is nearly half! But, my seven favorites are, in order:

    – PIE
    – HIDDEN

    And although the next two are not even close to my top five, I would round out my top 7 with:


  6. Mine are:

    WONDERSTRUCK (though I could be convinced that it doesn’t work for Newbery, but I’d definitely nominate it)

    I would vote for Amelia Lost eventually, but I didn’t love it (though I think it’s very strong and probably the strongest nonfiction of the year), and it’s sure to get nominated without my vote.

  7. I wish Holly Goldbery Sloan’s I’LL BE THERE was getting more attention.

  8. Nina Lindsay says:

    This is always so hard, and in some ways more so on the committee, as you’re actually parcelling out your nominations in batches…and you want both that your nominations stand strong, but also to get all the books on to the table that you think deserve to me there. I might end up holding back a nomination for a book I could end up voting for, in order to get a candidate up there that I feel I’m the only champion for. So….

    These would be my “I know these are strong candidates, and I want to make clear I also see them as representative of the qualities we’re looking for.”

    These are in my “probably have a few champions out there and I want to solidify them as strong minority candidates. If you think they’re weak, then I think that’s because of your personal tasts, and I can make a case for these.” But I might ditch any one of these ultimately to make room for some of the next batch:

    These are the “not your typical Newbery candidates” or “keep on getting passed over” titles that I think are truly strong candidates and must be at the table. I probably would not, however, include all 5 in my final 7.

    So…that’s 11. And truthfully I still have some titles to finish reading. But I’m not going to show all my cards yet, because though the Newbery committee *really* has to get serious, we only have to pretend to.

  9. Here are my top seven (

  10. I do love to make a list, so thanks for asking.

    I’m a xerox of Nina’s top three:


    ICEFALL (I know I shouldn’t, because I can’t be objective, but prove it doesn’t belong here.)

    In a HUNTonian effort to diversify outside of Middle Grade fiction:

    ALVIN HO: ALLERGIC TO DEAD BODIES, FUNERALS, AND OTHER FATAL CIRCUMSTANCES (My call for most distinguished early chapter book)

    And because I get one more:


  11. Eric Carpenter says:

    Post (and comments) like this make me appreciate those 1999 and 1991 and 1979 committees that were able to filter through all the nominated because we need more nominees and just pick a winner and only one honor.

    While I don’t love Amelia Lost, I can see its strength and would love for 2012 to be a year with just a single honor winner. OKAY FOR NOW medal, AMERLIA LOST honor sounds great to me!

    I think we get do a good job considering the level of distinction of the different newbery criteria, but often ignore the how distinguished the “contribution” to children’s literature the book is. To pick an example, I don’t see how PIE is a distinguished contribution to children’s literature even if it has some individual distinguishing features.

    I don’t want the Newbery to become an award where the best of each category or type gets an honor so that there is some sort of balance or whatever. There are going to be years (maybe even decades) where there isn’t any nonfiction, or poetry, or chapter book, or picture books that makes a distinguished contribution to the canon of children’s literature. Will there be good and even great books published every year in these categories? Yes, but should the newbery committee feel obligated to award these “best in class” books based on some agenda which aims at raising attention or whatever? I don’t think so but maybe some people do. I do think the yearly attempts to shoehorn books into the criteria in order to promote some sort of balance is what leads to great but not canonical books getting honors.

  12. Jonathan Hunt says:

    Eric, I’m actually in agreement with you that there should be a Medal winner and a lone honor book, and I’m in agreement on the two you’ve picked, but I would flip-flop them with AMELIA LOST as the Medal with OKAY FOR NOW as the honor.

    I also think you have missed the point that the nomination process is as much about jockeying for a position in the discussion as it is about being the most distinguished book. You’re putting the cart before the horse. People can and do nominate strategically and with agendas, but it all goes out the window when the discussion in January starts. Some of us may not understand why PIE is distinguished; others may not understand BIGGER THAN A BREADBOX, HIDDEN, THE TROUBLE WITH MAY AMELIA, or NEVER FORGOTTEN. That’s why we have the face-to-face discussion. It all shakes out in the end.

    I, too, do not want–have never wanted–the Newbery to become about balance. I want it to become about excellence, and if that means you look at an atypical Newbery book, then so be it, and if that means there are actually–gasp!–two worthy atypical Newbery books (e.g. CLAUDETTE COLVIN *and* MARCHING FOR FREEDOM) then so be it. If there are no worthy atypical Newbery books, then so be it–and if the drought runs for a couple years, then that’s okay, too.

    But there’s no reason we can’t add fiction to your ultimatum, Eric. There are going to be years where the fiction isn’t great, isn’t worthy of being a distinguished contribution, and if we can’t bring ourselves to admit that fact, then at least we should have the decency to stick with a couple of honor books at most rather than giving us five or six forgettable fiction titles.

  13. Barb Gogan says:

    I love CHIME, but see it firmly in the Printz, not Newbery, category. Do you think the committee will consider it?

  14. I’m also finding it hard to come up with a top 7. OKAY FOR NOW was so solidly there for a while, but ever since reading other’s comments concerning the father’s dramatic character change at the end- I just can’t love it as much.
    Likewise, I’m so caprivate by the style of writing Billingsley uses in CHIME and her plot weaving is brilliant- but I don’t know if it’s Newbery so much as it is Printz.
    The only book I’m 100% behind right now is THE MONEY WE’LL SAVE.

  15. Jonathan Hunt says:

    I think the committee will consider (i.e. discuss) CHIME, but I think it will be a difficult title to build support around. I know Eric likes to pretend that we’ve invented the idea of shoehorning books into the Newbery criteria, but if you go back and look at those old Newbery nominations published in SLJ back in the 70s, you’ll notice they run the gamut from picture books to young adult.

  16. I’ve not been impressed with kids books overall this year. And admittedly, I’ve read less than usual because I’ve been so frustrated. Let’s see if I can pull seven out.

    Absolutely top picks:
    Okay for Now
    No Passengers Past this Point – Gennifer Choldenko
    Blizzard of Glass – Sally Walker

    Need to fill some space and they are good enough:
    Bigger than a Breadbox – Laurel Snyder
    Trouble with Chickens

    If I must:
    Penderwicks at Pointe Mouette
    (I don’t know why I had such dislike for this book, but I can see that it’s not as bad as I felt it was while reading it.)

  17. At the beginning of Newbery season I judge books too stringently because I’m not comparing them to the rest of the field yet. But it seems like when I near the end, I judge them too harshly because of oversaturation. I’m almost at a point of saying maybe they shouldn’t award it to anything this year. Or can they award it to the first half of Okay For Now, which totally would have gotten my top pick?

    In a mixture of honesty and strategy, here’s a list of top picks for me.
    Drawing From Memory
    The Great Wall of Lucy Wu (seriously, why can’t I convince more of you to read this?)
    No Passengers Beyond This Point
    The Queen of Water (which I don’t think is going to be judged eligible)
    Akata Witch (I don’t think it’s quite there, but I think it’s closer than many of the books frequently mentioned)
    Jefferson’s Sons (I still think this book is special)
    and for a mainstream pick, The Trouble With May Amelia.

    Others I would think about: A Monster Calls, Icefall, One Day and One Amazing Morning on Orange Street, Between Shades of Gray.

    I would really need to reread The Trouble With May Amelia and also Amelia Lost to judge them well against the pack, since I read them so long ago and they haven’t stayed fresh in my mind, but I’ve still got some first-time reads to get through. Bigger Than a Breadbox, too.

    None of the nonfiction I’ve read has appealed to me as a Newbery winner except for Drawing From Memory. Likewise none of the younger books, except The Trouble With Chickens, and I’ve sort of been talked out of that in a presentation-for-a-child-audience way.

  18. My top seven would be:

    Drawing from Memory
    Okay for Now
    The Money We’ll Save
    Amelia Lost
    Queen of the Falls
    I Broke my Trunk

    Like Eric, I think I’m hoping for a medal for Okay for Now and an honor for Amelia Lost. I’d love there to be recognition for Drawing from Memory and I Broke My Trunk, but I don’t think there’s much hope for either.

  19. Jonathan Hunt says:

    I notice that Betsy has a review up for TOYS COME HOME. While I favor SIR GAWAIN in this class, I’m happy that we are entertaining many of them–CLEMENTINE, ALVIN HO, THE TROUBLE WITH CHICKENS–in the comments. I’m pessimistic that any of them will break through to Newbery recognition, but collectively I think they demonstrate that it is possible to write distinguished literature for children without writing excessively. If I’m going to read a Newbery book over 300 pages, I shouldn’t have to feel like I’m slogging through it. As Nina said, more does not necessarily mean more distinguished.

  20. I just finished TOYS COME HOME today and while I found the writing wonderful, very WINNIE-THE-POOHISH, I agree with something Johnathan said about it earlier. It is not an easy transition book for early readers. The Story is quiet, and Lockheart’s use of indention for Stingray’s rants might confuse a reader just getting used to paragraphs. Also, the chapters are way too long. I would recommend it more to a third grader over a first grader.

    Of Jonathan’s list above I would need to side with him that Gawain, is the easiest book for a new chapter book reader to tackle. But that does not necessarily make a book distinguished.

    A perfect early chapter book example is MY FATHER’S DRAGON, Newbery honor from days of yore. My first graders go nuts over that book every year.

  21. Oh, and Eric I understood that we were not to the point of choosing the finial medalists and honors, but that Jonathan was asking what would be on our seven submissions for December, in the world where we were the committee.

  22. Jonathan Hunt says:

    For me, the chapter book SIR GAWAIN most resembles from the Newbery canon is THE WHIPPING BOY: medieval setting with lots of action and humor.

  23. Mark Flowers says:

    I think the two that stand out as no-doubt Newbery contenders are:

    Picking five more to round out the seven is harder:

    DIGGING FOR TROY by Jill Rubalcaba: I had some qualms when I read this at the beginning of the year, but as the year comes to a close, it looms larger in my mind.

    ALEXANDER HAMILTON: THE OUTSIDER by Jean Fritz: I think you guys mentioned this way back at the end of last year, but I haven’t seen it mentioned since. I thought it was a phenomenal kid’s biography. Not quite as good as NOTORIOUS BENEDICT ARNOLD, but with similarities

    PENDERWICKS – I love the Penderwicks, and thought this one was better than the second.

    OKAY FOR NOW – I’m beginning to agree with many about the flaws, but I still see it as an amazing piece of prose.

    WONDERSTRUCK – my very first reaction when finishing this was that the text could have been a novel all to itself, and I was noting beautiful, distinguished language from page 1 on.

    I completely agree with Jonathan about the need to discuss early readers, chapter books, and picture books – and I love the ones on the shortlist and will continue to support them, but the simple fact is that I haven’t read enough in any of these genres this year to make a confident statement that any one is the most distinguished.

  24. Lorie Bonapfel says:

    The only one that I see missing that should be on the list is INSIDE OUT AND BACK AGAIN. It’s such a beautifully written book with a lot of high praise. We voted it our Mock Newbery winner here in Cincinnati.

  25. Sara Ralph says:

    My picks in no particular order:

    OKAY FOR NOW (although it is flawed)

    I have many I haven’t read since my public library fails me in terms of availability of most of these books, but I have to say I hope AMELIA wins the gold.

  26. Betsy’s review for TOYS COME HOME is very much worth a read:

    Wendy, I read and greatly enjoyed LUCY WU (and bought myself a copy as I liked it well enough to reread). Just didn’t seem quite as distinguished to me as the main contenders, but I’d definitely say it’s one of the better middle-grade novels I’ve seen this year.

  27. I still need to reread several (and still have not gotten to some), but here is where my top 5 stands now:
    Amelia Lost
    Okay For Now
    The Cheshire Cheese Cat
    A Monster Calls
    Inside Out and Back Again

    And if I had to add another 2:
    The Money We’ll Save
    The Penderwicks at Point Mouette

  28. Elizabeth Bird says:

    Yep. Toys Go Out is a stand-out for me. I wouldn’t be surprised in the least if it snuck up and got some Newber luvin’.

    Surprised that Icefall isn’t seeing more of a discussion here. Don’t count it out quite yet. That puppy has legs.

  29. my seven

    toys go out


    amelia lost

    okay for now

    sparrow road

    sir gaiwan

    the penderwicks at point moulette

  30. Nina Lindsay says:

    Hm, ok…I don’t have great Newbery love for Icefall. I’d started it earlier, finished it recently, and certainly found it an engaging enough story. But there was nothing in it that stood out to me. And in fact, comparing it to other contenders, I found the prose a little heavy, or encumbered…not a strong sense of voice as we get in others. Again, a very very nice book. Just nothing that I could find that was distinguished.

  31. I had a very different take on the prose in Icefall. It was smooth, lush, almost like listening to a storyteller of old. Hypnotic.

  32. I’m sticking with my initial hope of OKAY FOR NOW for the Medal. Rereading it via audio has solidified that.

    I’m not sure about coming up with seven, but two I would definitely want considered are:

    TUESDAYS AT THE CASTLE, by Jessica Day George (Jonathan and Nina, have I talked you into reading that yet?)

    I could be talked into voting for BREADCRUMBS, but probably wouldn’t nominate it myself.

  33. I’m surprised that Inside Out and Back Again is not more recognized as a contender. Okay for Now is certainly at the top of my list, but I would not be surprised to see this one take the prize.

  34. This may be considered blasphemy on this site, with more Whalen-Turner fans in one place than one can possibly account for, but I find it ironic that some of her biggest supporters are very “eh” on the topic of ICEFALL. Granted, I’ve only read two of hers (THE THIEF and THE QUEEN OF ATTOLIA), but I saw many, MANY similarities to Kirby’s work here. I felt like he was channeling her at times. Maybe he’s not quite as polished yet, although ICEFALL felt pretty polished to me . . . Not sure how you could be an avid fan of Whalen-Turner’s books, and not like ICEFALL. Just a casual Whalen-Turner reader’s opinion . . . :)

  35. I liked Inside Out and Back Again more than many of the commenters (though I haven’t reread it). I’m a little concerned by comments by a number of librarians and teachers here and elsewhere that it’s the kind of book their kids don’t want to read and that typically gets a Newbery and is a very hard sell.

  36. Nina Lindsay says:

    Mr H, you missed the nuance of my comment. I liked Icefall quite a bit. I did not find it distinguished, though I’ve got it back in the re-read pile after Tracy’s comment. It’s exactly where the similarities between it and Turner’s work end that is the gap of “distinguished” for me.

  37. I wasn’t singling you out Nina, sorry. I just finished ICEFALL and very much liked it, perhaps better than one of the two Whalen Turner books I’ve read (GASP!) and saw many many similarities to her writing style. I’ve read others on here that have kept mum about ICEFALL but I feel like people on this site bent over backwards praising Whalen Turner for everything she ever touches. I felt as if people were ready to hand A CONSPIRACY OF KINGS the gold last year before it was even released or widely read!

    I was just curious. Two very similar styles, but one widely adored and one, not as much. What is it about Whalen Turner’s writing?

  38. Mr. H, I also thought a lot about a comparison between Icefall and A Conspiracy of Kings (the only book by Megan Whalen Turner I’ve read). I didn’t love-love them for the same reason (“not my thing”). I liked them for the same reason (good writing). I told Jonathan here once that I thought it WOULD be his thing, and that was because I know of his love for Megan Whalen Turner’s books.

    The answer to your question is easy to give and hard to accept. (I count myself in both groups.) A Conspiracy of Kings is simply better. It’s more complex, delicately wrought, richer. It’s the work of a writer who is both highly talented and has skill borne of experience, plus, I imagine, an editor who has an exacting handle on both the author’s intent and the reader’s response. Can I be more specific? No. That’s what makes this answer hard to accept. But comparing and contrasting the two only brings the differences up to the light. I do feel like Icefall is being sold short around here, especially considering the to-me-inexplicable love for some other books–I have a premonition that that’s going to be the theme of the day after the awards are announced, “oops, sold that short”–but as a completely unbiased reader, I don’t think Icefall reaches the heights of A Conspiracy of Kings.

    But it isn’t competing against that…

  39. I can live with that. :) Just couldn’t put words to it myself! Thanks Wendy.

  40. Mr. H, you’ve convinced me to read ICEFALL! :) However, in my mind by far the biggest strength of Megan Whalen-Turner’s books is the incredibly well-crafted plotting. Not the style, so much. Does ICEFALL come close in plotting? (It would have to have a surprise at the end, so maybe I shouldn’t even ask….)

  41. Well, ICEFALL is a mystery . . . so there’s definitely a reveal in the end. I kind of saw it coming, but . . . Maybe not as cleverly crafted as Turner’s but the similarities are striking.

  42. I’m a little embarassed to say–to you all, who have read everything–that I’ve not yet read Megan Whalen-Turner. Her books seem a year or so down the road for my 11-year-old daughter. But if ICEFALL is similar to her work, I’m eager to move her books to the top of the pile.

    What stays with me from ICEFALL is not the mystery or surprises, although I found the plot exciting. It is simply that the protagonist, Solveig, comes into her own, beautifully and believably. An overlooked child, she finds her voice, literally, as a storyteller. Her decency makes her more and more valuable as her community falls apart. I found it empowering, in much the same way as OKAY FOR NOW. Yet, the father’s abuse in Schmidt’s book, while well handled, makes me leery of giving it to my daughter yet. Solveig grows into her own without being quite so damaged at the start.

  43. David Ziegler says:

    Not sure if I can do 7, how about 8 :)

    Among the outstanding nonfiction for me were these four:

    1. Amelia Lost
    2. Swirl by Swirl
    3. Blizzard of Glass
    4. Queen of the Falls

    (I also admired Bootleg, and Flesh and Blood So Cheap, but not quite as much.)

    If I were on the committee I would have re-read more

    The strongest fiction for me were these four:

    Okay for Now
    Inside Out and Back Again
    A Monster Calls

    I also admire much in Icefall, Dead End in Norvelt, The Trouble with May Amelia, and The Mostly True Story of Jack, so I could be persuaded on those.

    And I’m still reading titles – lucky I’m not on the committee….

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