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Heavy Medal: A Mock Newbery Blog
Inside Heavy Medal

Best Books Outliers

Each review journal has books that are unique to its own best of the year list.  Many of these books got starred reviews from multiple journals, but others were championed solely by one publication.  Since there is no correlation between my earlier composite list and Newbery recognition, these books are just as likely–and oftentimes just as worthy–as more heralded books.  Here’s a rundown of some of the more likely Newbery outliers.

Publishers Weekly

We’ve spent our time here championing I BROKE MY TRUNK! as the most likely easy reader candidate, but Mo Willems had an other easy reader, AMANDA & HER ALLIGATOR, that earned four starred reviews.  Note: Has anyone else noticed the proliferation of award-winning titles with ampersands?  BLINK & CAUTION (Boston Globe-Horn Book Award), INSIDE OUT & BACK AGAIN (National Book Award), and DAUGHTER OF SMOKE & BONE (soon-to-be Printz Award).  It bodes well for AMANDA & HER ALLIGATOR, does it not?  But as the Geisel rather than the Newbery.  Marc Aronson’s TRAPPED is another book with four starred reviews; we’ve already discussed its Newbery chances here.  On the other hand, Publishers Weekly was the only journal to star THE APOTHECARY by Maile Meloy and MISSING ON SUPERSTITIOUS MOUNTAIN by Elise Broach.  I liked the setting of the former book, but found both plot and character to be a mixed bag.  I haven’t read the latter book, but have enjoyed the author’s previous work, including SHAKESPEARE’S SECRET and MASTERPIECE.  If those are any indication of this book, it’s another well-written, kid-friendly book.

School Library Journal

THE QUEEN OF WATER earned four starred reviews–we’ve already discussed its Newbery chances here–but this is its lone appearance on a list.  WITH A NAME LIKE LOVE by Tess Hilmo is probably its most likely Newbery candidate among the outliers.  I enjoyed this book, and found many distinguished qualities–so many of which are reminiscent of previous Newbery winners that it’s no wonder that it’s been mentioned occasionally in the comments here–but not enough to rise above the pack of contenders.  Note: If the covers of MOON OVER MANIFEST and THE HIGHER POWER OF LUCKY had a child, it would be this cover.  Other outliers include MY NAME IS NOT EASY by Debby Dahl Edwardson (the only star and list for the National Book Award finalist), CHARLES DICKENS AND THE STREET CHILDREN OF LONDON by Andrea Warren (solid nonfiction), WILDWOOD by Colin Meloy (longish fantasy), and SMELLS LIKE TREASURE by Suzanne Selfors (I know nothing about this one).

Kirkus Reviews

With the longest list it stands to reason that Kirkus would have the most outliers–and it does.  We’ve discussed many of them here already: JEFFERSON’S SONS (four starred reviews), SECRETS AT SEA (three), SIDEKICKS (three), LIESL & PO (three), THE MOSTLY TRUE STORY OF JACK (three), BLIZZARD OF GLASS by Sally Walker (one), EDDIE’S WAR (one), HIDDEN (one), and THE FREEDOM MAZE (one).  But what about HOUND DOG TRUE by by Linda Urban (four starred reviews), CITY OF ORPHANS by Avi (three), THE INQUISTOR’S APPRENTICE by Chris Moriarty (two), THE MANATEE SCIENTIST by Peter Lourie (one), THE FLOATING ISLANDS by Rachel Neumeier (one), and DRAGON CASTLE by Joseph Bruchac (one)?  Which of these strikes you as the most likely Newbery candidate?

Horn Book

Horn Book has one of the shortest lists–and the fewest outliers (although Bulletin has one more title on their list, but many more unique titles).  We’ve already praised BLUEFISH here (although perhaps not enough) and we included THE MONEY WE’LL SAVE on our shortlist, but what about BREAKING STALIN’S NOSE by Eugene Yelchin?  (Incidentally, Yelchin is also an illustrator; he collaborated with Karen Beaumont on WHO ATE ALL THE COOKIE DOUGH?, one of my storytime staples.)  This one’s still in my pile, but Roger Sutton seems pretty excited about it.  Is he the only one?  And while MEADOWLANDS by Thomas Yezerski is a good nonfiction picture book, it will be easier to build consensus around DRAWING FROM MEMORY, THE HOUSE BABA BUILT, A NATION’S HOPE, BALLOONS OVER BROADWAY, and AMERICA IS UNDER ATTACK.


THE GREAT MIGRATION (one of the better poetry books this year) had four starred reviews, SPARROW ROAD (a stereotypical Newbery book) had two, and MO WREN, LOST AND FOUND (one of Nina’s personal favorites) had one, but we’ve mentioned them here already.  We haven’t discussed THE SILVER BOWL by Diane Stanley which had three.  Why did it get overlooked?  Is it the cover?  Or did it get lost in a sea of fantasy this year?  And then there is THE WIKKELING by Steven Arntson.  I’ve heard nothing about this title, but it looks intriguing: creepy, atmospheric dystopian tale with folkloric motifs.  It also looks like it’s from a small press, so I missed this one when I blogged about that subject.

Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books

As I mentioned this list is arguably the most idiosyncratic and there are many unique titles.  The ones that seem most Newberyish to me are LEXIE by Audrey Couloumbis (which seems similar to JUNONIA from the description–and speaking of JUNONIA: no best of the year list), WATER BALLOON by Audrey Vernick (a debut novel from a picture book writer), and MUSIC WAS IT by Susan Goldman Rubin (shortlisted for the YALSA Nonfiction Award).  I haven’t read the first two books, but I found MUSIC WAS IT to be a strong biography.  I could see it securing a place among the Sibert book, but I don’t think it climbs past AMELIA LOST.  I loved GETTING NEAR TO BABY, but have found Couloumbis’s subsequent work to be very disappointing, and I have WATER BALLOON in my pile.

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. Here is my official prediction for the official winners . . .

    Medal: OKAY FOR NOW


    Now, I haven’t read BREADCRUMBS and I’m only 1/4 of the way through WITH A NAME LIKE LOVE. I am merely predicting what WILL happen on January 23.

    I do think OKAY FOR NOW will be declared the winner. I also think that in recent years, the committee does like to acknowledge nonfiction and/or poetry in some way, shape, or form. AMELIA LOST and HEART AND SOUL are the only two of this nature I’ve read, but confirming that with lots of reviews, I think AMELIA LOST will be easy to build consensus around and I’ll be very surprised if it’s left in the dark.

    I also think that Jennifer Holm is *the* Newbery Bridesmaid. I think THE TROUBLE WITH MAY AMELIA will find it’s way on the final list.

    With BREADCRUMBS and WITH A NAME LIKE LOVE, my predictions are just simply predictions. I think Adam Gidwitz ignited this whole fairy tale thing last year and stirred the general interest. I’m seeing Ursu’s name pop up in a lot of places and just have a feeling . . . With WITH A NAME LIKE LOVE, not only do I personally find it well written, but the plot, title, and cover *scream* Newbery to me.

    Of course, I’m hoping that ICEFALL and PIE sneak on there somewhere, but the above are my official predictions.

  2. Missing on Superstition Mountain is a good book that I would recommend to lots of kids–I picked it up because I liked Masterpiece so much and thought that should have been on the Newbery podium–but not for its literary qualities. The book reminded me in a very pleasant way of long-gone mystery series like the Key to the Treasure books by Peggy Parrish and The Happy Hollisters by “Jerry West”.

    I think With a Name Like Love has many issues and I’m not interested in seeing it win anything.

    What I note here is that most of the “outliers” that I’ve read, out of what you’ve listed here, showcase the fact that best-of lists use different criteria from the Newbery. Most of them aren’t being celebrated because of literary quality, or at least that’s my feeling. I still think Jefferson’s Sons may show up; and even though I champion The Queen of Water (which I don’t think is truly eligible anyway), I’ve always been skeptical of its Newbery chances due to audience issues.

    Hound Dog True is the same genre of book, by the way, as With a Name Like Love and Sparrow Road. I thought we’d discussed it here sometime, but we’ve discussed a LOT of books this year. I was initially sort of startled to see more books I haven’t even HEARD of (like The Silver Cup), but I remind myself of the non-literary good qualities of those here that I have read and let go a bit.

  3. Oh my . . . I forgot to list another title that I think will win something (even though I haven’t read it). Again, a title I’m merely predicting on a gut feeling . . .


    Not sure if that means I think there will be five honor books, but if I had to remove one of my other predictions it would be WITH A NAME LIKE LOVE or THE TROUBLE WITH MAY AMELIA.

  4. I read both BREAKING STALIN’S NOSE and THE SILVER BOWL and found them both well-written and interesting but they didn’t shout ‘Newbery!’ at me. Both LEXIE and SPARROW ROAD I thought were a bit boring, or maybe they’re just too close to previous winners in theme and style. THE WIKKELING I thought was very original and creepy–great read-alike for people who liked CORALINE.

  5. After reading, and disliking intently, Wildwood, I was shocked to enjoy The Apothecary – it was a nice blend of magic and realistic fiction.

    I enjoyed Missing on Superstitious Mountain but like With a Name Like Love, don’t see either as being more distinguished than Okay for Now.

    Hound Dog True was a good but predictable, The Inquisitor’s Apprentice had a well-developed and distinguished setting, I couldn’t finish City of Orphans – just too boring and trying so hard.

    Breaking Stalin’s Nose had a very distinct agenda and seemed geared towards grown-ups more than children. It’s one of those books that skews message-laden in a noticeable way. The cover does not match the content in any way except it was cold and snowy.

    Somehow, I skipped over The Silver Bowl – and yeah, for me it was the cover, and I really enjoyed Saving Sky. Wonder if I have time to track down a copy?

    Water Balloons is another one I need to track down.

    But what about Icefall? The setting and the setup in Kirby’s book demands a notice and a mention.

  6. I did read THE SILVER BOWL, by Diane Stanley, and enjoyed it very much, but it lost attention in my mind once I’d read TUESDAYS AT THE CASTLE. (There I go again!) That reminds me, another list worth looking at are the Cybils Finalists. They have a slightly different time range, but some strong books made the list. (I was so happy that three of my nominations were Finalists!)

    Yes, one was TUESDAYS AT THE CASTLE. Another was THE GREAT WALL OF LUCY WU. BETWEEN SHADES OF GRAY is a Finalist, as are A MONSTER CALLS, BREADCRUMBS, ICEFALL, THE CHESHIRE CHEESE CAT, DRAGON CASTLE, I BROKE MY TRUNK, and CLEMENTINE AND THE FAMILY MEETING. I was surprised that OKAY FOR NOW wasn’t a finalist. Anyway, the lists are interesting when combined with Newbery speculation.

  7. Sheila Kelly Welch says:

    I’ll have to check out THE SILVER BOWL. I thought SAVING SKY was an engrossing read and have recommended it for middle school readers. So many books . . . !

    I am reminded of a question I heard asked (by whom?) years ago, “Do we really need more fiction?” We may not need it, but apparently we want it.

  8. Of those listed and I have not read them all (in fact my TBR pile just gained in stature) I have to cast my vote for The Apothecary. It was a great read that I gladly praised in a review on my blog.

    I also have to agree with the thoughts voiced by a couple of other commentors, Icefall deserves and should be recognized. In my opinion Matthew J. Kirby has penned two outstanding pieces of fiction; he has hit the road running.

    I absolutely love Pie; delicious to the last scrape of finger across the plate.

  9. I thought MISSING ON SUPERSTITION MOUNTAIN suffered a lot from being used to set up the series – there was a lot of build-up but the climax and resolution of the story felt secondary to all that anticipation.

    I feel like I’m just picking on books here, but I was also disappointed with PIE – it was entertaining, but none of the characters felt well developed or even went beyond fairly flat defining characteristics. I didn’t find the historical setting particularly necessary to the story, and the epilogue felt gratuitous. If I look at it as a frothy piece of entertainment it works, but not in any way that I would call distinguished.

  10. Nina Lindsay says:

    Jess, now I have to go back to PIE, because I thought that for “frothy enterntainment”.. which is indeed exactly what it is…the characters were extremeley well developed. Setting I don’t recall, but I don’t feel like it was important to what it was trying to achieve, thus less relevant to it, per the criteria. Can’t froth be distinguished? A rich and cold egg cream on a hot day, air conditioning and squeeky vinyl stool? (Oh: and pie.)

  11. I’ve feel like I’m noticing a pattern wherein when someone points out a book is lacking in some area or other, the response is that that criterion isn’t relevant to this book. The period of time isn’t particularly relevant to this story, no, but it IS supposed to be set in the 1950s… yet I agree, it seems to have no bearing on the story. That’s the opposite, to me, of distinguished development of setting. Nothing (or little) about the book is developed in relationship to that 1950s setting. What we have is not a book where the specific time period is unimportant to the setting, but a book where the stated 1950s setting is poorly developed. IMO.

    I didn’t like this book, if that isn’t obvious. The Grand Plan to Fix Everything is, I think, a much better example of distinguished “froth”.

  12. Now I’m feeling defensive . . . I admit, there were things I disliked about PIE. I wish Weeks would’ve found a different way to include the Green Chevrolet clues. Every time she broke from the narrative to dangle a clue as to where the Green Chevrolet was at, I felt like it didn’t fit with the narrative device she’d chosen. It’s as if the narrator of the story shouldn’t have known that.

    The other thing that kind of bothered me, was the Mayor character, and why a town the size of Ipswitch would have a Mayor running a full scale re-election campaign. Kind of silly, I admit.

    Also, I didn’t like that a “jingle” for a vegetable shortening brand was enough to provide financial security to this family, in the end. Suspend your disbelief a bit . . .

    However, I felt the other things the book did well, were done really really well. As Nina said, “frothy entertainment” can still be distinguished. I know Wendy at least acknowledged this and pointed out a book she felt more distinguished in terms of this . . . but I don’t agree at all with the hangup on “setting”.

    Wendy, I think the other side of your complaint toward the setting is extremely justified. I think Weeks set her story in 1950 because more pie shops existed then than now. So why does she have to go on and develop that setting more? The story she was telling didn’t call for it. The story was about Alice. You may look at it as a missed opportunity, but to twist it and describe it as “poorly developed” is a bit unfair. Because I don’t think she even attempted to, nor needed to.

    If you want to argue that in regards to the Newbery, “the most distinguished contribution to children’s literature” better have more criteria pertinent to it than not, that’s a different argument. But as the criteria sits, I’m not sure PIE *has to* have a distinguished sense of setting in order to be a viable candidate. I think that as a piece of “frothy entertainment”, it’s development of it’s characters, and it’s central theme, are very distinguished.

    I’m not going to cite examples, but I thought the relationship between Alice and her aunt was great, especially the way this seamlessly developed through flashbacks. The flashbacks weren’t jarring at all and didn’t pull away from the story. They developed Polly as a character. I liked Charlie’s development as a “friend” to Alice and I personally, loved the epilogue and Charlie’s reveal in the end. I like the subtle traits Weeks gave to Alice’s father as well. Fits the “less is more” thing nicely I feel. He was kind of a voice of reason in the house amidst Alice’s mother’s craziness.

    I need to read THE GRAND PLAN TO FIX EVERYTHING, and compare.

  13. I was just having a discussion with someone about ICEFALL. I find it fascinating that it is on the radar for so many Newbery commentors about the web, yet it failed to get a single starred review. Although all reviews have been positive and enthusiastic. Has any book jumped from star poverty to Newbery honor status?

    I can say I won’t be silly with glee if it gets a mention come next Monday. I just can’t say it too loud as my friend’s neuroses has set in.

  14. Nina Lindsay says:

    Wendy, I don’t quite follow you re a pattern… I do think GRAND PLAN and PIE would be great comparisons in a discussion for what makes distinguished “froth.” I did not find the nuance or energy in Krishnaswami’s writing that I did in Weeks’, and so didn’t find evidence of “distinguishedness.” Because neither of these were fully read/discussed against each other, we didn’t have a chance to battle out the subtleties, and I’m fully aware that if we’d done so PIE might fall in my estimation. It still sits in my “memorable writing” category though, whereas GRAND PLAN does not stick.

  15. It’s so fascinating to me how we all reactly differently to books – it just occurred to me that I feel about PIE the way other commenters have felt about THE PENDERWICKS. To me, THE PENDERWICKS was a rich and vivid reading experience, while PIE was neither rich nor particularly flavorful (not intending to play off the pie pun, but more off my comment about it being frothy – to me, it was all froth and no flavor).

    All of these things that some people think are distinguished (like the relationship between Alice and her aunt) fell flat for me. I felt like the book wasn’t supposed to feel entirely realistic, and a lot of elements played into that (like the whole running a pie shop not-for-profit thing, the Blueberry Award, and the jingle plotline), but I felt like the book would have been more successful if it had been more over-the-top. There were a few moments that felt too serious (like when the mother came around and suddenly regained her senses) and broke the mood for me. Which is all to say that I now have some sympathy for the PENDERWICKS detracters.

  16. Nina, I’d have to look back at posts myself, but this has happened at least three or four times, previously: someone brings up an objection to lack of distinction in setting (say, The Money We’ll Save) and setting is said to be unimportant or irrelevant. Plot development, and it isn’t that kind of book. I don’t think (myself, and I’m the one raising objections…) that it’s worth combing through old posts to find examples, but is perhaps something to consider when writing defenses. Is it too easy to bring out the “all elements pertinent” section when it’s a book we love?

    Jess, that’s a good point about it being more successful if it was more over-the-top. I said in my goodreads review that it was cartoony, and compared it to two other books that were cartoony but, to my mind, more successful: The Mysterious Disappearance of Leon (I Mean Noel) and Everything on a Waffle. And you’ve put your finger on why–those books both take it further. I could swallow everything from those books, whereas in Pie I kept get irritated by things that seemed silly–as Mr. H says, the riches from writing/singing a jingle, and the logistical nonsense that is the Blueberry Award.

    Mr. H, I don’t know whether there were many pie shops in the fifties, but there are MANY pie shops now in parts of the country. It’s a trendy thing, and the author (I don’t mean this in a critical way) is capitalizing on a trend.

    It wouldn’t particularly bother me if Pie didn’t have a distinguished sense of setting–and I might have found that what it does have in its depiction of a small town was good enough–if she hadn’t said it was set in the 1950s. A book that is set in a particular time period should give the reader that sense. If it doesn’t, it can be set in a nonspecific time period.

  17. Mark Flowers says:

    @Wendy and Nina – I agree with Wendy. I think it definitely happened numerous times over the course of our discussions that objections were dismissed with something like “but that isn’t really pertinent to this book.” It’s complicated by a couple of factors though:
    1) sometimes whatever the objection is really *isn’t* pertinent to the book,
    2) some of us are were more interested in grappling with the Newbery criteria than others. That is–if we were talking about the Printz award (which doesn’t have a long list of elements that define “distinguished”) it would be easier to say, “well who cares about the setting, look at all these other great things” whereas with the Newbery it’s sitting right there in black and white: the setting needs to be distinguished.
    3) Different definitions of the word “pertinent”–I think Wendy’s interpretation (and mine) is that the point of that passage in the criteria is that (say) a nonfiction book might not have a plot and therefore plot isn’t pertinent to the discussion. But if the book has a plot, it better well be distinguished. Same goes for setting. I think some people were using this as an out to say, well, it wasn’t the “point” of the book, so it isn’t pertinent. I guess you could make that argument, but I think it is somewhat weak.

  18. Nina Lindsay says:

    Mark thank you. You are right, and it is #3 that I think gets to it.

    I definitely feel that there are some books where a plot is not primary/pertinent, or a setting is not primary/pertinent, and so I’m less compelled to find it distinguished. This is not to say that the book wouldn’t be more distinguished if it that element is also distinguished, or that when it gets down to it, a weakness there might not drag it down.

    I don’t think that literature is so cut and dry that it’s obvious what is “pertinent” to a type of book just because it’s there. I think it’s important to look at what the author is trying to do to the reader, and which tools they’re using to achieve it. Those are pertinent elements.

    INSIDE OUT doesn’t have much in the way of plot. But I don’t ding it for plot because I don’t think that’s central to moving the story forward. Same with JUNONIA.

    And I don’t..btw…claim to be right on this…I just feel right about it. This IS a totally grey area, and the chair would help direct the committee in how to interpret the critieria. I’d expect others to differ.

  19. Jonathan Hunt says:

    I think the discussion this year has been noticeably different in a couple of respects.

    1. We’ve spent lots of time discussing things that aren’t explicitly part of the six criteria: didactic/not didactic, funny/not funny, too old/not too old, too young/not too young, too dependent on pictures/not too dependent on pictures, eligible/not eligible. To be sure, we have some of this every year, but it just seems like this year we’ve discussed this kind of stuff as much as the literary elements of books.

    2. I also think there is a marked effort to dismiss criticism or argue for a book by shifting a paradigm: OKAY FOR NOW is fantasy! Doug is an unreliable narrator! I BROKE MY TRUNK! is a play! WONDERSTRUCK plays by different rules! This book isn’t *that* kind of book, it’s *this* kind of book! Again, I think some of this is legitimate, but it seems like we are seeing more of these kinds of comments than usual. I think it’s fine to use multiple measures to help gauge a book’s distinction: How does PIE compare to the Perfect Light, Frothy Book? How does PIE compare to OKAY FOR NOW, A MONSTER CALLS, and the other fiction? How does PIE measure up against the Newbery criteria in a vacuum, as it were? The problem for me is sometimes it does seem like we’re making excuses.

    And I am probably guilty of doing both of these things. But just a little. 😉

  20. Jonathan Hunt says:

    In the past decade or so only two books without starred reviews have gone on to receive Newbery Honors–PENNY FROM HEAVEN and RULES–but those both came from the same committee. I’m sure there are older examples that I am not aware of, so I would say it’s unlikely–and you could say the same for BIGGER THAN A BREADBOX, THE GREAT WALL OF LUCY WU, TUESDAYS AT THE CASTLE, and NO PASSENGERS BEYOND THIS POINT–but it’s happened before and it will happen again . . . so why not dream? But this bears repeating: there is absolutely no correlation between starred reviews and Newbery criteria.

  21. Nina Lindsay says:

    Well I’ve certainly been guilty of the paradigm-shifting question, and this year more than others. If anything, my main impetus behind this blog is to keep the Newbery criteria relevant and fresh. I think we get stuck too much in sameness, and in Newbery nostlagia ( this is a really royal we here). I’m interested in ferreting out the widest range of how writing in a book can be distinguished for a child audience, and I’m insistent on finding it in the writing. There’s a lot out there being published today for children that passes as great, that is only decently written. ( Great ideas, poor execution.) More so since Harry Potter. There is nothing wrong with any one of these books, but the trend disturbs me, and it goes against the whole reason for the Newbery.

    Ok, sorry, down from my high horse. This has little to do with any of you or the discussion here, but I hope help shows where I’m coming from when I get weirdly insistent about pursuing certain books. I’m lookiing for different measures of excellence.

  22. Jonathan, do you think that illustrations, eligibility, etc were discussed moreso than literary elements because the crop of books was somewhat bland overall this year? I’ve heard on a number of occasions, people say something to the effect of, “Well I liked ________, I just can’t really think of much to say about it.” Even yourself and Nina sounded as if it was difficult for you to decide on which particular books to get behind and fight for. Is that because the top of your list is so good, or at the heart of it, do you think that it might be because nothing is really standing out this year? I personally think OKAY FOR NOW is that type of book, but who knows.

  23. Nina Lindsay says:

    Mr H, while I think that OKAY stands out, I personally do see a dearth of other truly obvious standout novels of the “classic” Newbery type. It’s just that kind of year. I think there ARE some standouts in the non-usual-type-of-Newbery crowd, and the field this year might actually give them a fighting chance

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