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Heavy Medal: A Mock Newbery Blog
Inside Heavy Medal

Unstarred, Unlisted, Underestimated

UNSTARRED

kirby 197x300 Unstarred, Unlisted, UnderestimatedICEFALL is the book most often mentioned in the comments that we have never properly featured in a post.  Nina read it and was unimpressed.  I read the first three chapters (about fifty pages) and put it down because nothing had happened yet.  Since many of you have mentioned this book is similar to Megan Whalen Turner’s books, I realize that those first three chapters could hold important clues to the plot later on, and perhaps it is silly to admit this, but it just felt like a very long-winded set-up to me.  I could never understand why he needed three chapters for what would have fit very nicely in a single one.  Again, go back and look at THE BOOK OF THREE and THE LION, THE WITCH, AND THE WARDROBE and tell me that it is not possible to write this kind of story with fewer words.snyder 198x300 Unstarred, Unlisted, Underestimated

Laurel Snyder’s books always get mentioned here in the comments–ANY WHICH WALL, PENNY DREADFUL, and now BIGGER THAN A BREADBOX–but we’ve also never featured them in a post.  I haven’t read any of these yet, but I have at least checked out BIGGER THAN A BREADBOX; I just didn’t get it read, and I’m running out of time to do it this year.  I’m going to have to make a concerted effort to read the next one early in the year.  I’m going to rely on the book’s fans to sell this one to us here.  Why is this one the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children?

choldenko 198x300 Unstarred, Unlisted, UnderestimatedBoth Wendy and Laurie have recently mentioned this book as their pick for the Medal.  Again, this is another book that I checked out, read the first couple pages, but returned before I became hooked.  Choldenko certainly has a Newbery pedigree, and you’d think that if this were special, the reviews would indicate it.  Instead, they are quite mixed.  Booklist: Choldenko drops a few hints along the way but only fully reveals what’s happening behind this fever dream in a blistering resolution that doesn’t quite answer the dozens of questions readers may have stored up.  Kirkus: But the convoluted mystery of Falling Bird isn’t revealed until the very last pages, and by then some young readers may have lost interest in trying to interpret a Kafka-esque world with too few clues and a confusing host of secondary characters.  Publishers Weekly: The revelation of what really happened doesn’t quite square with a narrative told in three voices.  Are these valid criticisms?

UNLISTEDrocklin 216x300 Unstarred, Unlisted, Underestimated

Here’s yet another one–ONE DAY AND ONE AMAZING MORNING ON ORANGE STREET by Joanne Rocklin–that I’ve checked out several times but never manage to read, but then I reread the opening paragraph, and put it on hold again.  In fact, I’m picking it later this week.

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, morning doves cooed, and the sky was an amazing blue as it always was in L.A.  Even at eight A.M., 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 by noontime.  One grumpy kid wondered aloud why anyone would be dumb enough to do that.

stone 197x300 Unstarred, Unlisted, UnderestimatedTHE ROMEO AND JULIET CODE by Phoebe Stone.

I was always told that my dad, Danny, loved danger.  I was told that he was a bit reckless and daring.   And that’s just the way he pulled the car up into the sandy driveway at my grandmother’s house in Maine.  We could see the ocean below us crashing and pounding against the jagged rocks.  Danny seemed to put the brakes on just at the edge of the cliff.

SMALL AS AN ELEPHANT by Jennifer Richard Jacobson.jacobson 199x300 Unstarred, Unlisted, Underestimated

Elephants can sense danger.  They’re able to sense an approaching tsunami or earthquake before it hits.  Unfortunately, Jack did not have this talent.  The day his life turned completely upside down, he was caught unaware.

If unstarred books rarely make the Newbery roster the same cannot be said for those books which get starred reviews, but fail to make any best-of-the-year lists.  That’s quite common, actually.  ONE AMAZING MORNING and THE ROMEO AND JULIET CODE both earned two starred reviews and fall in the favored Newbery genre of historical fiction, while SMALL AS AN ELEPHANT earned one starred review, but has shown up in a few mock election results as an honor book.

UNDERESTIMATED

Lai1 Unstarred, Unlisted, UnderestimatedThere are definitely some strong contenders that have been chucked by the wayside, so to speak, because of our single-minded focus on our own shortlist.  INSIDE OUT & BACK AGAIN already beat out OKAY FOR NOW and CHIME for the National Book Award, and it’s also taken mock Newbery Medals in Cincinnati and Fort Wayne.  I’m not convinced this one rises to the very top, but perhaps I’ve underestimated it.  Tell me again with the criteria why this one is most distinguished relative to the others.gantos Unstarred, Unlisted, Underestimated

DEAD END IN NORVELT, on the other hand, is a book that I think is very much worthy of our attention.  My major concerns had to do with pacing, especially in the middle, but I think it has many of the strengths of OKAY FOR NOW, but not as many weaknesses.  I wish we could discuss how this one contains echoes of his entire body of work, yet still feels like he is covering new territory.  And the book contains some of the funniest writing of the year.  To wit: the scene where the arthitic Miss Volker, having dipped her hands in hot wax to loosen them up, fixes Jack’s perpetual nosebleeds.  If that’s not funny, what is?

ursu Unstarred, Unlisted, UnderestimatedI’ll admit that I’m completely flummoxed by all the love for BREADCRUMBS.  Like DEAD END, this is the third time we’re featuring this book in a post, but we’ve always lumped it with other books, first with LIESL & PO and THE MOSTLY TRUE STORY OF JACK, and then with WONDERSTRUCK, A MONSTER CALLS, and DEAD END.  On one hand, I like the cover, and I like the premise, and some of the sentence level writing is lovely.  But I didn’t care for the characters, the plotting was molasses slow, and the whole thing just fell apart in the second half.  What are you people smoking?  Explain yourselves!

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Jonathan Hunt About Jonathan Hunt

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

Comments

  1. Kris says:

    The only one I disagree with you on is the first one, Icefall. I found the slow pace at the beginning a symbol of the cold setting in which they are trapped for the winter, as well as the pace of a story told aloud–and of course, the oral tradition is key in this book. I listened to this one on CD before I read the print version, and while yes, you’re right about the slowness at first, I found that it made the impact of later action greater–as well as made the relationships feel more real, because developed through showing instead of telling. Will it get any traction from the Committee? Maybe not–there’s so much competition from other titles this year (as there is every year)–but I will recommend this one to action/adventure fans (especially girls) and to fans of mythology.

  2. Wendy says:

    The tone of this post strikes me as pretty condescending. I ought to be the last one to throw stones regarding condescension, though.

    Continuing with the condescension theme, I realize, I think the first two reviews of No Passengers simply sound unintelligent. The Publishers Weekly one may have a point, although it didn’t bother me particularly.

    I admit to being a little weary, at this point, of writing acclaims for these books. (And while of course it’s great if other people want to do it again, I think there are stirring defenses of all of these in the comments of previous posts; I thank people for those, because you got me to read your books.) There’s a lot of good stuff written about Breadcrumbs in the Goodreads reviews of it. It’s interesting to find that some people felt it fell apart in the second half and others felt the second half was the only good part. I thought it was good all the way through. As with Icefall, I’m completely puzzled by the way you and Nina champion books that I consider much less well-written and don’t see the merits of these. It makes me wonder whether it’s worthwhile to talk about good writing at all, if personal taste comes into it so much.

    One Day and One Amazing Morning on Orange Street is contemporary realistic fiction, by the way, not historical fiction.

  3. Julie says:

    The only one of those I have read is Small as an Elephant. The story appealed to me primarily because of my familiarity with Acadia and many of the destinations. When I first read it I enjoyed it quite a bit but upon further reflection I felt that there were too many unrealistic elements to make it truly noteworthy.

  4. Brock Martin says:

    Mourning doves, not morning doves. Sorry, pet peeve of mine.

  5. Colby Sharp says:

    Because of kids like the one at the end of this video are the reason that Bigger Than A Bread Box deserves more buzz than it has gotten: http://nerdybookclub.wordpress.com/2011/12/23/the-big-reveal-2011-middle-grade-fiction-nerdies/

    The fact that it has no star ratings has caused me to seriously think deeply about what star ratings mean.

  6. Katherine says:

    I absolutely loved Bigger Than a Breadbox. Like Colby, the fact that it hasn’t received any stars makes me wonder. I think it was extremely well written and allowed me to understand Rebecca and the emotions she was going through. I also throughly enjoyed Breadcrumbs and thought Ursu captured a magical world and true story of friendship. I would have to agree with Wendy, I did feel like this post was rather condescending which saddens me. Sometime books are well loved because of personal taste but I don’t think they need to be struck down because one person doesn’t enjoy what another does.

  7. Brandy says:

    I still haven’t gotten to Icefall yet, but all the different discussion and wide variety of opinions has made me very curious.

    I really enjoyed One Day and One Amazing Morning on Orange Street a lot more than I thought I was going to. The characters are well developed and the setting was top notch. The plot is interesting and engaging and tells many different stories in one bringing to life the characters. All of this is done within 200 pages too.

    I found Small as an Elephant interesting while I was reading, but nothing special, and largely forgettable after.

    The Romeo and Juliet Code….shudder. This one fell apart for me in so many ways: the characterization, plot, the imagery of the writing.

  8. Anonymous says:

    I think it’s clear to your readers that you prefer books with lots of external action, and that you are of the post-Hemingway, “less is more” school as regards language. You like economy–and so do many young readers. Your reviews are valuable to teachers and librarians, because you remind us that many young people simply will not stay with a book that doesn’t maintain a rapid pace throughout.

    But though external action is important, and economy of language can be powerful, these are not the only standards that readers can apply. Some readers–like me–like to go slower, if we can go deeper, and we value character over plot. I didn’t find ICEFALL slow at the beginning; I found it suspenseful throughout. I cared about the characters in ICEFALL, and found the mounting tension–which one is the traitor?–hypnotic. The words that you wanted to skip over, perhaps, were the same words that made me feel that I was caught up in another world.

    I agree with you that the second half of BREADCRUMBS is much less satisfying than the first. But the first half was superb. The heroine’s anguish had me by the throat. I felt that Ursu really put her finger on the ways children survive deep unhappiness. I felt that the friendship between the two main characters was specific, moving, and believable.

    Both of these books seem distinguished to me because they offer the readers well-developed characters, vivid language, emotional tension, and a fully realized world. They deal with matters of importance–friendship, love, courage, betrayal, self-reliance–and in ICEFALL, art and personal honor.

    I can see why you like SIR GAWAIN and THE MONEY WE’LL SAVE; they are skillfully done books. You and Nina did an admirable job of presenting them to your readers, and enumerating their strong points. But to me these titles are much less distinguished than ICEFALL or BREADCRUMBS, because I didn’t care very much. They didn’t open up a larger world to me. ICEFALL did–and though BREADCRUMBS may be fatally flawed, it pulled me in as few books do.

  9. Nina says:

    Anon, if you could show me what’s “skillfull” in Breadcrumbs I’d appreciate it. I’m a quarter into a reread and wincing all the way. The characters feel very manugactured to me… the adults playing very flat foils to move along the emotional architecture, and Hazel’s emotional arc out of a Saturday afternoon movie.. (p.81 Hazel was making good choices!)

    I *can* see the very decent skill in Icefall, but I don’t see it rising to the level of distinguished. I haven’t heard anything that’s making me think the big push behind this is anything than readers’ personal affection for the story. Personal affection is valid in itself…and I’ve been guilty of the same. But it doesn’t hold up in a Newbery discussion. Can you show me some of the passages where you felt the words created a hypnotic tension?

  10. Sheila Kelly Welch says:

    More books to read! Sorry but I’ve only read one of those above so can’t talk about them.

    But I agree with Wendy’s comment about good writing and how we can’t seem to agree. And I find that I can love one book that’s quiet and descriptive with tons of detail and yet dislike another (similar) book that’s slow with too many boring details. Of course, I would say that the former was well written and the latter not.

    I do think that one of the main reasons why readers read and enjoy fiction is to escape their own reality and do it with characters who are appealing to them. Nothing in the Newbery criteria says the best book will have characters who are likable. “Delineation of characters” does not mean they are necessarily appealing. Yet I think readers will forgive all sorts of flaws in a story if they like one or more of the characters. Which is why, in my opinion, so many other people love Okay for Now. That is just fine but not a good reason to give it the Newbery. Or is it?

  11. Nina says:

    Katherine, I realize it’s hard to hear a book you like lambasted. But it’s not personal. We’re not striking down these books for what they are, or anyone’s personal reaction to them. We are discussing them as contenders for the Newbery, and asking people to try to put personal reactions aside.

    Wendy, it’s hard to do this on a blog. If you say you think the characterization in a book is effective, and I say I disagree, well, then we have to start pulling out sections of text to try and convice each other that we’re each wrong. I don’t see anything in the goodreads reviews of Breadcrumbs to give me a handle on what MAKES it great, i just get that a lot of adults really liked it. You’ve certainly tried to show us… you say the friendship is specific and believable. I found Hazel and Jack to be a little flat…I felt like Ursu was telling, rather than showing, us their friendship. For instance, on p. 20-21 in the ARC we get an introduction to their relationship. Their converstaion is wooden. We hear about the games they play, and we hear Hazel’s summing up of why “Hazel fit with Jack.” I get a picture. But it’s kind of a muffled picture, a little caricaturish. They never seem convincingly real to me, because I don’t see Hazel and Jack interacting like real people. I get a much better picture of Alice and Charlie’s friendship in PIE, for instance, through their interaction and conversation. Take their conversation on p. 64-5 and compare to jack and Hazel on p.22. I see Alice and Charlie as real people in the middle of a real scene, as far-fetched as it is. While I see Jack and Hazel trying to present themselves as characters as if they were in a school play.

  12. Mark Flowers says:

    @ Anon – I strongly disagree with your characterization of this blog’s preferences. I think Nina and Jonathan have both championed many books that are slower, character-driven, etc. The specific books on this year’s shortlist are definitely on the action-heavy side, but that hasn’t always been true – last year we had THE DREAMER and KEEPER, for example. Plus, that’s just the shortlist — we talk about tons of books on this blog, and I don’t think you’ll find any overarching theme to them except looking for good writing.

  13. Robin says:

    Thanks for that ending – “What are you people smoking? Explain yourselves!” I needed a good laugh on this early Tuesday after a long weekend morning.

  14. Anonymous says:

    Nina, I can’t show you the passages. That’s not a cop-out–I’m a librarian, and I read the books, talked them up, and let them go out. So I don’t have the books at hand, and what I remember most clearly–no doubt this is narcissism–is how I felt when I read them, how caught up I was in the stories.

    I felt that the friendship between Hazel and Jack was believable because both children have big problems in their lives and for the most part, they don’t talk about them. This is consistent with what I see when my schoolchildren have big problems at home–they want their school lives and their friendships to be as normal as possible. The friendship is imperfect–Hazel sees Jack on good terms with boys who taunt and belittle her–but she also knows that in his own way, he is committed to her; he finds ways to encourage her and lift her spirits, without risking his own social status. As for Hazel, she’s pretty bull-headed–she actively resists making other friends. So the friendship is believable partly in its imperfections–it is riddled with dependency and disloyalty–as many friendships are.

    At the same time, the children keep a weather eye on each other, finding ways to distract and support one another when things are especially rough at home. That strong, but almost inarticulate sense of fellow-feeling is often typical of childhood friendships, and I was moved by the way Ursu captured it.

    I don’t think Hazel’s mother is a stock character. I felt that Hazel had the wrong mother, which is a thing that often happens in real life. Hazel’s mother loves her and she’s worried about money and she has problems of her own, and her temperament is different from Hazel’s. In a sense, they’re both trying. I think situations where there are two good people, both trying, and never quite succeeding in making a connection, are intrinsically suspenseful.

    And surely, “Hazel was making good choices,” is ironic? I don’t have the book at hand, but isn’t that a sarcastic echo of her mother’s prescriptions?

    As for ICEFALL, a lot of the tension was plot-driven–the question of who the traitor was. I was particularly intrigued/worried because the storyteller was such an ambiguous figure. He was so important to Solveig, who is searching hard for some kind of identity in her world–but it seemed to me that he might be both friend and enemy. I felt how isolated the landscape was, and how very little food there was. Getting through a Viking winter was always a question of living on the edge. Subtract a food supply, add a poisoner, and all hell breaks loose. And the reason why this mattered to me was because I respected and liked so many of the characters.

    The other part of the tension had to do with Solveig’s development, as a person and as a skald; how she wins her self-respect in a world where she had been assigned no value. I thought the way the outward plot (how do we get through the winter? who is the murderer here? ) alternated with Solveig’s inner dilemmas (how do I remain a compassionate person and also guard my back? how do I find my voice as a skald? how do I trust and love in a world where at least one person is wholly untrustworthy?)–with the added layer of the mythology–was–well, distinguished. Again, I can’t quote you chapter and verse, but I can close my eyes and see before them that dark and claustrophobic house, the sick berzerkers, the eerie climax when the ice shatters.

    It’s hard to know where personal preference ends and judgement begins. I realize I’m talking about being MOVED in both cases–but surely that is one of the tasks of a writer?–to awaken the reader’s emotions? To me this seems a worthier goal than winning the reader’s judicious approval–

    And Mr. Flowers, I was not criticizing the blog in general terms, and I apologize if I gave that impression. I was responding to Mr. Hunt’s remark that the first fifty pages of ICEFALL could have been condensed and told in fewer words. For me, it was the right number of pages and the right number of words. And on a blog where I’ve been asked what I’ve been smoking, I think I have a right to be just a bit testy in response.

  15. Will Weaver says:

    Very useful book talking above, thanks. As a 2011 judge for the YA National Book Awards, below is an informal list of the “contenders”–books that all of the panelists came to know well, and to wish well beyond 2011. Books, as we say nowadays, that had traction. It was heartbreaking to let go of certain titles in order to move the panel’s work forward toward the five finalists, but it had to be done. I’ve asterisked some of my personal favorites.

    Between Shades of Gray*
    Chime (finalist)
    Inside Out and Back Again (NBA Youth Lit winner)
    My Name is Not Easy (finalist)
    Lie*
    Flesh and Blood So Cheap (finalist)
    A Plague Year
    A Girl Named Faithful Plum
    The Babysitter Murders*
    Bird in A Box*
    Black, White, Other*
    Bronxwood*
    Carmen
    Dragon Castle*
    Eliza’s Freedom Road
    The Flint Heart*
    The File on Angelyn Stark
    How to Save A Life
    The Near Witch*
    Paper Covers Rocks*
    Okay For Now (finalist)
    Saving Zasha*
    Skate Fate
    5000 Years Of Slavery
    Small Acts of Amazing Courage
    Vietnam: I Pledge Allegiance
    We All Fall Down
    Wonderstruck*

  16. Martha says:

    I am happy to see (on Read Roger) that the underestimated DEAD END in NORVELT has won the Scott O’Dell Award for historical fiction!

  17. Wendy says:

    Ah, a very sound critique of both Breadcrumbs and Icefall, Anonymous. You voiced many of my feelings. And Nina, I don’t have any personal affection for the story in Icefall. It’s definitely not my thing. That’s one of the ways I know when a book is special–when it isn’t for me and I admire it anyway.

  18. Tracy says:

    Wow, I’ve been following this blog since the beginning, and it is only today, after reading Anonymous’s comments about “Icefall” (and Nina’s responses and Jonathan’s opening remarks), that I am begining to understand how daunting a task a Newbery committee faces.

    I championed “Icefall” on this blog earlier, and today, Anonymous helped me to put my own inchoate reactions to the book into words. (I also loved “Breadcrumbs,” and again, my reaction to it was clarified by Anonymous’s comments.). One of the reasons I loved to read as a child was the experience of entering into a book so completely that I almost forgot I was reading. Alas, I seldom become so immersed in a book anymore, either when previewing books for my daughter or when reading an adult book. But, I did when I read “Icefall.”

    I know that “forgetting the world around you” is not a Newbery criteria. I do think the character development and the setting rises to the distinguished level in this book. The writing, for me, was perfect–it told the story, beautifully. I never found it slow. I understand your objection, Jonathan, to 300+ page books for middle-school readers. Yet, book length has little to do with whether a book is too “long.”

    I want to argue that my reaction to this book was not “emotional,” (as if that’s a bad thing), but I find I cannot. I probably identified with Solveig (and this book in total) for deep emotional reasons that I don’t even recognize. From the discussion on this blog, I see that this book touched many, and left others cold (sorry, I couldn’t resist). And here’s the rub: How do we separate personal reactions to literature, and is that even desirable? Most of the books at this level of discussion are “distinguished.” How do we rank them? Maybe the answer has to do with why we read, as individuals? I read for fun, and I read to understand the world around me, and it is only when I can identify with a book’s characters that it can help me better understand the world around me. Yet I recognize that others don’t identify with all the books that I do.

    So, is the Committee’s job to clinically look at character development and setting and other criteria and argue over which is “best”? Is that even possible? Are there any “universals”?

  19. Mr. H says:

    So let me get this straight, we’re ready to fight to the death for SIR GAWAIN but we’re not even willing to fully read from start to finish one of the most mentioned books on this site in the comments, in ICEFALL? Jonathan, I ask, how would you treat or respond to someone on here, that was trying to give negative feedback to SIR GAWAIN if that someone hadn’t read the book entirely?

  20. Sondy says:

    Of these, the only ones I’ve read are the BREAD books. (BIGGER THAN A BREADBOX and BREADCRUMBS.) I enjoyed both, but wasn’t ready to argue for them. My enjoyment of BREADCRUMBS was a bit messed up by having just read Mercedes Lackey’s THE SNOW QUEEN. In it, she really points out the dysfunctional elements of the Snow Queen story! But even so, I was ready to love the book, but I thought the symbolism in the fairy tale world was kind of random. Also, the big climax was way too easy, after all that struggle to get there. And I don’t really like quest books where they just follow their nose (the ticking clock?) and randomly hope to find what they’re looking for.

    I thought BREADBOX was a very realistic fantasy story. What a concept: A downside to getting what you wish for! It was well-plotted and well-written. I would get right behind it if someone else were arguing for it.

    But with both of those books, my perspective is rather messed up because they’re both divorce books, and I’m currently licking my wounds from a rough divorice. Write about a kid having a hard time with a divorce, and all kinds of negative emotions rise up in me. So I couldn’t enjoy them properly, and don’t feel like I really have the perspective to look at them objectively. I related more to the Mom (or the Dad) in BREADBOX than to the kid.

    Incidentally, you want to know a really bad reading choice? A MONSTER CALLS when you’re a recently divorced mom living with your teenage son, and the neurologist has just told you you may have had another stroke and it’s a long weekend, and you’re having weird symptoms…. But my son’s 17, not 13, and by now he’s adjusted to the divorce, and I am NOT dying. But it was really bad timing on the reading. I’m not at all sure I have any perspective on A MONSTER CALLS, either.

    And I know the Manual says refrain from using personal anecdotes, but this isn’t the committee and I’m saying why I’m not sure my perspective is very objective. :)

  21. Jonathan Hunt says:

    1. I apologize if people thought I was being condescending or dismissive about the books in this post. There is no correlation between whether a book is starred or listed and whether it is worthy of the Newbery. None. My intention with this post was to start a conversation about some of those books that have been ignored or underappreciated on this blog, a conversation long overdue for some of these books. A testy Anonymous, after all, is a vocal Anonymous, and it is your comments that have sort of jumpstarted the discussions of BREADCRUMBS and ICEFALL. And, yay for DEAD IN NORVELT winning the Scott O’Dell! Well deserved!

    2. Much as I would like to read every book mentioned on this blog, I simply cannot do it. I have an obsessive personality and if I try to read and discuss every possible Newbery contender, then I’ll go crazy, so I’ve given myself permission to just enjoy being an armchair committee member. Do I feel more pressure to read an oft-mentioned book like ICEFALL? Sure. I’ll see if I can finish it this week along with a reading of ONE DAY AND ONE AMAZING MORNING ON ORANGE STREET (thanks for the correction, Wendy) and a rereading of OKAY FOR NOW, but I make no promises. Then, too, I’m not going to fake enthusiasm for books that I’m underwhelmed by, and just because I’m underwhelmed by something doesn’t mean it’s not worthy. That’s one reason we’ve given some of these “underestimated” books repeated mentions here, so that *you* can take the responsibility of arguing for your favorite books. We already have our hands full arguing for ours.

    3. In an ideal world, Heavy Medal might have fifteen bloggers and then you would see the full range of books covered on this blog. But if you think of Nina and I as a committee in microcosm, if you think of what we each like, both our idiosyncratic picks and the ones which seem to align with the popular consensus, and then you multiply that times seven and add a chair . . . well, that’s the kind of diversity you’ll see in the real nominations. We all have idiosyncratic picks and I don’t necessarily think ours are better than anyone else’s (i.e. SIR GAWAIN is not necessarily better than NO PASSENGERS BEYOND THIS POINT just because I have the bully pulpit). It’s one of the exasperating things about committee work. You think *that* is distinguished?! *choke, choke, eye roll*

  22. Nina says:

    Anon, I think that “Hazel was making good choices!” is half ironic, but not wholly…it seemed an odd thought for a child to have–ironic or not, to me. I understand everything you say about the charcters…because I’d been told it explicitly. Hazel seems very conscious of her anguish in an unnatural way. I’m not convinced of her as a real character. I can believe that a character like her exists, but Ursu has not given her the breath of life on the page. The adults are used in very obvious ways to move Hazel’s emotional scenery around, and to no other end. That’s what I meant by stock.

    You’re more likely to convince me on Icefall, which I’ll crack again at some point to see if I can find evidence in the text that would move a child audience the same way you were moved. Thanks for articulating it. I have to admit my reread pile is atrocious. This is another reason why Jonathan and I don’t read everything: we can’t.

  23. Sondy says:

    To me, Nina, you’ve put your finger right on why Hazel didn’t move me. I hadn’t figured it out. And the friendship with Jack is more talked about than shown. You’re right.

  24. DaNae says:

    Thanks for taking the time to discuss some of these overlooked books. Condescending or cheeky I’m incredibly delighted to have such a thoughtful and fun forum to discuss my obsessions.

    The last few weeks before Newbery Day I’ve been trying to absorb a few of these titles as well. I’m struggling through BREADCRUMBS, at times I’m right there rooting for Hazel, other times I lose interest. BREADBOX was clever and compelling, but I found the characterizations a bit of a stretch. The little brother who spoke baby talk but had the acuity to keep a secret didn’t ring true.

    I adored both DEAD END, (Yay, O’Dell), and ORANGE STREET.

    I won’t be surprised to INSIDE OUT up on the podium. Unfortunately I read it fast and forgot it almost as quickly.

    And finally, Sweet Lady Anonymous, thank you for your acute analysis of ICEFALL. You know of what you speak.

  25. Jonathan Hunt says:

    I wanted to respond belatedly to a couple more points . . .

    1. Will, thanks for posting your longlist here. It’s always so difficult to be impressed by fifty books, but to only be able to recognize five of them. That’s a hard thing for any committee. At least with our mock results we could be transparent and you could see, for example, how A MONSTER CALLS might easily have won the gold or how PENDERWICKS might clawed its way into the silver.

    2. While I’ve railed against 300+ page books that’s somewhat lazy because there are 300+ page books that I would support (A CONSPIRACY OF KINGS last year, for example, and if the 500+ page THE LOST CONSPIRACY had been eligible . . .). What I’m really bothered by is the pacing, and it isn’t the length of ICEFALL that put me off, but rather the pacing, that nothing important seemed to have happened in those first three chapters. Sure, the personal tastes of a reader enters into the equation, but isn’t there a point when everybody would think it’s enough? For example, maybe you thought HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS was too long. What if I argued that I loved every word–and by the way, I *did* love every word–and that Rowling could have easily tacked another couple hundred pages onto the end of it and it would have been just as splendid. I mean, there is a point where we simply can’t justify the length of a story just because some readers enjoy it.

  26. Melinda says:

    Just to add to the fun, I saw this morning that ICEFALL is an Edgar Award finalist: http://www.theedgars.com/nominees.html

  27. DaNae says:

    Dang! Melinda you beat me to it. I was just rushing over to gloat and brag. I’m so happy for my friend.

  28. Sheila Kelly Welch says:

    Thanks again, Nina and Jonathan, for leading a great discussion. One question, do you think it hurts a book’s chances of winning the Newbery when it’s published so late in the year — such as ICEFALL?

  29. Wendy says:

    Jonathan, you might feel differently about Icefall if you read the book.

    While I don’t assume to speak for everyone, I think some of the discontent expressed in the comments here is because we’ve been encouraged to share suggestions for titles and to use the Newbery criteria in our support, and many of us have done so repeatedly, but apparently to no avail. I think those of us who read and comment frequently here think of ourselves as part of this “committee”, and certainly you and Nina seem to have encouraged us to think like that, but from this post and the comments here, it seems like you don’t think that way. (It’s your blog to do what you will with, of course.) After all, we’ve heard several times over the last couple of years about how as a committee member you have to read other members’ top choices even if originally you’d put them aside.

    Maybe next year it would be interesting to include a wild card title or two within the shortlist–the Heavy Medal readers/commenters could vote on it.

    Nina, as for Hazel: she lives in her head. I’ve noticed a lot of women who read this book feel that her character expresses how they were when they were children in a way that’s almost painful to read. And the “good choices!” line–the exclamation point is the key sign that this is an ironic statement. Kids are told over and over to make good choices, it’s one of the Modern Parenting phrases–and googlebooks tells me that in this case, Hazel is parroting what her mother said to her page 73, which Hazel also mocks silently at the time, there on page 81. Hazel is trying so hard to do the right thing in this case, and hopes that by acting the way adults have told her to act (instead of the way she usually does, messing everything up), everything will be fixed.

    I don’t think comparing this book to Pie works very well. The structure and style are totally different; if the friendship between Hazel and Jack showed them interacting like the characters in Pie, it would destroy the sense of coldness and distance that is an important part of the book. (I can’t read page 22 online, so I can’t appreciate your direct comparison.)

  30. Jonathan Hunt says:

    Sheila, a late publication only hurts a book if it is not submitted early enough for the committee to read it. If the publisher sends ARCs early in the summer or fall then it shouldn’t be a problem, but if they wait until November or December then it hampers its chances, especially a title without buzz or fanfare.

    Wendy, I completely understand your frustration, and I think having a wild card title on the shortlist next year would be a great idea. I’ve also thought about possibly having occasional guest bloggers give us their top three, something to mitigate the “bully pulpit” effect of the blog. I didn’t make it to either ONE DAY or OKAY FOR NOW, but I’m going to take ICEFALL on the plane with me today to finish reading. We do try to read or look at most suggestions between the two of us, and once Nina finished it, I felt less pressure to do so. I’ve mentioned that my reading load this year is not only compounded by review deadlines (4-6 books every 2 months), but also by committee reading (50+ books and then rereads) so I do apologize for not making better progress on some of the suggestions. :-(

  31. DaNae says:

    That’s right Jonathan, I’d almost forgot, you are on the Edward’s committee this year. Can I ask who that works. Will you meet as a committee and duke it out like the book committees, or has the person already been decided upon?

    And do you want throw us a hint and let the chicken out of the COOP OR would you be SUEd?

    (I really shouldn’t try and be cute, I just embarrass myself.)

  32. Nina Lindsay says:

    And Wendy, I’ll just echo that I understand your frustration, and I’ve toyed with ways of using or introducing a wild card many times. I have to say that I’m not sure it would satisfy what you feel is lacking…i.e., just could be the sort of thing that pleases no one. We’ll continue to work on it though.

    I’d really encourage everyone to start your own, in person Mock discussions. That is really the satisfying way to duke it out. There are a lot of different ways to handle it, and there’s a new dowloadable toolkit you can buy on from ALA.

  33. Anne Ursu says:

    Goodness, if I’d known you had to be smoking something to enjoy my book, I would have rethought the intended age range.

  34. Melinda says:

    Where’s the Like button? :D

  35. Jonathan Hunt says:

    Anne, not only was that tongue-in-cheek, but it was meant to provoke a response in the discussion (and it did), particularly because I felt that while there was a case to be made for BREADCRUMBS, I simply was the wrong person to make it. But my remark was insensitive to passionate fans and the author so I apologize for that.

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