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Heavy Medal: A Mock Newbery Blog
Inside Heavy Medal

Ladies and Gentlemen, Start Your Engines!

Welcome back for another season of Heavy Medal!  With such a strong field of books, it promises to be more exciting–and contentious–than ever.  WONDER by R.J. Palacio emerged as a popular favorite from the spring season while LIAR & SPY by Rebecca Stead and SPLENDORS AND GLOOMS by Laura Amy Schlitz have dominated the buzz since their respective publications last month.  But there are lots of strong middle grade fiction contenders to consider and a host of strong possibilities in less traditional Newbery genres to sort through.  If you need to brush up on some of them then please check out our running Newbery 2013 reading list, the goodreads Newbery 2013 poll, and the For Those About to Mock blog.

If I may build on the racing metaphor alluded to in the title of this post, those cars with the best qualifying times are rewarded with better starting positions in the final race and, of course, no starting position is more coveted than pole position, being the inside track on the front row.  So, if we may think of our initial readings as qualifying rounds, which books have earned more serious consideration for a second reading?  And which one has earned pole position?

For me, no work of fiction has impressed as much as NO CRYSTAL STAIR by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson (which has already picked up the Boston Globe-Horn Book Award for Fiction).  Likewise, MOONBIRD by Phillip Hoose and BOMB by Steve Sheinkin strike me as the best nonfiction books so far.  And if I had to deliver my first round of official Newbery nominations a month prematurely (still lots of reading) then it would be these three.  Over to you.  Which books, in your estimation, have the inside track?  And pole position?

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. Jonathan, I’m with you on No Crystal Stair. Loved it! I’m in the middle of Moonbird and Splendors and Glooms, and I can’t wait to see Bomb. I’d need to reread it to be sure, but The One and Only Ivan made a big impression on many of my Cinci colleagues. I liked it, just not as much as they did. And I certainly see Wonder as this year’s Okay For Now; lots of strong opinions on that one. Should make for some interesting discussion!

  2. Glad to see a fellow Moonbird fan! I also feel very strongly about Wooden Bones, by Scott William Carter. I think the Stead and Palacio titles are the most likely candidates at the moment, but No Crystal Stair is making a push.

  3. Aside from the ones you mention, I find myself thinking fondly of Mr. and Mrs. Bunny, Detectives Extraordinaire! I think it merits a reread.

  4. My top two are Liar & Spy and Bomb (need to reread Bomb with an actual physical copy before I can determine which one deserves my top spot). Third is probably Summer of the Gypsy Moths but I have still yet to read What Came from the Stars, Shadow on the Mountain, Starry River of the Sky, or Splendors and Glooms all of which come with tons of trusted praise.

    Sam, I get what you’re saying about strong opinions but it seems really disrespectful to put Okay for Now into the same category as that terrible Wonder book. Calling it this year’s Out of My Mind seems more accurate.

  5. Jonathan, I’m sorely behind in my reading . . . two kids will do that to you! But I had a question: One of the few books I read and LOVED this summer was THE CASE OF THE DEADLY DESPERADOS by Caroline Lawrence. However, while she is an American citizen, it would appear that she no longer resides in America. Does that make her out of the running?

    Have you read that title?

  6. Jonathan Hunt says:

    Caroline Lawrence is okay as far as citizenship/residency goes. That is, that she can be an American citizen living abroad (as Sharon Creech was at the time). What trips her book up is that it was (a) published in the UK during the previous calendar year, nearly eight and a half months prior to its US publication, and (b) that the editorial for the book almost surely did not originate with her US publisher, meaning that Penguin probably bought the rights to a finished book rather than actively developing it.

  7. Aw schucks. Have you read DEADLY DESPERADOS? I thought it was great!

  8. Eric said: ” it seems really disrespectful to put Okay for Now into the same category as that terrible Wonder book. Calling it this year’s Out of My Mind seems more accurate.”

    I wouldn’t call Wonder “terrible”, but I definitely agree that it’s this year’s Out of My Mind: a book that everyone loves and wants to win because they like the ideas in the book and the “wonderful messages for children!” rather than because it is a book of noted literary merit. (Whether or not it is book of noted merit can be debated in its own post. My point is that most of the people I’ve seen vehemently advocating for the book are not discussing its literary merit, they only want to talk about the message, why they think all children should read it, etc.)

  9. I haven’t done any rereads yet and I am, as always, completely behind in my non-fiction reading. (Thanks for the suggestions!) That being said as of now my three titles would be: Liar & Spy, Crow, and No Crystal Stair.

    There are so many books I’m looking forward to discussing though and am not really coming into this with a “favorite” this year. I’m just excited it’s back!!!

  10. My favorite book of the year so far is SUMMER OF THE GYPSY MOTHS but I foresee too many credibility issues for the race Newbery.

    I quite liked WONDER, for its writing and all, but I expect it to be kicked to hell and back in this here local.

    So it is September, and I don’t have a favorite to snarl and growl for as yet, which is unusual.

    Now I would like to exploit the collective knowledge that shows up at this watering hole. I’ve been compiling my list for my student Newbery Club. We don’t do a shortlist and I tend to put many eligible books that don’t stand a chance on the list, along with front runners. I’ve been using GoodReads to compile. I’m going to beg anyone who is willing to look it over and let me know of any glaring omissions or errors.

    Mr. H, I just reluctantly removed Deadly Desperadoes. I am also a fan. I giggled that the one student who’s read it so far didn’t get the gender bend.

  11. I hear you, Eric… but I didn’t think Okay For Now, was all that great, either – hence the comparison.

    Danae, I don’t see glaring omissions or errors or anything with your list, but what I did see almost made me faint… Kate Milford has a new book out TODAY, and it is the prequel to The Boneshaker?! Holy crap!

  12. So glad I could knock you off your feet, Sam.

  13. I quite liked WONDER, back when I read it, but I don’t know if it would stand up to scrutiny. I recently read LIAR & SPY, and I’d probably consider it my front-runner at the moment. THE ONE AND ONLY IVAN and THE LIONS OF LITTLE ROCK are two more that I read earlier in the year, and while I remember them being good, I’m not sure how good. SUMMER OF THE GYPSY MOTHS and THREE TIMES LUCKY might also be contenders, but I had problems with credibility on both of them.

  14. Sam, are you in for a treat. The Broken Lands is SO GOOD. I haven’t read The Boneshaker, but I loved The Broken Lands so much that I immediately ordered it since our library doesn’t have it.

  15. Pat Clingman says:

    I’m still holding in there with THE ONE AND ONLY IVAN! Welcome back, Nina and Jonathan. I feel like I’m holding my breath until Heavy Medal comes back in September! :)

  16. TeenReader says:

    For some reason, No Crystal Stair doesn’t seem to be anywhere in the county libraries. But I loved Wonder and Bomb is on my to-reads. I haven’t heard much buzz for The Mighty Miss Malone, which I love and hope gets at least an honor. Did anybody have a similar reaction?

  17. TeenReader – I read, and was not wowed by, The Mighty Miss Malone. It seemed to be so much more about the brother and the dad. I didn’t see any strong characterization or anything new with plot either. It was just another book, disappointingly so.

    I agree on Wonder. I’ve been reluctant to say so on Twitter because of the love it’s been receiving, but as Alys mentions, it’s for the message not the literary merit.

  18. I feel the same as Jonathan and some of the rest of you about No Crystal Stair, but there has also been SO much excellent fiction published this year that it’s going to be a difficult field. I don’t even know how Jonathan and Nina are going to rein it in–I’m overwhelmed with possibilities. I can think of so many books that I’d be happy to see win or get honors, and usually at this point in the year I’m flailing wildly to come up with something I think is “good enough” and only have books I’d like to rule out. So far, besides No Crystal Stair (which–the crazy thing is that it has such a narrow focus, such a limited audience, largely of highly intellectual children, I’d think, and yet it is THAT GOOD that I don’t even care), some of my front-runners are Ivan, Liar & Spy, and my outlier, Kindred Souls by Patricia MacLachlan. I still have a lot to read. A few talked-abouts that I haven’t cared for: Wonder, Gypsy Moths, Lions of Little Rock.

    Seriously, in what world does a book called No Crystal Stair: A Documentary Novel of the Life and Work of Lewis Michaux, Harlem Bookseller rise to its current ranking of #14 on the Goodreads poll? This book has quality that a lot of people are recognizing.

    Since a lot of the frontrunners are very somber, I urge all to take a look at Remarkable by Lizzie K. Foley–it belongs in the discussion, but it’s also FUNNY.

  19. I love Liar & Spy and just got a copy of Bomb that I can’t wait to start reading. I’ve been trying to find Moonbird, but it’s not in our library. I am not crazy about Wonder. And I still have a stack of books to read.

  20. A poetic picture book with a complex and powerful story is Jacqueline Woodson’s EACH KINDESS out in early October. I’d love to see it discussed here.

  21. I should also say I think the issue of message in books for children is an interesting one. While I do recognize that the message in WONDER does drive a lot of folks appreciation of it, I also feel it is an accomplished first novel that is worth our examination. Might be an interesting contrast to EACH KINDNESS which also deals with bullying and has a more complicated ending than WONDER. I say “complicated” because I don’t thing one is better than the other, each does different things with the topic of child bullying/isolation/response to difference/etc.

  22. Speaking of Jacqueline Woodson, one book that no one seems to be talking about that I feel is very strong is BENEATH A METH MOON. If falls into the 12 to 14 range, but it is there solidly. I found the voice in particular compelling beyond comfort.

  23. A bag of cookies for anyone who can tell me when Newbery Day 2013 is this year. I know it is in Seattle but the ALA and ALSC websight seems to be keeping the date a dark close secret.

  24. DaNae:

    Newbery should be announced Monday January 28th. It’s the Monday morning of ALA Midwinter

  25. I have so many books to catch up on, but I adore IVAN and THREE TIMES LUCKY. I don’t think anyone’s mentioned MAY B., but that’s another of my favorites from this year.

  26. sam leopold says:

    january 28th……i love cookies

  27. Thanks, Amy and Sam, let me know where to send the cookies.

  28. My personal favorite this year so far is Palace of Stone, by Shannon Hale. I may be biased because I love her books so much, but I love the way she put political questions into the light fantasy story. I have more hopes for The Summer of the Gypsy Moths. And The One and Only Ivan is really well-crafted. When I first read Wonder, I was on board with it, but I do have a few issues with it. Still, I’d be happy if it gets some honor.

    Liar & Spy? It is good, but without the time travel, it doesn’t pack the punch of When You Reach Me. (I know, that’s not the criteria. But it doesn’t pack the punch of Summer of the Gypsy Moths either.)

    No Crystal Stair? Yeah, okay, it’s good, but it reads like nonfiction and keeps you at a distance. I don’t find it in my heart to love it like the others. I’ll have to think about how to word that in terms of the criteria!

  29. Hmm. Seattle…. I wasn’t going to go to midwinter, but that would be a great excuse to tack on a vacation and visit my son in Portland…. With my younger son now in college, I can take vacations willy-nilly! Woo-hoo!

  30. @Sondy – I haven’t read NO CRYSTAL STAIR yet, but I’m intrigued by your phrasing “reads like nonfiction” — it’s a bit of a pet peeve of mine that these awards and stars and such tend only to go to nonfiction that “reads like fiction” so I kind of love the idea of a novel that reads like nonfiction. But, that’s what makes a peeve a “pet” I suppose.

    I thought MIGHTY MISS MALONE was amazing – better than any Curtis novel except BUT NOT BUDDY.

    and I agree with Danae that BENEATH A METH MOON deserves some attention. Although I do not in the end think it stacks up to some of the other books mentioned on this thread, it was still quite good, and very thought-provoking.

  31. Elizabeth Bird says:

    Is no one going to mention TWELVE KINDS OF ICE? Seems to me that’s a clear early chapter standalone worthy of a ton of discussion. Surely someone else has read it, yes?

  32. Betsy, your review had me drooling to read TKOI, but us ARCless peons must wait for November.

    Mark I adored THE MIGHT MISS MALONE, mainly because Curtis can’t write something I won’t adore, but the passive protagonist is a BIG issue.

  33. I know that it doesn’t really matter what kids think, but The One and Only Ivan is Charlotte’s Web good.

    I would hate for one of these fine books to be turn into the next Secret of the Andes.

  34. I’m so glad this blog is back! My front runners so far are:


    As dark horses, I’d submit:

    SEE YOU AT HARRY’S by Knowles – I thought this was too terribly sad, but it was also beautifully written. I’d love to hear what others thought of it.

    WE’VE GOT A JOB by Levinson – The opening alone is pretty awesome. This isn’t a perfect book, but its best bits are really gripping.

    A BLACK HOLE IS NOT A HOLE by Decristofano – This is definitely not your standard Newbery fare, but we should really be giving awards to books about scientific concepts that are this funny and fun to read.

  35. Are there any plans to bring official kid commentators to Heavy Medal? It worked so nicely with BoB last year.

  36. Jonathan Hunt says:

    Mr. H: I wanted to read THE DEADLY DESPERADOS, but checked the eligility first and then set it aside. Maybe I can get back to it eventually because the combination of the western and mystery genres seemed like an inspired idea!

    Betsy: I swear nobody has seen TWELVE KINDS OF ICE except you and Laura Amy Schlitz (who blurbed it). Anybody else?

    Rebecca: We have talked about incoporating more viewpoints on Heavy Medal, but didn’t specifically discuss children, although I do agree that it was wildly successful on BOB. Something for us to think about and investigate, to be sure.

  37. There was one (1) ARC of TWELVE KINDS OF ICE at ALA, in such a state of pre-pre-pre-publication that it wasn’t even bound. I flipped through it, and it certainly looked arresting, but I don’t feel like I had enough time with it to give it any kind of real opinion.

    One other book that I haven’t seen talked about much at all, but that might end up being the dark horse that I plan to jump up and down and shout about is BREATHING ROOM, by Marsha Hayles. Simply beautiful.

  38. The One and Only Ivan is at the top of my list.

  39. I enjoyed THE DEADLY DESPERADOS tremendously and, knowing its author was American, was very disappointed when told of its publication and editing history.

    I…er…actually…er have an ARC for TWELVE KINDS OF ICE. It is lovely indeed and deserves to be under consideration.

  40. I’m also a big fan of Kate Milford – I did read THE BONESHAKER, which was one of my favorite books of 2010, and I think THE BROKEN LANDS is even better. She’s the real deal.

  41. I am way behind on reading these contenders. I did love Splendors and Glooms, which I thought intricate and absorbing and really dark, but not too dark. I think what got me, though, was that it seemed too old for Newbery. That 12-14 place is a difficult one, and I always cheer for Newbery books that fall younger.

  42. Colby, it doesn’t actually matter what ANY of us think–don’t discount your opinion or participation!

    That No Crystal Stair reads like non-fiction is one of its strengths. I think that speaks to its integrity as a biography.

    I’m kind of troubled by something I noticed last year… this blog is more well-known than it used to be, and judging by the number of different commenters here, it’s going to be even bigger than last year. It seems like it’s getting unwieldy. The comments, in particular, are difficult to keep up with. It’s better now that the last ten recent comments show up in the sidebar, but still problematic. I don’t really know any solution, though. I just hope we can continue to have good, in-depth discussions. It does help that more people are using names or unique handles now, though. The most difficult thing about the blog being huge is that it is SO difficult to find a reference later. Where was it that I explained what I liked and didn’t like about Jefferson’s Sons? (could be in some random post not labeled Jefferson’s Sons!). Where was it that Jonathan said he was enthusiastic about some genre of book? Etc.

  43. I agree with Wendy on the difficulty of tracking down a specific (often week or months old) point or opinion within the comments. Is there anyway to add tagging to both the actual blog entries and the individual comments? I imagine an additional sidebar with a hyperlink to each tagged author or title that would bring up every entry or comment containing reference to said author or title. I’m not sure this is feasible but it would potentially make it easier to find that buried reference. Barring that, I think simply putting the titles in all caps does make it slightly easier to scan down the screen for the title you’re looking for.

  44. Jenn Longee says:

    I loved NO CRYSTAL STAIR; it gave me a new personal hero. I also found THE ONE AND ONLY IVAN to be exceptional. Another possibility is Frances O’Roark Dowell’s THE SECOND LIFE OF ABIGAIL WALKER. It got two starred reviews from Kirkus and Publishers’ Weekly. It also got a strong review from The New York Times, though no reviews yet from SLJ or Booklist.

  45. Jonathan Hunt says:

    Sondy: Your comments about NO CRYSTAL STAIR continue to irritate me and I’m sure we’ll unpack a lot of this baggage when we get to that specific discussion soon. I can appreciate that the book “keeps you at a distance,” but you have used the phrase “reads like nonfiction” as a pejorative term.

    GraceAnne: It’s interesting that you find the audience for SPLENDORS AND GLOOMS to be in the 12-14 range because I felt like it was a juvenile book through and through, a long juvenile book with a smallish audience, but a juvenile book nonetheless.

    Wendy/Eric: We know that navigating the blog is getting unwieldy. We had our monthly archives reinstated; they disappeared last year when we added Someday My Printz Will Come and Calling Caldecott. We also tweaked the Popular Post feature so that it would reflect the older posts. We did tag posts on the old blogging platform, but obviously haven’t done it for the past couple years. Another thing for us to discuss.

  46. I see HOUSE HELD UP BY TREES by Ted Kooser as a worthy contender for the Newbery.

  47. I’ve been reading a lot this fall, in anticipation of Heavy Medal. Excited!

    I love IVAN. It’s spare and clean and emotional, but different.

    I think the voice in THREE TIMES LUCKYis pretty awesome– teetering on the edge of adorable quirk but really authentic. Impressive.

    And the further I get from it, the more I love CROW. Really unusual book in a lot of ways. It’s stuck with me.

    Next up for me is the Broken lands. I’m excited to hear people have loved it!

  48. In thinking about how to make the blog easier to navigate, could I suggest moving the “Popular Posts” section below the “Recent Comments” section? I know that the Recent Comments is what I look at first when I come to the site, to see if anything new has been afoot.

  49. Jonathan Hunt says:

    They’re working on stuff right now and won’t let us make changes, but I’ll make this suggestion once they’re done.


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