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Heavy Medal: A Mock Newbery Blog
Inside Heavy Medal

Easy Readers

Last year, we seriously entertained the idea of Newbery recognition for an Elephant & Piggie book, specifically I BROKE MY TRUNK!  Willems has two more books in the series this year: LISTEN TO MY TRUMPET! and LET’S GO FOR A DRIVE!  I’m equally enthusiastic about these books, and if I were on the real committee I would probably nominate the former book just to force the issue, but since our conversation on this blog would be very similar to what it was last year, I’ll pass this time around–unless you’re curious.

Willems is joined this year by two veteran author/illustrators with debut easy readers: Kevin Henkes with PENNY AND HER SONG and PENNY AND HER DOLL; David Macaulay with CASTLE: HOW IT WORKS and JET PLANE: HOW IT WORKS.  I’m happy to see Henkes bring his mouse books to a younger audience, but these easy readers strike me as more sweet and not as funny as the picture books (which shouldn’t be an issue for me since the picture books are not under consideration this year–just more baggage I need to process–and that’s just a personal preference anyway).  I really like the Macaulay books–CASTLE has more humor than JET PLANE and will probably play better to most readers–but adding a nonfiction bias on top of illustration and brevity biases doesn’t make me optimistic for its Newbery chances.

Next we have BINK & GOLLIE: TWO FOR ONE by Kate DiCamillo and Alison McGhee.  I like this book a lot, and the humor rooted in character is great, but I kind of feel that the three stories get progressively weaker.  Agree or disagree?

Toon Books have broken into the Geisel line-up several times, and this year they have THE SHARK KING by Kikuo Johnson which promises to make another run.  An added bonus: this is a retelling of an old Hawaiian folktale.

Do any of these eight titles strike you as underdog Newbery possibilites?  Enough that you want to champion them?  Seven of these titles are by big name authors.  This is a field that gets little fanfare: not much buzz and very few starred reviews.  Last year’s Geisel winner, TALES FOR PICK EATERS, for example, had neither.  Are there undiscovered gems out there we simply don’t know about?

Another issue: half of these books employ the medium of sequential art (i.e. comics) in some form or fashion, and that makes the job of finding evidence solely in the text very difficult.  But is it impossible?  I feel a graphic novel post coming on . . .

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’m all for easy readers receiving more recognition. You have a valid point about the illustrations, but it’s a necessity. After all, they are written for kids how need to become stronger readers so they can graduate to novels.

    Keep promoting them!

    Gwendolyn (who also writes easy readers)

  2. mslibrarian says:

    Jonathan, what do you mean by “since the picture books are not under consideration this year”? Here at Heavy Medal or at the Newbery Committee?

  3. Jonathan Hunt says:

    Ooops! I mean that PENNY AND HER SONG/PENNY AND HER DOLL may not be as good as LILLY, OWEN, JULIUS, and CHRYSANTHEUM but that point is immaterial since those picture books were not published this year. I’ve always thought easy readers would be a natural transition for Henkes because his mouse picture books always felt like easy readers. I do like the sweetness of PENNY but would like more humor–but that is an expectation created by the picture books and if I spend more time with the books I can probably get over that. SONG has three starred reviews, by the way; DOLL has four and counting.

  4. Penny and Her Doll is one my favorite books for the year: great story, great characters, and wonderful rhythm. I love the way the story comes full circle — right back to the garden. While I agree it is more sweet than funny, the humor is still there. Look at the opening scene where Mama and Penny are discussing the garden. (“I do not have a favorite weed, said Mama.”) This is a fantastic easy reader, and I’m happy to see another Penny book coming out next year.

  5. Jonathan Hunt says:

    More thoughts . . .

    1. The interesting thing about PENNY AND HER MARBLE is that it is listed at 48 pages, while SONG/DOLL are both 32. Is it possible that we will see an easy reader series that goes from 32 pages to 48 pages to 64, 80, and 96? I don’t know, but that’s an exciting possibility! I’ve got SONG on hand, but need to take a closer look at DOLL as the consensus is that is the stronger of the two.

    2. Mo Willems continues to impress. I really do think Elephant & Piggie will be his greatest legacy. As much as I love DON’T LET THE PIGEON DRIVE THE BUS and KNUFFLE BUNNY the sequels for those books don’t feel as fresh. For example, THE DUCKLING GETS A COOKIE, the 5th pigeon story doesn’t feel nearly as fresh as the 17th and 18th E&P books. As I mentioned, I would probably throw my support to LISTEN TO MY TRUMPET! Willems thumbs his nose at controlled vocabulary and sight words by riffing on quite a bit of onomaetopeia. Has anybody seen this much of it in a young easy reader before? It’s subversive–Willems continues to explore and expand the boundaries of the form. SQUEAK, RUMBLE, WHOMP! WHOMP! WHOMP! is another excellent example of onomaetopeia from this year, but it’s a picture book rather than an easy reader, and while it could function as an easy reader for some older students, I think the typography and the progressively tongue-twising nature of the text make it a better shared reading experience.

    3. I wanted to include a little sample of JET PLANE: HOW IT WORKS for the sake of comparing and contrasting it to A BLACK HOLE IS *NOT* A HOLE . . .

    “The wings of the jet are curved on top and almost flat on the bottom. As a plane picks up speed, the air moves faster over the wings than under them. The faster air pulls up. The slower air pushes up. This creates a force called lift.

    “The flaps along the back of the wings and the slats along the front make the the curve longer. This gives heavy planes the extra lift to get off the ground.”

    Does this piece of text strike you as more or less distinguished than BLACK HOLE? Most people will find CASTLE: HOW IT WORKS has more humor (but less purely technical information), and thus probably the stronger of the two, but next to BOMB and MOONBIRD . . . Uh . . .

    4. The obvious thing that I neglected to mention here is that this is a banner year for easy readers: DOLL has four starred reviews. SONG has three. TRUMPET, BINK & GOLLIE, and SHARK KING all have two. That’s a pretty strong showing for easy readers. Yes, some of that has to do with big name authors (who might accrue more stars), but still.

    5. As the last line hinted, I would like to examine some graphic novel texts through the lens of the Newbery criteria. I’ve got my eye on LITTLE WHITE DUCK and HADES: LORD OF THE DEAD, but please let me know if you think there are other worthy candidates out there . . .

  6. @Jonathan – I love HADES: LORD OF THE DEAD to death (gave it a 5Q for VOYA), but I think if there are weaknesses in it, they are in the text. The graphics are really what push it over the edge. So, my 2 cents would be to look elsewhere for a graphic novel Newbery crossover, but it’s worth reading in its own right, and I’d be interested to hear if you have a different take on the text.

  7. My favorite early reader this year is LULU AND THE DUCK IN THE PARK. Hilary McKay is golden (but not American!)

  8. Nina Lindsay says:

    I thought this BINK & GOLLIE was much stronger and tighter than the first one. I didn’t feel that the stories got progressively weaker at all. I appreciated how each one built on the emotion of the one previous, so that in some ways they needed to say less with each one to get more across. I do think that a lot of what is getting across is doing so in the illustration, which makes this one a hard sell for Newbery… this one works in the same way as DRAWING FROM MEMORY, to me.

  9. Jonathan Hunt says:

    5 1/2-year-old twin boys reading LISTEN TO MY TRUMPET!

  10. Elle Librarian says:

    I was just going to ask where LULU was on this list, but alas, Tricia answered that question for me. :(

  11. I find the Penny stories fairly underwhelming; simple to the point that they lack the Henkes charm. Bink and Gollie reads as way too cartoony (dare I say Sponge-Bobby?) and off-putting; the image of the man after he is hit in the face repeatedly made me uncomfortable.

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