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Heavy Medal: A Mock Newbery Blog
Inside Heavy Medal

Picture Books

In the vein of looking at some shorter fare, let’s look a little more closely at some texts in picture book format that have been mentioned in comments here. While I like each quite a bit, I’m not sure if any of them rise to my top ten for this year in Newbery potential.  Anyone feel otherwise?

AND THEN IT’S SPRING.  I think most people are looking at this title for Caldecott potential, as it’s illustrated by Erin E. Stead.  But it also shows the talents of first-time author Julie Fogliano, with understated whimsy tuned to a classic storyline: child plants seeds and waits for them to grow.  “then it is a week // and you worry / about those little seeds // and if maybe it was the birds, // or maybe it was the bears and all that stomping, / because bears can’t read signs / that say things like / ‘please do not stomp here– / there are seeds / and they are trying’ // and then it is one more week, //” I include the slash for line break and double- for page breaks so you can get a sense of how the rhythm and pacing of the text help with the emotional tension.  Notice how the lack of comma after “then it is a week” leads you straight to the worry; while the comma following “and then it is one more week,” makes you take a breath: and sure enough, when you turn that page, listening closely, something is changing.    This book to me is heavily reminscent of Ruth Krauss…the story is The Carrot Seed with a little The Growing Story, the rhythm and syntax (a lot of initial “ands”) are I Want to Paint My Bathroom Blue, the absurd bears are A Hole is to Dig.   I have a hard time not thinking of Ruth Krauss whenever I read this story, in fact.  But the world could use a talented author who might have been inspired by Ruth Krauss…who does not have a Newbery-eligible book this year, anyway.

EACH KINDNESS.  Jacqueline Woodson’s picture book text reads aloud beautifully, with a lively and present rhythm that nevertheless sounds and feels like normal speech or thought.   Here is a story that is all emotion, yet the words describe action more than feeling.  You know exactly how the speaker is feeling from what she describes happening in front of her: “And on that first day, Maya turned to me and smiled. But I didn’t smile back. I moved my chair, myself and my books a little farther way from her. When she looked my way, I turned to the window and stared out at the snow. / And every day after that, when Maya came into the classroom, I looked away and didn’t smile back.” From this kind of description comes a story of  respect, resilience, understanding, and regret that is perfectly pitched to a young audience.

WATER SINGS BLUE.  This is, of course, poetry, but in a picture book format.   These short rhyming poems about all kinds of creatures and things found in the sea are charming and fun, working with metaphor to help readers notice detail.  My favorite is “Jellyfish Kitchen,” which starts:  “The prim bell jar / with ruffled rim /my grandma used / to cover cake / has learned to swim. ” Though none of the poems reach beyond “good” to “distinguished” to me, it’s a wonderful collection, made more so by So’s watercolors.   As I read this in the museum garden down the street, a class of third graders marched past me and every single one stared at it as they went by.

Nina Lindsay About Nina Lindsay

Nina Lindsay is the Children's Services Coordinator at the Oakland Public Library, CA. She chaired the 2008 Newbery Committee, and served on the 2004 and 1998 committees. You can reach her at


  1. EACH KINDNESS is in my top seven goodreads Newbery list. It is stark and spare and poetic and makes readers feel and think hard. I think it is one of the most challenging books for readers of the year. I had a remarkable conversation with my fourth grade students about it. One said it is both a bad book and a great book, the bad being its difficult topic and great because of how it made them think. I’ve found that it is very hard for people of any age to consider that Maya, along with others, might have been so cruel, but it happens all the time. Woodson gets to the heart of how we are so complicated and can be both good and bad. I’m not always a fan of a teacher offering a lesson in a book, because it usually feels didactic in a not-good way, but it was necessary and worked in this one. I wish I had a video of the class conversation about this book as it was just incredible.

    There are a number of books this year that ask/encourage readers to consider complicated issues of how to act, live life, and this is one of my favorites. (I also liked the way Applegate made the zookeeper complex too in IVAN.) Woodson does so in a challenging way, but the book still ends hopefully (as I think books for that readership should) with the sense that even though Maya is unable to fix what she did to Maya she is going to be a different person because of what she did — she is not a one-shot-villain, unwilling to even acknowledge that she was mean, but did see what she did, is profoundly changed by it.

    Books from the point of view of the bully/harasser/mean child are rare to pull off and I think Woodson did an incredible job with this one. And that is not even getting into the gorgeous sentence level writing.

  2. “…even though Maya is unable to fix what she did to Chloe (not Maya)…”

  3. Jonathan Hunt says:

    I like all three titles that Nina has mentioned above–I even think WATER SINGS BLUE is distinguished, although not *most* distinguished, not in the way that DARK EMPEROR was.

    I’d like to add a couple more picture book/poetry possibilities . . .

    OH, NO! by Candace Fleming . . . The musicality of this text is really infectious especially once the reader nails the sing-songy cadence. I never thought Fleming would be able to top MUNCHA! MUNCHA! MUNCHA! but she has. It’s a great read aloud book and students can’t help but spontaneously joining in on the chorus. And the art is to die for (not that we consider that).

    SQUEAK, RUMBLE, WHOMP! WHOMP! WHOMP! by Wynton Marsalis . . . His earlier poetry collection JAZZ ABZ is relatively unknown, but very excellent. Perhaps if it had not been published the same year as A WREATH FOR EMMETT TILL and SONG OF THE WATER BOATMEN. Anyway, this single poem employs lots of onomaetopeia as I mentioned previously. I’ve taken another look at this one, and would like to recant what I said about its suitability as an easy reader. I could definitely see the Geisel committee recognizing this one.

    FORGIVE ME, I MEANT TO DO IT by Gail Carson Levine . . . Not a serious Newbery contender at all, but a must have for any teachers of poetry. Levine spends the whole book hilariously spoofing “This is Just to Say.”

    I’VE LOST MY HIPPOPOTAMUS by Jack Prelutsky . . . Another one that is not a serious Newbery contender, but is very kid-friendly, and like FORGIVE ME is an extended collection of poetry (i.e. more than 32-48 pages).

    Here’s the thing about both the picture books and easy readers: I like many of them, but I’m hard pressed to put them in my top three, let alone my top seven–at least in a vacuum where I’m isolated with my opinions. But people do wonky things in groups and if there was broad support for the right easy reader or picture book than I could definitely get behind it during committee discussions.

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