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Heavy Medal: A Mock Newbery Blog
Inside Heavy Medal

Will Lightning Strike Twice?

We’ve already considered the work of Christopher Paul Curtis (THE MIGHTY MISS MALONE), Karen Cushman (WILL SPARROW’S ROAD), Kate DiCamillo (BINK & GOLLIE: TWO FOR ONE), Rebecca Stead (LIAR & SPY), Laura Amy Schlitz (SPLENDORS AND GLOOMS)–and I’d like to consider Russell Freedman (ABRAHAM LINCOLN & FREDERICK DOUGLASS) a bit later in the context of the other biographies published this year–so by my count that leaves five remaining Medalists unaccounted for.

I’m of two minds about SON by Lois Lowry.  On the one hand, I think Lowry does a good job of tying the three previous companion novels together, and succeds in doing so, in spite of the segmented structure of the story.  There is evidence of distinction in many of the literary elements, most notably the dovetailing of Claire’s emotional and physical journey and the twin themes of motherhood and sacrifice.  On the other hand, it sort of reads like THE GIVER meets THE GIVING TREE.  Some people may perceive this as more of a YA book than its predecessors.  Others will probably quibble with the issues that naturally arise from judging the concluding volume of a quartet independent of said predecessors.  Neither one is a problem for me, and while I’m happy to have revisited this world, I can’t get excited about it for the Newbery.

I also have mixed feelings about KINDRED SOULS by Patricia MacLachlan.  One the one hand, I’m having a hard time finding transitional chapter books this year for primary grade students, and this one would certainly fit the bill.  The book is short; the chapters are short; the writing is spare, elegant, and graceful; and the relationship between the various characters are portrayed with depth and wisdom–all MacLachlan trademarks.  And yet I found the plotting left something to be desired.  The idea of this young boy wanting to build a sod house for his dying grandfather is quite touching.  The idea of him actually doing it (with help from the family) bordered on ridiculous.  Another question: this is such a quiet little book (compared with what we considered last year for this field–SIR GAWAIN, TOYS COME HOME, CLEMENTINE, and ALVIN HO) that I wonder how it plays to the chapter book crowd.

Like Lowry and MacLachlan, Creech remains firmly in her wheelhouse: brisk plotting with short chapters and mysteries galore coupled with quirky characters on a journey of one kind or another.  It’s a winning formula that always works for me as a reader–this one is no exception–but I’m not hearing much buzz about this title, and I think it may be the result of an author staying so firmly in said wheelhouse that it’s hard to get excited despite the obvious strengths of the book.  Nina said as much regarding Karen Cushman and WILL SPARROW’S ROAD–and we could probably say the same for many of the authors profiled in this post.  Still, I think THE GREAT UNEXPECTED is stronger than SON or KINDRED SOULS.

These next two I have not read yet, so I’m going to quote liberally from the reviews and hope that readers will pitch in on the comments.  First, we have SOPHIA’S WAR by Avi which has, to date, accrued three starred reviews.  Booklist: “Few historical novels are as closely shaped by actual events . . . Avi manages to keep the fictional narrator on the scene for a good deal of the action and uses real moments to bring the imagined story to its dramatic heights.”  School Library Journal:  “Sophia’s War is outstanding historical fiction, bringing to dramatic life the human story behind extraordinary events. The climax is a seamless incorporation of hard fact with thrilling espionage . . . Rich in period detail, the atmospheric prose vividly re-creates old New York and allows readers to experience Sophia’s conflicting emotions.”

JAKE AND LILY by Jerry Spinelli has been mentioned here and there in the comments.  It’s been awhile since I’ve read Spinelli . . . it’s also been awhile since he’s had buzz.  This one has one starred review.  Publishers Weekly: “Spinelli adroitly balances emotional tension with introspective moments in this smart and funny story about a pair of twins growing apart . . . Spinelli doesn’t suggest that the two will go back to being the people they once were; rather, he celebrates each child’s individualism and growing self-awareness.”

We are typically drawn to the work of previous winners, especially when those winners have produced a long body of excellent work.  The irony is that the chances of repeating are quite slim, and yet we pay an awful lot of attention to these books anyway.  I know Stead and Schlitz are the odds-on favorites to repeat, but do you think any of these stand a chance at an upset?

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 like KINDRED SOULS for the Newbery. I need to reread, because it struck me hard on an emotional level, but I agree with the good things you say about the writing; I would add that, while it is a quiet book, it has a lot of fun and/or interesting details and anecdotes that many kids will enjoy. The process of building a sod house, for instance, works the same way Little House in the Big Woods works for kids. (I didn’t think it ridiculous at all; you and I probably inhabit different worlds.) This book has a lot of depth for the length, and works on many levels.

    I found JAKE & LILY so refreshing after WONDER and other realistic fiction I’ve read this year. I thought it told a much more “real” story about bullying (and a challenging one, too, though I haven’t read EACH KINDNESS yet). I noticed also that it does an excellent job of making the kids the true protagonists, the ones who take action; several books I’ve read lately have the adults stepping in at crucial moments in ways that make me either yawn or roll my eyes. I disliked MANIAC MAGEE, so I didn’t come to this with any preconceived notions about Spinelli.

    These are both really solid, kid-oriented books, not the most exciting or provocative of the year, but of high quality. And both are in my Newbery top ten.

  2. I’ll hold my comments on Lincoln & Douglass a bit!

  3. It’s a longshot — and it didn’t make our semifinal list — but I can envision a committee that would pick THE GREAT UNEXPECTED. I enjoyed it, and I have precious little tolerance for “magical realism about orphaned girls” books — the writing was enough to win me over, as was the beautifully half-open ending. I have some structural concerns about the book, but it does have a lot of merit.

    Rachael gave a decent review to JAKE & LILY, and a tepid at best one to KINDRED SOULS. For the reasons of YA-ness and stand-alone-ness, we elected not to cover SON. A win by any of those three would greatly surprise me. I haven’t read SOPHIA’S WAR either.

    Also, although I don’t think it’s a winner, LINCOLN & DOUGLASS was really, really good. It could easily show up on the Siebert list.

  4. Jonathan Hunt says:
  5. TeenReader says:

    The fiction on the PW list is expected, but no BOMB or ABRAHAM LINCOLN & FREDERICK DOUGLASS on the nonfiction list is a glaring oversight.

  6. Jonathan Hunt says:

    PW had 40 titles on their list. Only 4 of them are nonfiction. This includes not just the nonfiction that we have been discussing here (see it’s Written in the Stars for an updated list), but the excellent picture book nonfiction this year such as ISLAND by Jason Chin, ELECTRIC BEN by Robert Byrd, THE BEETLE BOOK by Steve Jenkins, and LIFE IN THE OCEAN by Claire Nivola, to name just a few. While I am a fan of many things about PW’s list, given the excellent nonfiction books this year, their fiction/nonfiction ratio threatens to seriously undermine their authority. And then when you leave things off like BOMB or MOONBIRD in favor of OLIVIA AND THE FAIRY PRINCESSES, well, you just embarrassed yourselves, PW!

  7. THE GREAT UNEXPECTED didn’t work for me. I loved the typical Creechness of it, but the vague magical realism was irritating. I was so annoyed at the end. I made a contemptuous noise that expressed my annoyance and my husband looked over and said, “That book’s not getting a very good review. I know that noise.” (My review wasn’t that bad.)

    JAKE AND LILY was good, but not great. I gave it an okay review and added it to my book report list. (My daughter is reading it now.) But I can’t really get excited over it.

    I am not reading SON. I have ignored all of the books that followed THE GIVER because I loved the ending so much I don’t want it spoiled.

  8. Jonathan, I’m so excited. You’ve included two of my top three here! JAKE & LILY and THE GREAT UNEXPECTED.

    I think I’m so into these two titles this year, because I haven’t been able to read as much for enjoyment, so I’ve resorted to returning to comfort food type authors. Authors I know I enjoy. It just so happened that two of them turned out incredible books.

    I’m finding more and more time to read as I get my feet settled in grad school, so hopefully, I’ll be able to start weighing in more often.

    Have you read JAKE & LILY? What’d you think?

  9. Nadine Poper says:

    The One and Only Ivan is a beautiful story! Would LOVE to see a gold or silver sticker on it.

  10. Sara Ralph says:

    Loving The Mighty Miss Malone!

    Not going to make it through Son before the announcement, but I adore that series. If it happens, it would be Lowry’s third win.

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