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Heavy Medal: A Mock Newbery Blog
Inside Heavy Medal

Shortlist, the Long Way

Our shortlist requires a little context, so we’ll start with some details.

This year’s in-person Mock Newbery Discussion will take place on Sunday, January 13th, in Oakland CA.  Logistics and registration are handled by email, so if you’re interested in participating, email me.

Over the course of four-ish hours that afternoon, we’ll discuss and vote on, according to the procedures of the real Newbery committee, the eight titles listed below: our fabricated list of nominations.  Those participating need to read all eight titles.   Thus, we try to make sure our list is manageable:  usually eight titles (it has been more) announced before Thanksgiving, and avoiding Nov/Dec pub dates.  We want you to be able to participate.

At the same time, we only select titles that we feel are strongly defendable according to the Newbery criteria.  Nothing you see below should be a huge surprise, nor should any omissions, once you’ve considered what Jonathan and I have said about each title so far this year.  Recent past years’ shortlists have had more “outlier” types of titles, especially in terms of format or genre, but in the end this year we had a strong core of 8 that we thought would make great Newbery discussion, still with a lot of variety, and each exemplifying some aspect of distinguished literary content.  For all that I’ve said recently about pushing the boundaries of the word “literature,” I do want to say something about words for a moment.  Because whether or not a Newbery book has distinguished elements outside of its text, the *writing* in it should be distinguished.  We’ve been talking about what makes a “typical” Newbery title, or a surprising Newbery title.  About what makes a certain title rise to the top for a particular reader or critic.  The Newbery criteria give us handles by which to measure them: “character,” “plot,” “theme,” etc.  But we can’t call a theme, or a plot, “distinguished” without showing how it is achieved in the text of the book.  It may be achieved through other elements as well, but, the prose has got to be distinguished.   I feel that more often than not adult readers lose sight of this; that our thoughts about what *kind* of theme, or *type* of characters are important and responsive to child readers drowns out the conversation on how *well* the author writes that theme, or those characters.   You are not going to see some very good books on this list: WONDER, CROW, THREE TIMES LUCKY, etc.  Some of you will disagree, but in my judgement, these books are all proficient, but not distinguished.  I see more clearly, in their prose, what the author is meaning and trying to do, rather than them doing it.

So, with just a little further ado, here are 8 that do it.  This isn’t the end of exploring other possibilities on this blog.  However….Jonathan and I have decided this year to forgo the online voting that we tried the last two years.  It doesn’t seem to achieve much beyond our weekly conversations, nomination tallies, reports on other Mock Newberies, or Goodreads polls.  Rather, we’re going to urge you outside of Oakland driving distance to go forth and try to arrange your own Mocks…and please report them here!  ALA’s Newbery and Caldecott Mock Election Toolkit is a useful resource if you need a hand in the mechanics…and the purchase comes with free access to the accompanying archived webinar by this year’s Newbery Chair, Steven Engelfried.

In alphabetical order by title:

BENEATH A METH MOON by Jacqueline Woodson.  Without argument: there’s an argument to be made regarding age level.  But one that the committee is bound to consider, and should with this title in particular, whose theme is developed so richly within the moment-to-moment texture of the prose.

BOMB by Steve Sheinkin.  I still need convincing, but not that this sets a standard for an engaging voice and pacing of historical nonficiton.

LIAR & SPY by Rebecca Stead. Author expectations and fan-dom aside, here’s characters, setting, and a teasing plot that stand out as some of the most vividly real of the year.

MOONBIRD by Philip Hoose.  I read it a while ago now but Hoose’s narrative still rings clearly in my mind.  Though it’s not a fail-safe test, that kind of “stickiness” in prose is usually a promising sign.

NO CRYSTAL STAIR by Vaunda Nelson.  Still a standout work of literature, it resists whatever box you try to put it into. Will make “mixed fruit” from our “apples and oranges” discussion.

THE ONE & ONLY IVAN by Katherine Applegate. Though we’ve been considering it all along, I think it lightly surprised both of us that this one still made out list. Sometimes those risky and unusual early-in-the-year titles take a picking apart in order to stay abreast with the front of the pack.

SPLENDORS & GLOOMS by Laura Amy Schlitz. Whether this is your type of book or not, it stakes its claim and builds a world utterly convincing in both interior and exterior landscape. Even Jonathan had a hard time arguing against it.

STARRY RIVER OF THE SKY by Grace Lin.  Yep, my praise was pretty tempered back there, but some of your comments were convincing enough that I’m starting to wrap my head around it in a different way.

There they are. Start re-reading.

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. Nice to see METH MOON on your list.

    For our first official, The Northern Utah Mock, will be held on Saturday Jan. 12, at 10:00 AM. The location at the moment is still undisclosed, but will be held in Salt Lake County.

    Our short list:



    LIAR & SPY










    If you are in area and interested contact me at and I’ll get the nifty flyer we made up. It’s in color and everything.

  2. I’m happy. For once the only ones I haven’t read (BENEATH A METH MOON and BOMB) are in our library, and I was going to read them anyway, for Capitol Choices. Of course, no online voting this time, but at least I can play along.

    On the other hand, I was not a big fan of Liar & Spy or Splendors & Glooms, but I have to admit you are right that the writing is outstanding. I just finished Starry River of the Sky last weekend, and I AM a big fan of it, as well as staying on team One & Only Ivan.

    I’ve actually got the first meeting of our Mock Newbery Club this afternoon. We have the Goodreads Mock Newbery coordinator helping (Hi Kristin!), but so far no kids signed up! Yikes! I have a lot of 2012 ARCs I can give away, so perhaps I’ll make an announcement in the library right before the meeting and lead off with “Free Books!” (And anybody in Fairfax, VA area? We’ll have another meeting in December, and vote in January. Come join us!)

  3. Another interesting thing about your list (to me anyway): Three titles on the list — the last three — are nominated for consideration by my particular Cybils panel, Middle Grade Science Fiction & Fantasy. I can’t get in to look at the Cybils lists right now, but the rest probably go this way:

    Middle Grade Fiction: Liar & Spy
    Young Adult Fiction: Beneath a Meth Moon (I’m not sure which way they went with this one, so I’m just guessing.), No Crystal Stair

    MG & YA Nonfiction: Bomb, Moonbird

    However you slice it, it looks like my panel got more titles from your shortlist than any other. (Though those are certainly different flavors of “Fantasy.” Some of us didn’t think Ivan really belonged in Fantasy, but the basic rule of thumb is that’s where talking animals go.)

  4. Well, I’ve read two and have three at home right now. Just had to return Moonbird because I’d had it too long and didn’t get to it. Maybe this will be the first year I actually finish the shortlist!

  5. So excited to get to work on this short list- I always make sure to pay extra care to the books you highlight! Thank goodness Thanksgiving break is here for all us teachers!

    Of the ones I have yet to read…Meth Moon seems the most problematic. Though I’m sure it will enter the committee’s discussion, the age of the characters and the content of their drug abuse seems inapplicable for the majority of the audience the Newbery should target. A book meant for a younger audience can always still be taught to older grades, but it is nearly impossible to responsibly teach a book like this to a younger crowd.
    I look forward to more discussion on this book- I’m sure many will bring up points I have yet to consider!

  6. Nina Lindsay says:

    Meghan, you should read it! A Newbery book does not need to be teachable for a wide range of ages, one way or another. It just needs to be “for children,” defined as up to fourteen years of age. Content doesn’t necessarily make something not a children’s book (and *plenty* of children experience drug use, sadly), but how it’s presented is what matters. I’ll try to post on this soon, since you’re looking forward to the discussion. Thanks.

  7. Meghan, but the Newbery is not an award to select appropriate books to be “taught” in a school setting….

  8. I’m officially on the waiting list at my library for this book- fingers crossed it gets to me soon!

    The teacher in me thinks of every book I read from a “teachable” POV- one of my favorite parts of teaching is introducing my kiddos to quality lit! I guess that’s where my previous comment stemmed from, although in my mind I was intending it as a reference to presentation to a child audience!

    I guess it begs the question, should the book be specifically for a SINGLE child audience (pre-teens, children with a familiarity with drug use, 8th and 9th graders, etc) or accessible to a larger audience of children- such as a random sampling.

    I’m sure many will see that as irrelevant in the discussion of eligibility as a whole-but it is a thought that always creeps into my “wonderings” when I consider the criteria of the audience.

  9. Jonathan Hunt says:

    Kirkus 100 Best Children’s Books are out!

    Here is the overlap with the 40 PW Best Books

    LIAR & SPY

  10. Unless Kirkus puts Bomb on its Teen list, it has been overlooked by both it and PW. What’s up with that?

  11. Also, add IN A GLASS GRIMMLY

  12. Nina Lindsay says:

    Meghan, it is both technically “irrelevant” to the criteria, and completely relevant to everyone’s musings about the award. I think it’s a valuable conversation so that we can talk about the difference of the value of literature from a “teachable” point-of-view, and from a “single-reader” point-of-view. To me, the Newbery is so valuable *because* it honors that connection between the text and the individual child reader, outside of any other context. If it’s teachable, that’s a bonus to me, but…. irrelevant.

  13. Very surprised that neither Kirkus nor PW included Bomb. Just finished reading it this weekend and thought it was as terrific as y’all have been saying (definitely in my top four, probably top three).

  14. Those 100 best books on Kirkus’s list don’t include any “teen” books — that list won’t be published till 12/10. So we can still hope! (for BOMB)

  15. Great list, but what about THE HUMMING ROOM, by Ellen Potter? Enchanting, haunting, exquisitely written. I loved that book! (plus, taking on The Secret Garden is no small feat!)

  16. Jonathan Hunt says:

    Here’s hoping we also see MOONBIRD in the teen list . . .

  17. I’m keeping track of the Best Book lists again and this year I’m using the Google Drive to store my spreadsheet making it easy to share:

    I enter each title each time it appears on the first page and color code for number of lists. The second page is unique titles (with call numbers for my library so we can do a display in late December and January). The highlighted lines there are what I’ve read for my personal tracking. If there’s additional info that anyone thinks would be useful, please let me know. As more lists appear, I plan to update.

    When I noticed Bomb wasn’t on the Kirkus list, I immediately assumed it would be showing up on the teen list. I’m more worried about Moonbird, but hopefully it will be there, too.

  18. The Kirkus editor’s choice — 100 best children’s books — has three tiles overlapping with the Heavy Medal short list: Liar and Spy, Splendors and Glooms, and The One and Only Ivan.
    See the full list here — of course there are plenty of picture books which are not on Heavy Medal’s short list:

    Wondering about other people’s take on the list… there are some titles that definitely didn’t get MY love this year… but also plenty of, “YES!!!” too!

  19. I just wanted to chime in and say that I am so pleased to see the shortlist up! Even though I do not think that I will be able to come this year, as I do not think that I would be able to read all of the books in time and that would mess up the process, I am really going to make an effort to come in person again next year. I attended a few years back (in 2007, actually) and still consider it one of the most enlightening experiences this book-lover ever participated in, and have read this blog pretty much every day since it migrated over to SLJ.

    Let’s get the home stretch of this discussion rolling!

    By the way, Nina and Jonathan, to how much of a degree did you take the “nominations” into consideration? It appears that most of the most-nominated titles match up with the final shortlist, with a wildcard favorite thrown in here and there to broaden the discussion.

  20. Jonathan Hunt says:

    Billy, we really didn’t take the nominations into account very much, probably because we already had a good idea of what we wanted to include from very early on, and were just fishing around for those last two books or so. Hey, what can we say? We all have good taste!

    I know we talked about ways to make this process more democratic with a possible write-in candidate, and now it seems like we’ve gone in the opposite direction by rejecting that idea and abolishing the online vote that we’ve done the past couple years. What we really hoped to do, however, was to inspire people to start their own Mock Newbery groups where they can have a greater degree of control over the shortlisted titles.

  21. Laura Canon says:

    Has anyone considered contacting Nate Silver about this? 😉

  22. Here is the shortlist for our Mock Newbery. These were picked by roughly 50 students Grades 4-8, who voted after reading from 40+ frontrunners (admittedly, we stuck with things we deemed appropriate for Grades 4). Students were allowed one vote for every three books they read, and voted with 1st, 2nd and 3rd place preferences.

    WONDER (I should disclose that the author is a parent at our school and we are sort of the setting, so there is almost no chance that any other book can win this year!)


    THE BOY ON CINNAMON STREET (huge hit with 4th Grade girls)



  23. DaNae, I love Adam, but IN A GLASS GRIMMLY doesn’t quite have the same magic A TALE DARK AND GRIMM had. I can’t put my finger on it, maybe it’s that he has delved into so much of his own territory with the second novel . . . I don’t know.

    I love his takes on the classic tales, and would have rather seen more of them in IN A GLASS GRIMMLY. Like The Frog Prince and The Emperor’s New Clothes and Jack and the Beanstalk. But sadly, everything else in the book reads pretty original. That’s not a bad thing, not at all. I just liked the feel of the first book better, and couldn’t help comparing the two.

    I will say though, I would read his stuff over lots of other people’s stuff any day of the week!

  24. Nina Lindsay says:

    Briar, thanks for sharing you kid-derived shortlist! Always interesting….

  25. Mr. H., My Grimmly comment referred to Johnathan’s list of books that made both “Best Of” lists so far. I realized after I’d sent it that I wasn’t very clear. I still need to read the book, or not.

  26. Anchorage Library is hosting our first Mock Newbery discussion!
    Details are here:

    Hopefully if the OWL equipment is installed soon (instead of sitting in my office mocking me), next year we will be able to video-conference in rural Alaskan librarians. (When I say rural, I mean there is no road that goes to their town.)

    Our short list:
    One and Only Ivan; One Year in Coal Harbor, Temple Grandin, Wonder, Splendors and Glooms, Bomb, Liar and Spy, Three Times Lucky, and Neversink.

  27. Curses! I was really looking forward to a heated discussion of Wonder followed by its slow but sure rise to the top!

  28. Jonathan Hunt says:

    I always assumed that WONDER would be on our shortlist, but our early discussion convinced me otherwise. Nobody every came up with an argument beyond how much they loved the book, how important it was, blah, blah, blah. Nobody ever really tried to justify it in terms of the Newbery criteria.

  29. MR. AND MRS. BUNNY too, Nina? I thought it was much more interesting than COAL HARBOR.

  30. Rebecca Hachmyer says:

    Ha– bonehead me! Didn’t see it there at the bottom. Let the debate begin!

  31. Rebecca Hachmyer says:

    Of a different list. Wow. I need a nap.

  32. Rebecca Hachmyer says:

    Jonathon, blame that on my new career as a graduate student…. I kept intending to compose an impassioned argument for Wonder but life (ie: Statistics) got in the way. Plus Wonder is one of those books that I just love SO MUCH that I almost can’t think critically about it, even in its favor. It just swept me away like one of the golden era jfics– right up there with a Katherine Patterson and an EL Konigsburg. Per my recommendation it has become a new favorite for several classes of students in Woodland and numerous patrons of Copperfield’s books (and my mother and three nephews to boot!). Forgive me, I wasn’t keeping a close enough tab on the discussion to realize that no one else had spoken up…. Any way we can throw it in as number 9?? I promise to gather my thoughts before the big day… and to take it to the top! :)

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