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Heavy Medal: A Mock Newbery Blog
Inside Heavy Medal

2012 Best Books Outliers

Consensus among best books lists is not necessarily the best indicator of Newbery recognition, and we’re now going to take a look at some books that made just a single list.  Last year, this excercise yielded a Newbery Honor book, BREAKING STALIN’S NOSE, which the Horn Book called and allowed us to save face.  Maybe one of these books will be a Newbery Honor this year.


Booklist has two outliers on its list: THE EXTRAORDINARY EDUCATION OF NICHOLAS BENEDICT by Trenton Lee Stewart and THE BOY ON CINNAMON STREET by Phoebe Stone.  The former book, of course, is a prequel to THE MYSTERIOUS BENEDICT SOCIETY, but I have not heard any buzz about this title at all.  It got a lone starred review from Booklist.  The latter book, however, got four starred reviews, but I really did not care for it very much.  It, too, has failed to capture any buzz, starred reviews notwithstanding.  They also picked PENNY AND HER SONG for their list, while three other journals went with the second volume in the series, PENNY AND HER DOLL.


Bulletin doesn’t really have very many outliers–at least, not your typical Newbery fare.  THE GREAT MOLASSES FLOOD by Deborah Kops would be hard pressed to sneak into the Sibert line-up, let alone the Newbery.  It doesn’t have any starred reviews, not even one from the Bulletin!  I found it well-written, but I wasn’t much interested in the subject.  Bulletin eschewed the Kevin Henkes bandwagon and selected BINK & GOLLIE: TWO FOR ONE and LISTEN TO MY TRUMPET as their easy reader choices.  I’m particularly elated by the latter choice, and if I were on the real committee, I would have suggested and, quite possibily, nominated it.  I didn’t make a big deal about it in this forum because our discussion would have closely mirrored last year’s conversation, but I remain no less enthusiastic about its distinguished qualities.


Not many outliers here either.  In fact, just one on the entire list: CHICKADEE.  This is one of my pet titles, as you already know, but I’m not sure that I could successfully argue that it’s better than LIAR & SPY and SPLENDORS AND GLOOMS.  It’s part of a series, but it’s a new arc in the series, so I don’t think that should hinder its chances.  I’d like to think this one is a frontrunner for the O’Dell and a darkhorse for the Newbery.  Erdrich has already won the National Book Award for THE ROUND HOUSE.  Could she nab the Newbery with CHICKADEE?  Here’s hoping Horn Book goes 2 for 2 with their outlier picks!


With the longest list, it’s not surprising that Kirkus has the most outliers.  I’m going to highlight just a couple: WATER SINGS BLUE which got four starred reviews and is, to my mind, the standout poetry collection of the year.  And THE REVOLUTION OF EVELYN SERRANO by Sonia Manzano.  With the explosion of Latino population in this country, it’s disappointing that there aren’t more books for/by/about them.  SUMMER OF THE MARIPOSAS by Guadalupe Garcia McCall is an SLJ outlier, but I think THE REVOLUTION OF EVELYN SERRANO is a more likely Newbery darkhorse.  They will both contend for the Belpre, however.


We featured WILL SPARROW’S ROAD in a post, while THE PECULIAR by Stefan Bachmann and THE FALSE PRINCE by Jennifer Nielsen have both been mentioned in the comments here and there.  Each one only got one starred review and one list–all from PW.  But what about THE SECOND LIFE OF ABIGAIL WALKER by Frances O’Roark Dowell?  Dowell is one of those writers who always manages to get 2-3 starred reviews for her books (ABIGAIL WALKER got two), they are always well-written and extremely kid-friendly, but for some reason she’s never broken through to major acclaim.  Could this be her year?


SLJ has several great nonfiction outliers led by SNAKES by Nic Bishop (three starred reviews) and THE MIGHTY MARS ROVERS (four starred reviews).  I’ve already mentioned SUMMER OF THE MARIPOSAS, and Nina discussed ONE YEAR IN COAL HARBOR, so their other notable fiction outlier is ON THE ROAD TO MR. MINEO’S by Barbara O’Connor.  Like Dowell, O’Connor is one of those authors whose books always seem to collect several starred reviews and child readers, but never break through to the big time.  This one started out really strong for me, but lost momentum throughout the novel.  Still, I’m happy to see it recognized here, if not with Newbery love.

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. Sheila Welch says:

    I have not read Barbara O’Connor’s ON THE ROAD TO MR. MINEO’S, but on Goodreads it’s gotten a whole lot of top ratings and a bunch of great reviews. The descriptions sound as if it’s a charming story and one I’d enjoy. So many books . . . !

  2. There are so many lovely books here, but Barbara O’Connor has long been a favorite of mine. She follows her stories wherever they lead, and her voice always rings perfectly true.

  3. I would give more than a squeal of delight if Dowd’s ABIGAIL shows up come the 28th. (Did I mention I will be in the room?) Some very interesting dual potting as well as a genuine look at girls and bullies.

    I just finished MR. MINEO and loved it. It’s a hard to categorize. I’d say a road trip – a very short road. The ending is simply lovely. Unlike Fran’s book I’m not sure of the audience, besides myself of course.

    Nina is turning me into a Horvath fan, I loved COAL HARBOR, but then I’m in the choir.

    • I’m not sure what duel potting is? It may, or may not have to do with two plots. (Sometimes I wish there was an edit button)

  4. Dowell not Dowd, above. Sorry. I only need the first three letter to shelve.

  5. I would really love to see WATER SINGS BLUE get some love.

    Most of these I haven’t read though because they are by authors whose work I haven’t enjoyed in the past. I only have so much reading time. 🙂 If they win I’ll read them.

  6. I liked THE SECOND LIFE OF ABIGAIL WALKER better than Dowell’s previous books, myself–as with JAKE AND LILY, it’s a fairly nuanced look at bullying (among other things).

    I’m another fan of Barbara O’Connor’s–ON THE ROAD TO MR. MINEO’S slipped through the cracks for me because the library didn’t have it yet when I marked it to-read, I see.

  7. Nina Lindsay Nina Lindsay says:

    CHICKADEE might be at this point my favorite contender that is not on our shortlist.

  8. I just moments ago, finished Jake and Lily. I agree with it being a strong look a bullying. Loved that one too.

  9. My disappointment with Dowell’s SMALL PERSONS WITH WINGS lead me steer away from her new novel (as a previous comment mentioned- SO many books! agh!) , but now I sort of find myself wishing I had picked it up. As it is I am scrambling to read my last minute titles- is ON THE ROAD TO MR MINEO’S worth reading before WHAT CAME FROM THE STARS? We’re getting down to the wire!

  10. As the world’s biggest Gary Schmidt fan, I say skip WHAT CAME FROM THE STARS. Both Dowell’s and O’Conner’s books are much more rewarding.

    • Wow, really? Of course, I was skeptical after reading Nina’s review but that disappointing huh? Maybe I’ll give it a read after awards reason…

      • I’d agree. I’m sure there’s a special reader for the sections that I’ve heard called “Tolkien-esque” (though the comments seem to be neutral on that, not positive), but I had to skip them and then skim the later sections in order to get through; the rest of it was OK, but not great, for me.

      • Genevieve says:

        I’d agree, too. I read the other-world chapters but they didn’t do much for me at all, and the book as a whole was mildly enjoyable but disappointing, certainly not even approaching the level of Okay For Now or The Wednesday Wars.

  11. Count me in as a CHICKADEE fan too. I’ve a few quibbles (mainly the way those truly nasty brothers end up so easily rehabilitated, especially for Chickadee himself), but it is definitely one I’d be able to get behind if I were on the Committee.

  12. I quite liked THE BOY ON CINNAMON STREET actually, but it’s an odd book. “A sweet preteen romance about repressed trauma,” as I keep selling it in booktalks. I imagine it’d be hard to build consensus around that one.

    Feeling annoyed that CHICKADEE was completely off my radar until now – I guess I assumed it was not a standalone.

    • I’m finding a lot of success with CINNAMON STREET among my reluctant girl readers.

    • We have been talking about CHICKADEE! Not loudly enough, I guess. It is part of a series, but having the cast of characters shift to the next generation makes it easy enough to read without having read the earlier ones. I think the plotting is a little uneven (the beginning dragged for me), but the rest of the book is terrific.

  13. Wendy and DaNae, I STILL don’t think JAKE & LILY is getting the attention it deserves! Maybe that’ll make it all the more sweeter when it comes away with some hardware in less than a month!

  14. Jonathan Hunt says:

    ON THE ROAD TO MR. MINEO’S started out really, really strong for me, and I thought, “Yes! This is the one. This is the breakthrough book!’ But it just lost steam for some reason. Still a lovely book.

    I can jump on the WATER SINGS BLUE bandwagon, but somebody else needs to drive it. I cannot jump on the WHAT CAME FROM THE STARS for any reason whatsoever. Or THE BOY FROM CINNAMON STREET–but is there a better book cover for its target audience this year? I think not.

    • The ending on MR. MINEO bumped it back up for me. I will agree that for such a wispy book it dragged in the middle.

    • I didn’t care for CINNAMON STREET on either stylistic or thematic levels. Or plotting. I’d recommend THE SECOND LIFE OF ABIGAIL WALKER or THE SECRET TREE as books for a similar audience.

  15. Of the books Jonathan mentioned, I’m most interested to read The Great Molasses Flood by Deborah Kops. I am hoping it will be on par with 2011’s wonderful Blizzard of Glass by Sally Walker.

    Chickadee is excellent. My only real concern (which has no impact on award selection) is the pretty pastel cover, which is a poor fit for a book about a boy who is kidnapped and goes on “an exciting and dangerous journey to get back home.”

  16. Has anyone else read Grace Lin’s DUMPLING DAYS? (Wendy? Danae? You both gave this one 4 stars on goodreads, do you think it could be a dark horse for an honor?)
    It does what it sets out to do as well as any middle grade fiction title this year.
    The question in my mind is whether or not DUMPLING DAYS sets out to do enough.

    • Yes, Eric yes! You are right. I felt like I’d seen modern Taiwan when I finished. The book was perfectly calibrated for it’s audience. It also made me hungry and wish for real Chinese food here in the states.

    • I don’t think it really has to “set out to do” anything in particular. My sister Laurie likes it for the Newbery; I don’t think it’s quite good enough stylistically. I thought it needed some tightening. But it is a great family story, funny and well-written for the most part.

    • Genevieve says:

      I liked Dumpling Days very much, and agree that it gives a great picture of contemporary Taiwan and is an excellent elementary-grade book. I hadn’t thought about it in terms of awards — would be a little surprised but certainly not unhappy if it won an Honor.

  17. So pumped for MR MINEO’S now! I put it on reserve at my library- I had completely forgotten that O’Connor wrote POPEYE AND ELVIS! Which I thought was excellent!

  18. mslibrarian says:

    Can someone explain to me why SUMMER OF THE MARIPOSAS garners such adoring fans?

    • First you’d have to figure out why UNDER THE MESQUITE had such adoring fans.

      • mslibrarian says:

        Since one can only compare this year’s books against each other for their own merits and weaknesses, considering a past work by any author would not have been helpful or even permitted. Right?

    • Yes – of course. I was just teasing a little because I find McCall’s work to be pretty uniformly mediocre – but apparently there are many people who disagree. I just can’t figure out why

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