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Heavy Medal: A Mock Newbery Blog
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Nonfiction Mini Mock

On this exciting inauguration/MLK Day, it feels special to have you all checking in to Heavy Medal! While you’re here, don’t forget to vote (deadline Tuesday morning), and to update us on your Mock Newberys.

Meanwhile, in some comment that I can no longer find, I promised a “Nonfiction Smackdown.”  Building our shortlist, there was very strong showing of potential nonfiction candidates that Jonathan and I talked about including.  We chose BOMB and MOONBIRD as two of the strongest that also exemplified different kinds of nonfiction narratives.  But, if we’d let ourselves and go whole-hog with a nonfiction-only shortlist, it might have looked something like this.  (The first four are YALSA nonfiction finalists and I’m just listing them randomly after that.)   Talking about nonfiction specifically with only the Newbery criteria in mind is an interesting exercise that doesn’t necessarily do full justice to the book.  But each of these below succeeds primarily because of the literary strengths of their texts.  Which ones (okay: pick three) could you make the best stand for at a Mock Newbery?

BOMB by Steven Sheinkin / Roaring Brook Press.  Have we exhausted this one yet? Most recent discussions at Mock Newbery Results and More Bomb.

MOONBIRD by Phillip Hoose / FSG.  The discussion at our Mock Newbery detailed the uneveness in arc and focus that made this feel weaker than Sheinkin, but I still think that Hoose’s sentence-level narrative skills might be the top of this list, and his source notes provided exactly what I felt Sheinkin’s lacked.  For a previous post/disucssion, see Jonathan’s thoughts.

TITANIC: Voices for the Disaster, by Deborah Hopkinson / Scholastic.  This one got some discussion at Disasters and Hoaxes, …and then didn’t quite make our shortlist, so probably has not gotten it’s due yet on this blog.  Of all the titles presented here, this is the one where the author most “disappears” in a completely effective way….reminding me of our discussions about Hoose’s CLAUDETTE COLVIN, noting the skill in how to select and present other people’s words.

WE’VE GOT A JOB  by Cynthia Levinson / Peachtree Press. First discussed here, this one also narrowly missed our shortlist, but keeps cropping up on people’s favorites.  It’s a fabulous read, and my own perspective needs some more tempering, because I keep wanting to compare it to previous years books on similar subjects that I think were stronger.   The author stays very behind the scenes here too, and that might be my only criticism when comparing this to others here…that even with TITANIC I had more of a sense of who the author was, and their angle.  That is really nitpicking on my part, as the voice of these four young people who “did their job” comes through loud and clear.

TEMPLE GRANDIN  by Sy Montgomery  / Houghton Mifflin. First discussed here, and picked up in comparison to other nonfiction titles frequently thereafter, this one still stands out to me for engaging narrative.  Each chapter has a clear arc, and we have a sense of Montgomery shaping this story for readers.  I said something in a previous discussion about the sections from Temple’s POV being based on interviews with Temple, which was not exactly right…  Montgomery clearly interviewed Grandin’s childhood friends, but also relied on several books by Grandin (or co-authored by Grandin).  With this, and others, if I were on the committee I’d have looked for “experts” on this material, or at least browsed some of the source material myself, to get a sense of how Montgomery has adapted her narrative.

MASTER OF DECEIT by Marc Aronson  / Candlewick.  This has not gotten a lot of discussion here, and I suspect that many have left it aside assuming that it’s “YA,” but it’s the perfect counterpoint for discussion with BOMB.  While I share Sarah Flowers’ concerns as brought up at crossreferencing, I ultimately tend to Mark’s side on the debate.  And while the concerns might keep me from casting a ballot for this one, I might have likely nominated it to get it on the table for discussion.   Aronson’s narrative shows how writers can take this genre beyond a “just the facts, ma’am” approach in a way that elevates the whole discussion for his audience, and engages them in it.  He oversteps, but no other book on this list, this year, is quite so daring.

ABRAHAM LINCOLN & FREDERICK DOUGLASS by Russell Freedman / Clarion.  Missing from the photo above because I’ve lent it! Mark called it “pointless” [update: and now regrets it], but I still find it to be one of the stronger nonfiction titles this year, and a perfect entry-point to this part of history for the upper-elementary audience who’s been introduced to it, but deserves a more engaging narrative than the text-book versions.   It also stands next to TEMPLE GRANDIN in my eye for breadth of story balanced with brevity of text.

INVINCIBLE MICROBE by Jim Murphy and ALISON BLANK / Clarion.  A perfect example of nonfiction narrative that sucks the reader in, and keeps us engaged by keeping the topic lively…taking the story of TB through science, politics, and social history.  Murphy and Blank’s source notes stand against Hoose’s (and Aronson’s) as exemplars of how the back-text can extend and support the main text.

THE GIANT by Jim Murphy / Scholastic.  Okay, no one else is getting double-billing here, but Murphy’s got two humdingers out this year, and we barely mentioned either of them (though we did get to hear from Murphy on this one).  While INVINCIBLE MICROBE might seemed to be the “heftier” or “more important” story of these two…from a purely literary perspective I think that GIANT is the stronger.  Murphy plays the subtext of the “hoax” to it’s full advantage…he starts Chapter One in his usual “you are there in the moment” style (which he does so well, often relying on the weather–a documentable fact–to make you feel like you are physically there) , relating a story that was related in his sources…and which turns out to be a story a completely manufactured moment.

And…what have I left out?   I’d have actually liked to include NO CRYSTAL STAIR in this discussion, because the elements that we’re considering when we talk about nonfiction for the Newbery are almost all present there too, and it still tops my list of anything in this post.  But figuring that might muddy the discussion too much, I’m leaving it out.

What then, would I pitch for as my top three here?  I have to take a leap of faith with most of these, not having looked at them so carefully as BOMB or MOONBIRD.  And while acknowledging BOMB’s strengths and likely lead, I have to stand by my still considered concerns for it in my first ballot and put my points behind titles I feel are due at least discussion of an honor.  So:

1. MOONBIRD.  A leap, since I acknowledge its weakness, but I’m going to assume that others would have revealed plenty too in discussion. When I think of what a distinguished nonfiction narrative voice sounds like, this is it.

2. TEMPLE GRANDIN.  For overall package, and engaging voice.

3. THE GIANT.  Just edges out several others there (notably TITANIC), but think it’s uniquely strong and likely to be overlooked.

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. 1. Bomb
    2. Temple Grandin
    3. Moonbird

  2. Jonathan Hunt Jonathan Hunt says:

    I’m pleased to see the lovefest for BOMB on the previous thread, but would also like to see other nonfiction titles get more love, especially in such a strong year. I’ll probably weigh in later on my favorites, but for now I’d like to add the following for consideration–


    And within the larger context of all these titles, I’d like to start a conversation about what makes for distinguished nonfiction for a child audience. I know JR expressed dismay on a previous thread that we seem to privilege Sheinkin’s historical treatment over those more solidly grounded in academic practices (a viewpoint I sympathize with), and Marc Aronson has written about that in broader terms in his latest column.

    I find that the more I discuss what makes for good nonfiction for a child audience either in person or online, however, the more we begin to circle round our unspoken assumptions, so I think it might help to get them on the table first.

    1. Why do authors write nonfiction?

    2. Why do readers read nonfiction?

    Pretty basic questions, these, but I’m curious to hear your thoughts . . .

    • OK, Jonathan, I’ll bite on the “why write nonfiction?” question. Here’s why:

      1) The 2000 U.S. Presidential “hanging chad” election.
      2) An information code in our cells that is not all that different from a hamster’s.
      3) The final play of the 1982 “Big Game” between Cal and Stanford.

      You just cannot make this stuff up.

      • Jonathan Hunt Jonathan Hunt says:

        Thanks for your feedback, Pamela, and you, too, Alys. This is a big topic and we’re running out of time to have it in a timely fashion so I think I’m going to sit tight, see what happens in terms of nonfiction this award season, and then probably continue this conversation early next September.

  3. TeenReader says:

    1. Bomb
    2. Temple Grandin
    3. Abraham Lincoln & Frederick Douglass

  4. So, I’ve only read three so far. Which, sadly, is about par for me. The tree were exceptional:

    Temple Grandin

    However, I can report, that, with the exception of ONE TIMES SQUARE, I have both Nina’s and Jonathan’s full lists in my school’s collection. Also, don’t forget BEYOND COURAGE which gained a number one vote from one of my students.

  5. There are many answers to the question Why do readers read nonfiction? (Which I suspect was the reason you asked in the first place.) Some nonfiction books I read cover to cover because the subject matter is inherently interesting to me. Others I read piecemeal, but will eventually read the entire book. If I am very knowledgeable about a subject I’ll sometimes skim through a book just in case there’s some new information I haven’t run across yet. Other books I’m only interested in one specific part of the book and have no intention of reading the entire thing. Yet other times I am researching for something very specific, and will check out dozens of books but only read a chapter or less out of each of them, because that’s all the space they give to my specific narrow interest.

    Sometimes I want a rolling, leisurely stroll through the topic. Other times I want targeted information clearly and succinctly presented. Even reading books on the same subject, it depends on what I’m going to do with the information. Am I reading because it’s inherently interesting, and I just want to know more simply to know? Am I reading because I want broad background information on a topic I’m unfamiliar with? Am I going to do something specific with this information?

  6. Well, this seems kinda boring, since I’ve been plugging the same three books for about 6 months now, but–surprise!–I’ll vote for:

    1) BOMB
    2) TITANIC
    3) WE’VE GOT A JOB

    Can I also say that I regret calling AL&FD “pointless”? Obviously, I was trying to be provocative, but I think I missed the mark by a few notches. Oh well, I guess I’m ok being the figurehead for Freedman opposition.

  7. Caitlin L. Baker says:

    1) Bomb
    2) Island
    3) Invincible Microbe

  8. 1) BOMB
    3) WE’VE GOT A JOB

  9. Those darn holds on Bomb! I got my hands on it when I was reading for the Cybils, but haven’t been able to get it since. (I’m now #1 on the list, so hope I’ll get the chance to read it before Monday.) Given that, I pick

    1) The Mighty Mars Rovers
    2) Titanic: Voices from the Disaster
    3) We’ve Got a Job

  10. Jonathan Hunt Jonathan Hunt says:

    I have to say that my Newbery votes for the nonfiction books are very strategic.

    As much as I adore the shorter, more visual books such as ISLAND, ONE TIMES SQUARE, ELECTRIC BEN, and SNAKES, I really think the obstacles may be too difficult to overcome.

    Likewise, I’m a fan of THE IMPOSSIBLE RESCUE and A BLACK HOLE IS NOT A HOLE, but I’m not hearing much serious commitment to either.

    BOMB and MOONBIRD rank 1-2 in a vacuum, but I can be convinced to reverse that order–or put one of the following three books on my ballot, too.

    TITANIC . . . If not for BOMB, we would be praising this one as the model of narrative nonfiction that it so obviously is. My enthusiasm was tempered by the fact that I had a hard time keeping the characters straight, but this is the kind of criticism that I never tolerate, and I really think it wouldn’t be a problem on a second read.

    WE’VE GOT A JOB . . . Another excellent book–and another one that needs a second read to help me shake out my baggage. Which is that I can’t help but compare this one to CLAUDETTE COLVIN and MARCHING FOR FREEDOM from a couple years back.

    TEMPLE GRANDIN . . . The nonfiction darkhorse. We see fiction books “come out of nowhere” all the time. Could be nice to see a nonfiction book assume that role this year–especially if it’s this one.

  11. 1. BOMB
    2. WE’VE GOT A JOB

  12. Nina Lindsay Nina Lindsay says:

    One might think this whole season was an exercise in how many times we could say “Bomb.” If we tally the choice above as votes, we have a lot of pull for BOMB (7 first place votes, no seconds or thirds, for 28 points) and TEMPLE GRANDIN (6 second place votes, no firsts or thirds, for 18 points). Everything else just has a smattering of votes and points. I’m not so concerned with the tally, but interested not to hear more pull for TITANIC or WE’VE GOT A JOB. I know it’s out there. Any care to make a pitch for these for Newbery? TITANIC is a particularly interesting kettle.

  13. Titanic practically speaks for itself, IMHO. I think BEYOND COURAGE is particularly undersung.

  14. Nina Lindsay Nina Lindsay says:

    “Speaks for itself” is a lovely way to put it! Could be the whole annotation if it wins.

  15. Jonathan Hunt Jonathan Hunt says:

    While I hope the real committee loves BOMB just as much as our online committee does, I hope they will also appreciate WE’VE GOT A JOB, TEMPLE GRANDIN, TITANIC, and MOONBIRD. I think all of these are worthy of being discussed with the same serious consideration that we give that upper echelon of novels. It’s never wise to pin all your hopes on a single title, whether it’s BOMB or WONDER or SPLENDORS AND GLOOMS–and it’s unfair to judge a committee solely on what they do–or don’t do–with a single title. In such a strong year for nonfiction, I think it’s a fairer expectation that they will recognize some kind of nonfiction, but there is no guarantee of that even, especially if we see just a few honor books–as we did last year.

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