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Heavy Medal: A Mock Newbery Blog
Inside Heavy Medal

October Nominations

Each member of the Newbery committee will submit three nominations to the chair sometime during the month of October, probably on or around October 15.  Each nomination is submitted with a brief written justification.  My strategy at this point is quite simple: I’m going to nominate the three best titles.  In no particular order.

ERUPTION! by Elizabeth Rusch . . . I’m also quite fond of IMPRISONED by Martin Sandler and ‘THE PRESIDENT HAS BEEN SHOT!” by James Swanson, but this may be the best of the lot.  It’s certainly the nonfiction book that I think would be the easiest to build consensus around.  The text is clear, organized, accurate, but beyond that it evinces a curiosity and passion about its subject that is infectious.

THE THING ABOUT LUCK by Cynthia Kadhohata . . . While I’m not sure that this is the absolute best middle grade title of the year, the characters here easily stand out to me as the most distinguished, so much that any deficiency in the plotting just melted away.  If you can make me care about the world of harvesting wheat, then you have earned a nomination fair and square.  Oh, and the book is funny.  Bonus points for that.

WHAT THE HEART KNOWS by Joyce Sidman . . . We haven’t discussed this one yet because it just came out, but suffice it to say that Sidman is, once again at the top of her game.  This is a longer collection of poems for a slightly older audience than her picture book collections.  The introduction explores the power of words in ancient times, especially in the form of chants, charms, laments, spells, invocations, blessings, promises, and praise songs.  More on this one later.

Think of these nominations as a snapshot in time.  Give me your top three right now.  Last year, I wouldn’t let you change them in subsequent rounds, but I have rethought that rule this year.  So no holding back now.  Let us have them–with a brief written justification, of course.


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. Sara Ralph says:

    1. I echo your nomination of The Thing About Luck by Cynthia Kadhohata. My eyes did not glaze over regarding the passages explaining the aspects of wheat harvesting. I was prepared for that to happen, based on Rachael’s take: I think the books is distinguished in character development and setting. Kadhohata really took us with the characters to those wheat fields.

    2. Counting By 7s by Holly Sloane. This book is this year’s Okay For Now. Excellent characters, but too many plot contrivances. Despite its flaws, Willow’s voice is still with me and I can’t help routing for the book.

    3. Salt by Helen Frost. I enjoyed the two-voice format Frost employed. I applaud her choice to focus on a part of American History that is largely unknown.

    My choices might likely change as I read more books.

  2. So many books I haven’t read yet this year, so I’m glad I’ll get to change these. For now:

    1) THE REAL BOY by Anne Ursu – I’m pretty sure this is the best MG novel out there, or I’m missing something pretty amazing. Incredible characterizations, a lovely double-clutch twist on the Pinocchio idea, a thoroughly imagined setting and conception of magic, and oh those themes of “realness”.

    2) CLEMENTINE AND THE SPRING TRIP by Sara Pennypacker – ever since Jonathan reminded me that this book came out this year I’ve been going over it in my head. Pennypacker is practically peerless in terms of voice. The humor is excellent, and the characterizations as good as always. And I love how the plot comes together with the resolution of “The Cloud”.

    3) PRIMATES by Jim Ottiviani – OK, this one is a bit off the grid, but I hope we talk about it at some point. While Maris Wicks’s illustrations are truly amazing (this one has my vote for a Printz Honor as well), I really think that Ottiviani’s words stand up by themselves to create the four distinct voices of Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey, Birute Galdikas, and Louis Leakey. The overlapping plots and recurring themes are intricate without being precious, and the science is presented as easy to understand. First Second has this listed as 10-14, and my 5 year old daughter will listen to most of the Jane Goodall section without being bored, so I don’t think age is a factor.

  3. Eric Carpenter says:

    1. GHOST HAWK – As a big historical fiction fan, I was skeptical of the historical fantasy Cooper was weaving, but I thought it was done brilliantly. Wonderful plotting, character building, setting, and sentence level writing. No where in the criteria is there a mention of cultural sensitivity or political correctness so I’m not sure any of those concerns have a place at the Newbery discussion table. Being uncomfortable with content doesn’t mean you can ignore distinction.

    2. HOKEY POKEY – sentence level writing, development of theme, setting, character building. Don’t think the non-fans can be convince to like HOKEY POKEY, but I think I a reread (or two) by actual committee members will help this move up in esteem.

    3. FAR FAR AWAY – setting, characters, plotting. I’ve heard a number of people question the age range on this one, but I’m not sure what in this one couldn’t be read and enjoyed by a 12 year old. I find myself forgiving FAR FAR AWAY’s plot conveniences (quiz show, etc) more easily than the one dimensional protagonist in DOLL BONES or the uneven pacing of THE REAL BOY.

    • I haven’t read GHOST HAWK yet, so I can’t comment on the book itself. But in a larger context I would think that the “cultural sensitivity” you are dismissing would at the very least come under the heading of accuracy. If a group is misrepresented, then the book is not accurate. Depending on the circumstances of a book not being “culturally sensitive” (which can mean many different things) then delineation of character could also play a factor. Having a character that is a walking stereotype is not distinguished. Again, I haven’t read Ghost Hawk, so my reply is not based on that book, but rather my thinking in general.

      • Sara Ralph says:

        I haven’t read Ghost Hawk either, but here is how Debbie Reese, author of the blog, American Indians in Children’s Literature, has evaluated the books:

      • Sara Ralph says:
      • I think before people read Debbie Reese’s post, they should read the book. In fact, I think before people make assumptions about ANYTHING about the book, they should read the book.

      • I would always recommend reading a book and then searching out all sources that one can find about portrayal accuracy, including members of the group being portrayed, before reading the comments made on the blog hosted by Debbie Reese.

      • Wondering what to say in response to TK and Martha…

        I raise a lot of questions in my first post about Susan Cooper’s book. Isn’t questioning a good thing to do? I’m essentially saying that I don’t have the background knowledge to answer those questions. I know enough, though, to know that most people go forward using questionable, biased and inaccurate sources.

        I think lack-of-knowledge of American Indians is a major problem in children’s literature. As a society, we don’t question enough. We assume that an author has done research such that the book will be fine, but we must remember that an author’s lack of knowledge will make it tough to know if the sources themselves are reliable. Might those sources have the same bias as the author? There’s lot of talk of late about echo chambers in politics. We’ve got them, too, in children’s literature.

      • Debbie, yes, there is a lack of knowledge about American Indians in children’s literature, that is certain. Yes, we don’t question enough. But this technique of “asking questions” that you use in the blog post is very misleading. I believe you make it appear as if Cooper has made many, many errors in her book, when, in fact, you have (at least as far as you have posted) found little to nothing that she has actually done “wrong”. I believe your intentions are good, but this is also a classic propaganda technique, as is suggesting that Cooper has probably done it wrong just because most people do it wrong. It’s posts like this that I think obscure your message and create an attitude of distrust toward your posts. Why not wait until you have substantial feedback to give? As far as asking questions goes, why not stick with techniques others can use to ask their own questions? I think you’ve done posts regarding that in the past, as has Oyate.

      • Jonathan Hunt Jonathan Hunt says:

        I’ve opened discussion on GHOST HAWK, and I’ll respond to Debbie’s question there.

      • Sara Ralph says:

        Librarians are professionally trained to evaluate children’s literature. That being said, the perspectives of others can be very valuable, especially when they present a perspective that I have not personally experienced, being a member of a minority group. Even if I disagree with Ms. Reese’s interpretation of Ghost Hawk, I’m glad she brought these questions into the discussion. As a Caucasian, I may not naturally ask these kind of questions, but it is good that they are brought to my attention. I should evaluate Ghost Hawk in regards to cultural insensitivity before I put it into the hands of children.

    • What has happened to the book One Came Back? Is it still a contender?

  4. 1. ONE CAME HOME by Timberlake – Things that make this book great: Georgie’s voice. So formal. So authoritative. So unintentionally funny. I mean, the way she sizes up Billy McCabe? Hilarious and touching. Also, the Wild West setting (even though it’s Wisconsin) and carrier pigeon history.

    2. THE REAL BOY by Ursu – Oscar is similar to characters we’ve seen before, but never in this kind of setting and never with these kinds of twists in the plot. This book works on so many levels, as a cultural critique, a coming-of-age story, and, of course, as an escape into a fantasy world.

    3. TWERP by Goldblatt – It’s historical fiction with a great voice. This is a book you could give to almost any tween to shine a light on the unique challenges of being stuck right in the heart of adolescence.

  5. 1. THE REAL BOY – For its melancholy meditations on what it means to be human, its engaging characters, and Anne Ursu’s knock-me-out writing style. All wrapped up in a fast-moving fantasy plot.

    2. PENNY AND HER MARBLE – I’m going with this one instead of Billy Miller because I think it’s tighter. Maybe the most stripped-down, perfectly realized example of Henkes’s great strength as an author: getting inside a particular kid’s head at a particular moment, and distilling that into quietly beautiful prose.

    3. P. S. BE ELEVEN – It’s just about flawless. Who else is doing characters as real as Delphine, Vonetta, and Fern? Who else surrounds their protagonists with secondary characters who are just as nuanced? And then there’s the vividness of the setting, the humor of the writing, and the deftly developed themes. Superb.

  6. I have high hopes for Ghost Hawk and The Real Boy, which I haven’t read yet, but for now, in alphabetical order:

    1. BETTER NATE THAN EVER – This book is funny and smart. I was rooting so hard for Nate and his character has stuck with me — the levity doesn’t take away from the character development at all; in fact, it adds to it. I loved the style too — 100% appropriate for this particular book. And as someone who lives in NY myself, I appreciated the setting as well, and the outsider’s perspective on the city.

    2. COUNTING BY 7s – Of all the books I’ve read, this one has stayed with me the most. Overall, I would call it the most distinguished. Specifically, I loved so many of the characters and how such a motley crew could be brought together in such a believable way. I loved Willow’s voice — brilliant and highly self-aware yet in many key ways still a child. It’s a book I want to read again.

    3. A TANGLE OF KNOTS – This book was the most surprising to me in its complexity. After reading the first few chapters, I went back and started to take notes, realizing that the characters and stories would all come together in some way, and I was excited to piece it together as I read. So… distinguished in plot and presentation, I would say, with a healthy dose of theme and delightfully quirky (if not so developed — but that wasn’t the point) characters. This is also by far the most asked for book among our Mock Newbery members, and I like when the kids and I agree on books.

  7. So many books I haven’t read yet….

    1. Thing About Luck: for the spot-on characterizations, the beautifully done relationships between the characters, and the distinguished setting.

    2. Doll Bones: I know this book is not perfect, and I’m not sure it will stay on the top as I read more widely, but it does have a distinguished development of theme and I would at least want it on the table to discuss and use as a comparison point.

    3. Year of Billy Miller: Another one that’s not perfect, but it’s sticking with me as really getting into a kid’s head. Most of the problems I have with the book could be overlooked if we choose to see them as deliberate choices by the author to limit the viewpoint squarely on a seven year old – and under that lens the book really shines.

  8. Genevieve says:




  9. THE REAL BOY–I think the sentence level writing in this one is the best I’ve seen so far this year.

    ODD DUCK–Surprising, thought-provoking and funny, with not a wasted word.

    TRUE BLUE SCOUTS OF SUGAR MAN SWAMP–Fantastic setting, humor and raccoons. Maybe I read Sterling North’s RASCAL too many times as a kid.

  10. samuel leopold says:


  11. THE REAL BOY – Strong characters, strong setting, beautifully melancholy. My favorite of the year.

    ZEBRA FOREST – Very strong setting, excellent use of place.

    THE HIDDEN SUMMER – My sleeper of the year, the one that I like more and more as time goes on. Strongest characters of the year, imho.

  12. The Center of Everything – for characterization of an entire town, the parade-day setting (and the rich fictional traditions surrounding Bunning Day), and one of my favorite friendship trios of the year.

    Doll Bones – Satisfying plotting and pacing of the quest, well-realized characters with complex relationships.

    The Thing About Luck – For all the reasons previously listed. If I had not seen anyone else’s nominations, I would cite the compelling characters, a well crafted relationship between Summer and her grandmother, and successful depiction of the setting.

  13. Leonard Kim says:

    The Center of Everything — For Urban’s distinctive authorial voice and Henkes-esque ability to warmly get inside the heads of children of a certain age.

    Flora and Ulysses — for the inimitable, visceral writing but also its wry self-awareness — it almost reads like a send up of a Kate DiCamillo book (by Kate DiCamillo): a fractured fairy tale that appeals and rewards on several levels.

    The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp — For its affectionately-drawn setting and characters and for its controlled handling of a seemingly uncontrolled collision of plot elements — in a sense the whole book exists so that pigs can fly.

  14. I’m going to nominate the same three I used for our Mock group. I will try and justify as best I can since you won’t just take “because I said so.”

    THE THING ABOUT LUCK – for the characters that jump off the page and stand in front of you in the supermarket line and for a mesmerizing setting that had me anxious over rainfall.

    DOLL BONES — For the plotting and the reality of an adventure instigated by the creepy ghost of a dead girl.

    TRUE BLUE SCOUTS OF SUGAR MAN SWAMP — For the waving threads of story that tie up so satisfyingly at the conclusion. And for the lighthearted but untied language that rang throughout.

  15. Nina Lindsay Nina Lindsay says:

    Ok, I finished up THE THING ABOUT LUCK so that I could make sure it is indeed one of my October Nominations. Characters, ditto… but I really appreciate the pacing–which felt strongly plotted even without much of a plot–and the tone–the very lifelike sense of humor and 12 year old concerns. This book gave me brain freeze I read it so hard and fast.

    PS BE ELEVEN, for many of the same reasons, which I find very interesting, my two top titles really sharing the same strengths. I think that this one has a particular strength in theme that winds through its character-driven narrative.

    Finally… IF YOU WANT TO BE A WHALE, to bring in something from left field. Just posted about it, here:

  16. My current problem isn’t so much that I have so much yet to read – although that is true too – but that I read so many that I loved waaaaaayyy back in January and February and can’t remember enough about them to compare them. So, I’ll have to hold off on Navigating Early, Hokey Pokey, and PS Be Eleven until I can give them another look.

    1.) The Year of Billy Miller – Distinguished to me in all criteria pertinent to it, especially “Appropriateness of Style.” So true – the language is perfect for a younger elementary reader (i.e., 1st-2nd grader).

    2.) Eruption – Such a wonderful page-turner. Clear as a bell writing.

    3.) The Thing About Luck – Ditto what everyone else has said

  17. Jonathan Hunt Jonathan Hunt says:

    I’m tempted to weigh in on GHOST HAWK here, but I’ll save it for my next post.

    So far . . .


    (5) THE REAL BOY

    (3) P.S. BE ELEVEN

    (3) DOLL BONES





    (2) ERUPTION

    (2) COUNTING BY 7s


    (1) SALT

    (1) PRIMATES

    (1) GHOST HAWK


    (1) FAR FAR AWAY

    (1) TWERP


    (1) ODD DUCK








  18. I’m late getting my nominations in, I feel like the justifications have been made.
    THE THING ABOUT LUCK for characters, relationships, and setting.
    IF YOU WANT TO SEE A WHALE for brilliant writing, pacing, and theme.
    THE REAL BOY for setting and theme.

  19. Since I have a dark horse (very, very pitch black dark one) in this race thanks to Betsy Bird:), I am sitting on my hands with great difficulty (I so want to do this!) and not weighing in here on October Nominations. Unless it is seen as bad form though I do plan to continue to comment on titles I admire.

  20. Running late with my nominations…

    THE REAL BOY by Anne Ursu– for reasons everyone else has mentioned.

    JINX by Sage Blackwood — the characters are lovely, and I found the writing strong, with touches of humor that I loved.

    THE WATER CASTLE by Megan Frazer Blakemore — there’s a lot of substance to this book; I find that it sticks with me after reading in a way that many books don’t.

  21. TeenReader says:

    I hope I’m not too late!


  22. PS Be Eleven
    Flora & Ulysses
    Listening for Lucca

  23. Jonathan Hunt Jonathan Hunt says:


    (7) THE REAL BOY

    (5) P.S. BE ELEVEN

    (4) DOLL BONES





    (2) ERUPTION

    (2) COUNTING BY 7s





    (1) SALT

    (1) PRIMATES

    (1) GHOST HAWK


    (1) FAR FAR AWAY

    (1) TWERP


    (1) ODD DUCK







    (1) JINX


  24. Sheila Welch says:

    ONE CAME HOME got left off the list. It received a bunch of starred reviews and one of our votes.

    • Jonathan Hunt Jonathan Hunt says:

      Debbie’s comment looked more like a question than a vote, so I didn’t count it. ONE CAME HOME got four starred reviews, and I’m sure we’ll discuss it sooner or later. So many good books, but we’re not yet at halfway point of the Heavy Medal season, so there’s still plenty of time left.

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