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Heavy Medal: A Mock Newbery Blog
Inside Heavy Medal

National Book Award

Tonight, the winner of the National Book Award will be announced.  While I was disappointed that the longlist did not include more genre/audience diversity–Are 9 of the top 10 books for children in any given year really prose novels?–I must say this is one of the best shortlists in recent memory.  There really isn’t a head-scratcher in the bunch, and you could make a solid case for any of them winning, which makes things kind of exciting.  Three of the finalists–THE THING ABOUT LUCK, THE TRUE BLUE SCOUTS OF SUGAR MAN SWAMP, and FAR FAR AWAY–have fared very well on this blog, both in terms of discussion and nomination.  Let’s turn our attention to the Newberyness of the remaining books: PICTURE ME GONE by Meg Rosoff and BOXERS and SAINTS by Gene Yang.

174654573 207x300 National Book AwardFirst of all, I should tell you that I have been underwhelmed by every single Meg Rosoff book that I’ve read (HOW I LIVE NOW, JUST IN CASE, THERE IS NO DOG), so it may surprise you that I like this one very much.  Like COUNTING BY 7s, we have a twelve-year-old protagonist with a couple of young characters (her erstwhile BFF and a cute older boy), but the rest of the cast of characters are adult and their problems are arguably as much the focus of this novel as the juvenile concerns are.  That will bother some people, but it doesn’t bother me.  Nor does it bother me that Mila’s voice sounds mature and a bit wordly wise.  There’s no question that the writing here is distinguished, but this will be a challenging title to build consensus around because (a) some people will see this as “too old” for the Newbery and (b) those who don’t see it as “too old” for the Newbery may be more inclined to vote for FAR FAR AWAY, not that there’s any limit to the number of “too old” titles the committee can recognize.

boxers2 211x300 National Book AwardBOXERS and SAINTS, on the other hand, presents several different challenges.  The first one is whether these books can be considered as a single entity.  That is, can you vote for BOXERS/SAINTS or must you vote for one or the other?  It’s not that I think the latter decision would split the voting bloc–I think most people could be convinced to vote for BOXERS–it’s that the intertextuality of the two volumes adds an additional element of distinction to the books.saints1 211x300 National Book Award

The second challenge is the interdependence of the text and the illustrations.  We revisit this discussion every year in some form or fashion, most recently with FLORA & ULYSSES.  Last year, I tried to push the envelope a bit and consider a pair of graphic novel texts (HADES and LITTLE WHITE DUCK).  We probably have a stronger group of graphic novels this year (BOXERS and SAINTS, MARCH: BOOK ONE, BLUFFTON, and THE GREAT AMERICAN DUST BOWL) and if people are willing to scrutinize these texts through the lens of the Newbery criteria, then I’m game.

A final challenge is the age issue.  While I think we’d all be fairly comfortable with this in middle school, most people probably wouldn’t add it to an elementary library collection.  Of course, the criteria allow for this, but it doesn’t necessarily make it an easy Newbery sell for many people.

Please give us your thoughts on PICTURE ME GONE and BOXERS and SAINTS–and hazard a guess for the winning title–in the comments below.

 

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Jonathan Hunt About Jonathan Hunt

Jonathan Hunt is the County Schools Librarian at the San Diego County Office of Education. He served on the 2006 Newbery committee, and has also judged the Printz Award, the Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards, and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. You can reach him at hunt_yellow@yahoo.com

Comments

  1. Sam Bloom says:

    Well, I certainly liked Boxers&Saints (although honestly I’m not bowled over by it as many others are) but that almost-last bit of the criteria – “The book must be a self-contained entity” – causes some major problems. I think the story arc really relies on both books, and while you may be able to enjoy one without the other, I don’t think either one rises up to distinguished by itself. As you said, some may see Boxers in that way, but I really don’t (especially since I think Saints is the stronger of the two… but then the epilogue loses a lot of its weight if you haven’t read Boxers). I think any of the other graphic novels you mentioned would be fun to discuss, personally.

    Unlike you, Jonathan, I’m a big Meg Rosoff fan, so I’m going to finally get my hands on PICTURE ME GONE… just haven’t had time to read it until about now.

  2. Mark Flowers says:

    I agree about the strength of this year’s shortlist. I’m half-way through PICTURE ME GONE and I’ve read all the rest and think they are wonderful, despite my personal qualms about FAR FAR AWAY.

    For PICTURE ME GONE, I didn’t realize Mila was 12-years-old until you mentioned it just now. Still, despite the adult concerns, I think the center of the novel is Mila’s voice and thus it is easily a YA book. Whether it is a Newbery contender . . . Well, I don’t see a chance it would ever win, but I would certainly be happy to support it. The prose is stunning.

    For BOXERS and SAINTS, I just love that the NBAs aren’t tied down to ancient rules and can honor these books as one. I’d be happy to champion BOXERS for Newbery and Printz except that I think (and have said on this blog) that PRIMATES is a much superior GN (and much easier on the age question as well).

    I’m guessing BOXERS and SAINTS for the win.

  3. DaNae says:

    I watched some of the readings last night. If the win goes to audience appreciation (which I know it doesn’t) Yang has it locked up. I’m pulling for my top two LUCKY and TRUE BLUE.
    I thought PICTURE ME GONE couldn’t be a Newbery contender as Rosoff is British and in Britain. (I’m not clear that you wanted to discuss it as a Newbery option or just it’s distinguished-ness overall.)

  4. Genevieve says:

    I very much liked PICTURE ME GONE and hadn’t thought of it here because I was thinking of it as a Printz contender. But there’s no reason it couldn’t be upper age Newbery. The language and characterization are terrific and the theme is well-done.

    I liked this review http://www.thingsmeanalot.com/2013/09/picture-me-gone-by-meg-rosoff.html for tackling the “she sounds too smart to be 12″ argument: “Even if I were to accept that smart, sophisticated young people are the exception rather than the rule, there’s no reason why fiction should be dominated by averages. We don’t expect adult characters to be representative of every single adult reader, and so the same standards should apply to other age groups.”

    However, the reviewer points out a problem with the book – Mila’s father, who is a translator from Portuguese, nicknames her “Perguntador,” meaning questioner. But in Portuguese, it would have to be “Perguntadora.” Rosoff is apparently going to make the change in the next edition. Given that the father is a translator, it seems like a larger factual error than the geography of San Francisco or the night a baseball player would’ve been able to come to a play (something that never struck me as an “error” as much as when you put real people in a fictional setting, sometimes the dates won’t work).

    • Jonathan Hunt Jonathan Hunt says:

      Oh, I think the preguntador/preguntadora thing is in precisely the same category as the Oakland geography in ONE CRAZY SUMMER or the baseball/play thing in OKAY FOR NOW. None of these are damning in their own right, but as part of a bigger problem they could be.

    • DaNae says:

      I, however, am weary of the uber-smart eleven year old. I think it might be more challenging to write a kid that can’t channel the author’s voice and views. I haven’t read PMG yet, but I was having a rant to myself about the topic the other day.

  5. Brandy says:

    I’m really hoping Boxers & Saints gets the award tonight. I definitely find it deserving and because they are freer to consider its non-traditional format, this will probably be the only award chance it has this year. I don’t think you can pull them apart and have them stand on their own, and the pictures are a key part of the story. You shouldn’t want to look at the text separate from the pictures. It wasn’t intended to be read that way. As much as I don’t know that we “need” another award, having one for graphic novels, where the text and pictures are so dependent on each other, is probably not a bad idea.

    I haven’t read the Rosoff book yet, but I agree this is a particularly strong year and that whatever wins it will be well deserved.

  6. Jonathan Hunt Jonathan Hunt says:

    Old news, but in case somebody hasn’t seen it elsewhere, THE THING ABOUT LUCK won.

    http://www.nationalbook.org/index.html

  7. Sam Bloom says:

    I was a bit surprised, but you can’t argue with the choice. I watched the webcast for the first time – it was actually pretty cool! I think the YMAs could possibly learn a thing or two from the NBAs. (No offense, ALSC.)

  8. Nina Lindsay Nina Lindsay says:

    :)

  9. This year’s NBA books are certainly deserving. I loved THE TRUE BLUE SCOUTS and look forward to reading the others. But I feel compelled to second your comment about the 10-book longlist not including more genre/audience diversity. I was more than disappointed; I was shocked that the list didn’t include a single nonfiction book. Were the lights out in that half of the library?

  10. Jonathan Hunt Jonathan Hunt says:

    And it’s not just nonfiction either. You have two author-judges who wrote a couple of the most memorable picture book texts this year–Emily Jenkins wrote THE WATER IN THE PARK, Cecil Castellucci wrote ODD DUCK–and yet no picture book text was honored by the NBA judges. Is it frustrating that picture book text authors cannot find sufficient literary merit in the genre? I get the difficulty of shortlisting a picture book text, but no place on the longlist for a picture book text? Or a nonfiction book? Or a poetry book?

    • Katy says:

      I feel this frustration. I recall that when the nonfiction presenter was preparing to announce, that he lamented the loss of the nonfiction sub-categories that once received awards, particularly how much more difficult that made the judges’ decisions since they had to choose books that varied widely I genre. I suspect the same is true of the award for Young Peoples’ Literature.

      • Jonathan Hunt Jonathan Hunt says:

        Can you imagine if they took Fiction, Nonfiction, and Poetry and shoehorned them into one category–and if all 10 longlisted titles in that category were fiction? Minor riot, perhaps? Now, the submissions for adult nonfiction were about a hundred more than adult fiction and poetry was probably half of the other categories (saw the specific numbers on the NBA site, but can’t find them now), so there’s definitely more depth in those adult fields when it comes to nonfiction and poetry, but then they don’t have picture books and easy readers either.

    • Eric says:

      It’s certainly possible that none of the publishers submitted (a process that include a fee if I remember correctly) any easy readers or picture books or even nonfiction. The judges are limited to what the publishers submit.
      If this is in fact the case, one can’t really blame the publishers. Look at the short lists over the past decade, what reason would a publisher have for thinking their picture books would have a chance at recognition?

  11. The judges can only judge books that have been submitted. I have a feeling that publishers don’t submit many picture books or easy readers for the NBA.

  12. Jonathan Hunt says:

    My understanding is that judges can call in books that are not submitted. That is, they can request books from publishers that have not been submitted if the publishers are willing to pony up the fee. Since the judges have an overwhelming amount of reading to do in such a short time it’s understandable why they wouldn’t call in books, or even think about calling in books, but still. I could be wrong, or they could have changed their policy. Can anybody speak definitively to the issue?

  13. Jen J. says:

    Last time this issue came up, Roger Sutton mentioned that there can be significant fees involved – submission fee for each book (which I assume, even if the judges asked for specific books, the publishers would still have to pay – but that it definitely an assumption, not some thing I know). Then there’s the cost to pay for a table at the banquet. I think he mentioned a few other things as well, I just can’t remember where he posted that comment.

  14. According to the NBA website, publishers must pay a fee of $125. for each title submitted. They also have to contribute $1,000. toward a promotional campaign if a book is selected as a Finalist, cover travel and accommodation costs for Finalists, provide them with seats at the Awards Ceremony, and purchase NBA medallions to be affixed to book jackets. The fees apply even if judges ask for a particular book to be submitted. With these costs in mind, publishers are understandably very selective about which books they submit. Since picture books rarely (if ever?) win, they’re probably not submitted. Nonfiction is a different story. There have been nonfiction Finalists in recent years, so chances are good that nonfiction books were submitted this year, but the judges couldn’t find one good enough for the longlist. That’s what surprised me.

  15. Jen J. says:

    Thanks for the additional information Susanna – that helps.

    On an entirely different note, I’ve started a Google spreadsheet to cover the Best Books lists of the Year. Have PW (including March by Lewis which was listed on the adult list) and SLJ all included (except the Adult Books 4 Teens titles), but haven’t gotten to start on the Kirkus Children’s list yet. Hopefully sometime this week! Here’s the link to the spreadsheet: http://ow.ly/rb6K4

    Will be including the Kirkus Teen List, Booklist, Horn Book, and the Bulletin as they come out as well.

    • DaNae says:

      ha, I’m working on the same thing as we speak.

    • DaNae says:
      • Jonathan Hunt Jonathan Hunt says:

        Yep. This is what I have, but I’ll double check it against Jen’s spreadsheet when she’s updated it.

        four lists–

        MR. TIGER GOES WILD
        MR. WUFFLES
        LOCOMOTIVE
        THE THING ABOUT LUCK
        ELEANOR & PARK
        P.S. BE ELEVEN
        BOXERS and SAINTS
        MARCH: BOOK ONE

        three lists–

        IF YOU WANT TO SEE A WHALE
        ALL THE TRUTH THAT’S IN ME
        THE TORTOISE AND THE HARE
        THE DARK
        PARROTS OVER PUERTO RICO
        DOLL BONES
        FLORA & ULYSSES
        REALITY BOY
        FAR FAR AWAY
        ROSE UNDER FIRE
        JOURNEY
        ON A BEAM OF LIGHT
        BLUFFTON
        FLORA AND THE FLAMINGO
        PENNY AND HER MARBLE
        THE YEAR OF BILLY MILLER
        A CORNER OF WHITE

        two lists–

        THE WAR WITHIN THESE WALLS
        WINGER
        MIDWINTERBLOOD
        THE TRUE BLUE SCOUTS OF SUGAR MAN SWAMP
        JINX
        EMANCIPATION PROCLAMATION
        A SPLASH OF RED
        SERAFINA’S PROMISE
        LITTLE RED WRITING
        HOW TO CATCH A BOGLE
        NELSON MANDELA
        COURAGE HAS NO COLOR
        PICTURE ME GONE
        DARK TRIUMPH
        THE COLDEST GIRL IN COLDTOWN
        MORE THAN THIS
        THE DREAM THIEVES
        DELILAH DIRK AND THE TURKISH LIEUTENANT
        SEX & VIOLENCE
        SCALLY SPOTTED FEATHERED FRILLED
        BUILDING OUR HOUSE
        THE GREAT AMERICAN DUST BOWL
        HAVE YOU SEEN MY NEW BLUE SOCKS?
        LOOK UP!

  16. Nina Lindsay Nina Lindsay says:

    Thanks Jen! So nice to have someone do this. (Hey: would you email me?)

    • Jen J. says:

      Hi Nina, I sent you an email last week, but it may be caught in a spam filter. You can reach me at JABVIOLIN at aol.com or you can find me on twitter at bkwrm7.

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