If a book is challenging, and suitable for 13-14-year-olds but not for younger readers, is it eligible? Yes; but it can be given an award only if it does what it sets out to do as well as or better than other, younger books that are also eligible.
Of course, we may say the same thing for middle grade novels, too. They can only be given the award if they do what they set out to do as well or better than the beginning chapter books that are also eligible. The quartet of older novels on our shortlist–FAR FAR AWAY, P.S. BE ELEVEN, THE THING ABOUT LUCK, and THE TRUE BLUE SCOUTS OF SUGAR MAN SWAMP–may seem more impressive at first glance than CLEMENTINE AND THE SPRING TRIP, but that is to be expected as the readers of those books are more capable. For an audience of newly independent chapter book readers CLEMENTINE is perhaps every bit their equal. (We have defied popular opinion, choosing to feature CLEMENTINE over BILLY MILLER, although both books belong in this conversation.)
At the “Make Way for Ducklings” sculpture in the Public Garden, where we always start our walk, I saw my friend Margaret standing over the last brass duckling. She was wearing big rubber gloves and slopping soapy water on him with a sponge.
“Margaret!” I cried, running to her. ”What are you doing?”
Although I knew: Margaret gets extra Margaretty when the weather turns nice. She runs around scrubbing everything in sight until it sparkles, even things that don’t belong to her, like elevator doors in our lobby and the parking meters on the street.
“Spring cleaning!” Margaret shouted, and somehow she made it sound like “It’s my birthday!” and “Free candy for life!” rolled into one. She went back to rubbing Quack’s head.
This is the second paragraph from the book, and like Summer in THE THING ABOUT LUCK, much of the humor comes from Margaret’s observation of the situation. We also glean great insight into Margaret’s character in just a few short words. And yet, while it’s a character-driven book, the plot is full of action and moves at a zippy pace. Much has been made of Penny’s ethical dilemma with the marble, but Clementine faces something similar in this book, and while we read to know how that situation is resolved, there’re also some nice diversions, namely the strangeness of Olive and the mystery of The Cloud. I find this one distinguished in all elements pertinent to it, perhaps shading into most distinguished if I consider the younger audience, but I think it easily reaches most distinguished territory in its delineation of character without any concessions for a younger audience. What do you think?