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Heavy Medal: A Mock Newbery Blog
Inside Heavy Medal

Clementine and the Spring Trip

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?

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. Loving this book is like loving my daughter, so I’m not sure of my objectivity. What struck me most was the superb plotting. I’d sort of dismissed The Cloud as nothing more than a layer of amusing setting then was surprised when it yanked several earlier moments together. So tightly plotted.

  2. Leonard Kim says:

    My only hesitation in fully supporting this book is that what really made the climax of the book soar for me was visual, i.e., Frazee’s parallel illustrations of Clementine and her mom “going crunchy.” It gets the point across better than the text. This doesn’t bother me as a reader, but if one is choosing an award-winner “defined as text”…

  3. I adore Clementine. I have adored her in every book in the series. I even have a new puppy named Clementine. But I have never considered her for a Newbery–until now. Thank you for being such even-handed moderators that you put Clementine alongside Far Far Away, The Thing About Luck, True Blue Scouts and the other Newbery “types.” I appreciate this blog for stretching my thinking and helping me see anew. I will put this book into the discussion of my Newbery club this week.

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