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Heavy Medal: A Mock Newbery Blog
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Oakland Winners

And…we have totally different results than Jonathan’s group.  After 3 ballots:

Mock Newbery Medal


Mock Newbery Honors

We ran out of time to finish this, but were likely headed to a final Honors ballot. Definitely on it would have been CLEMENTINE AND THE SPRING TRIP, which was tied neck and neck with LUCK for the gold. Possibly ERUPTION too, which was the standout after those two, but had a ruggedly divided camp.  And, moving to a honor ballot may have reopened the field for more honors.

We had 18 in discussion, and 16/17 in the voting (that unkosher procedure to be explained) In the photo you can see, but not really read, all three ballots; the first, in purple, with 16 voters, started CLEMENTINE and LUCK in their battle; CLEMENTINE with 4 Ist place votes and a total score of 34; LUCK with 5 1st place votes and a total score of 33.  The other 1st place votes were liberally distributed between ERUPTION, FAR FAR AWAY, IF YOU WANT TO BE A WHALE, and PS BE ELEVEN.  TRUE BLUE and WHAT THE HEART KNOWS didn’t place much at all, and eventually fell off the ballot.

Surprises there? I think our sense of WHAT THE HEART KNOWS was similar to Jonathan’s group.  TRUE BLUE SCOUTS just had more in the “can’t get behind the voice” than it did in favor…we talked a bit about being swayed by hearing it read aloud, and how that fit within the Newbery criteria.  But since we did not have the time the committee would have had to go back and give this another chance…

We went back to discussion; and had a further round on ERUPTION.  We’d appreciated the compelling and cohesive narrative, the prose that delivered hard-to-grasp science within an engaging voice.  But there was a bit of discussion on whether the slant of the perspective presented didn’t patronize the villagers. We looked at word choices:  a citation on p. 22 “meager belongings” (why meager?); a quote on p.67 “Oh, these poor people…Those villages will be gone next time. They will be gone. I hope the people understand that.”  This was a totally new point for many of us to consider, so without the entire text analyzed, and only a couple of specific examples, I feel unprepared to make a judgement call on this; if I was on the real committee I’d have asked to come back to discussion after a meal break and would have reread the text fully.

I also asked people, in the second discussion, to make a case for LUCK and CLEMENTINE, seeing the consensus was to be reached by moving other first place votes one way or the other.  We’d appreciated both for doing what they set out to do so well, and so completely.  We contrasted this with PS BE ELEVEN, which had many stalwart supporters throughout for its stand-out strengths in voice and theme, but which seemed, ultimately, less deliberately delivered.   And, with FAR, FAR, AWAY, which *was* appreciated for its complex delivery of what it set out to do, but which perhaps led readers too far astray in various directions, getting there.

So, the second round of voting shifted 2 first place votes: from PS and FAR, but one to each of CLEMENTINE and LUCK, getting us no closer. Meanwhile, the discussion on ERUPTION only seemed to get it more supporters.  Still, LUCK was edging ahead, and we decided to move directly to a 3rd vote without discussion.    First, we removed WHAT THE HEART KNOWS and TRUE BLUE (the first had gotten 1 3rd place vote, the second no votes in this second ballot).  Then, we invited our 17th voter in to help break the tie.   I always ask that only those who’ve read every book on the ballot participate in the voting….no judgement in not finishing everything, but recognizing that the voting just doesn’t work otherwise. Once we removed those two titles, this last voter now *had* read everything on the ballot, and we figured we could use her help to break the stalemate.  We were already late!

That final ballot was not actually a conclusive ballot for the committee, but we agreed we’d call it conclusive for us.  It looked like this (the hot pink in the photo):

CLEMENTINE:  6 (1st), 4 (2nd), 5 (3rd) = 46 points

ERUPTION: 1 (1st), 7 (2nd), 3 (3rd) = 31points

FAR FAR AWAY: 2 (3rd)=4 points

IF YOU WANT TO BE A WHALE: 1 (1st), 1 (3rd)=8 points

PS BE ELEVEN: 2 (2nd), 4 (3rd) = 14 points

THING ABOUT LUCK: 9 (1st), 4 (2nd), 1 (3rd) = 50 points

LUCK had the 9 1st place votes it needed to be the 1st choice of more than half of our committee.  But it only had a 4 point spread over CLEMENTINE.  If we were the real committee, we’d have needed to shift some points, still. But we agreed to call LUCK our winner. We talked about whether to call CLEMENTINE our only Honor, or to include it and ERUPTION, but there was grumbling on that point.   We were also tired, and out of time.

If this were the committee, and I were the chair, after that first ballot I could see a long and hard move to consensus.  If possible, I’d have had some discussion, and sent everyone back to sleep, or for a break, before moving to consensus.  If time did not allow, I’d have pushed to the bloody consensus…and then, asked us to take a brief break, brief re-discussion, and re-ballot for the the Honors (which is also what I think our group today would have liked to have done…we were just out of time).   I think that that battle for two camps in some ways distorted the way we voted for other titles.  The first place votes really HAD to all go to one, or the other, CLEMENTINE or LUCK, and it still might have been close.   I think that with some re-reading of ERUPTION, and re-discusison of some of the other titles, we might easily have seen PS BE ELEVEN and IF YOU WANT TO SEE A WHALE join ERUPTION and CLEMENTINE as possible honors.

So…what the heck did we see in CLEMENTINE and LUCK, as opposed to Jonathan’s group?  He mentions that with CLEMENTINE: “We liked this book, and found it distinguished in many respects, but ultimately found it wanting. For example,as good as Clementine’s voice is we thought it was surpassed by Delphine’s and Jacob’s.”  Our group could not find it wanting in any respect. For its intended reader, we found it marvelous, and more meticulously and tightly crafted–for what it was–than PS or FAR.

With LUCK, Jonathan’s says: “We also loved the family dynamics here, the surprisingly interesting world of wheat harvesting, and the scene-stealing Obaachan, but we found this one also ended abruptly, and this book just didn’t resonate with some of us, or we thought we’d read other books like this that had left a stronger impression.”  Maybe this was our issue with TRUE BLUE SCOUTS.  We found LUCK to do what it set out to do magnificently…we appreciated the introduction of wheat harvesting as a mostly unlikely but successful plot arc to bind together a story about being twelve.   We liked in particular her voice which seemed naturally to speak directly to the reader in a colloquial, but never overburdened, way.

I think it’s also worth mentioning IF YOU WANT TO SEE A WHALE which you see kept its devotees in our discussion.  We appreciated how it took complex ideas and represented them in a way that would be understood by a very young audience…  the fact that the book is not about what it claims to be about, but is about what it says it isn’t about (i.e., you SHOULD look at the pelicans) blew some minds.

I hope that others who were there will chime in with their perceptions and thoughts!  Thanks to all for a rousing discussion.


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. I am so glad to see that some of you considered “whether the slant of the perspective presented didn’t patronize the villagers” for ERUPTION as this is exactly what bothered me about it. Terming them repeatedly “locals” and “villagers,” without some named individuals bothered me and was reinforced by the photos with similarly undefined captions. I didn’t know how to articulate this unease so haven’t until now in connection with your statement above.

  2. Jonathan Hunt says:

    1. I’m surprised by the reaction to WHAT THE HEART KNOWS. While I do think it’s for an older audience than her previous collections, I do think it’s entirely within the Newbery range. I had enthusiastic readers for A WREATH FOR EMMETT TILL and I felt that was more “adult” than this one.

    2. If I had put THE THING ABOUT LUCK on my ballot then we could have had a discussion about a second honor book, too. If you take the top three titles from each group, then we overlap on two of them: ERUPTION and THE THING ABOUT LUCK.

    3. I’m out of town so I’ll have to check the Merapi chapters of ERUPTION! once I get back on Wednesday to place those quotes in a broader context, but I will say I don’t find the individual quotes terribly disturbing. Meager simply means lack of quality or quantity, and I think by American standards (and quite possibly by urban standards within Indonesia), the villagers had meager belongings. I do note that there are a host of synonyms for meager which range from modest and limited to miserly and beggarly, so I understand that this word may have a loaded connotation for some people. It should go without saying that poor in the second instance is not synonomous with meager, but rather unfortunate, and I did get the sense that those whose lives are touched by this disaster are indeed unfortunate. But like I said, I would love to read these whole chapters, and then come back to this issue.

  3. Something I now realize is that it is also the large photos of villagers in the earlier parts of the book showing their indigenous ways which makes that particular image and caption all the more disturbing to me. (The one with the “meager” belongings.) They are well-meant, but also reinforce a sense of simplistic-ness on the part of the “locals.” I’ve just taken a quick look through and the text has very little from their POV. There is the paragraph on page 44 about Mbah Maridjan advising them to stay. I would have liked to have seen along with that some sort of help in understanding why they might want to do that. The photos, little from the local/villages POV, and such just made me uneasy. I do admire the author’s skill in communicating the way the team figures out what is happening and then is able to evacuate most. It was this tiny thing that needled at me as I read. (This can’t come up at the Newbery table of course but it is similar to what bothered me about Marc Aronson’s book about the Chilean miners. The tremendous focus on the outsiders coming in to save the day.)

    • Jonathan Hunt says:

      Monica, at the risk of beating a dead horse, can you talk about the photos that communicate a simplistic, indigenous life? Page 1: a family dressed in Western clothing walking through a field–nothing simplistic or indigenous. Page 2: a man working in a coffee field–again nothing simplistic or indigenous there. Page 5: a pair of girls (again in Western dress) standing at a grave site–again, where is the simplisticness and the indigenousness? I’m not seeing it anywhere . . .

      • Of course, I thought this was over so don’t have the book with me here at school. But my memory is that those images coupled with captions that were general with no names gave me a sense of unease that I couldn’t put my finger on until Nina mentioned the comments at her meeting. I realize the focus is on the scientists, but I just would have liked to have seen the people who lived below the volcanoes be represented more than as an unaware mass.

        But I really don’t want to go further with this. I don’t have the book here and really don’t have the time to study it thoroughly when I am at home. I just responded to the above comment from Nina’s group as helping me understand what had made me initially uneasy about the book. If others have something more to say about they should.

  4. Yay for CLEMENTINE!!

    Personally, I would not have voted for ERUPTION because I didn’t find the text to be terribly distinguished, but I tend to agree with Monica and the Oakland group that the references to the “locals” are insensitive, although I, too, would have to reread it to be sure.

  5. Leonard Kim says:

    Two things about the voting I found interesting —

    1) Every round, CLEMENTINE was on more ballots than THE THING ABOUT LUCK, but the first place votes weren’t quite there. Could there have been any anti-easy chapter book bias at play here?

    2) The rise of ERUPTION is quite striking. In the end, it picked up 6 (!) more second place votes compared to the first round. I can understand voters perhaps thinking at first that CLEMENTINE or THE THING ABOUT LUCK were a lock for the medal and not wanting to “waste” their first place vote. But seeing this shift, I wonder, had the third ballot been actually considered inconclusive, whether there would have been any movement on the 4th ballot to switch those second place votes to first place votes to make it competitive with the two frontrunners, or whether this was “only an Honor book” thinking in action.

    • Leonard, it’s impossible to know what my fellow participants were thinking unless they chime in, but I do know that during the initial discussion our comments on CLEMENTINE seemed to me to be more enthusiastic. Conversation tapered off on THE THING ABOUT LUCK, which must have been because its fans were quietly cheering its positive qualities without feeling the need to repeat them in the discussion (good observation of the discussion guidelines, but interesting to witness). I suspect that for a lot of participants the two held similar appeal and appeared side-by-side on their ballots.

      I was also impressed with ERUPTION nearly doubling its points as we continued balloting, and was one of those arguing for including it in our results as an honor. It would have been interesting in a world without time constraints to see what happened to it on an honors ballot, or to IF YOU WANT TO SEE A WHALE.

      I will disclose that for the third ballot, I replaced IF YOU WANT TO SEE A WHALE with ERUPTION in the hopes of bringing it into closer contention for an honor placement. I suspect that in a world where additional ballots were possible we would still not have seen it rise to eclipse the top two – support for it was too divided, for the reasons mentioned above.

      • Nina Lindsay Nina Lindsay says:

        Leonard, those are all good perceptions, though one more element to consider is that at some point I think we realized we wanted to be done, and that we were not the real Newbery committee….and I think some votes shifted more easily because of that. I did note the number of votes given to CLEMENTINE, and wondered about that too.

      • Jonathan Hunt Jonathan Hunt says:

        The other thing to keep in mind is that in addition to fighting a possible anti-chapter book bias, the real committee may have its pro-chapter book clique divided by CLEMENTINE and BILLY MILLER.

  6. Celeste Figley says:

    I just have one question. Who wrote If You Want to Be a Whale? I can’t find that one, unless you are talking about If You Want to See a Whale?

    • Celeste Figley says:

      Never mind, I see that it is indeed See not Be.

      • Nina Lindsay Nina Lindsay says:

        Celeste–Sorry about that! My mind goes malapropic when it’s tired. I’m kind of tickled by the mistake. I might want to be a whale, sometimes.

  7. Jonathan Hunt Jonathan Hunt says:

    I’m back and I’ve had a chance to look at the book again. Let me first say that I understand that some people sense a tone in this book that they object to, and that while we may quibble about the various instances of that tone, it’s really much harder to root out the problem then simply running through a catalogue of specific references in the text. TRUE BLUE SCOUTS has the same problem in a way, something about the tone and the voice is off-putting, and nothing anybody can say will necessarily change your mind if it rubs you the wrong way. Having said that . . .

    While I agree that the locals and villagers seem to be lumped into one category, there are some exceptions. Monica mentions the medicine man who discourages people from moving away from Mount Merapi, for example. There’s also a caption on page 57 of a man who is named. The most prominent villager featured in the text and photos, however, is Ismail, the volcano observer. I disagree that any of the photos show locals in an unflattering light, simplistic or otherwise. I found many of the pictures of the locals to be vibrant and full of life, depicting people who were happy and resilient. The caption of the villagers fleeing the volcano with their meager possessions? I would be fleeing with my meager possessions, meager meaning limited here. There is a limit to what I can physically carry while I’m fleeing on foot.

    Since this series is called Scientists in the Field rather than Villagers in the Field the focus of the book doesn’t bother me, especially because the local scientists do emerge as distinct individuals who we see play a critical role in this collaborative scientific venture. And this is never more clear than the second quote that Nina pulls out of context. She’s quoting Julie, one of the American scientists, who’s amazed that people would continue to live in the shadow of such danger. I think some of that is probably born of her personal experience witnessing the devastation of volcanos time and again, but I do think there is a hint of patronization there, too. But Rusch skillfully balances this against Dewi’s words and actions (i.e. one of the Indonesian scientists). I think Rusch has given young readers enough information to make up their own minds about these issues.

    This is a complete non-issue for me. 🙁

    • Yes, thank you for taking the time to discuss specific words and photos and give some explanation of how they seem to you. (Some other book could focus on victims of natural disasters, and quote them, and name them, or not.) This book is about the scientists, and they were multi-cultural and increasingly indigenous.

      Therefore, the idea that “outsiders” come in to solve problems, and that the focus of the book is on Americans also seemed like a non-issue. The book described how a group of individuals from one country with funding & equipment is training indigenous people in several countries to use the equipment to help their communities. There’s a chance that in reality, those local scientists are disrespected and patronized, but that wasn’t indicated in the text at all. They seemed to be crucial to international efforts and treated as equals in decision-making.

      Anyone who lives far away from a volcano would wonder why people move back after it erupts – it’s not just the scientists who study volcanoes who ask this question. The book completely answers it, in words and ideas that are clear to young readers.

  8. Jessica Lee says:

    As one of the participants at the table for the second year running, I loved this discussion. I love hearing the variety of perspectives, and the strong opinions that come out around writing for youth. I also find the process fascinating and flawed. We can spend a long time going round and round about whether ERUPTION is patronizing or TRUE BLUE SCOUTS has a grating narrator, but ultimately we are looking for distinction, not flaws. I find that the books that try harder, have a broader reach, will ultimately have more flaws. Or maybe that is my “anti-easy chapter book bias” showing its colors. It was hard being one of the ones at the table whose first-place pick FAR FAR AWAY was completely disregarded by the rest of the group. So, I lick my wounds and toss my vote in with the book that whose support resonated with me more. THE THING ABOUT LUCK did not resonate with me, but I could support it because I understood how it did resonate with some people. CLEMENTINE felt lovely but slight. Again, I think that is my bias showing. As I stated at the start of our discussion, maybe I should join a mock Printz since my tastes definitely run in that direction.

    • Nina Lindsay Nina Lindsay says:

      Jessica, one thing that’s hard to show in these discussions is that ours is a very much telescoped version of the actual discussion. I was also a strong fan of FAR FAR AWAY, but saw a clear lack of enthusiasm in the group. With only eight titles, we move much more quickly, and almost too quickly, to a consensus. Imagine if we’d discussed 30 titles. The first ballot would have seen smatterings of supoort all over the place, and after such a straw poll, even if it begets a winner, there’s sometimes more room to turn a committee towards and outlier favorite, at least for an honor.

      In our voting, Far was my third place vote in the first round, when I’d thought it might have been my first, going in. After the first vote, I gave it up in order to lend points to others I thought had a chance.

  9. Utah reporting in: (this is kind of long but since I’m not blogging at the moment I’m hijacking the comments.)

    We had small but dedicated group of six. We would have had a few more but life got in the way for some of our members. What does the real committee do in the face of funerals, illness, and debate meets?

    We had ten books on our list, which might have been a bit excessive, but we felt up to the task. After two and a half some hours of discussion we only needed one vote to get a consensus.

    My much adored TRUE BLUE SCOUTS did not fare as well in the discussion as I’d hoped. It was lobbied hard by some, or by me, that every word, character, sugar cane and raccoon remained true to its essence. This book knew exactly what it was the whole way through. Others cared not a bit for the jaunty tone. Some thought the plot too unwieldy with much needed tightening. There was the slander of a Disney movie comparison by some. I did concede that plot didn’t hold the excessive tension to keep one chewing on one’s fingernails such as in THE UNDERNEATH, (which of course we didn’t talk about, because that would be very wrong.) It received two third place votes.

    We all read-aloud and marveled at our favorites in WHERE THE HEART IS. There was a consensus that some of the poems were perfectly geared for the age group and some were geared for “fifty year old women.” In the end it received a lone third place vote.

    LOCOMOTIVE didn’t receive a lot of discussion. I think I may have been its biggest supporter and my most recent reading had been too long in the past to make a convincing case. A failing I’m sure the other committee could never condone. It was agreed that the book needed to be in every elementary school in the state. Also zero votes

    DOLL BONES was appreciated, but fault was found in credibility and the heavily expository writing style that I didn’t pick up on until my second reading. Also there was discussion that the creepy element needed to be carried just a bit further and resolved better. One third place vote.
    AS AN ASIDE: This did win my student Mock Newbery (don’t tell them as it’s a secret until I get back from Philadelphia) but even then it got very few number one votes. (I don’t hold my students to the majority in voting as I have too many kids and too few books to have them each read each one). It had the most readers so those second and third place votes added up.

    P.S. BE ELEVEN was universally adored but just didn’t manage to garner enough momentum to break away from the pack. One reader hadn’t read ONE CRAZY SUMMER and found Cecile’s letters inconsistent. Not necessarily a fault with the book but it confirmed that without the first book Cecile’s character was undeveloped and the letters, which I found so poignant, meant little. Two third place votes.

    Both BETTER NATE THAN EVER and FAR, FAR AWAY received much, much discussion on age appropriateness. I don’t know that we ever agreed or changed each other’s minds on the issue. NATE was seen to be a little too self-aware for a character his age and the jokes, while hilarious, too sophisticated for the intended audience range, also kind of sit-commy. We did appreciate the secondary character development. FAR, FAR AWAY was very much loved on every level except as a middle-grade by some. It got one number one vote. NATE – zero.

    The discussion concerning COUNTING BY 7S nearly wiped away my personal contrivance qualms. We all enjoyed this book excessively and agree it was one of most fun reads of the year. One first place vote, two second place vote.

    When we got to IF YOU WANT TO SEE A WHALE there was some mighty entrenched support. One member claimed that it was by and far the one book this year she could feel the most passion for. We took turns reading favorite passages, reveling in the decadent wording. In the end the only legitimist argument against was that without the final two illustrations the book would lose a bit of its magnificence. But just a bit. One first place vote, two seconds.

    It was hard not to talk over each other about all the perfection we found in THE THING ABOUT LUCK. The only descents that it wouldn’t have universal appeal and that it was too quiet were conceded not to be a valid flaws. We found Summer and company to be completely genuine and the setting fascinating. (Sorry Josh, I know if you’d been there things might have gone differently). Three first place votes and two seconds.

    After one vote we had half the votes going for our medalist: THE THING ABOUT LUCK. And a tie for second with our two honors: COUNTING BY 7S and IF YOU WANT TO SEE A WHALE.

    • I do know that we talked about WHAT THE HEART KNOWS and not the nonexistent WHERE THE HEART IS.

    • Jonathan Hunt Jonathan Hunt says:

      I still don’t get the adult poetry thing about WHAT THE HEART KNOWS. We talked about the body poem in San Diego, but I found that to be about adolescence. Maybe I’ve just had to teach too much sex ed about body changes?

      • Jonathan Hunt Jonathan Hunt says:

        I think Nancy’s mock Newbery picked it as an honor book, and she has 4th-7th graders.

      • You know, this is a book I need admit not doing justice to. Having just one copy that needed to be passed around between too many hands left me without a recent reading. I think I could have been more convinced with more scrutiny. You and my husband should compare notes. He get to to teach Utah’s version of sex ed to fifth-graders every year.


  1. […] my opinion shifting simply by talking about each of the brilliant books we’d read. And the discussion in Oakland hosted by his blog partner, Nina Lindsay, had completely different results when voting on the exact […]

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