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Heavy Medal: A Mock Newbery Blog
Inside Heavy Medal

Nina’s Outliers

The days grow short and there are still many contenders out there!  Here’s a mash-up on a couple of worthy titles we haven’t talked about yet.

Tanya Lee Stone’s COURAGE HAS NO COLOR is a finalist for the YALSA Nonfiction Award,  is on the discussion list for the ALSC Notable Children’s books, and was on four “best of” lists.   Jonathan touched on it in an earlier nonfiction post.   This story of the Triple Nickles is told in flawlessly interwoven narrative and quotes that is fully engaging, and clear in its intention and documentation.   As much as I appreciate nonfiction, I’m really not a nonfiction reader, and usually have to make myself stick to a text to finish it.  This one, I wanted to turn back to like a good story, and sucked it down.

Jonathan quibbled in his post that he “was expecting the soldiers to see active combat duty, and it felt like the book could have been called ALMOST PARATROOPERS,” to which I replied that “I think the whole point is that *they* were expecting to see active combat duty too. I think she did a remarkable job of following the story where it went.”  This was one of a few books that didn’t make our shortlist which I might have liked to see there, and hope to see it somewhere on the screen Monday morning the 27th.

Even I have a hard time thinking about Elizabeth Wein’s ROSE UNDER FIRE as a children’s book, but it is worth the examination simply to appreciate it as a contribution to literature, and to consider where that age line is.   I think the most important thing when reading this book is not to compare it to CODE NAME VERITY; though it is related, and a masterpiece itself, it’s not quite as good…yet stands well above nearly every contender for Newbery this year, in my estimation.  I do find this text easier to place within Newbery range than its predecessor.  The remarkable skill in characterization and setting, with thrilling plot, gives a solid story appreciable by a fourteen year old audience for sure. While in CODE NAME VERITY I felt that a mature understanding of love and friendship, and the worth of an individual in a war, were required for the book to succeed, here the more mature elements a less intrinsic the the nut of the story.   Looking at the interpretations for age level at the end of the Newbery Manual:

 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. 

Questions for committees to consider include these:
* Is there any 14-year-old for whom this book is suitable?
* If so, is it distinguished enough to be considered?
* If so, exactly what 14-year-olds would respond to it, and why? 

A book may be considered even though it appeals to a fairly small part of the age range if the committee feels that
* it is so distinguished that everyone of that age should know the book;
* it is so distinguished, in so many ways, that it deserves recognition for the
excellence it provides to a small but unique readership;
* it is exceptionally fine for the narrow part of the range to which it appeals, even
though it may be eligible for other awards outside this range.

…I think this book’s exceptional qualities make it at least worth considering.  Gathering a consensus that it does what it sets out to do “better” than anything else on the table could be a challenge, but I think this has it’s place on the table for discussion, as a barometer for “truly distinguished.”

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. Jonathan Hunt Jonathan Hunt says:

    1. I like COURAGE HAS NO COLOR, just not as much as either ERUPTION! or THE ANIMAL BOOK from a Newbery standpoint. I’d be surprised if we didn’t see it win the YALSA Nonfiction Award. I can actually get past the bait-and-switch, but I’m just wondering about those boys who pick this book up expecting to read about war, and heroism, and bravery. I don’t think they will be nearly as forgiving, especially when they can read a book like IMPRISONED which also features social injustice, but still delivers the combat (not that IMPRISONED advertises itself as such the way COURAGE does). Ultimately, this is not a failing of the book necessarily, and I’m not sure that it would really last very long as a complaint at the table. I just mention it here as a personal frustration in terms of matching the right book to the right reader.

    2. Completely sidestepping the issue of quality, I think there is a 13-14 year old audience for ROSE UNDER FIRE, but I think consensus on that book would be even harder to achieve than FAR FAR AWAY. I see the latter made the ALSC Notables discussion list along with high-end titles like DARIUS & TWIG by Walter Dean Myers and PANIC by Sharon Draper.

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