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Heavy Medal: A Mock Newbery Blog
Inside Heavy Medal

Curse of the Three Star Book, Part 2

On Friday, we talked about a pair of three star books that I’ve read.  Here are a whole heap–seven!–that have either languished in my to-be-read-pile or I’ve started them but not finished them (not for lack of interest, but lack of time).  So I present them here, leaning on the reviews to provide some insights into their Newberyishness.

613ByauOpUL._SX342_BO1,204,203,200_BEASTKEEPER by Cat Hellisen

NOTE: Please see comments below.  BEASTKEEPER appears to be ineligible by virtue of citizenship and residency requirements.

Publishers Weekly: Blending modern-day problems and ancient magical curses, Hellisen’s (When the Sea Is Rising Red) novel sparkles like a classic fairy tale, even as it plumbs unpleasant truths. Sarah is precocious, independent, and strong-willed, and the story brims with thought-provoking insights and lyrical descriptions for readers to sink into-especially those who, like Sarah, dream of finding magic in the mundane.

BLACKBIRD FLY by Erin Entrada Kelly

Publishers Weekly: Writing with acute sensitivity and sometimes painful realism, debut novelist Kelly skillfully captures the betrayals, tentative first crushes, and fluctuating emotions of middle school, which are heightened by Apple’s awareness of her cultural and ethnic difference. In the face of her classmates’ casual racism and cruelty, Apple’s efforts to make genuine friends and embrace the things that make her unique feel like a true triumph.

9780525428756_p0_v2_s192x300FULL MOON CICADA by Marilyn Hilton

New York Times: Although complicating factors such as Japanese aggression, Japanese internment, the civil rights movement and interracial marriage are mentioned, they are like scenery glimpsed through a moving bus’s window. They seem detached from Mimi’s lived experience rather than an integral part of her. The spare, first-person verse structure may make it difficult to delve into these issues, but the lack of context flattens what could have been a wonderful story.51GPFQPTLwL._SX327_BO1,204,203,200_

A NEARER MOON by Melanie Crowder

Kirkus Reviews: This lyrical story has a once-upon-a-time quality and, like the best of fairy tales, an evil to be overcome, a magic charm, and a lesson to be gleaned. Crowder’s language is sumptuous, written with an elegiac quality that suits the wistful longings of her protagonists. A quiet story of perseverance and hope, exquisitely written with words and images that demand savoring.

619+wfADN9L._SX332_BO1,204,203,200_NOOKS AND CRANNIES by Jessica Lawson

Booklist: This loving homage to classic mysteries features an early twentieth-century English setting, a snowed-in manor house, mistaken identities, a decades-old secret, hidden passageways, and a passel of precocious children.51gtrgIqdcL._SX385_BO1,204,203,200_


Publishers Weekly: A major tragedy occurs for which Augie feels responsible, but two-time Caldecott Honoree Smith, in his first novel, does an impeccable job of introducing heartbreak while keeping the mood light. Augie is a good-hearted kid whose wry humor makes him a companionable narrator. Readers may feel as disoriented as Augie when Smith shifts from recognizable ground to add an otherworldly dimension, but it works because Augie deserves an ending that makes him whole again.

51sHWwZ+fEL._SX341_BO1,204,203,200_THE SEVENTH MOST IMPORTANT THING by Shelley Pearsall

Booklist: Readers will be moved by Arthur’s growth, as he forms an attachment to the man to whom he initially gave so little thought, as well as by his dedication to saving the folk artist’s prized work after his death. Though fictionalized, Pearsall shines a light on Hampton, an amazing, lesser-known artist whose pieces are housed in the Smithsonian Museum, with an author’s note detailing the true story. A moving exploration of how there is often so much more than meets the eye.


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. Hannah Mermelstein says:

    I read Blackbird Fly over the summer when I was considering it for our Mock Newbery, and I decided not to include it. The story was fine, if not so unique, but I found it a bit problematic. There was so much racism (including internalized racism) and fatphobia, and while it’s clear that this is supposed to be bad, it seems like the message is that it’s bad solely because it’s wrong to bully people. There’s no actual analysis or dismantling of any of the stereotypes expressed. The underdogs get their glory but it’s despite their identities and not because of them. Talk about readers being harmed by books — this is one where the harm is such a central part of the story, and is really never fully redeemed. I’m curious if anyone else had a different takeaway.

    • Whoa Hannah, I think we were writing at the same time! I’m glad to see your comments on Blackbird Fly… and I feel foolish for having missed those things on my reading of the book.

  2. I read Blackbird Fly; I thought it was a really good first novel. However, there were some issues (like the fact that Apple picks up a guitar and starts playing some really complicated Beatles’ songs – Blackbird, Here Comes the Sun- within what seemed like a very unrealistically short period of time) that I think will knock it right off the table early on.

    I also read Auggie Hobble… that one is interesting. I’ve read reviews and spoken to other readers here who felt pretty disoriented (to borrow from the review), which I can understand… but I think it worked. Sorry I can’t be more specific, I don’t want to spoil it for anyone who reads it. Another thing I should mention is that I’m an ideal reader for this kind of book: quirky/bizarre with copious Jack Gantos-esque humor, not a whole lot of plot, heavy on character development and setting. So yeah, that is one I would consider bringing to the table as one of my 7, but only if I felt like I would get a little help from other folks on the committee (because I could see that one dying a quick death… and yes, the death metaphor is my weak attempt at humor based on the book’s subject matter).

  3. Looking back at my notes after reading BLACKBIRD FLY, I noted that the characters are “types” , not fully developed and that I really did not like Apple. The ending seemed to come too late. I said
    “just no” and will stand by that!
    I read and enjoyed NOOKS AND CRANNIES and have recommended it to kids – but cannot really recall much about it – comment enough?

  4. Brenda Martin says:

    An observation – certainly this doesn’t apply to *all* books that receive 3 stars, but when you put them together as you have in these posts, they each seem to take on a different kind of 3 star – that is, 3 of 4 stars. As in, good, solid books that deserve to be in collections and in the hands of young readers, but not quite the 4 star book that could bring home a Newbery gold or silver.

  5. Our Mock Newbery has discussed Blackbird Fly and Full Cicada Moon. The take on Blackbird Fly, which I agreed with, was that it was good but not “distinguished”. Our main criticisms concerned the depth of the secondary characters and the unbelievable wish fulfillment moments, but most of us liked Apple as a character and didn’t mind spending time with her. As someone else has brought up a Gilmore Girls’ reference previously in the comments, I will say that Apple kept reminding me of the character Lane.
    In Full Cicada Moon we found a great deal to appreciate, although there was some debate about whether the “verse” format served the book as well as it could. There was much more support for finding it distinguished, although we’ll see in the coming month if it has broken into anyone’s top 5.

  6. Leonard Kim says:

    Since nobody else has, I wil speak up for BEASTKEEPER. The quoted review has it basically right: it is a fairy tale, but it is striking in that it is both an original and modern fairy tale. That is, it is not an update of a classic fairy tale, which I feel like we’ve seen a lot of. I thought the very end was a bit muddled, but I’d say both it and NOOKS AND CRANNIES are probably in my top 20 this year.

  7. BEASTKEEPER wasn’t even on my radar, but it sounds like it would be right up my alley, so I’m sure I will be reading it soon. A few of the other titles are ones I’ve been vaguely meaning to get around to, but haven’t yet.

    The only one of this batch that I have read is AUGIE HOBBLE — count me as one of the disoriented ones. I was not a fan. Perhaps I could be brought to a greater appreciation of it if I were on a committee with people who could point out its distinguished features, but I think it would be an uphill battle for them.

  8. Why did I think the authorof BEASTKEEPER was ineligible? Isn’t she South African?

    I quite like BLACKBIRD FLY, espically to hand to kids, but it does rely too much on tropes.

    Been trying, and trying to get through NOOKS & CRANNIES.

    A NEARER MOON – UGH. I will stick with AUDACITY.

    I felt the themes of redemetion in THE SEVENTH MOST IMPORTANT THING were wonderfully executed. The characters were strong. It also has a great first line. But it doesn’t come close to licking the boots of ORBITING JUPITER which covers similar territory.

  9. Jonathan Hunt Jonathan Hunt says:

    You’re right about BEASTKEEPER, DaNae! The jacket flap has no information about the author’s citizenship or residency, but a Google search quickly turns up the fact that she is South African. Good catch!

  10. Jonathan Hunt Jonathan Hunt says:

    With its third star from Bulletin, THE LIGHTNING QUEEN by Laura Resau joins this group.

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