Follow This Blog: RSS feed
Heavy Medal: A Mock Newbery Blog
Inside Heavy Medal

Top Five

9781596438521_p0_v5_s192x300We used to check in with our readership several times a year about their top choices, mimicking the nomination process that the real committee experiences wherein they nominate three books in October, two in November, and a final two in December.  Since we don’t post quite as frequently now as we used to, we are combining those posts into a single one, asking for your top five books.  As I sit down to write my own personal list, I’m only certain of two books: SAMURAI RISING by Pamela Turner and WHEN GREEN BECOMES TOMATOES.  It’s easy for me to identify those as standouts in their respective genres, head andghostcover
shoulders above the rest, and thus easily in the conversation for most distinguished contribution for American literature for children.  The fiction, on the other hand, is a bit harder for me to parse out on a single reading.  I seesaw between GHOST and AS BRAVE AS YOU by Jason Reynolds, thinking first one book deserves my nomination, and then the other; perhaps I might throw up my hands and nominate both.  But truthfully, there is a deep field of middle grade fiction: WOLF HOLLOW, RAYMIE NIGHTINGALE, PAX, THE INQUISITOR’S TALE, THE BEST MAN, BOOKED, FULL OF BEANS, ASHES, GHOSTS, WHEN THE SEA TURNED TO SILVER, THE GIRL WHO DRANK THE MOON, MS. BIXBY’S LAST DAY, and THE WILD ROBOT–all books that have at least four starred reviews (to say nothing of the many fine and worthy books that have fallen short of that arbitrary mark).  I enjoyed each of these books, but how to choose among them?  I find that process of rereading immeasurably helpful in sorting these out.

9781580895842
Another tool that always helped me was to reread Deborah Stevenson’s Horn Book article, “Finding Literary Goodness in a Pluralistic World,” from the 2006 September/October issue.  It used to be available online for a number of years.  Alas, no longer.  Perhaps most relevant to the point I would make here is Stevenson’s correct assertion that the more one reads in a particular genre of literature the more reference points one has to place the book within a critical context, and the harder it is for books to really and truly distinguish themselves from the rest you have read.  Thus, while the Newbery committee may only compare particular books to those published within the same calendar year, their notions of what constitutes excellence in the specific criteria are formed by every single title they have ever read.  Stevenson reasons that when we find great books with few reference points (her example is CARVER; mind-glowingly great or merely excellent?), it’s hard to know how good the book really is.  Thus, I find that SAMURAI RISING and WHEN GREEN BECOMES TOMATOES compare very favorably to their genre counterparts in the Newbery canon, while the fiction books that I have mentioned above?  Not quite as well.  I know some of you will disagree with me, but here’s my comeback.  SAMURAI RISING and WHEN GREEN BECOMES TOMATOES would rank in the top five in their genre if they were selected as Newbery books.  As good as the fiction is, I wouldn’t make a similar claim about any of them.  Are any of them top five Newbery novels of all time?  Hmmm?

So I’ve decided for the time being to add GHOST as my obligatory Jason Reynolds nomination, and to go with a couple of more strategic nominations.  We have not discussed FULL OF BEANS or MAKOONS here, nor have I heard buzz about them elsewhere, but I think they are strong contenders and worthy of our consideration.  In alphabetical order–

FULL OF BEANS

GHOST

MAKOONS

SAMURAI RISING

WHEN GREEN BECOMES TOMATOES

9780553510362_p0_v2_s118x184 9780060577933_p0_v2_s192x300

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As tradition dictates, Sharon and I will release our Mock Newbery shortlist in a couple of weeks, and we will be looking over your nominations very carefully to make sure that we have not missed anything.

 

Share
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 hunt_yellow@yahoo.com

Comments

  1. Jonathan, I am particularly drawn to your observations in the second paragraph. I read the Stevenson article nearly a decade ago when I was working on my MLIS, and haven’t really thought of it much since. In light of the truly excellent middle grade fiction this year (and I thought last year was great – phew, it has nothing on this year), I’ve really had to take a step back from two things:

    1.) my fanboy rallying of both DiCamillo and Lin, who have produced truly exquisite books this year
    2.) my gut reactions to books versus where they actually stand in a forest of excellent books

    Early in the summer, I would have rallied behind JAZZ DAY as the best book of poetry. Now it wouldn’t get a vote from me. Why? Because at yours and Leonard Kim’s behest, I read WHEN GREEN BECOMES TOMATOES. That experience shifted my interpretation of not only what good poetry is this year but also what good poetry is period.

    A lot of exposition, but I wanted to share with you how much you made me think about this. After much deliberation, here are my top five:

    1. WHEN GREEN BECOMES TOMATOES
    2. WOLF HOLLOW
    3. WE WILL NOT BE SILENT
    4. SAMURAI RISING
    5. THE INQUISITOR’S TALE*

    *this last one is a bit politicky of me. Post-election, I re-read the last quarter of the book for some reflection and literary balm to my soul. It speaks so much about prejudice and kindness and acceptance and love. It’s a message I needed and one that I think may very well resonate with the committee (and children, too).

  2. Let’s see. Alas! Rereading PAX via audio made it actually sink a little. But I will go with:

    1) THE INQUISITOR’S TALE
    2) WHEN THE SEA TURNED TO SILVER
    3) WHEN GREEN BECOMES TOMATOES
    4) WOLF HOLLOW
    5) PAX

  3. Hannah Mermelstein says:

    I haven’t read some key titles yet (like The Inquisitor’s Tale), but here are my top 5:

    1) SOAR
    2) RAYMIE NIGHTINGALE
    3) GHOST
    4) WHEN THE SEA TURNED TO SILVER
    5) WOLF HOLLOW

    Our Mock Newbery Committee is voting for finalists tomorrow so I’ll chime in with their votes too.

  4. Lots of strategy involved in my picks…

    1) SOME KIND OF COURAGE
    Still my favorite read of the year. May just be personal, but if pressed and discussed, could find specific examples of distinguished elements. Know it won’t be on many people’s lists so I’m placing it as my Number 1.

    2) PAX
    I think it will make enough lists to receive heavy consideration, but fear that early hype is causing it to slip. I don’t want it to slip!

    3) WHEN GREEN BECOMES TOMATOES
    I’m not usually a fan or personal reader of poetry. But I read this one and marveled at it. Then I read it with my wife and kids and was just beside myself with how awesome it is. Then I read it with my mother. Then I showed it to a few coworkers. This may be my real Number 1, but strategy on my part moved it down my list.

    4) WOLF HOLLOW
    Probably the best written fiction I have read this year. I’m just wrestling with the age range.

    5) FULL OF BEANS
    I championed TURTLE IN PARADISE hard on this blog years ago. I would be remiss to NOT include this on my list considering it’s as well written as its predecessor. However, I’m currently reading GHOST, CLOUD AND WALLFISH, and THE INQUISITOR’S TALE and any of those could easily take this 5th spot on my list in a month or so.

  5. Leonard Kim says:

    (not in order of preference)

    WHEN GREEN BECOMES TOMATOES
    WOLF HOLLOW
    MS. BIXBY’S LAST DAY
    ARE YOU AN ECHO?
    IN THE SHADOW OF LIBERTY

    As Jonathan has educated us in the past, I’m looking at nominations (as opposed to the final vote) as either 1) signaling support or 2) getting something to the discussion table.
    My first two nominations are to help cement front-runner status for those two books. After that it gets tricky – especially with the food for thought Jonathan has given us. I agree it’s a deep year for novels, and if I were just to pick the ones I loved the most, I would choose MS. BIXBY’S LAST DAY and THE GIRL WHO DRANK THE MOON. But like Joe I think THE INQUISITOR’S TALE might be a good Newbery, even though I see more flaws in it. In the end, I know I could still vote for THE INQUISITOR’S TALE in the online Mock Newbery, and it has enough nominations already without adding mine. Of the other two, I chose to nominate MS. BIXBY’S LAST DAY as the book there seems to be slightly more positive consensus for.

    Betsy Bird featured ARE YOU AN ECHO? in her last Newbery post, and I am grateful she chose to call attention to it. I don’t have her platform, but I am raising my tiny voice alongside hers for this one.

    Finally, I am generally opposed to “token” nominations in under-represented genres, and IN THE SHADOW OF LIBERTY isn’t without flaws. But if the point of nominations is to get it to the discussion table, I think it should be there, at least to be another tree in the forest against similar books that could be nominated. I don’t think IN THE SHADOW OF LIBERTY has been mentioned on Heavy Medal, but it does have 3 starred reviews, and I would support it over other non-fiction contenders I have read as well as fictional contenders on the same topic. I did not vote for it on Goodreads, but my comment was: “more moving and effective than imagined or fictionalized books from this year such as Bryan’s Freedom Over Me, Burg’s Unbound, or Anderson’s Ashes. Messier, yes, but realer. Shows a strong sense of structure and narrative arc, even compared to fiction.”

    • Jonathan Hunt Jonathan Hunt says:

      Leonard, if IN THE SHADOW OF LIBERTY is an adaptation of an adult book–and I believe that it is–then it is ineligible for the Newbery. From the Expanded Definitions–

      1. Children’s books derived from previously published adult books can’t be considered eligible. The intent of the award is not to see who can successfully adapt an adult book; the award is intended for the original creation of a distinguished book for children. This condition is NOT intended to exclude works in which an author (or illustrator) has created a new work based on earlier work that is in the public domain, such as a novel based on a Shakespeare play.

      Examples:
      Cod: A Biography of the Fish that Changed the World by Mark Kurlansky, was published for adults in 1998. A children’s version, The Cod’s Tale, was published in 2001 and would not be considered eligible.

      Othello: A Novel
      by Julius Lester, based on the Shakespeare play and published for children in 1995, would be considered eligible.

      While I agree with the spirit of the rule, I actually think THE COD’S TALE is a horrible example since it’s a new book and not an adaptation, by any stretch of the imagination.

      • Leonard Kim says:

        I wasn’t aware it may be an adaptation. If it is, that fact is well-hidden to regular Googling, so I’d be curious where you found that. Thanks.

      • Jonathan Hunt Jonathan Hunt says:

        I can’t find information online that it’s an adaptation. I’ll double check the book. It’s possible I just assumed these profiles were culled from his 2015 book for adults which has a slightly larger focus. Will check on it when I get my hands on the book. I would be very happy to be wrong since I liked it very much, too!

      • I reviewed IN THE SHADOW OF LiBERTY for Horn Book and don’t recall anything about it that suggested it was not completely original.

      • Jonathan Hunt Jonathan Hunt says:

        Monica, I almost certainly erred here. To me, it looks like an adult book adaptation: trim size, cover design, the whole works. I think what tripped me up is that the subtitle–the Hidden History of Slavery, Four Presidents, and Five Black LIves–is very similar to the title of his 2015 book for adults: A Hidden History of America at War. He has several other books that prominently feature “hidden history” in the titles. In retrospect, this was probably just a continued branding effort rather than an indication that it was an adaptation. I will check the book in my office later, but I’m almost certainly wrong–and happy to be so!

        SABOTAGE by Neal Bascomb would probably also be eligible, since the books were published almost simultaneously in the month of May

        Sabotage: The Mission to Destroy Hitler’s Atomic Bomb (YA version–May 31)
        The Winter Fortress: The Epic Mission to Sabotage Hitler’s Atomic Bomb (adult version–May 3)

        I noticed that Scholastic did this with the most recent James Swanson book too, the one about the assassination of JFK. The first books from these respective author’s CHASING LINCOLN’S KILLERS and THE NAZI HUNTERS were adaptations of adult books, but it’s hard to argue that these simultaneous publications are, too.

    • Jonathan Hunt Jonathan Hunt says:

      Checked out ARE YOU AN ECHO? I’m a fan.

  6. 1. The Girl who Drank the Moon
    2. When the Sea Turned to Silver
    3. When Green Becomes Tomatoes
    4. Jazz Day
    5. Samurai Rising

  7. 1. When Green Becomes Tomatoes
    2. Wolf Hollow
    3. The Wild Robot
    4. Pax
    5. Ghost

  8. Eric Carpenter says:

    1. GHOST
    2. SAMURAI RISING
    3. THE BORDEN MURDERS
    4. FREEDOM IN CONGO SQUARE
    5. FULL OF BEANS

  9. HOUR OF THE BEES – EAGAR
    MOST IMPORTANT THING – AVI
    WHEN GREEN BECOMES TOMATOES – FOGLIANO
    WHEN THE SEA TURNED TO SILVER – LIN
    WOLF HOLLOW – WOLK

  10. This was harder than last year because I have 6 and had problem eliminating one!
    1.BEST MAN
    2. BOOKED
    3. WOLF HOLLOW
    4. AS BRAVE AS YOU ARE
    5. MS BIXBY’S LAST DAY

  11. erin moehring says:

    GHOST
    WOLF HOLLOW
    SOME KIND OF COURAGE
    WHEN GREEN BECOMES TOMATOES
    THE GIRL WHO.DRANK THE MOON

    In my TBR pile: BEST MAN, MS BIXBY’S LAST DAY, WHEN THE SEA TURNED TO SILVER…

  12. 1. WHAT ELEPHANTS KNOW, by Eric Dinerstein
    2. INQUISITOR’S TALE, by Adam Gidwitz
    3. FULL OF BEANS, by Jennifer Holm
    4. PAX, by Sara Pennypacker
    5. THE GIRL WHO DRANK THE MOON, by Kelly Barnhill

    We have launched a Mock Newbery Book Club in every elementary school in our district, inspired by our participation in Heavy Medal. It has been amazing listening to the kids read, share and talk about the best books of the year.

    The biggest surprise for me has been Eric Dinerstein’s What Elephants Know. This rises to the top on all of the Newbery criteria — especially setting, plot and theme. Dinerstein lived in the borderlands between Nepal and India, first in the Peace Corps and then later as a scientist studying tiger populations. He has been the chief scientist of the World Wildlife Fund, so comes with a deep background. If you like audiobooks, I highly recommend Kirby Heyborne’s reading of this novel.

    • Thanks, Mary Ann, for the scoop on WHAT ELEPHANTS KNOW. Found the audio book in my collection, checked it out and will listen! More confusion for my top five??

    • Jonathan Hunt Jonathan Hunt says:

      I’ve eyed WHAT ELELPHANTS KNOW several times. Now I’ll have to take a closer look.

      It is AMAZING listening to kids in a mock Newbery program, and that’s incredible that you’ve rolled the program out district wide. A mock Newbery program can hit so many standards it’s not even funny, but especially all those Speaking and Listening standards. Would love to know about the success of the various groups as they play out . . .

      • It is truly amazing, Jonathan, watching the enthusiasm spread across the whole district. We thought some schools would take us up on the suggestion, but every single one of them did! Teachers and librarians are volunteering their lunch periods, and 40-60 kids are giving up recess to come talk about books!! In many schools, over half of the kids are choosing to participate. Powerful stuff, indeed.

      • Hi Jonathan — I realized since I was gushing about it, I should probably share more about my thoughts on What Elephants Know. This blog post just starts to convey my thoughts. I’ve also shared a slideshow I’ve developed to help give kids some background knowledge of the area:
        http://greatkidbooks.blogspot.com/2016/11/what-elephants-know-by-eric-dinerstein.html

  13. 1. Ghost
    2. Samurai Rising
    3. Makoons
    4. When Green Becomes Tomatoes
    5. Full of Beans

  14. 1. GHOST
    2. WHEN GREEN BECOMES TOMATOES
    3. FULL OF BEANS
    4. RAYMIE NIGHTENGALE
    5. GERTIE’S LEAP TO GREATNESS

    I have so much catching up to do on Heavy Medal, I don’t even know which books have been discussed. but I took a moment to hope over and since you asked, here you go.

    • I hadn’t heard of Gertie’s Leap to Greatness – clicked over to my library catalog, which starts, “For fans of Three Times Lucky and The Penderwicks….”, and immediately clicked Hold.

      • Jonathan Hunt says:

        And illustrations by Caldecott Honoree Jillian Tamaki!

      • Gertie is one of those books I have trouble finding distance from. Like Raymie I may be too starstruck but everyone should read and tell me I’m wrong or agree with me already.

  15. Jonathan Hunt Jonathan Hunt says:

    Here’s an update. Keep ’em coming.

    (11) WHEN GREEN BECOMES TOMATOES

    (9) WOLF HOLLOW

    (7) GHOST

    (5) FULL OF BEANS

    (4) SAMURAI RISING

    (4) WHEN THE SEA TURNED TO SILVER

    (4) PAX

    (3) THE INQUISITOR’S TALE

    (3) THE GIRL WHO DRANK THE MOON

    (2) MAKOONS

    (2) RAYMIE NIGHTINGALE

    (2) MS. BIXBY’S LAST DAY

    (2) SOME KIND OF COURAGE

    (1) SOAR

    (1) ARE YOU AN ECHO?

    (1) IN THE SHADOW OF LIBERTY

    (1) JAZZ DAY

    (1) THE WILD ROBOT

    (1) THE BORDEN MURDERS

    (1) FREEDOM IN CONGO SQUARE

    (1) THE HOUR OF THE BEES

    (1) THE BEST MAN

    (1) THE MOST IMPORTANT THING

    (1) BOOKED

    (1) WHAT ELEPHANTS KNOW

    (1) GERTIE’S LEAP TO GREATNESS

    (1) AS BRAVE AS YOU

  16. Hannah Mermelstein says:

    I know I already gave my own top 5, but my Mock Newbery Committee (4th-6th graders) voted yesterday for finalists. Out of 33 books, they chose 8 titles (which is just where I decided to cut it off). I know these might not count here, but FYI, they are, in order:

    1) TOWERS FALLING
    2) BOOKED
    3) THE WILD ROBOT
    4) FULL OF BEANS
    5) WOLF HOLLOW
    6) ONCE WAS A TIME
    7) SOAR
    8) THE INQUISITOR’S TALE

  17. WHEN GREEN BECOMES TOMATOES
    SAMURAI RISING
    THE GIRL WHO DRANK THE MOON
    WHEN THE SEA TURNED TO SILVER
    HOUR OF THE BEES

    • I guess I know what’s coming you next month. I’ve been holding onto WTSTTS but I think it needs to be on our list.

  18. Allison M. says:

    WHEN GREEN BECOMES TOMATOES
    GHOST
    WOLF HOLLOW
    THE INQUISITOR’S TALE
    I don’t think I have a #5 yet…

  19. I also have much reading to do, but here are my top 5:

    Hour of the Bees
    Mrs. Bixby’s Last Day
    Ghost
    Are you an Echo?
    Wolf Hollow

  20. sam leopold says:

    1. PAX
    2. WOLF HOLLOW
    3. THE PLOT TO KILL HITLER
    4 THE SECRET LIFE OF LINCOLN JONES
    5. SAMURAI RISING

  21. Kate McCue-Day says:

    I have so many left to read but so far…
    The Hour of the Bees
    What Elephants Know
    Unbound
    Crenshaw
    Tru and Nellie

  22. My personal top 5 so far (not in order):
    The Inquisitor’s Tale
    The Girl Who Drank the Moon
    The Best Man
    Ghost
    Samurai Rising

  23. Where I stand so far…

    PAX
    ALL RISE FOR THE HONORABLE PERRY T. COOK
    RAYMIE NIGHTINGALE
    THE WILD ROBOT
    This is subject to change. I am saving my number 5 spot because I have so much reading left to do!

  24. Safranit Molly says:

    Yikes. I’m not really ready to commit to my top 5, but so far:
    1. Wolf Hollow
    2. Ghost
    3. Freedom in Congo Square
    4. Inquisitor’s Tale
    5. When the Sea Turned To Silver

    I am also thinking about the Storyteller by Evan Turk as a possible short list contender. I am also pondering Freedom Over Me.

  25. Jonathan Hunt Jonathan Hunt says:

    (13) WHEN GREEN BECOMES TOMATOES

    (13) WOLF HOLLOW

    (11) GHOST

    (7) SAMURAI RISING

    (6) WHEN THE SEA TURNED TO SILVER

    (6) PAX

    (6) THE INQUISITOR’S TALE

    (5) FULL OF BEANS

    (5) THE GIRL WHO DRANK THE MOON

    (4) THE HOUR OF THE BEES

    (3) RAYMIE NIGHTINGALE

    (3) MS. BIXBY’S LAST DAY

    (2) MAKOONS

    (2) SOME KIND OF COURAGE

    (2) ARE YOU AN ECHO?

    (2) THE WILD ROBOT

    (2) FREEDOM IN CONGO SQUARE

    (2) THE BEST MAN

    (2) WHAT ELEPHANTS KNOW

    (1) SOAR

    (1) IN THE SHADOW OF LIBERTY

    (1) JAZZ DAY

    (1) THE BORDEN MURDERS

    (1) THE MOST IMPORTANT THING

    (1) BOOKED

    (1) GERTIE’S LEAP TO GREATNESS

    (1) AS BRAVE AS YOU

    (1) MAYBE A FOX

    (1) THE PLOT TO KILL HITLER

    (1) THE SECRET LIFE OF LINCOLN JONES

    (1) UNBOUND

    (1) TRU & NELLIE

    (1) ALL RISE FOR THE HONORABLE PERRY T. COOK

  26. Eli Lukens says:

    HI I’m a fifth grader I just finished reading Hour of the bees and think it’s in serious contention for the gold.

    • Jonathan Hunt Jonathan Hunt says:

      Welcome, Eli! I listened to THE HOUR OF THE BEES on audiobook and found it to be very good! Can’t wait to discuss it! So many books, so little time!

    • Sharon McKellar Sharon McKellar says:

      I almost forgot about THE HOUR OF THE BEES. Another wonderful choice!

  27. Kate McCue-Day says:

    Ha! Eli is my student in 5th grade!!!

  28. Sharon McKellar Sharon McKellar says:

    1. Wolf Hollow
    2. Ghost
    3. When Green Becomes Tomatoes
    4. Pax
    5. Some Writer

Speak Your Mind

*