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Heavy Medal: A Mock Newbery Blog
Inside Heavy Medal

How does a book Win? Part 2: Discussion

14768253694_1de84729ca_oWe finished off with nominations over in Part 1 of this series, and now we find ourselves at Part 2, the discussion.  This is the biggest piece of the puzzle of how a book wins.  Hours and hours (and hours and hours) of discussion.  All day and into the night for two days, until a decision is made.  We’ll get into how that decision is made in part 3, tomorrow, but this is how discussion works.

Most likely, at first, each book will have time on the table.  Depending on how the committee chair and the committee decide to run things, the format and timing might be a bit different.  Maybe the first day would be divided to give each book an equal amount of time and the second day broken down to give more time to titles that need it.  Maybe things would be more free-flowing.  Maybe something in between.  In any case, at some point, unless everyone at the table agrees to withdraw a book from the table, each book has its moment, short or long to be hashed out.

What does that look like?  Generally these discussions follow the CCBC Book Discussion Guidelines, at least to some extent, and we definitely utilize those guidelines in our Mock Newbery discussion.  Remember, of course, that each committee member has read and reread these books with the Newbery Manual right at their fingertips, and comes into discussion with notes on each title.


This is what the manual says about discussion:

Each book nominated or those that qualify as late suggestions will be considered. Many committees have found it helpful to go through the list once. Once this is completed, full discussion of each book remaining on the list takes place.

Committee members must always keep in mind that once a book has been eliminated it cannot be reintroduced. When any book is eliminated from consideration, it is removed from the table so that only the books still under consideration remain.

Some tips to keep in mind:

  • Use good critical analysis, no vague words (cute, nice, good, etc.).
  • Be cooperative—listen to each other, no side conversations.
  • Refer back to the criteria to keep the discussion focused.
  • Make comparisons only to books that were published in the year under consideration.
  • Clarity—be clear in what you say. Think through the point you are making, and speak loudly enough to be heard by everyone.
  • Be concise—be sure that what you have to say adds to the discussion; try not to repeat what others have said.
  • Do not book talk or summarize the plot.
  • Refrain from relating personal anecdotes.

8409724912_007b448e17_oEach committee will likely work the discussion slightly differently, but the way we do it in our mock is probably not uncommon.

We go around the table and talk, first, about what we found positive about the book and in what ways it merits consideration, always keeping the criteria in mind.  We try to make sure that each person has a chance to talk, but at the same time are careful to limit repeated points being made (instead just expressing quick agreement) or personal anecdotes being involved.  We also try to avoid any points that are not relevant to the Newbery criteria.

After this, we take the discussion to the downsides of the book in a very similar manner.

14759994981_90e11af4e8_oDuring both of these parts we might compare to other books on the table, as in, “I found the characterization stronger in Ghost than I did in this one.”  At some point, maybe during this, or maybe during a second round of discussion, those comparisons likely get deeper and deeper as the committee has to narrow down large numbers of books to one final winner in just two short days!  (Two verrrrry long days, actually, likely.)  In our mock discussions we have a much narrower field of nominations making that part a little bit easier, but ultimately in both cases you have a group of people distinguishing between a vast field of very different books and selecting which they agree is the most distinguished!

And how much they come to that agreement?  Stay tuned!

Sharon McKellar About Sharon McKellar

Sharon McKellar is the Supervising Librarian for Teen Services at the Oakland Public Library in California. She has served on the Rainbow List Committee, the Notable Children’s Recordings Committee, The Arbuthnot Honor Lecture Committee, and the 2015 Caldecott Committee. You can reach her at


  1. Sharon, our group, which is sometimes refereed to as THE WASATCH FRONT MOCK NEWBERY, met on Jan. 7. We loosely followed the format you’ve described above. I will admit to books from previous year blipping into our discussions and not always taking the time to allow everyone to CCBC it up with positive comments, before pointing out the weaknesses, but mostly we were diligent and stayed on topic. I’ve written up a brief run-down below and feel like this post is as good as any to formally post our results.

    We met Saturday morning on the coldest day of this year, and last. Just seven of us, but opinions were plentiful and, if not exactly heated, passionate enough to keep us warm. Our list was a bit lengthy and unwieldy. We’d begun our nominations in October, following the Newbery committee’s format, and ended up with twelve:
    • Ghost by Jason Reynolds
    • When Green Becomes Tomatoes by Julie Fogliano
    • Full of Beans by Jennifer Holm
    • Raymie Nightengale by Kate DiCamillo
    • Gertie’s Leap to Greatness
    • We Will Not Be Silent by Russell Freedman
    • Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys
    • Ashes by Laurie Halse Anderson
    • The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelley Barnhill
    • Wolf Hollow by Lauren Wolk
    • When the Sea Turned to Silver by Grace Lin
    • Freedom in Congo Square by Carole Boston Weatherford

    After several hours of delicious, sometimes sloppy, book analysis we held our first and only vote. By a clear victory GHOST had our medal. It placed on every ballot and was number one on the majority. WHEN GREEN BECOMES TOMATOES blew away all the other contenders as our only honor. RAYMIE, WOLF HOLLOW, THE GIRL WHO DRANK THE MOON and SALT TO THE SEA all turned up at least twice on the ballots but where almost ten points behind WGBT. All our books were admired but we were searching for the flawless and felt we’d unearthed our two.


  2. Kate McCue-Day says:

    When is the official date for this year’s announcement?

  3. The 23rd.

    Three days post end of the world.

    • sam leopold says:


      I respect you and your literary opinions immensely.

      Your insight is amazing and helps me teach my students how to look at books with a more critical eye.

      I would like to make one small comment about your latest post.

      I do not think this forum is a place for political commentary.

      Thank you again for all your wonderful insight into how the literary world works when making decisions about awards.

  4. Kate McCue-Day says:

    Thanks!! I just read the Wild Robot and Gertie’s Leap to Greatness yesterday so I am close to caught up to where I want to be. I have to let my 5th graders know my prediction…so many great ones I’m still not sure!

  5. Jonathan Hunt Jonathan Hunt says:

    Another part of the discussion process that people are always surprised by is that the committee does not engage in book discussion throughout the year, either online or at the Annual Conference in the summer—with the sole exception of practice discussion at Annual during which the committee typically discusses about 10 books or so just to get a feel for the flow of discussion. Fifteen voices is an awful lot to manage in a discussion, and this must be one of the hardest aspects of chairing the committee.

    One rationale for holding all discussion during Midwinter is that if newer members were added throughout the year or at the last minute then every member would be on equal footing. However, I wonder if this might change in the future now that they no longer take a Notables member to fill last minute vacancies, but simply vote with a short-handed committee. Hmmm?

    • Am I correct that they do see the nominations for each month? (Of course they are, as I assume it is to get the committee reading the nominated books) Are the nominators known to the rest of the committee or is that kept confidential?

    • Jonathan Hunt Jonathan Hunt says:

      Yes, the nominations are pushed out by the chair in October, November, and December. Whether or not the nominations are anonymous or not is typically up to the chair. I think the official nomination page in the manual does have a line for the author’s name, so I think that perhaps more committee favor this approach.

  6. I know it’s come up in past years on here, I’m just forgetting. How much weight do arguments hold when they center around audiobook recordings? Or author readings?

    I’m thinking of GHOST… I worried originally (I don’t anymore, btw) that part of people’s love of GHOST was really a love of Jason Reynolds. He’s a charismatic guy! To fuel my opinion, over in the Jason Reynolds thread, a few have even commented on his actual reading of the book GHOST, and how his reading of it has impacted their takeaway. I don’t see how this fits into the discussion at all, personally, because I think it puts books on an uneven playing field. A lot of people now, because of his National Award Book recognition, have heard Jason reading from GHOST. Not a lot of people have probably heard Anne Nesbit read from CLOUD AND WALLFISH, or heard Ally Condine read from SUMMERLOST.

    Do people around the table talk about reactions to audiobook hearings or author readings?

    • Jonathan Hunt Jonathan Hunt says:

      Mr H, I don’t think those comments have any place around the table since the book is not supposed to be dependent on other media. I’m not saying somebody wouldn’t reference them, but I don’t think there will be an extended discussion of such things.

      I used to think committee members shouldn’t listen to audiobooks at all, and while I certainly wouldn’t do it on my initial reading, I think it can help readers appreciate texts in new ways, especially those who may not be familiar with the rhythms and cadences of certain voices.

      I don’t think Jason Reynolds fandom is a factor in this at all. He’s a relatively new author with few books to his credit. I think this is actually a bigger factor with authors like Kate DiCamillo, Sara Pennypacker, Richard Peck, and others.

      • I agree with you. I should have made myself a little more clear. I originally thought Jason Reynolds fandom was maybe playing a factor. I don’t think you need a large collection of work to develop a fan base. Becoming trendy at the right moment can go a long ways.

        But after the discussion of GHOST, I don’t think this is a factor any longer. While I personally, disagree with multiple threads that were discussed, I can see how others are coming to their conclusions based on the text alone.

    • I love this question, and I have another. Are committee members aloud to listen to the audio? I know on Notables they are not.

      As we had our discussion we did mention which books we listened to. I for one found the audio for THE GIRL WHO DRANK THE MOON, Odyssey worthy. In fact I think the reader added so much it erased some of it’s weaknesses. The narrator gave Luna a stronger sense of her character development than the text did. And I delighted in the voices of the dragon, monster and witch.

      On the other hand, I felt listening to AS BRAVE AS YOU weakened the book for me. The narrator did such a poor job with female characters it was painful to listen to. Also, with a book like ABAY, some of the beauty of the written word went unnoticed without seeing it laid out on the page.

      I haven’t listened to GHOST. It really needs no embellishment. Although, I would encourage all to read it aloud, just for the pleasure it will give your tongue.

      • Jonathan Hunt Jonathan Hunt says:

        Hmmm. I know of no directive that Newbery committee members should not listen to audiobooks. I’m fairly sure it’s not in the manual, but the chairs may get instructions nowadays to that effect. I really don’t know.

        Clearly, a reader can both enhance and detract from a text. Since the serious contenders often get multiple reads, this is less likely to prejudice a committee member, in my opinion . . .

      • sam leopold says:

        Agree wholeheartedly with your comments on GHOST. AMAZING!!!

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