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Heavy Medal: A Mock Newbery Blog
Inside Heavy Medal

Pax, Wolf Hollow and When the Sea Turned Silver

Well, today is the Oakland Mock Newbery, and as I’m looking over my notes I’m thinking a lot about all of the books I’ve read this year, and particularly about the books on our shortlist.  It’s been awhile since we’ve talked about Pax, Wolf Hollow or When the Sea Turned Silver – not since before we settled on our shortlist – so I wanted to revisit them, at least for a moment.

9780062377012_p0_v1_s192x300It feels like PAX was talked about a lot early in the year, and has been talked about a bit less lately, as so many many standout titles have come out this year.  What is standout about this book, so many months later?  Well, Pax himself is the perfect amount animal, which is to say that he is clearly anthropomorphized, but yet is still so very much a fox.  I felt like this was the best done animal character of the year.  It beat, for example, WILD ROBOT, for me in this way.

The setting is very much worth discussion.  Is the vagueness a feature or a weakness?  I think this title may be one of the most divisive on our list, and this is one of the main reasons, although some also seem to find the theme too glaring and obvious, which I don’t entirely disagree with.  I wouldn’t call it didactic, but I would say it was a bit heavy-handed.

All of this aside, Pennypacker’s writing is what really stands out as distinguished.  Her descriptions are simple, but vivid and her sentences clear, clean and lovely.

61uonxdctxlGoing into discussions, this isn’t my top choice, although it is a book I very much enjoyed.  I’m reallyhoping to hear interesting points of view from other participants.  I’ll let you know!

WOLF HOLLOW is still, perhaps, my favorite book of the year.  That’s, though, when I think of it just in a “I really really like it!” kind of way.  Does it stand up to the criteria as well as all the other books of the year?  I think it could.  It still seems to hit all the points for me – plot, setting, character, voice, tone, writing.  Its weak point may lie in some more characters with less depth, in particular our “bad guys” – Betty and Aunt Lily, and perhaps Toby as well, but I personally am hard-pressed to find much to complain about in this text.

Where do you stand on this one, now that we’ve seen so many more?

when-the-sea-turned-to-silverWHEN THE SEA TURNED TO SILVER has had minimal discussion on this blog, including in the comments, so I don’t have a great sense of what you all think of it.

It has a well-deserved place on our shortlist, though, for the remarkable way Lin weaves together her main story with the stories of folklore.  On re-read I definitely felt less lost as the stories came together and I found the fantastical elements of the story to feel quite convincing.  The world building is well done and the characters feel both like real people, even familiar, while simultaneously feeling other worldy.

It is truly a gift to be able to write such a complex novel that is relatable while being so far outside of the world we live in.  There is no question to me that this is the best fantasy novel of the year, but does it have a chance of being the most distinguished when stacked against all the other books?  Only time will tell.

I look forward to discussing these titles, and the rest of our shortlist, in depth and coming back and sharing how we did!  So little time until the real announcement!  Are you all getting as excited as I am?


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. Meredith Burton says:

    Best wishes with your mock Newbery discusion. Sounds very intriguing!

    I loved Pax, particularly the growth of Peter and Pax himself. I appreciated that the animal characters were believable as animals, (if that makes sense). I also loved that the book had a disabled character, and Peter’s interactions with her were my some of my favorite aspects of the story. The vagueness of the time period and setting did not bother me as I liked the universal aspect of the theme. I would not necessarily vote for it for the top Newbery because of the abruptness of the ending, but I definitely think it deserves an Honor.

    I also loved Wolf Hollow because of its honest look at bullying. People are sometimes cruel for the sake of being cruel, and the book does not sugarcoat this fact. I did want to learn more about Tobias, (his war service, for instance), and I felt there were some loose ends about Betty and Aunt Lydia, too, (particularly Aunt Lydia. She reminded me a bit of the grandmother in Katherine Paterson’s Jacob Have I loved). I would come closer to voting for this one to win the Newbery.

    I have not yet read When the Sea Turned to Silver as I read it’s the last book in a series. Is it a good stand-alone? I love fantasy and am interested in this one and The Girl Who Drank the Moon, which I’ve heard was excellent. Am just waiting for it to be produced in Braille.

    Best wishes.

    • Jonathan Hunt Jonathan Hunt says:

      Meredith, I’m curious how long it takes a book to be produced in Braille once it’s been published. I imagine that part of that decision has to to do whether the book has a high profile or not. Can people request that books be published in Braille, or are they at the mercy of what others decide is worthy of being produced? Does the increasing availability of audiobooks have an impact on producing books in Braille?

  2. Safranit Molly says:

    Dear Meredith. I hope you can have access to When The Sea Turned to Silver soon. It is my top book of the year. And yes, I do think it stands alone according to some of my readers who have not read the other two. Though if you have read the others, this book completes the picture. Enjoy it when you get to it.

  3. Meredith Burton says:

    To Mr. Jonathan,

    Thanks for your question. It is a very good one!
    A lot depends, (like you surmised), on a book’s popularity and reviewer ranking. The Harry Potter books, for instance, were produced in Braille quickly. As the series progressed, the titles started becoming available as soon as the books were released, (a definite rarity!)
    Books for children and YA produced for the Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped will usually be chosen if they have five or more positive reviews from publications such as SLJ, Publishers Weekly and others. Audiobooks are produced quicker, and I do think that their availability are making Braille titles harder to find. It’s frustrating because I prefer reading to audio. But, I take what I can get.

    Hope this answer helps. Thanks.

  4. After all this time, PAX remains my favorite. I think Peter is well drawn and believable and as Sharon pointed out, Pax is perfect. Characters and writing style are high points. Personally, I didn’t find it didactic either, and as Eric pointed out in another thread, it’s not really our place to determine whether or not we “like” the theme of war, we need to discuss how Pennypacker interpreted that theme for a child audience. In that sense, I thought the vagueness of the setting and Peter’s questions and realizations throughout were great.

    WOLF HOLLOW slipped a great deal for me upon reading it with my students. It allowed me an opportunity to re-read it and gauge their understanding (presentation). First of all, the timeline issue I pointed out in another thread stood out to me. I’ve read that back multiple times and it’s just sloppy. Toby hands Annabelle a spool of film to be developed early in the story and just a short time later, that spool of film is developed and contains incriminating evidence. But the situation being photographed happened after Toby handed Annabelle the spool of film. There is no way that scene could have been on that spool of film. This is a significant moment in the story because it’s the only evidence anyone has on Toby. It turns everyone on him and forces Annabelle to go get him and bring him into hiding. That timeline error stands out to me. It’s a knock against it the “presentation of information including accuracy, clarity, and organization.”

    Then we move onto the voice. Too often, Annabelle does not read like a child. This really shone when reading it to kids. I think kids understood the basic story, but so much of Wolk’s beautiful writing went right over their heads. I understand that I can’t bring their reactions with me to the Newbery table, but I can consider them when deciding if this is distinguished in its presentation to a child audience. Wolk has admitted that the story started out as a story for adults. How much of that original voice remained when she decided to present it to children? As beautiful as the writing is at times, it’s a knock against the book to me because of the way it’s being presented to children. Even older students that I’ve talked to, they seem to understand the basic theme but miss the beautiful writing. They understand that Betty is bad but people are good to her and believe her and how nuanced that is, but they miss the beautiful metaphors and realization in Annabelle’s voice.

    Personally, I loved the book. I wouldn’t be bored if I read it a third time! Just not sure I could give one of my precious votes to it when a few other titles I enjoyed don’t have some of the issues I discussed.

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