When a committee only recognizes a small handful of books, it goes without saying that various people will be surprised and disappointed by the books that did not get selected. Nevertheless, when I consider the books this committee did recognize, I’m over the moon.
First and foremost, there is THE GIRL WHO DRANK THE MOON. I loved this book when I first read it, and was effusive in its praise here. If I loved it so much why didn’t it make our Heavy Medal shortlist? Well, we thought WHEN THE SEA TURNED TO SILVER was also a strong fantasy book and it was a tiny bit shorter. Then, too, I think I’ve developed a learned helplessness when it comes to fantasy. It’s not only my favorite genre, it’s far and away the most favorite genre of our most voracious readers, and yet it rarely gets recognized by the Newbery committee. WHERE THE MOUNTAIN MEETS THE MOON in 2010 and PRINCESS ACADEMY in 2006 are the most recent honor books, while THE GRAVEYARD BOOK IN 2009 is the most recent Medal. I second guessed myself too much with this title rather than going with my gut reaction. I’m also quite pleased to see a small press take home the big prize. Well done, Algonquin!
I love the idea of FREEDOM OVER ME, and I loved the art, but the text always seemed like the weakest link to me. I will say this is probably because I haven’t spent enough time with it. Poetry needs time to sink its hooks into you, and my lack of appreciation for this book is clearly the result of not investing enough time. I will take this Newbery Honor as an invitation to get more acquainted. And I needn’t tell you that I’m of the opinion that every Newbery committee should have books like this that demonstrate they clearly and unequivocally understood that their charge was to pick the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children, and not simply the best middle grade novels. After a couple years of graphic novels honors and a picture book Medal winner last year, this pick may not seem as subversive as it once might have, but make no mistake about it, dear readers, if graphic novels and picture books become a regular staple of the canon: It is!
To my mind, THE INQUISITOR’S TALE had all the trappings of my kind of story, but didn’t quite deliver on that promise for me. I wanted the plot to be less episodic, although I do understand the homage to THE CANTERBURY TALES. Perhaps another case where I wanted the book to be one thing, and it wanted to be something entirely different. I can definitely see how others how others have gotten substantially more mileage than I did. We flirted with including this one on our shortlist, too, but opted for a couple shorter books instead of a longer book. Like THE GIRL WHO DRANK THE MOON, I think this one will be especially popular with young readers, and could even make it into the middle school curriculum. Kudos for the handsome physical production of the book as well as the timely relevant themes. This also recently won the Sydney Taylor.
None of the authors had been previously recognized by the Newbery committee, but WOLF HOLLOW was the only children’s debut, and what a debut it was! This is a book that drew some comparisons to TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD for its nuanced exploration of ethics and morality, and we’ve extolled its virtues here on Heavy Medal quite extensively. I think it’s a book that will probably hold up exceptionally well over the years, not that the committee is tasked with selecting for that criteria. It just has a timelessness, to my mind.
Taken together, these books do a fine job of representing the breadth and depth of American literature for children. Well done, Newbery committee. You should be proud of your work. I know I am.