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Heavy Medal: A Mock Newbery Blog
Inside Heavy Medal

Sequels, Prequels, and Companions

War I Finally WonThere’s plenty of precedent for sequels getting Newbery recognition.  A YEAR DOWN YONDER won the medal in this century; earlier Dicey Tillerman, Will Stanton, and Taran the Assistant Pig-Keeper, among others, all debuted in earlier books before winning the gold.

The Terms and Criteria state that “The committee’s decision is to be made following deliberation about the books of the specified calendar year.” That’s preceded by a warning “not to consider the entire body of the work by an author.”  That has a few implications, but in regards to series I take it to mean that we can’t rate a book higher or lower based on our knowledge, or lack of knowledge, of related books from previous years.  And we can’t decided to give (or not give) an award because an author has won (or not won) previously.  We have a handful of excellent books from series this year, and most that I’ve read work just fine with or without exposure to their related titles.  

THE PEARL THIEF is a prequel to Elizabeth Wein’s CODE NAME VERITY.  Readers of the earlier book (one of my all-time favorites) will experience it a little differently, especially since we know Julie’s eventual fate.  But characters, themes, and plot all come through fine without prior knowledge.  I appreciated the strong characterizations and the sense of time and place, but the mystery plot didn’t stand out for me.  I likely wouldn’t nominate this one, but not just because it’s not as great as VERITY.  

PATINA by Jason Reynolds is a companion to GHOST, featuring a different member of Ghost’s track team.  I really enjoyed Patina’s voice and the insights she had about others and sometimes herself.  The track action was involving, though the wisdom lessons from Coach and his assistant seemed a little overdone…I liked the lessons fine, but was more interested in Patty’s relationships with her family and friends.   

THICK AS THIEVES continues Megan Whalen Turner’s “Queen’s Thief” series.  I would need to reread this one for Newbery consideration, because I admit the series factor does confuse me in this case.  I have a feeling I might have been impatient with the pace of the book if I hadn’t known that there were going to be intriguing revelations later, based on the previous books’ patterns…but I’m not sure.  And just like when I read books 3 and 4 from this series, I struggled with the “but-it’s-not-as-great-as-the-first-two” problem.  But that initial sentimental attachment to earlier books usually drops off with a reread.

For younger readers, THE PRINCESS IN BLACK AND THE MYSTERIOUS PLAYDATE by Shannon and Dean Hale is the fifth book in the series, but truly stands out for its plot, humor, characters, and for its introduction of the concept of “waging playdate.”  This one will get a separate post soon…

Of the series books for older readers, Kimberly Brubaker Bradley’s THE WAR I FINALLY WON tops my list so far.  The other books I mentioned stand alone from related titles pretty easily, because they focus on different characters.  This, one, however, features the same protagonist and takes place almost immediately after the earlier book ends.  The author takes care of that quickly and directly, bringing all readers, new or returning, up to date with the events that led to Ada’s operation. She doesn’t just rehash the details of Mam’s actions, but focuses on Ada’s emotional responses, so we actually get to know Ada as we learn the back-story about her foot.  I’d be interested to hear if others who didn’t read THE WAR THAT SAVED MY LIFE felt confused with the opening of this book.   

Ada is a strong and distinct character. Her unique situation and the way she looks at the world and at others made all the elements of her story engaging to me.  She’s blunt and straightforward and initially takes things at face value, but also has the ability see deeper.  Her lack of world knowledge is amusing (“we should send dragons after Hitler” (p 36)), but also provides a neat way for the author to provide details about the times.  I also like the author’s restraint through some of the more dramatic moments.  When Ada realizes that “Ma had always been angry” (251), for example, it’s a big revelation…but it doesn’t solve everything and she still has to grapple with her past even once she understands it better.  

I believe that WAR (1), PLAYDATE (1) and PATINA (2) are the only sequels that received reader nominations on this blog in October.  I wonder if the Terms and Criteria make it harder for us to appreciate books in series in Newbery conversations….or is it just that we haven’t had more standouts this year?

 

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Steven Engelfried About Steven Engelfried

Steven Engelfried is the Library Services Manager at the Wilsonville Public Library in Oregon. He served on the 2010 Newbery committee, chaired the 2013 Newbery Committee, and also served on the 2002 Caldecott committee. You can reach him at sengelfried@yahoo.com.

Comments

  1. Is DEAD END IN NORVELT a sequel? I don’t think it is…

    • Steven Engelfried Steven Engelfried says:

      You’re right, Destinee, my bad. I actually never realized until now that Jack from Norvelt is not the Jack from “Jack’s Black Book” and the other Florida titles…oops. I corrected my error above [I had originally cited DEAD END IN NORVELT as a sequel].

  2. I definitely appreciated Thick as Thieves and The Pearl Thief a lot. However, neither rose to my top choices of the year. Thick feels a little obscure and perhaps I am getting a little weary about Turner’s same ploy of “hiding the identity of the main characters for most of the book and revealing it as a big pay-off”? I know we’re not supposed to compare this year’s book with previous years’ output but this particular book, the pay-off didn’t feel quite satisfying (unlike King of Attolia.) It’s also wonderful to meet July before she was Verity and seeing her vibrant self in a lighter narrative — but the story never quite got to a level that pulled at my heart-string. So, nice read, not entirely distinguished. I have yet to read The War I Finally Won so hopefully it will be a satisfying read. And I would love that we have a stand-alone post about Patina in the near future. Steven – does your inclusion of Patina but not as the main title of your post indicates that you do not find it distinguished? I’m curious!

  3. Steven Engelfried Steven Engelfried says:

    I only just finished PATINA and was all in for most of the way, and definitely saw a lot of strong elements. But I was just so less interested in the coaches’ team building exercises that I was in the more realistic (to me) relationship building that went on in the rest of her life. Where I felt Bradley restrained herself from overstating the moments of insight and development that Ada experienced, it seemed that Reynolds made them bigger than they needed to be by going through the coaches’ teachable moments. So…..yes, I’m not sold on PATINA yet and place WAR slightly ahead of it, but look forward to hearing from others, and also reflecting on what might be my own aversion to the coaches’ roles in the book. Maybe I’ve just seen too many sports movies…

  4. How many eligible books does Shannon Hale have this year? Is it three? Real Friends, Squirrel Girl, and the Princess in Black book you mentioned above?

  5. I liked very much THICK AS THIEVES, PATINA, PEARL THIEF and THE WAR I FINALLY WON. However, as good as they are, and I think they are all very good, there are titles this year that I think are better. None of these suffer from being sequels as much as PATINA. I think that one is not ‘individually distinct’ in the way the others are. While I think that is intentional on Reynolds part and not a detriment to most readers, for me it makes it less likely to meet the criteria of Newbery. I think Rita Williams Garcia built on her characters in her trilogy about the Gaither Sisters with each title making the characters deeper and more intriguing. While we get to know Patina and her life, I don’t think the other characters gain much depth. In fact, they take a step out of the limelight. Again, this seems to be intentional on Reynolds’ part and doesn’t take away from it being a very good book.

    • I agree with you on so many counts here, Carol. I also wonder about Patina’s voice — the snappy, cynical humor seems a lot like Ghost’s. And ultimately, Reynold’s? This year also sees two other Reynold’s books — Miles Morales (which I just started) and Long Way Down (which I was SHOCKED to see not short-listed after the NBA long list.) So, even if the committee members cannot compare Patina’s voice against Ghost’s, they might be able to compare Patina’s voice against Miles’ voice and determine whether Reynolds can create different character voices and whether that matters to the committee.

  6. I just finished THE WAR I FINALLY WON this morning. It was heads and shoulders above any other Newbery-worthy book I read this year (with, perhaps, exception to TRAIN I RIDE) and it was the first book this year that I would hold close to my chest and say, “This one this one this one” on Newbery morning. I really enjoyed THE WAR THAT SAVED MY LIFE, but the ending was too sunny and positive (even though Ada deserved it). My students’ enthusiasm for that title fueled my own, too, I must say.

    THE WAR I FINALLY WON stands alone, and it hits every criteria for me. Ada’s voice is, just like in the previous volume, sharp and precise. Her characterization is top notch, but Bradley doesn’t slouch with secondary characters. Susan is warm and buttery, Ruth prickly in her despair, Lady Thornton appropriately thorny. They feel familiar but fresh, familial and comforting, like slipping into well-worn house moccasins. The setting is crisply delineated, the plot’s arch satisfying and believable, the ending hopeful but not saccharine. Still a few titles to conquer on my list, but this is my frontrunner by far. A truly lovely little gem.

    PEARL THIEF I very much enjoyed, and I found it far more satisfying having read CODE NAME VERITY. Some people have questioned its age appropriateness. I don’t. I do question its pacing and its interpretation of theme. The mystery seemed fairly flimsy to me, and though I enjoyed revisiting characters, there were too many plotting issues that slightly diminished the arc. I also didn’t (didnae?) really buy the relationship between the librarian and Julie. It felt convenient.

    PATINA I enjoyed much more than GHOST, though the plot felt fairly underdeveloped. It works as a character study, but the coincidental subplots that help sharpen Patina’s understanding of her world felt a little forced (though not as forced or eye-rolling as the events in GHOST). And like Carol and Roxanne, I question how much of Patina’s voice is hers and how much of it is Reynolds’. She occasionally came across as a caricature.

    • Steven Engelfried Steven Engelfried says:

      I’m glad you mentioned secondary characters in THE WAR I FINALLY WON, Joe. I felt like each person you mentioned was a full character in their own right, not just existing for the purpose of interacting with Ada and enriching our understanding of her (though they did that too). It’s through her interactions with them that a good part of her development comes through. Her responses are typically brief and direct, but powerful. Like when Lord Thornton learns about Jonathan’s death (p 244):

      “Lord Thornton got a telegram too. He picked Maggie up at her school and they came home. They sat on our sofa. Lord Thornton wept.
      “I’d never seen a man cry before It was horrible.”

      Ada doesn’t really describe her feelings, just what she saw and what she thought about it. And we know just enough about Lord T. to understand the impact this had on her. During the memorial service she describes the people and what she notices of their states of mind. And reflects briefly on hers:

      “I felt as fragile as Maggie looked. I wonder if I had any right to feel that way” (245).

      Ada doesn’t really know the vicar, but she notices his sons’ names on the column memorializing those who died in the First World War:
      “‘Yes,’ the vicar said. ‘Those were my sons. Lovely boys, both of them.’ His voice dropped to a whisper. ‘Lovely, lovely boys.'”
      “I hated war (245).”

      Really powerful, but all accomplished concisely and through the viewpoint of Ada as she observes and responds to the people around her.

    • Joe, I almost liked GHOST better than PATINA. Ack! As absurd and contrived as some of the story elements and subplots were (to me) in GHOST, it held my attention moreso than PATINA did. I lost a lot of interest as the girls learned how to dance in practice. I just felt the plot dragged and as you pointed out, never really developed.

      And add me to the list of readers who are beginning to feel like Reynolds’ characters sound too similar.

  7. THE WAR I FINALLY WON is my book! I will continue to read, but I’ve been waiting to be swept off my feet and Ada did it. Or perhaps, Lady Thornton did it; best character of the year. Every emotion is earned and showed not told. I had no expectations with this title. I liked TWTSML just fine, but found Mam too un-nuanced a foil, to throw all my love toward two years ago. Lady Thornton more than made up for Mam. As you said, Steven, all the characters felt rich and worthy of their own stories. I have similar feelings about THUG, but I’m problematic with the age question.

    I’m possibly too much of a Reynolds groupie to be unbiased about PATINA. Concerns are noted. I adored the PEARL THIEF, but age question, once again. Not based on content, it just seems as if it is for older readers. THICK AS THIEVES was another of my initial three. Of the five titles in the series, this one has the strongest legs to stand on it’s own, but again it is hard for me to step aside from my slavering adoration of the series as a whole.

  8. Personally, I loved THE PEARL THIEF. 5-stars on Goodreads! In a Newbery conversation, I think it’s quite a stretch. I look at the age of the main character. Julia is 15, if I recall correctly (I read it in the summer). And, she’s a very mature 15 at that. I think that in and of itself almost automatically takes this off the table for me. Wein did not tell this story for 14 year olds. If a mature 14 year old (or 12 or 13 year old for that matter) pick it up and get something out of it, great. But I think you cannot successfully argue that Wein’s writing took into careful consideration the thoughts and mindset of a 14 year old reader. She could have backed Julia up a bit further and told the story from her 13 or 14 year old perspective. But she didn’t. It’s not the story she set out to tell and it very clearly is NOT an “intended” audience of this book. Maybe a “potential” audience, but not the “intended.”

    The other thing I’ve wondered about is this language isn’t even in the Newbery “criteria” it’s in the “definitions.” Along with publishing particulars and place of residence and so forth. To me this means, if it doesn’t meet this “definition,” it’s not on the table. For those of you that have served, is this correct?

    There are some themes in THE PEARL THIEF that I originally thought were too mature for Newbery but with the large number of female celebrities coming forward sharing horror stories of abusive situations they have found themselves in (some below the age of 14) make me feel like Wein approached this subject VERY appropriately for a child audience in THE PEARL THIEF. However, overall I still think the book skews too old because of the age of the main character and narrator.

    As for some of the other titles, THE HATE U GIVE falls under the same problem. Starr is 16. End of story. To say that Thomas carefully considered the thoughts and feelings of a 14 year old reader, that is a tough argument to make. The book’s “intended” audience is NOT 14 year olds and my evidence, is the age of the main character.

    VINCENT & THEO is probably the title above that best fits the Newbery mold. As others have stated. I think Heiligman approached the brothers’ relationship very purposefully and thoughtfully. Personally, I can’t think of too many kids that would read this, at least kids I know. I think some of the elements that are distinguished, are not necessarily distinguished because of their presentation to a child audience. However, nearing the completion of my reading of this, I’m warming to it’s possibilities a bit at the Newbery table.

    • Sorry! The above was supposed to go in the YA thread! Not sure what happened…

      Oh well, I guess my stuff about THE PEARL THIEF kind of fits here.

      Joe and DaNae, I can’t get my hands on THE WAR I FINALLY WON fast enough now!

    • Leonard Kim says:

      It’s not only that she’s 15/16 but that she carries on a flirtatious relationship with an adult under the pretense of being 18 and almost gets raped because of that. I also vote “not for children” as far as THE PEARL THIEF goes, though I think it’s an excellent book.

      I do want to pose the following queries.

      1) for those of you with a fairly generous view of what is suitable for a 14-year-old (such as the books listed in the YA post), can you give specific titles (of whatever year) that you would consider out of the Newbery range and why?

      2) historically, what has been the “oldest” actual Newbery honoree in everyone’s opinion?

      • An adult man almost raped Julie. Let’s keep the responsibility on him, not on Julie’s extremely developmentally-typical explorations and decisions. This is a subject that resonates with the lived experience of many girls who are 14 and under. I’m glad that Mr H. realizes that now.

        To answer your questions:

        1. Honestly, there’s probably not a YA book out there that I wouldn’t give to some 14-year-old. 14-year-olds are often high school freshmen. In my extremely unscientific experience as a librarian, teens do the bulk of their reading of YA between about 12 and 16, and tend to be interested in characters who are at least a couple of years old than they are. I’d absolutely read CODE NAME VERITY with, e.g., a 7th- to 9th-grade book club, and I’d absolutely recommend THE PEARL THIEF as a follow-up. (I read Judy Blume’s …FOREVER when I was in 7th or 8th grade; it was content I was developmentally hungry for.)

        ALSC has stated that “children” includes people who are 14; I can’t think of much I think is out of that range. I think I’m on the record over at Someday My Printz Will Come as saying that “The Kingdom of Little Wounds” should’ve been published as adult; I’d probably consider it out of Newbery range.

        I continue to be surprised and sometimes upset by the things that commenters here blithely assume are outside the experience/needs of any 0-14-year-olds. I’m fine with saying “based on what past Newbery committees have awarded, we’re going to focus discussions at Heavy Medal on middle-grade fiction and very literary nonfiction to maximize our odds of talking about a winner.” I’m even fine with saying “it’s weird to consider most 14-year-olds to be ‘children.'”

        But the P&P are very clear that, for the purposes of this award, “children” includes every single 14-year-old. So our developmental assessment of what is appropriate for “children” has to include every single 14-year-old. Even the ones who are already parents, or who have terminated or lost pregnancies. Even the ones who curse. Even the ones who have committed murders, or watched murders be committed. Etc. (I am not trying to draw moral equivalencies between any of these things.)

        2. Among the winners I’ve read, I think Danae might have it with JACOB HAVE I LOVED, a book about marriage and careers and babies and all kinds of becoming-an-adult things.

      • Leonard, what a great question about the “oldest” Newbery. I looked back at recent-ish winners and CLAUDETTE COLVIN stood out. The teen pregnancy did not disqualify it (and thank goodness, I’m very glad it was honored). My library has it cataloged as Teen.

      • Leonard Kim says:

        Kate, thanks for the thoughtful response, and darn it I had recently resolved not to use passive voice when talking about things like rape, and there I just thoughtlessly did it. My apologies and thanks for calling me out on that.

        I don’t disagree with anything you wrote. I’d probably accept Code Name Verity as in the Newbery range and am a bit surprised by the mentions of Jacob Have I Loved, which seemed comfortably Newbery range to me. However, I do want to restate my purely personal opinions that I stated in another post, that “I don’t think many of the real-life behaviors, hardships, and horrors faced by many real children are suitable material for and should not be authentically recreated in books for a child audience” and that the widespread interest of children (including my own) in reading above their age doesn’t necessarily mean those books are for them in a Newbery sense.

        Also, though every 14 year old by Newbery definition is a child, the Manual seems to suggest that the bar of literary quality needs to be raised as the readership shrinks. The book that is for only a few mature 14 year olds needs to be a heckuva lot better than the book that can be read by almost everyone that age. Perhaps a book of that quality hasn’t been written yet. That’s one of the things I’m hoping gets teased out by looking at past winners.

      • Leonard (nesting is full, but this is a reply to your 6:49 comment)–the Manual actually just calls for books for a single 14-year-old to be “as good as or better than” books for any other part of the age group, which seems like the standard we should be applying throughout. I take that part as a warning not to assume that maturity automatically equals higher quality or greater importance.

        I think so many of these arguments boil down to our colloquial use of the term “children” to mean “people who are not yet adolescents,” and “children’s literature” to mean something distinct from “YA/teen literature”, versus ALSC’s use of “children” as a defined term of art that means “everyone who hasn’t yet had their 15th birthday” and “children’s literature” to mean “literature for anyone 0-14.” I don’t think, e.g., THE PEARL THIEF is “children’s literature” if I’m given a choice between calling it “children’s” or “young adult” in the commonly-understood sense. But I do think it’s “children’s* literature” in the ALSC-defined sense that it’s for people within the 0-14 range.

      • Leonard Kim says:

        Kate, I differ with you on the reading of the Manual. The “as good as or better than” phrase does not specify “a single 14-year-old” but rather “suitable for 13-14-year olds.” The reading that a single 14-year-old can render a book eligible arises from the question, “Is there any 14-year-old for whom the book is suitable?” but that is only one of the “questions for committees to consider”, it is not a standard for eligibility. If it were such a simple standard, why would it then be also necessary for the committee to ask “exactly what 14-year-olds would respond to it, and why?”

        What I’m saying is though any 14-year-old is a child by definition, I don’t think it follows from the Newbery language that every book read by that child is a book for children.

        Later the Manual lays out some scenarios under which “a book may be considered.” The first one is “it is so distinguished that everyone of that age should know the book,” which I think does represent a higher standard than usual, even for a Newbery. The language isn’t completely clear, but I would argue that the next bullet point “so distinguished, in so many ways, that it deserves recognition for the excellence it provides to a small but unique readership” could be read as presenting an even higher standard for an even smaller audience, but an audience that must follow from consideration of the aforementioned question, “exactly what 14-year-olds. . . and why?” I do not read it as following your interpretation of the “single 14-year-old.” So if I were trying to argue a book on the basis of that bullet point, if I were, for example, to play devil’s advocate and stump for THE PEARL THIEF, I might use a strategy of arguing that the depictions and treatment of predatory men (not just the one we were talking about but also in the other harrowing scene with the officer and Ellen) are effective and timely and important and speak to a the distinct readership of young men and women who need to grow in their awareness and attitudes and actions regarding harassment and sexual menace. I think such an argument may well be in the spirit of the section in the Manual under discussion. But though I can imagine a book for which one could make this specific argument, I don’t think I could make the case that THE PEARL THIEF is that book. I think those scenes are dramatic and frightening, but I am less sure they would particularly speak to that specific audience and be their best exemplar/advocate/etc.

    • Leonard Kim says:

      Also, Jordan, though I think the age of the main character can be evidence for the intended audience of a book, there are certainly counter-examples: Hattie Big Sky, by Larson, was a Newbery honoree, has a 16-year-old protagonist, and is I think uncontroversial from an age standpoint.

      • Yeah, don’t get me wrong, the age of the main character is not a total deciding factor when it comes to identifying the intended audience of the book. It’s just a place to start the conversation.

        Good questions!

  9. Steven Engelfried Steven Engelfried says:

    Leonard’s question about the “oldest” actual Newbery honoree is a good one. Looking just from 2000 to the present, I’m not sure that upper age limit has been challenged that much. The only two books that were honored by Printz and Newbery seem to fit neatly into the age range of 12-14 that crosses over into both awards: LIZZIE BRIGHT and HOUSE OF THE SCORPION. Looking at my public library system, several of the 2000-2017 titles are cataloged as YA at some libraries, but there’s not one that doesn’t also land in the J collection in at least one library. WEDNESDAY WARS is the one most often in YA….and it’s about a 7th grader. Not that library classification choices are the issue, but by contrast, 100% of the same libraries catalog BULL, THE 57 BUS, and THE HATE U GIVE in YA. So I do wonder if our discussion here about that upper end is just kind of an exploratory, theoretical exercise that won’t ever be reflected in the actual selections….

    And to finally answer the question, if I limit myself to books from 2000 – present, I’d probably list CARVER: A LIFE IN POEMS as the “oldest” honoree. It’s been a while since I read it, but I remember being very impressed, while at the same time wondering if it wasn’t too sophisticated for the 0-14 age range to fully appreciate.

    • If you look at the scope of Newbery from the beginning (or in my case, those I’ve gotten around to reading): JACOB HAVE I LOVED, is often mentioned as being in the YA camp. I also remember thinking that M.C. HIGGINS THE GREAT was far too sophisticated for about any child audience. It very much seemed like a great title to be discussed in an English 101 course at University. As a reader who got to these as an adult, I appreciated and adored both. Both are on my K-6 library shelves, although both could be weeded under the never-checked-out criteria.

      I’m going to admit my bias for books that my students connect with, finding Newbery love. However, not every year has a ONE AND ONLY IVAN or THE CROSSOVER, to shower medals on. The criteria is laid out, but I’m partial to the notion that Newbery includes fourteen-year-olds, but doesn’t exclude twelve-year-olds. This is such murky, subjective water, I feel over my head even attempting to dip my toe in a delineation. I can only be illustrative in what I witness in my fairly sheltered students. There would have been many ecstatic 5th graders if SALT TO THE SEA had won last year, but most of these same readers wouldn’t feel ready for THE HATE YOU GIVE a year later.

  10. Sharon McKellar Sharon McKellar says:

    The War I Finally Won is the Book I Finally FInished and now it is toward the top of my list of hopefuls. I agree with all of the above comments, and in particular found the characters exceptional.

  11. So I’m currently reading THE WAR I FINALLY WON and I have a question about it in relation to the Newbery.

    I did NOT read THE WAR THAT SAVED MY LIFE. I’m struggling through the first 100 pages of THE WAR I FINALLY WON because I keep feeling as if there is character development that has taken place that I missed out on. For example, Ada feels a strong desire to help Susan, instead of Susan helping her. She doesn’t like the term “ward” and has a conversation with Susan about it. She feels bad that Susan’s sister has died and wants to take care of her. Meanwhile, Ada’s mother just passed and Ada herself needs a guardian. It just feels to me that this obsession of Ada’s to take care of Susan for a change, is a result of developments from a previous installment. It feels askew to me.

    Is that fair? Is it a knock on this text or its ability to stand on its own? What am I missing? My general feeling early on, is that I really needed to read THE WAR THAT SAVED MY LIFE first as some of the developments that have been hinted at are changes in charaters that I cannot fully appreciate because I haven’t read that book.

  12. Steven Engelfried Steven Engelfried says:

    Yes, that’s a fair question Mr. H. It’s challenging to read a book like this when you have read the first, and evaluate it as if you haven’t. I do think that Bradley did a good job of getting new readers caught up on the plot. But your focus on character development is different, and equally important. Readers don’t necessarily need to understand Ada as fully as they might if they know the first book, but they shouldn’t feel that they’re missing things or that Ada’s behavior doesn’t make sense. Are there other readers who missed the first book and feel like something’s missing?

    • Why is it that we demand a sequel to stand on its own? Why can’t a sequel be successful as a true sequel – without having to cater to readers who have not read a previous title? Especially when a series has a large arc that goes from one volume to the next. This has always puzzled me.

      • Two pieces of text in the terms and criteria make me wonder if this is where the concern comes in…

        First we have, “The term, “only the books eligible for the Award,” specifies that the committee is not to consider the entire body of the work by an author or whether the author has previously won the award. The committee’s decision is to be made following deliberation about books of the specified calendar year.”

        Then we have: “The book must be a self-contained entity, not dependent on other media (i.e., sound or film equipment) for its enjoyment.”

        The two of those together, feels like the bar is raised for a sequel. If you aren’t able to consider the author’s entire body of work, that would include the earlier novels within a series. And I know the point of the second text is on media, but the phrase “self-contained entity” makes me think that the book must stand on its own.

      • I’m pretty sure no one would assert that THE HIGH KING and THE GREY KING stand on their own. Both Newbery medalists.

        Jordan, I’m trying not to laugh at your conclusions. It does take some fairly close reading of the first book to know who Becky is to Susan (not her sister by-the-way). And Ada’s need to secure, and earn, a safe place was very much laid out in the first book. I agree with Roxanne, why should it stand on its own?

      • I first read THE HIGH KING at the age of 8, having not read any of the other books in the series, and I absolutely adored it. I have scribbled on the back page at the end of the book: “THE BEST BOOK I EVER READ.” So yeah, I assert it stands on its own. (I was thrilled, THRILLED I TELL YOU, to discover it was one of five in a series! It might still be my favorite of his books.)

      • Good to know. I have a hard time separating out previous knowledge to put it in context. The pay off the High King was so satisfying after being with the team through the first four book. Also,, I named my son Taran.

  13. Sharon McKellar Sharon McKellar says:

    It’s a good question and one that will certainly come up in the real discussions if the book is on the table. I know that I, personally, really value feedback from people who haven’t read the earlier book(s) when this comes up when I *have* read it/them. You can’t undo that, so I have no way to really really know how the book works without having read the first one other than by listening to other people’s thoughts on it. They are vital.

  14. steven engelfried says:

    I just don’t see the “self-contained entity” reference applying to sequels at all. The clause about media, plus the examples in parentheses, seems clear to me. If it referred to sequels, I would hope for more direct guidance, plus elaboration in the manual.

    • What about the “previous works” criteria? Wouldn’t earlier books in a series by an author count as previous works?

      • steven engelfried says:

        Yes, earlier books in a series are “previous works. ” [From the Manual: “The award considers only the books of one calendar year and does not pass judgment on an author’s previous work or other work during that year outside the volume that may be named.”] I still don’t see that as meaning the book must stand completely on its own, but rather that the “distinguished qualities in all of the elements pertinent to it” must be evident in the sequel, without prior knowledge. I can picture a discussion of THE WAR I FINALLY WON in which Mr. H argues that character development was limited for readers who haven’t read the sequel. And another member contending that character development really was distinguished even for those who haven’t read both. The “previous works” criteria makes it clear that both would need to use only the text of the current year’s book to justify their positions. Saying: “You would understand Ada better if you had read the first book” wouldn’t work. Saying: “Here are some passages or sequences in this year’s book that establish her character” would work. Well, maybe it wouldn’t work, but it would be allowable.

      • That makes sense. Thanks for the further explanation.

  15. steven engelfried says:

    I don’t know that authors need to cater to readers who haven’t read earlier books. If an author gives new readers enough background content so that the plot, characters, and themes come through, even if it’s in a different ways than they do for veterans of the series, that seems fine.

    To me, it’s not that dissimilar to broader issues around a reader’s knowledge. A reader’s experience of GLASS TOWN GAME is affected by how much she knows about literature and history. UNBEATABLE SQUIRREL GIRL isn’t a sequel, but you read it differently if you know the character from the comic books. In books like REFUGEE or MIDNIGHT WITHOUT A MOON, the authors decide how much historical background to provide, and how to do it in ways that give enough for the readers who know none of the history and not too much for those who know it well.

    So Bradley has to do kind of the same thing with information that some readers of THE WAR I FINALLY WON. Give us enough so that we can understand the characters and the action. We need to know about Ada’s upbringing and her leg, and she provides that effectively. We also need to understand her feelings towards Sarah…and that doesn’t work for at least one reader (at least for the first 100 pages).

    It doesn’t have to stand on its own, but it has to “have distinguished qualities in all of the elements pertinent to it.” I felt that THE WAR I FINALLY WON was distinguished in “delineation of characters,” but will pay more attention when I reread it to how much those characterizations depend on knowledge of the first book. I suspect (and hope) that they will still come through strongly, but might take longer than I realized.

    Using previous Newbery examples in the area of characterization, I think most readers fully understand and appreciate Grandma Dowdel when they read A YEAR DOWN YONDER; it’s just that the ones who read A LONG WAY FROM CHICAGO know her well right away, and it takes a while for the others (though not that long). In THE HIGH KING (my favorite Newbery winner ever), I think King Rhun’s fate probably has a more powerful effect on readers who already know him from THE CASTLE OF LLYR, but those who don’t still learn enough about him in THE HIGH KING to be strongly affected by what happens to him…just not in the exact same way.

  16. One writer who is hobbled by this is Megan Whalen Turner. I recall with Conspiracy of Kings being unable to convince a Committee member that the information-hiding did not have to do with the previous books, but was stylistic and the whole way she plotted. How do you convince a committee that this is intentional and not dependent on the other books? Or that it doesn’t matter?

    • Leonard Kim says:

      It’s very interesting to read our hosts give their opinions on this. A lot of us outsiders learned how the Newbery discussion works from this blog, and it certainly seemed like gospel that a series or sequel book had to “stand alone.” But maybe that was only Nina Lindsay’s interpretation? Using your example, Monica, Nina’s Heavy Medal post on Conspiracy of Kings explicitly asks, “does it stand alone?”

      Nina quotes the same Terms section Jordan does: “‘only the books eligible for the award,’ specifies that the committee is not to consider the entire body of the work by an author or whether the author has previously won the award. The committee’s decision is to be made following deliberation about the books of the specified calendar year.”

      Nina goes on to apply this to Conspiracy of Kings thus:

      “This definition compels the committee to consider only the books at hand, and only as they relate to another. Can you compellingly convince a committee of the distinguished elements of A Conspiracy of Kings without referring to the series as a whole? Surely, the previous relationships developed between Eugenidies and Sophos, and Eugenidies and Eddis in previous novels, are essential in supporting the tension in this story. As much as I feel this is a distinguished novel in a distinguished series, I’m not sure it would stand up under the Newbery criteria.”

      Have we been unnecessarily constraining ourselves all this time?

      http://blogs.slj.com/heavymedal/2010/09/17/conspiracy-of-kings/

      • Leonard Kim says:

        To be fair, looking some more in the Heavy Medal archives, Nina did state there was “difference of opinion” on this. For example, in her post on P.S. Be Eleven, after quoting the relevant section again, she writes:

        “This is generally understood to mean that the committee discusses only eligible titles, and compares them only to each other. There is a difference in opinion as to whether this term also implies that book from a series, or otherwise related to ineligible titles, must ‘stand alone.'”

        http://blogs.slj.com/heavymedal/2013/09/10/p-s-be-eleven-sequels-and-sympathies/

      • steven engelfried says:

        One way I look at it is that every year you’ve got 15 new people looking at the same criteria (with occasional changes), and they’re intentionally open to some interpretation. Also completely different books, some of which can present new challenges of interpretation. The message I tried to emphasize with the committee when I was chair was: “apply the terms and criteria.” But it wasn’t “here’s how to apply the terms and criteria” or “this is what the terms and criteria mean in terms of sequels, age levels, popularity, etc.” It was our job to work with and sometimes struggle with the criteria as individuals during the year and as a group at the end of the year. Other chairs and committees may have approached things differently, though.

        We (and I’m including myself) sometimes get frustrated by the ambiguity of the Terms and Criteria, and/or wish this or that piece could be changed, but overall I think they work well. There’s enough clear direction that each new committee member needs to step back and kind of reset they way they look at books. But the vagueness that we sometimes struggle with also allows for interpretation and evolution of our perception of what a “most distinguished book” is in a given year.

        On the spectrum of clear direction to selectors, I think the Newbery Terms and Criteria fall somewhere towards the middle. They could be specific and direct: No sequels. No swear words. No illustrations if they play a major part. Or they could be as broad as possible, like the National Book Awards, where “juries develop their own criteria.”

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