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Heavy Medal: A Mock Newbery Blog
Inside Heavy Medal

A Newbery Dream… in the Sky

strangethedreamer

This week, all three of us will be posting about titles that are probably considered “too old” to even dream about being nominated for, let alone winning, the Newbery.

And yet, when a book features a godly dreamer, a citadel floating in the sky, and characters accomplishing the impossible, its contribution to the young reader’s literature must be noted. Yes, I am talking about Strange the Dreamer, hands-down my favorite book of 2017.

Laini Taylor is a master in molding words into paragraphs that delight the mind even when it receives disturbing visions.  Take the Prologue of Strange the Dreamer for example.  It starts with an oddly disturbing and yet morbidly beautiful scene:

On the second Sabbat of Twelfthmonth, in the city of Weep, a girl fell from the sky.

Her skin was blue, her blood was red.

She broke over an iron gate, crimping it on impact, and there she hung, impossibly arched, graceful as a temple dancer swooning on a lover’s arm.  One slick finial anchored her in place.  Its point, protruding from her sternum, glittered like a brooch.

In 68 words, Taylor establishes: the fantastic setting, the dark and disturbing tone, and the promise of gorgeously sculpted sentences.  A reader is instantly charmed by the rhythm, the word choices, and the unswerving presentation of the gruesome.  Taylor continues to deliver an emotionally affecting and powerful set-up.  This is one Prologue that should not be skipped!

Sometimes, when a book is setting up for a sequel, it does not end quite satisfyingly — too heavy on the cliffhanger and not enough of a resolution. Taylor definitely stays away from that pitfall. Strange the Dreamer ends with a heart-wrenching but satisfying conclusion and offers up high anticipation for an equally amazing sequel.  Its final scene, echoing the Prologue, shows the emergence of the new god. By now, readers know intimately about that girl who “fell from the sky,” care about the future relationships between humans, gods, ghosts, and monsters, and eagerly await the blurring or even erasure of the lines between awake and dreaming.

In between the beginning and the ending, Taylor builds a world that is grand in scale and rich with new kinds of magic: including the vivid and entirely believable dream/nightmare-magic that gives those with the ability a channel to alter realities.  She also creates a host of well-realized characters, from the God Slayer’s sorrow, to the Ghost-Commanding, forever 6-year-old Minya’s rage, to Thyon Nero the alchemist’s all consuming envy, each leaving lingering impressions in the reader’s mind — not to mention the deep affection between two admirable main characters: Lazlo Strange the Junior Librarian, the Dreamer, and Sarai, the blue-skinned Goddess of Nightmares.

Now, how about that tragic story of the people and children suffering from the abuse of the gods?  What a back story that shapes the literal landscape and communal psyche of the City of Weep!  Perhaps this is why some readers would argue that Strange the Dreamer is not suited for the Newbery consideration, no matter the superb literary achievements evidenced on each and every page.  Most reviewers label it High School and 15-and-up.  (Is this 15-and-up designation the review journals’ way of saying, “no, not for the Newbery”?)

Because, tender readers, the abuse exacted upon the people of Weep from the monster Gods is cruelty in the form of nonconsensual sex.  Even though I believe that Taylor is quite successful in never presenting unnecessarily graphic or gratuitous scenes, and thus readers in 7th and 8th grade (13/14) should be able to understand the nature of the atrocity based on their individual maturity and developmental readiness, and that either way, they will appreciate and adore the book for its many other outstanding parts, I imagine that members of the 2018 Newbery Committee would have a tough time considering this title eligible.

(It is one of the most loved 2017 books for my 7th and 8th grade fantasy readers!)

I know I would use one of my 7 allotted nominations for Strange the Dreamer even if I also know that it will most likely not get the award or even honor.  I want to put it on the table, make sure that my fellow members have a chance to read it because it is nominated, and have it serve as a constant reminder during our discussion of what distinguished literary qualities look and sound like.

Have you read it?  Do you feel the same as I do?  Would you nominate or vote YES for it?

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Roxanne Hsu Feldman About Roxanne Hsu Feldman

Roxanne Hsu Feldman is the Middle School (4th to 8th grade) Librarian at the Dalton School in New York City. She served on the 2002 and 2013 Newbery Committees. Roxanne was also a member of 2008-2009 Notable Books for Children, 2015 Best Fiction for Young Adults, and the 2017 Odyssey Award Committees. In 2016 Roxanne was one of the three judges for the Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards. You can reach her at at roxannefeldman@gmail.com.

Comments

  1. There is a place to discuss books that are too old for Newbery: Some Day My Printz Will Come. This book has already been discussed there.

    • We are absolutely aware of the sister blog and also the Printz Award. Thanks for making sure that all our readers know about that, too, Jean.

      However, I hope that the existence of the other blog or the Printz Award does not invalidate my post or questions for Heavy Medal (as you seem to indicate in your comment here), since it is indeed a real-life scenario that all Newbery Committees would have to contend with. Some might argue that since the establishment of the Printz Award, books for the younger YA readers are getting NO LOVE from either committees:

      Too old for the Newbery and too young for the Printz.

      I also don’t believe that Newbery Members would or should dismiss excellent titles because they will be “taken care of” by Printz, or Sibert (for Informational books), or Geisel (for beginning readers), etc.

      • steven engelfried says:

        I actually think it will be interesting to see how the discussions of STRANGE go on both blogs. (And on both Committees, but we don’t get to know that). So far on the Someday My Printz Will Come thread there’s been some interesting talk about how fantasy books usually fare with Printz committees. They won’t have to worry about the age question, while we’ll likely talk about that here. And on Someday this book has been compared to past Printz winners, as well as “Six of Crows,” “Tool of War,” and Laini Taylor’s other books. For Heavy Medal I’m thinking of “The Wonderling” and “Lost Kingdom of Bamarre,” and “Crack in the Sea” as other fantasy novels to compare, though they’re all for a younger age range (and, at least to me, not at the same level). Anyway, I look forward to both discussions and think they’ll be very different from each other.

  2. Cherylynn says:

    I have to say that this is one of the best books of the year when it comes to delineation of setting. Th e author writes some of the most beautiful descriptions of the world of her story. I could easily picture where the story took place with her descriptions. Her world building was exquisite. The magic and the dreams were very well explained. I would not vote for it because I found other books that have done better in the other criteria. I have seen other books this year that have done a better job with writing for a child audience, pacing, and development of plot.

  3. Cherylnn, very interesting observations! Personally, I think Taylor’s character development is superb — not only that each of her major and minor characters distinct, they are also complex and layered. I also found the pacing tight and without gaps — every step of the way I was riveted: wanting to find out more of the world and magic system and anxious to know what comes next in the huge Men vs Monsters and Men vs Men struggle.

    Which titles would you say that surpass Strange the Dreamer on the aspects that you mentioned above? (Asking this because if we’re on the committee together. we would definitely have to provide specific titles/examples from titles of this year.) As to a child audience — my 13/14 year old students definitely find the book compelling and just right for them.

  4. Meredith Burton says:

    Laini Taylor’s writing always fascinates me as her settings and characters always come so vividly to life. I don’t know if Strange the Dreamer should be considered for a Newbery, although I love when fantasy titles are recognized. I just feel that the notion of cruel gods subjecting mortals to rape is very disturbing. Just as Bull used Poseidon’s character to gloat about causing suffering, I find this theme to be very disturbing for children. I know I am old-fashioned and that children grow up quickly, but I like books recognized by the Newbery committee to address themes more suitable to middle school and younger-aged groups. Taylor’s writing is not gratuitous, and she handles dark themes tastefully, but I am just expressing my personal opinion. I would be happy for the book to win an Andre Norton Award, however.

    All this is to say that I am saddend there seems to be so few fantasy novels for middle graders this year. Fantasy is a wonderful genre that explores universal truths, and it seems to be neglected this year. The themes of The Lost Kingdom of Bamarre were wonderfully explored: racism, the meaning of family, feeling betrayed by parents, ETC., but the ending seemed too abrupt to me, and the writing was not as strong as some of Levine’s other books. I look forward to reading Wanderling. I am saddened that Joplin, Wishing, by Diane Stanley, seems to be ignored as I thought that book was beautiful.

    • I’m not sure that I share your view, Meredith, about brighter themes for younger readers, nor about including thematic matters as part of the criteria (they are not.) For sure rape is a very dark, very traumatic, and very uncomfortable topic in books for children — but is it really too taboo a topic for 13 and 14 year olds? As we have recently discovered in Real Life — it happens a lot more often and to many more younger people than we perhaps previously had imagined. So, how is it not an appropriate theme to explore — especially in a fantasy novel where there is a bit of a distance from the Real World to manage darker themes. The books that handle these themes well could potentially give young readers tools and fortitude to manage real life hardships.

      As you said, Taylor’s literary abilities cannot be ignored here and beg for recognition.

      • Leonard Kim says:

        Roxanne,

        How would you answer the Manual question, “exactly what 14-year-olds would respond to it?” (And no fair answering, “my students”). Would you accept that the content vis-a-vis the whole of the United States is such that not “everyone of that age should know the book”? Do you think this book could be a child’s first exposure to such treatments of non-consensual sex and rape? If not what sort of background and/or education would a child need to be prepared to read this book? (And if yes, what about this book makes it appropriate to be that first-exposure book?) Do you think that population of children with that background and/or education combined with your feelings about this book’s excellence is deserving of the Newbery compared to other books of this year?

        I am skeptical but am open to being convinced following the Newbery Manual-style line of inquiry above…

      • Steven Engelfried says:

        A GLASS TOWN GAME post will be coming in the next few weeks…Thanks for the suggestion, Leonard.

    • Steven Engelfried Steven Engelfried says:

      I’m with you, Meredith, on The Lost Kingdom of Bamarre. Lots of strengths, but it falls short in some areas. And I haven’t read anything else in fantasy that really stands out so far, which is especially disappointing considering last year’s Medal winner. I haven’t got to Joplin Wishing yet, though. Any other suggestions for excellent fantasy from anyone?

  5. Oh my. How i adored this book! I actually read it with my ears and hope that the Odyssey committee is as well. I am a bit miffed it did not make PW’s best list. I hope it gets some award love.

  6. Steven Engelfried Steven Engelfried says:

    I was also impressed with this book. The language stands out, and although sometimes eloquent language can distract from other elements, I thought the plot, setting and characterizations are all very strong too. Not a fast moving plot, but it consistently moves forward, revealing bits about the world, its history, and the characters, including some surprises. The world building in a fantasy novel is so often either too vague and undeveloped or all laid out in full detail at the beginning. This book gave us time to gradually get a feel for the world, naturally, and mostly through the eyes of the main characters.

    The two points of view were equally engaging, and the way the stories of Lazlo and Sarai steadily converged was done quite effectively. Different as they are when we first get to know them, by the time they meet it’s clear that they belong together, partly because of the power of dreams and stories in their lives, and also from the level of compassion that they both have. For me, that was enough to establish their strong romantic connection.

    I could have lived without all the kissing, though. That was the one time where the flowery language took me out of the story. Well, three times, actually: Pages 404-405 (“He searched her eyes for acquiescence and found it. Freely she gave it”). Then again from 443-445 (“Hopelessness had little chance against the discovery of the tip of the tongue”), and yet again on 446-448 (“Oh, the ways that lips could know each other…”). I mean….that’s a lot about kissing. I may just be missing the impact of those passages because I was really wanting to know what would happen next in the main plot, but to me it felt like a really good writer trying to display how many different ways she can describe the sensation of kissing. She does it well, but it didn’t seem like a good fit for this book. When finally Lazlo “turned over on his pillow, crushed the moth, and broke the dream” (448), I was almost glad because at least it meant we could finally get on with the story. Okay, I’m done now. I’ve vented about the kissing. I just had to get that out. I feel better now.

    Other than that, though, I think this is a great example of how eloquent language can heighten the experience of a well conceived plot, even over 500+ pages.

    • Ha, re the kissing! While not kissing per se, I did find the sensual moments on the fringe of too-much, but unlike you, they ended for me just in time. That said, II adored this book for all the reasons you and Roxanne have articulated already.

      I reviewed Joplin, Wishing for Horn Book and thought it beautifully done. Had an old-fashioned feel to it and I haven’t convinced any of my 4th graders to read it. Has anyone got a child’s perspective on it?

      One fantasy novel that Roxanne and I have discussed in RL (we work at the same school for those who don’t know us:) is Rick Riordan’s latest Magnus Chase, The Ship of the Dead. It is fantasy, genre, and third in a series — talk about kissing — those all make it the kiss of death! But Riordan does so much wonderfully, wonderfully, well. In terms of the criteria — thoroughly developed characters, terrific world building, and witty as hell.

      • Leonard Kim says:

        I’m in the middle of listening to another good book that has the fantasy sequel “kiss of death”, Milford’s GHOSTS OF GREENGLASS HOUSE. I’ve enjoyed previous books set in this world by Milford. It wears its fantasy lightly, more like JOPLIN, WISHING (which I agree is very well-done and feels “old-fashioned”) and less high fantasy. But I guess if Milford’s previous efforts weren’t serious contenders, this is unlikely to get much support.

  7. Leonard — love your questions and challenges! And I totally agree that “my students” is not a fair response to answer your questions that should be more broadly applicable. So, I am not going to answer you, yet, except that I have started to explore with the health educator at my school, reliable statistics about 13/14 year olds and their sexual experiences and that according to the Guttmacher Institute, a research and policy organization cited by my colleague, 10% of male and 6% of females (16% altogether) of 14-year-old American teens have had actual sexual intercourse (much higher number for masturbation, oral sex, etc.) I don’t think more than 15% of readership is “insignificant” number of readers — if counting oral sex and other sexual acts, the percentage is a lot higher. And, of all rape victims under 18, more than 1/3 are under 14.

    Another couple of statistics from the U.S. Department of Justice are cited below:
    Child/Teen Victims

    * In a 2012 maltreatment report, of the victims who were sexually abused, 26% were in the age group of 12–14 years and 34% were younger than 9 years.

    * 35.8% of sexual assaults occur when the victim is between the ages of 12 and 17.

    If I actually serve on this year’s committee, I know I would arm myself with even more statistics — for example, how many children are from mothers (and fathers) who are rape victims — which is directly related to the situation in the book: the God Spawns (children and teens when the story takes place) are the children of raped victims. It presents the lingering effects of such acts — both on the Godslayer, whose psyche we have glimpses of, and on the children. To that end, Leonard, I would say this is a book that is worth presenting to 13/14-year-old readers, especially because the young people in the book are not rape victims themselves.

    • Leonard Kim says:

      Thank you Roxanne, this definitely helps. I look forward to more of your answers.

      Two thoughts come to mind from your comments:

      1) I feel like you have identified two potential readerships for this book. One is the general population of older children for whom the content would not be particularly eyebrow-raising because of their own level of sexual experience or knowledge. For this group, I think it may well come down to individual judgment as to how distinguished (and in how many ways) a book has to be, given that it is accessible to some percentage (well over 15%) of 13-14-year-olds, which is a much smaller percentage of the Newbery readership as a whole (let’s say 5%).

      2) The other readership you identify is more specific – children of rape in particular, and generally those whose lives have been touched by abuse and assault. You make a good case for this in talking about the book’s premise, but you might have to defend why, for example, a fantasy novel on this premise is more suitable for this audience than a socially conscious, “realistic” novel. Also do you remember the Heavy Medal discussion of Preus’ West of the Moon? The strongest voice of opposition to that book came from someone for whom the depiction of attempted assault seemed to be a trigger for her own trauma. If you are suggesting this book for this readership, can you provide evidence that its treatment is sensitive and might sustain rather than negatively trigger the audience you’ve identified?

  8. I loved STRANGE THE DREAMER. Laini Taylor’s imagination never ceases to amaze me. (And btw, the audiobook narrator Steve West is outstanding.) She is repetitive in spots, I remember (though not specifics). But as much as I love it, I have a hard time thinking of it as for a child audience. I don’t think they ever give Laszlo Strange’s age – but he is living on his own and at least functions as an adult. They could have packaged it for an adult audience without changing a word of the text. But Laini Taylor has a following in YA, and they are at least *young* adults, so I don’t think that’s inappropriate. It just doesn’t feel like children are the audience she’s going for.

  9. Actually, Leonard, I was not trying to identify readership of this books as those with sexual experiences or rape victims. We don’t have to be murderers or cops to enjoy crime novels.

    I was trying to illustrate that there is a general assumption of a-sexuality of children younger than 14 and many people use that assumption as a reason why the inclusion of sexual content makes a book instantly unsuitable for under 14.

    Most U.S. children do not have first hand experiences of genocide or being child soldiers but I would argue that A Long Walk to Water and Never Fall Down are suitable for readers between 12 and 14. And I would argue that the atrocity in those books directly inflicted on the child protagonists are as harrowing as what we see in this book.

    Content objections seem to be most fervent when it is about sex.

    • Leonard Kim says:

      Of course, Roxanne, and I agree with your statement about content objections, at least in this country.

      Let me rephrase – this sort of goes back to my question about “first exposure.” I would say children’s books about genocide or being child soldiers frequently act as if they are the child’s introduction to these serious topics. They walk a fine line of being engaging but of also being eye-opening and impressing the seriousness of the topic on the reader and raising their awareness, sensitivity, and empathy by being sensitive and empathetic themselves. In contrast, an inappropriate, ultra-violent war or horror book might assume a certain amount of desensitization already on the reader’s part and use shock and disgust for entertainment or simple visceral reaction-getting.

      So in a book that treats non-consensual sex, I think there are similarly also two ways to approach the audience, which I did a bad job in characterizing. One is to assume familiarity and some desensitization (due to prior exposure not necessarily personal experience.) That was my first “readership” described above. The second approach is to be an “issues” book (along the lines of the child soldier or genocide book) about non-consent and rape, and that is my second “readership” described above. This could be an “early exposure” book intended at some level to raise the reader’s awareness, does not assume prior familiarity or desensitization, and thereby proceeds with care and delicacy about the subject matter. Or it could be a “mirror” book that is targeted towards people with those life experiences, that must equally proceed with care and sensitivity. Does that make more sense?

      • So — do you believe the Strange the Dreamer is presenting the materials appropriately/well for children between 12 and 14?

      • Leonard Kim says:

        Roxanne, I really can’t say. First, I confess I gave up on the book after several chapters. (I’m not going to make this post about me, but, look, I am a middle-aged guy who reads children’s literature (not even YA.) I also gave up on HATE U GIVE as “too old for me.” I do want to say violence bothers me more than anything – witness my screeds about Samurai Rising last year… And as you quoted, this book unapologetically begins with blood.)

        That said, what I did read I think I would have enjoyed as a 12-14-year-old who read and loved fantasy above all other books and didn’t discriminate between children’s and adult fantasy, even though I find the latter kind of unreadable now. (I tried to read a Stephen R. Donaldson “Thomas Covenant” book a few years ago, for old time’s sake, and thought it was terrible.) And yes I think those adult fantasy novels were probably my first exposure to “media-style” sex and violence. In retrospect I don’t think that’s what I would have wished for myself. I’m going to agree with Sondy here: what I read of STRANGE seemed just like the adult fantasy novels I read as a child and it probably would have been packaged that way back then. I think the book is written for a fantasy-reading audience, which does overlap with the child audience, but it is the former, not the latter, the book has in mind.

        I am happy to read a “challenging” book if it’s really “worth it.” I think that’s in the spirit of the Newbery Manual. Truly, I am open to there being such books. Part of my questioning of you, who do seem to me to feel this book is worth it, is to see how I can find a way there myself.

        Anyway, I apologize for butting into a discussion of a book I didn’t complete – that is why, as you may have guessed, I have kept my own thoughts on such a general topical level.

  10. It seems to me that though many 12- to 14-year-olds may enjoy this book, it doesn’t seem like the author is making any effort to present the material for them. Just as I loved Agatha Christie mysteries when I was 12 years old – but they certainly weren’t written *for* me.

  11. Meredith Burton says:

    To Ms. Roxanne:

    Thank you for your response to my comment. I certainly did not mean to imply that I only think “bright” titles are worthy of Newbery consideration. Last year, Wolf Hollow dealt with some very dark issues, (goodness! Betty is a sociopath!) And, The Girl that Drank the Moon explored a very frightening society. I know that children are knowledgeable and far more wise to the world than we like to admit. I suppose what disturbed me the most was the fact that the rapes were caused by the gods. This is mythology Taylor is creating, and I understand that, but I, personally, am disturbed by this content. I prefer stories that address rape to have more life-affirming content. For instance, I love Laurie Halce Anderson’s Speak, which, I know, is contemporary, but the protagonist is finally able to confront her attacker and regains her voice. In fantasy, Bone Gap, by Laura Ruby, dealt with the theme of rape, and Roza’s empowering actions made me cheer aloud. I was thrilled that book won the Printz but would have been hesitant to recommend it for Newbery consideration.
    I apologize if I caused confusion.

    And, I agree with the commenter that said that Joplin, Wishing had an old-fashioned feel. It put me in mind of many classic children’s books I love. The children characters do, perhaps, act older than would seem believable, but I cannot dismiss the book as insignificant. It spoke to my heart.

  12. Thanks to all who have shared their views and who have challenged me to think even harder about Strange the Dreamer. At this point, I find myself even more firmly believe that this book IS for young readers — not adults. This is a book centered on teens who are discovering themselves, their paths in life, and also discovering each other and supporting each other emotionally. What is more relevant to young teens and tweens than finding their places in the world?

    If I were allowed to compare this with fantasy novels from prior years, I’d say that The Girl Who Drank the Moon deals with topics much less immediately relevant to young readers. One of its major themes is actually mother/parent-hood, and the journeys of several parents in their attempts, failures and triumphs to protect and nurture their children. Not the most young-teen-relevant topic at all.

    What both books have in common is how WELL these themes are presented and delineated by their authors. And that should be the focus of the Newbery discussion.

    Also — by the way, Leonard, I’d say that if the book is supposed to be a genre-novel (fantasy) and it is mostly loved by avid Fantasy readers, I would say that it is even more of an achievement — since these are the readers who have the prior knowledge and width of understanding of how Fresh and Innovative and Outstanding certain books are — that Strange the Dreamer is NOT just “another fantasy” novel. (I tend to be slightly suspicious when hearing, “Oh, I’m not a Fantasy reader at all — but I LOOOOOOVE so-and-so book. Even though it’s a fantasy.” So, this book sitting squarely in the FANTASY genre is a plus, not a minus, in my mind.

    • Leonard Kim says:

      By p.18, Lazlo is 20 years old (though he is uncertain about that) and on p.87 Sarai is 17. There’s certainly no problem accepting this as a YA not adult book. I am not convinced of leaping from “centered on teens” to “young teens and tweens.” And isn’t that why we have the Newbery age discussion?

      I would be interested in hearing more thoughts about the general argument about age of character vs. intended age of reader. A couple people already have invoked this argument both for and against various books, and it seems one of the points of disagreement is between those who feel characters of a certain age are actually intended for a readership younger than that age (as opposed to the books not being intended for them, but being sought out anyway by children wishing to read older – which is completely understandable, undoubtedly common, yet perhaps is still not evidence for Newbery suitability) vs. those who seem to feel the age of the character reflects an intended audience of the same age.

      I agree with your assessment of Girl Who Drank the Moon. I was happy it won, and certainly parents (or lack thereof) are common currency in children’s books, but I agree that book was very much about *parenting* and one of my own reservations about the book in last year’s discussion was whether that woudl resonate so much for the audience.

  13. Leonard Kim says:

    Oh, here is a question!

    Is the age question considered an “eligibility” issue on the same procedural level as, for example, author citizenship/residence? Is it a matter for the Chair, or the Priority Consultant, or the ALSC leadership to decide in advance of the actual discussion?

    Or is it not considered an “eligibility” issue, but something that is part of committee deliberation and ultimately a committee member’s individual ballot choices?

    There are hints in the Newbery Manual that it could be either (or both), so I think it’s a genuine question, at least for us outsiders. Thanks!

    • I think the citizenship/residence is up to the ALSC Office to verify whereas the perceived, intended readership is so open to interpretation and committee members’ individual experiences that is NOT an eligibility issue but a judgment call.

      Some books were probably never read/suggested/nominated – like, Grasshopper Jungle, while others, like Make Lemonade or Beneath a Meth Moon, could actually have had strong, but small number of, member support.

      • Steven Engelfried says:

        Yes, eligibility based on citizenship/residence is a different situation than the audience question. With citizenship/residence, committee members are expected to do all they can to determine eligibility, but if there’s any doubt, the Chair will pass the question, along with whatever research has been done, to the Priority Chair, who gets back to the committee Chair with a decision.

        The “book for children” determination, is, as Leonard puts it, “part of committee deliberation and ultimately a committee member’s individual ballot choices.” Age range questions will certainly come up in a committee’s discussions at Midwinter. And they could be raised in a member’s written nomination. In her main post about STRANGE, for example, Roxanne included a paragraph about why she thinks it does fit the age range. If that was in a written nomination, it would be a step towards addressing the age level question with the committee.

        Then other committee members who have read the book, but decided it didn’t fit the age range would now have to consider Roxann’es arguments…possibly even change their assessment. And members who did not read the book because it appeared too old will now have to read it, and would keep Roxanne’s comments in mind as they read it.

        At Midwinter when discussions and voting take place, the book would be on the table. At least one member, the nominator, thinks it is, so it is part of the discussion. But the topic would almost certainly come up during the discussion. And the committee really needs to decide based on the current year’s books; you couldn’t say: “there hasn’t been a book with this type of content among previous years”…you have to work with the Terms and Criteria, the Manual, and the deliberations and judgments of the 15 people in the room. There would be no formal group decision about whether STRANGE is eligible based on age level.

        The group won’t really know how it will fare until votes are cast (though they may get a good idea from the content of the discussion). And likely members wouldn’t know for sure if some votes that didn’t include STRANGE were based on the age level question or other reasons (such as: too much kissing). Outside of the committee, we really have no way to determine for sure why a book is not chosen. And even committee members don’t know everything….

    • Leonard,

      I brought this up in the Sequels thread in regards to the age discussion and no one bit on it so I appreciate you throwing this question out there. I really did want to see what someone with experience on the committee had to say about it. Because in my opinion, reading the “Newbery Terms and Criteria,” the age discussion *should* fall under the “eligibility” of the book.

      If you look at the Newbery Terms and Criteria on ALSC’s website (which I believe come directly from the manual), it is broken into three sections: Terms, Definitions, and Criteria. In that order. Terms come first. These are the ground rules. Some of the language in the terms are defined. Like “children” (up to and including age 14) and it is here that the phrase “intended potential audience” pops up. To me, this information in the Definitions section, reads like eligibility stuff. Words like “Resident” and “Published” are also defined in this section. It’s why the Criteria (the stuff that makes the book distinguished or not) comes after it. The book has to meet the definitions of words within the terms. If you’ve read through the Terms and Definitions and the book is deemed eligible, then you stack its merits up against the Criteria.

      (Also, interestingly enough, the ALSC page I’m looking at now, does not include the word “intended” when speaking of “potential audience.” Earlier it did. I know it did because I quoted it in another thread and it seemed to surprise some people as they hadn’t noticed that word being in the Definitions before. The word is now absent from the web page I’m looking at. However if I download the PDF of the manual, it’s there! What’s going on? I know it was on the website because I’m the one who quoted it and I very rarely look at the actual PDF manual. Am I looking at the right manual? It came from the ALSC website but it says it was formatted in 2012.)

      • Steven Engelfried Steven Engelfried says:

        I agree that some of the Definitions are clearly “eligibility stuff.” Number 4 – 10 deal with clearly yes-or-no situations: residency, language, year, etc. Number 1 is also pretty straightforward: which forms of writing are eligible and what to consider (text). Number 3 is not an eligibility item; it defines “distinguished,” the quality that the committee will have to identify among all eligible titles…and there’s elaboration in the Criteria below. Number 2 deals deals with children as “an intended potential audience,” there is no supporting guidance in the Criteria below. There could be, and maybe there should be, but there isn’t for now. We don’t even know whose intentions we should be evaluating: the publisher or the author. But I don’t feel that the inclusion here means it’s an eligible-or-not-eligible situation, any more than Number 3 means each book is either distinguished-or-not-distinguished. Mr. H.’s very logical question does make me wonder if those first three items, or at least Numbers 2 and 3, should be treated differently, though.

        We do get some points of discussion on age levels in the Expanded Definitions and Examples under Book Eligibility Issues (p 68 in the pdf version). This provides “Questions for committees to consider.” It’s that phrase that confirms to me that determining eligibility is in the hands of the committee. The questions involve assessments of literary quality related to age level that are subjective (“…is it distinguished enough…?”….is it “exceptionally fine for the narrow part of the range…?”) in ways that would make it very hard for a committee to decide yes or no as a group on each book under question. If one member considers all of this and decides, yes, this book is eligible, and nominates it….then the book is eligible. And if the rest of the committee disagrees, the book would not get a medal…but neither would it ever be definitively ruled ineligible. At least that’s how I read it.

        In terms of the regular proceedings of the committee, I don’t see any practical way that the group could make eligible/ineligible determinations on the basis of age range, short of using publisher recommended age levels (which seems wrong….unless it really is the publisher’s “potential intended audience” that is meant). So it’s the nomination and discussion process that determines whether an upper age range book gets a medal. But that process is not an “eligibility” process in the way that determining language, year, or residence/citizenship is. So yes, this all could be clearer. And I’m sure my response could be clearer too….

      • Leonard Kim says:

        Thank you for the explanations, Steven. It is confusing that that whole discussion in the Manual about the definition of “children’s book” falls, as you say, under the general heading, “Book Eligibility Issues.”

        Looking a bit more at the Expanded Definitions section in the Manual, it is divided into parts: “Publication Eligibility” “Book Eligibility” and “Author Illustrator Eligibility” In the “Book Eligibility” section, it is interesting to note that in another case the committee is tasked with making an actual yes/no determination. Under “Original Work” it says, “Not all cases are clear-cut, and each committee must make its own judgments about originality. Where consensus is not easily reached, the Chair should discuss the issue with the Priority Consultant, who may also consult the President, the Executive Director, the Board, or previous chairs.” This makes it seem like, for this issue, a yes/no decision is made, even if some committee members may disagree (and may have even nominated a book?) I wonder how this will play out for a book like PURLOINING OF PRINCE OLEOMARGARINE and whether, if it is nominated and ruled “eligible”, it will continue to play a role in discussion.

        Under “In English” the Manual states that bi-lingual books *are* eligible. It then goes on to make recommendations how to approach such books. The “Children’s Book” section of the Manual seems similar to this in that it unequivocally states that books “suitable for 13-14-year-olds” are eligible. It’s not clear if what follows is intended to guide making an “eligibility” determination or guide approaching books already deemed eligible the way the “In English” section does..

        I know it’s not the actual practice, but it might make sense and be consistent with the Manual to consider implementing something similar to the “Original Work” determination – a yes/no eligibility decision by the committee (with input from the Priority Consultant and ALSC leadership if they can’t come to consensus) and also include “In English”-style guidance for discussion of challenging books that have been ruled eligible.

  14. I do have to chime in that as an avid reader of Fantasy (and a judge on the Cybils YA Speculative Fiction panel last year), this book stands out, not using *anything* that’s stereotypical. So it’s distinguished in that sense – distinct. (I’m still not convinced that it’s presented for a child audience. But I certainly wouldn’t be sad to see it honored.)

    I’m very curious about Leonard’s question, too. I’ve been kind of assuming that the committee chair gives guidelines how their committee should tackle the age question?

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