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Heavy Medal: A Mock Newbery Blog
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Heavy Medal Finalist: I’m Just No Good At Rhyming and Other Nonsense for Mischievous Kids and Immature Grown-Ups


(Titles on our short list will be included in the live Mock Newbery in Oakland.)

I often distrust the age-designation “For All Ages” on recommended book lists. For, no doubt, each book must have a target audience: by the author’s choices of words, subject matters, required experiences, and tones.  To me, “For All Ages” seems a cop-out, indicating a level of laziness or indecisiveness of those who assign reading/interest level to books.

In the case of “I’m Just No Good at Rhyming,” however, “For All Ages” is both accurately descriptive of what the author attempts to achieve and truthfully representative of what the author has successfully accomplished.

Chris Harris includes subject matters both real and fantastic that would sustain young listeners’ or readers’ interest: from “How the Fourth Grader Communicates” (pp. 55-56) to “Ten Ginormous Hippos Jumped On a Bed” (pp. 145-146).  At the same time, Harris provides tidbits and thoughts that delight grown-ups who are either reading the poems aloud to others or quietly on their own.  For example, “What Happened to Us Monsters: The Mummy’s Lament” lists literary characters that very young listeners might not have encountered to give the grown-up readers a chance to share their cultural literacy with the next generation — at the same time, the poem addresses the concept of aging out of once wild lifestyles: which could be hilarious to young listeners and readers while quite poignant to older readers.

This book is definitely “individually distinct” with a irreverent and yet compassion tone, much humor, and clever concepts that warrant repeat readings and discussion: such as the “Jigsaw Puzzle Difficulty Chart” (p.202) “Yesterday’s Tomorrow” (p. 40) and “I’m Shy on the Outside” (p. 116), this is definitely one of the more distinguished titles in 2017 and one of the top five of the eighteen Heavy Medal Finalists for me.

(And what fun is the missing page numbers and how they came to be!)

One aspect that we (and perhaps the real Newbery Committee members) have to grapple with but have not discussed extensively is whether and how we discuss the illustrations/designs/images.

These are the guidelines from the manual:

From Definitions:

  • “Contribution to American literature” indicates the text of a book. It also implies that the committee
    shall consider all forms of writing—fiction, non-fiction, and poetry.

From Criteria:

  • The committee is to make its decision primarily on the text. Other components of a book, such as illustrations, overall design of the book, etc., may be considered when they make the book less effective.

In I’m Just No Good at Rhyming quite a few poems cannot exist in text alone.  There is the design for “a way to get out” for the poem “Trapped” on page 131 (and 133,) and most of the punch line humor is delivered via the illustration for “I Don’t Like My Illustrator” (p. 147-148).

There are lines in Her Right Foot which address what readers see in the pictures: “You may have noticed by now that the pictures of the Statue of Liberty in this book have her colored brown” and “What do you notice when you see this picture?”

The pictures for Princess Cora do not have to exist at all.  There are no instances that the text does not stand alone.  This renders Princess Cora a beginning reader with illustrations and not a “picture book” as often more strictly defined as to have some interplay of text & illustrations.

First Rule of Punk contains graphic/design elements.  All’s Faire in Middle School and Real Friends are graphic novels.  Loving vs Virginia and Vincent & Theo both have supportive imageries.

I invite Heavy Medal readers to comment on the graphic elements of these titles wherever you see fit — in previous posts, this post, or posts yet to come!


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


  1. I found this title to be so delightful and engaging that I never once considered if the illustrations were a problem. I think the illustrations do not make the book less effective, but rather add enormously. I think this is somewhat like the issue of books in a series. The text doesn’t need to stand alone without the illustrations but must be strong enough that it is the main element and carries the day. I think it does.

  2. I think this book “interprets its theme” as well as, or better than any other contender this year. The entire book read as an ode to childhood. How amazing it is to be a kid. The serious poems and the not so serious poems all came back to that idea. The serious poems were about being a kid and the fun poems were meant to be enjoyed by kids. Is there anything “distinguished” about some of the goofy poems? The thing I question about that theme, is is it more appreciated by an adult thinking back to their childhood reading of Shel Silverstein, than by a 2018 kid who has maybe NOT read Shel Silverstein. I believe the very last poem of the book, begging readers to return to this book years from now, shows its hand a bit by wanting to be this generation’s Silverstein. Is it such an ode to Silverstein’s work, that it loses points in its presentation to a child audience? (I don’t know if I think it does, but I could see that angle, so I am merely asking…)

    • Mr. H., I, for one, does not quite think that this is an Ode to Silverstein at all. There is quite a different sensibility and Harris displays a much gentler view on childhood and the world than Silverstein’s more cynical and more self-centered “poems.” I have shared this title with many children and they are not all fans or even familiar with Silverstein’s work — and the book works for them on its own merits.

      • Many of the poems reminded me more of Ogden Nash than Silverstein. And I think humor can be very much distinguished (it’s easy to spot when it isn’t!).

        I agree that the poems, as a whole, seemed more sympathetic than Silverstein.

  3. This is right up my alley, so I was surprised I didn’t love it as much as I thought I would. I did think it was funny and I always give points for that. The funny was a little more hit or miss for me than I was expecting, but that’s not unreasonable in a big collection of jokes. I liked the interactive parent-child parts and thought he was particularly good at the parts that were essentially mini-scripts, which makes sense since that’s what he does normally. Some of that reminded me of the Monster at the End of This Book a bit.

    So, as comedy, I think it’s successful. But not so much as poetry. A lot of it just doesn’t scan properly. So rather than funny poetry, it’s more comedy in the general shape of poetry.

  4. Steven Engelfried Steven Engelfried says:

    Roxanne notes that “In I’M JUST NO GOOD AT RHYMING quite a few poems cannot exist in text alone.” And gives other examples where visual elements are crucial to passages of other books. I think with RHYMING the committee could “make its decision primarily on the text” pretty easily. Even though “I Don’t Like My Illustrator” needs the illustration to work, it’s the words that set up the visual joke. The examples from HER RIGHT FOOT are similar, but different. Yes, you need to see the illustrations the narrator refers to, but the passages work in part because that narrative voice is so distinct…it’s all written as a conversation between reader and writer, and those examples further that connection through text, even though the pictures are part of it. If, during the parts where the pictures are needed, the text in either of those books had faltered, I’d have concerns, but I don’t see that in those examples. So I feel pretty comfortable that those two books work in terms of “primarily on the text.” Meanwhile, I’m re-reading REAL FRIENDS right now and that one’s not as easy for me to work out….

  5. I was surprised when Steven brought this up as a Newbery contender. I’d certainly been thrilled to get it in my library and had read various poems throughout sporadically, not thinking I really had the patience to read a non-plot driven book from cover to cover, and then I did. It is brilliant in its delivery. Although most most pages don’t need the others to be enjoyed in the moment, the build up as they unroll is often moving and always delightful. I love Jordan’s description of it as an Ode to Childhood. The poem about being ten, was particularity effective. I don’t think a comparison to Silverstein can be helped but I didn’t find it a copy of his work, just an excellent addition to the cannon.
    As far as the illustrations go. I think Newbery solved that when they began giving awards to graphic novels.

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