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Heavy Medal: A Mock Newbery Blog
Inside Heavy Medal

Nominations Catch-Up: Jackie, Parker, and Ivy

justlikejackieWith November nominations closed and compiled, let’s get three books into the conversation that have high nomination numbers, but haven’t been featured yet:

JUST LIKE JACKIE has eleven nominations, alleviating earlier concerns that we might never feature this book; only three titles have more at this point. Now that we are highlighting JACKIE, I hope to hear from nominators about its Newbery worthiness. It definitely has strengths. Robinson is a pretty convincing character. She’s fierce and brave and a true friend, but her best efforts often misfire badly, and she’s a bit of a bully herself. I like the way she knows she’s a handful, and kind of regrets it, but is also not really thinking she needs to change:

I’m happy to let Alex sop up his bloody nose with the sleeve of his sissy-boy snowboarding jacket. There’s no sealing up a kid that’s gone bad. I should know. (3)

Her anger manifests itself in believable ways as she tries to navigate through school while trying to care for her grandpa and keep his condition secret. Her defensiveness is rooted in anxiety about her own situation, and it makes sense that she changes as she learns that other kids are struggling in different, but not that different, ways.

Those interactions with the other kids seem a little over-managed by the plot element in which the four kids, all of whom have issues with the family tree assignment, are neatly placed in a therapy group. The interactions within the group are engaging (mostly: I struggled with Alex crying out of the blue and all of those kids keeping quiet about it outside of group and even the next day in the group), but the set-up feels a bit artificial. Maybe that’s just me: I had a similar concern with HARBOR ME.

parkerinheritanceTHE PARKER INHERITANCE, with nine nominations, is an interesting change of pace. It’s a puzzle mystery, in the tradition of THE WESTING GAME, CHASING VERMEER, and others. And it’s a well-conceived mystery. The letter from Candice’s grandmother sets things up nicely, and the steps Candice and Brandon take as they get closer to the truth are engaging and surprising. The story moves forward with well-paced revelations that are right at the level of the child reader: challenging, but not frustratingly complex.  

Along with the mystery, there’s some intriguing exploration of racism, bullying, and family bonds, among other issues. With some historical context, since the narrative slips between present day and the 50s. Plot and themes work very well together, and both take center stage. The characters did not especially stand out to me, but that can be okay in a plot-driven book. The Newbery Criteria state that the committee “need not expect to find excellence in each of the named elements.” In this book, a personality as big as Mason Buttle or Mia from FRONT DESK could have distracted from the mystery, history, and themes.

ivy aberdeensIVY ABERDEEN’S LETTER TO THE WORLD received six nominations. It’s a strong portrayal of a twelve year girl learning who she is. Which includes the realization that she’s a girl who likes girls, but there’s much more to Ivy than that. I really appreciated the way the family dynamics were done. We only get Ivy’s naturally self-centered point of view, so her complaints seem valid, and her gradual realization that others are dealing with things too is similar in many ways to Robinson’s growth…though managed more naturally here in my opinion.

Ivy has a great bunch of open-minded people who understand her confusion, probably better than she does herself: a best friend who totally gets it; an adult who recognizes her confusion and supports it with just the right words (217-220) and a family who obviously will understand once they know.  But none of that is obvious to Ivy, and that’s a big strength of the novel. Ivy’s confusion is convincing and relatable,even though she has all that potential support and understanding around her. This is a sensitive, subtle exploration of a girl who’s finding her way.

I admired all three of these books for different reasons, but didn’t choose to use one of my five nominations on them so far.  With 26 nominations among the trio, though, I hope to learn what made them rise towards the top of lists of other Heavy Medal readers.


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


  1. Steven, I think you mean HARBOR ME instead of COVER ME. 🙂

    • Steven Engelfried says:

      Thanks Kari. I’ve been thinking of that book as Cover Me all year for some reason. It’s now corrected.

      • I was just worried there was a book that I had missed! I was about to go put a hold on it at the library.

  2. Leonard Kim says:

    Regarding IVY, I agree with Steven’s positive assessment of its characterizations and relationships. But for a character-driven novel, there are a lot of plot devices: the tornado, the twins, the lost notebook (and what that sets in motion.) It felt a little excessive to me: was a tornado really necessary for what this book sets out to do? I think this has been a pretty good year for LGBTQ-themed children’s books, and I would take CARDBOARD KINGDOM (5 nominations), PRINCE AND THE DRESSMAKER (2 nominations), or JIGSAW JUNGLE in a Newbery argument over IVY. (There’s also the non-Newbery-eligible That Inevitable Victorian Thing from the reliably excellent E.K. Johnston.)

    • Steven Engelfried Steven Engelfried says:

      I agree about the tornado…not a fatal flaw, but a curious choice. It reminded me of the fire that kicked off CHECKED. Both were big dramatic events in books that turned out to be not really built around that kind of action. This is stretching a bit maybe, but it’s almost as if there was a perceived need for action scenes to draw readers into essentially introspective novels. What I did like about the tornado was the way it worked into the cover, which is one of my favorites this year (but not Newbery relevant of course).

    • Leonard Kim says:

      I did think, though overall characterization was strong, representing emotion through color choice happened a bit too often: as a reader, the device had diminishing returns the more Ivy did this. I had a similar reaction to the word finding in HOPE IN THE HOLLER.

      • 100% agree with you, Leonard. For me, overusing certain literary devices indicates some weakness in style and, in the case of IVY and HOPE, weakness in delineation of character.

  3. Leonard Kim says:

    Re: PARKER, I mentioned JIGSAW JUNGLE in the comment above, which is also a puzzle mystery / issue book. I personally think JIGSAW JUNGLE was better both in its handling of the puzzle and its emotional engagement. For example, the most effectively presented relationship in PARKER was, I felt, Reggie and Siobhan’s, but this relationship has little direct emotional connection to Candice in the present. In JUNGLE, there are also movingly-portrayed relationships from the past between people who are now gone or adults (Jeffery and Brian, Walter and Jeffery, Walter and Lily) that nonetheless directly affect Claudia and her family.

    JIGSAW JUNGLE resembles BREAKOUT (2 nominations) in its format (in purporting to present items from a scrapbook/time capsule). With the exception of the Reggie/Siobhan relationship, I agree with Steven about the characters in PARKER, and I think BREAKOUT shows that it’s possible to have a mystery (though not a puzzle mystery) with larger themes of race and community that also has standout characters, particularly Elidee through her writing efforts. I also like BREAKOUT’s handling of how setting can shape attitude. There are a number of “small-town” books out this year, and I think BREAKOUT acknowledges this better and more forthrightly than books like HOPE IN THE HOLLER (4 nominations), SEASON OF STYX MALONE (3 nominations), or PARKER for that matter among others.

    I didn’t love JUST LIKE JACKIE, but I gave my feedback to Mr. H a couple months ago, and I will let him defend the book.

    • Leonard Kim says:

      In terms of theme, particularly race relations, I would be hard-pressed to argue PARKER does a better job than books I really liked such as FINDING LANGSTON, CAN I TOUCH YOUR HAIR?, and JOURNEY OF LITTLE CHARLIE as well as books I admired (and others might prefer): HARBOR ME, GHOST BOYS, BETTY BEFORE X. The really “distinct” thing about PARKER is the puzzle, and I’m not convinced the handling of that alone was so strong to lift it above others.

      • The puzzle in THE PARKER INHERITANCE was too contrived, in my opinion. What I mean by that, is that it felt like Candace and Brandon made unrealistic leaps in solving the puzzle, just so that their portion of the narrative could keep pace with the flashbacks unfolding.

        I will get to JACKIE later!

  4. Ivy Aberdeen’s Letter to the World is one that I voted for. I felt like the tornado was symbolic of the chaos and changes happening in Ivy’s life, as well as something used to advance the plot by moving her out of her house and making her notebook a missing item. The setting of a cramped hotel room and the devastation of the town after the tornado seemed well portrayed. I have to admit characterization is important to me and I felt like Ivy was a really well drawn character. I recognized myself in the quiet worrier who is a middle child in the family who sometimes was forgotten for the baby or the older helper. I enjoyed the way this book handled the story of a young girl on her sexual awakening. The changes that happened in her character made sense and showed character development. Robin as an older Lesbian talking to a girl who has just realized she likes girls was a very special moment. I do think this is a book to look at closer.

  5. I don’t think the puzzle element in Parker is itsdistinguishing feature, or at least not its stellar distinguishing trait. To me, the story of the past is so much more riveting than the present day story that I kept getting impatient reading about the kids and their relationships and the hunting of the treasure. Also, does the father’s homosexuality seem tacked on to anyone else? I enjoyed the book but it does not rise to the top of my Newberry pile.

    • I was *livid* with the father “twist” at the end. It seemed totally shoe-horned in to send a message of inclusivity, when really, to me, a gay man, it just seemed like lip service. There were enough issues that the book was addressing – this did not need to be tacked on, especially with the super-contrived “Danielle/Daniel” mix-up). It completely undid the book for me.

    • I was going to say something like this earlier but you said it much better so I’m glad I didn’t! I wanted to like PARKER more than I did. I did not think that the two stories were equally strong.

    • Leonard Kim says:

      Roxanne, I agree with you and did not communicate effectively in my previous comment. The puzzle is what makes PARKER *different* from more conventional historical fiction books such as FINDING LANGSTON or BETTY BEFORE X. But I do think PARKER’s historical thread is stronger than the current day thread with the puzzle, though even then I’m not sure the historical part is better than the other books I mentioned.

      I forgot about the dad subplot. That’s another point of comparison with JIGSAW JUNGLE and I’m curious to hear from people who’ve read both how Levine’s handling compares to Johnson’s.

      • Levine’s handling of this topic is WAY better, in my opinion. But that’s because the father becomes an important character in the book. We see him in video clips and flashbacks and other artifacts come of age and grow up and as a reader, start to pick up on the clues that Claudia is missing or overlooking. He’s more of a main character so there’s some character development.

        In PARKER, the father is more of a minor character so he lacks that development. Which makes the reveal in the end more jarring and tacked on. It wasn’t earned, if that makes sense. It’s just told to us.

  6. Hannah Mermelstein says:

    I had a problem with IVY ABERDEEN that perhaps I’m alone in. I checked in with a friend who usually picks up on questionable themes more than I do and he didn’t have a problem with it, so it could just be me, but…I didn’t like that the story hinged upon someone unknown to Ivy basically blackmailing her into coming out, and that when it was revealed, it went more or less like this: “I’m kind of mad you did that.” “Yeah, but it was for your own good.” “Yeah, you’re right.” Anyone else bothered by that? Otherwise I did like it, especially the secondary characters (like Robin), and am definitely grateful for more middle grade queer fiction. But speaking of this year’s middle grade books featuring natural disasters and girls realizing they have crushes on girls, I actually liked HURRICANE CHILD better. I found the language beautiful and mature in a way that respects the reader. I did worry that the poetic writing and maturity could make it a bit difficult for its intended age, and my Mock Newbery students have confirmed that in a sense, but several are still wanting to nominate it (even though they found it a little “confusing,” a criticism which I think falls in the “presentation of information” category–or perhaps “style”).

  7. I loved JACKIE much more than I thought I would based on the dust jacket. I thought her characterization was spot on, and appreciated that she was allowed to be angry. Her struggle to understand and direct her emotions felt real.

    I thought the way Alex was handled was well done. As an adult, I could tell that there was a lot going on behind the scenes, but Robinson was totally floored by that revelation, which made sense. I also like that he doesn’t magically become super nice once his secret is out. He’s still a jerk to the other kids, and they still call him on it. That felt true to life.

    My largest criticism of the book is that the school environment didn’t ring true. I have never been in a public elementary school where wearing a baseball hat was allowed indoors, and that kept throwing me out of the story every time it was mentioned. Calling the teachers by their first names also doesn’t jibe with my public school experiences. Adding to the oddness was the fact that these aspects of the school describe a relaxed, progressive school environment that would not be the sort to assign family tree projects. When I was in a teacher education program even 20 years ago, we were being told to avoid such projects precisely for the reasons that make it so difficult for the kids in the book.

    Speaking of the family tree, but I’m pretty sure the actual family tree that we see is wrong. In it the lines to “mean old lady” and “mean old man” go to Charlie/Grandpa – but shouldn’t they be leading to Lucy? It’s Lucy’s parents that refuse to let her and Charlie be together. Charlie’s parents are never mentioned.

    This is coming off a lot more critical than I meant it to be. I really was impressed with the book over all.

    • While hats are “not allowed” in my school, teachers tend to look the other way with particular kids who insist on wearing them. And Robbie is exactly that type of kid. And Robbie is exactly that type of kid. I have no doubt that the teachers in this world have talked behind the scenes about her situation and just let the hat thing go. This did not seem out of the ordinary to me, an educator.

      I think Robbie was the only one that called any teacher by their first name, am I correct in remembering that? Again, context is important. For a kid like Robbie, at least in my school, exceptions to the rule would be allowed in the interest of the kid.

      • One of the reasons I loved this book so much was because it seemed SO real to me and my school situation. Robbie looked and sounded like many of my students. The dialogue and character interactions were spot on with how students would talk and engage with each other. And at my elementary school, students can wear hats and all teachers go by their first names.

  8. I agree with previous comments that PARKER INHERITANCE was not even – I was much more invested in the past. But I did think it was well done that the scenes from the past gave us emotional information rather than clue information. The scenes deepened our connection to what was going on, and helped us to understand the “why” of the puzzle, but didn’t give the reader information to solve the puzzles that the characters did not already have.

    I agree with Joe that I was disappointed with the way the “shock reveal!” twist with the dad was handled.

    I found Candice’s economic situation confusing. Brandon and his family seem to think that Candice and her mother are desperately poor, and unable to provide basic necessities like food and clothing, despite watching her father go out and buy her a laptop. Granted, her mother did not do so and the divorce might mean there is a huge discrepancy between the incomes of the parents, but I got the impression this was a reasonably amicable divorce, with both parents trying hard to make sure that Candice had everything she needed. At no point did I get the feeling that Candice or her mother in danger of not having food, clothing, or security. There are a couple of things that she and her mother are doing without for the summer, but it seemed more “tighten the budget” than “financial tailspin”. To start inviting Candice over to eat or buying her clothes simply on what we see happening seemed like a ridiculous overreaction. Or maybe I just misinterpreted these actions?

  9. Alright, I threw a hissy fit in another thread, about including JUST LIKE JACKIE, so I suppose it’s time to lay out my cards…

    The strength of this book is Robbie’s voice. Everything Steven summarized about her is what I loved about her. She’s tough and angry and fierce. I liked how her actions seemed stubbornly justifiable to her but the reader got snippets of just how much damage some of her actions truly brought others, primarily her grandpa, Harold, and classmates. She’s aware of her shortcomings but lacks the ability to control her emotions and I think this rings true of many kids and Stoddard captures it nicely in Robbie’s voice.

    “I don’t know what my core is made of except maybe Grandpa’s one-quarter, but it’s not all syrupy sweet, that’s for sure. It’s not like the center of a perfect sugar maple. It’s tight like a knotted piece of firewood, gnarled and hard to chop through.”

    I loved how Robbie’s narrative is filled with figurative language that is true to her character. It feels more natural and organic this way. It’s writerly, but doesn’t come off as writerly or tacked on for literary sake. It feels authentic… She loves baseball, working on cars, and collecting sap from trees to make syrup. This is her world and it’s evident in the way she thinks through problems and relates to situations.

    When she’s watching Alex the bully break down: “I want to laugh and point and say Who’s tough now? but all I can do is stare because it’s like watching a high-class, fully loaded BMW break down literally right in front of you. Lost brakes, locked steering wheel, wild swerving, and flat tires on wobbly rims. It’s pathetic.”

    When Robbie struggles with deciding whether or not to come clean about her troubles taking care of her grandpa or not: “I want to tell Harold about how Grandpa wandered away Friday night and almost got lost up in the woods. And how I think Grandpa’s check engine light is on and I don’t know how to figure out what’s wrong. But I hope it’s something as easy as a missing gap cap. And that we can get a new one, on the house, and drive off all fixed.”

    I think this book approaches “issues” in a way that doesn’t feel didactic and I appreciated that about it. Unlike HEY, KIDDO where Ja is raised by grandparents in a chaotic, but loving way, Robbie’s upbringing with her grandparent is completely different in the sense that she’s the caretaker. Interesting spin. Harold and Paul’s relationship doesn’t seem to feel forced into the story and there’s some nice closure to the bullying subplot as well.

    I thought details like harvesting sap from the trees made the Vermont setting feel realized. The plot doesn’t meander. I thought the subplot of the family tree assignment was a nice inclusion and fitting given Robbie’s situation with her grandpa. All in all, I just really thought this was a tightly constructed book with a lot of heart and a great voice. My personal favorite of the year!

    • I finished JACKIE today and I agree with Mr. H’s description and arguments as to why it’s a very strong book. Delineation of character in particular was a strength, and the setting is also done well. Robbie handled the situations in very believable ways for a girl her age with anger issues and dread of being taken away from her only family member, and as Alys says, her perceptions were true to her age and character, even if an adult reading the book will pick up on things that Robbie won’t. Her relationships with others like Derek, Harold, baby May, and Ms. Gloria were nicely drawn, and none of the characters seemed two-dimensional.

  10. In THE PARKER INHERITANCE, one storyline that I found unique was the multi-racial character who chose to “pass for white” in the time before civil rights laws were enacted. I had not seen many children’s books explore the
    reasons for or consequences of that decision. The same issue is explored in the recently published TWO ROADS.
    I would not expect that contemporary multi-racial individuals would make this choice so the storylines can only appear in historical fiction.

  11. JUST LIKE JACKIE reminded me a lot of the book PICTURES OF HOLLIS WOODS, which received a Newbery Honor. They both had strong female characters and dealt with a caregiver struggling with memory loss. Did anyone else make the comparison?

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