Follow This Blog: RSS feed
Heavy Medal: A Mock Newbery Blog
Inside Heavy Medal

Best Books of the Year Lists

dactyl hillAs we  continue to get December nominations from Heavy Medal readers, it’s also the time of year when we see Best of the Year lists coming out from journals.  So far we’ve seen lists from School Library Journal, Publisher’s Weekly, and Kirkus, as well as the New York Public Library.  Horn Book and Booklist should be out soon (if we’ve missed them let us know).

The Newbery Committee has a very different task than the creators of these lists, of course. The Terms and Criteria strictly determine what constitutes “the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children,” though as we see every year on this blog, and in the Committee choices, those criteria are certainly open to some interpretation.  The journals, on the other hand, are compiling large lists, usually unranked, representing a broad spectrum of books. It’s very possible that a book could appear on several “Best of” lists, by landing in everyone’s top 15 or 20, but at the same time not stand out enough to make anyone’s top 5.

So the “Best Books of the Year” lists don’t necessarily provide insight into a process devoted to finding the single best book of the year. Still, it’s always interesting to look at what shows up on the lists, and maybe even a little more interesting to see what doesn’t. We’re still waiting for more Best of the Year lists and our HM December Nominations are still in progress, but here are a few notable results seen when comparing the two:

5 books that have a high number of nominations here and also showed up on at least 3 of the 4 lists:

Front Desk

Parker Inheritance

Journey of Little Charlie

Truth as Told by Mason Buttle

Assassination of Brangwain Spurge

Of these five, Front Desk and Parker Inheritance made all four Best of the Year lists.


 5 books with lots of Heavy Medal nominations did not show up on any of the 4 lists so far:

Just Like Jackie

Louisiana’s Way Home

Snow Lane

Ghost Boys


Kind of surprising to see two past Medal winners (Kwame Alexander and Kate DiCamillo) in this bunch.


5 books that have received no Heavy Medal nominations and appeared on at least two Best of the Year lists:

Dactyl Hill Squad by Older

Facing Frederick by Bolden

Jabberwalking by Herrera

Love Sugar Magic by Meriano

Triumphant Tale of the House Sparrow by Thornhill

Of these, I’ve only read Facing Frederick, which was very good, and Jabberwalking, which was unique and creative but I’m still not sure what to make of it.

Feel free to share any thoughts about the Best of the Year lists below.  And we’ll post links when we learn about more lists being released.

A note from Roxanne — some of the accounting might not be entirely accurate. Please comment if you see errors!

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. (Includes Rebound and Louisiana’s Way Home:)

  2. I was super surprised seeing Dactyl Hill Squad making three lists: NYPL, SLJ, PW. I thought the book inventive with exciting alternative history and the fantastic elements, but the plotting did not maintain my full interest & attention. I was also very curious about how readers (young and old) would react to the almost callous depiction (and not a lot of follow-up) of the lynching of the custodian early on in the story. What do others think?

    • Julie Corsaro says:

      I thought the lynching in Dactyl Hill Squad was handled well since readers are only confronted with the custodian’s hanging legs. I found the racial violence all the more powerful for not being more explicit.

      • Thanks for this view. Do you think young readers (10/11 years old, or even younger) would understand that scene without help? If they do, what would they be envisioning in their mind? If they don’t, what is the additional information needed to support the understanding of the horror of that scene?

    • I didn’t find the depiction of the lynching to be callous, I thought it was in keeping with the target audience and the tone of the book. Magdalys thinks with sadness about the custodian several times throughout the book, so it’s not just shrugged off or dropped completely. At the same time, she’s also dealing with many catastrophes and missing, possibly dead, acquaintances. It doesn’t surprise me that her emotional state is overwhelmed. I think the author did the best he could to both keep the incident within the context of the worldbuilding and make it clearly upsetting to the main character, but also not create a book about grief instead of a book about plucky orphans spying, flying on dinosaurs and blowing up ships.

      I’m glad (well, glad isn’t the right word, but I don’t know how else to say it) that the custodian was lynched specifically and not just killed in some random way, because it does create an opportunity for discussion. But depending on the reader, it might have a different impact. I think as an adult I reacted more strongly to that scene because I have background knowledge and understood the death in a larger context. For me it resonated in a way that a more generic “there was a battle and people died in the battle” would not have done. If I’d been reading this at age nine I wouldn’t have had that historical context, and I suspect that I would’ve been almost expecting to see someone that the main character (but not myself as the reader) cared about taking damage or dying because that’s such a part of the way authors can raise the stakes in adventure books containing large battles. It’s one of the reasons that Bridge to Terebithia was such a sucker punch to me as a kid, because I’d read so many books where death was part of a sacrifice to save others (as it is here for the custodian) that a senseless accident, especially one with a character the reader had heavily invested in, was outside my reading experience. Part of that is my privilege as a white child in the ’80s whose family did not have to have conversations about lynching as a third grader, of course.

      • Julie Corsaro says:

        I agree with what you say, Alys. I don’t think it’s a perfect book, by any means (I had a hard time keeping track of the characters), but I loved the propulsive tone and the combination of the colloquial with the literary. I also found the premise (activist orphans riding on the backs of pterodactyls in Civil War-era New York) delightful, and can’t imagine that many kids won’t like the book. To Roxanne’s initial point, I admit that I was initially taken aback by the violence and think the lynching will be over the heads of some readers. But there is space for them to contemplate its meaning. Furthermore, I am committed to children having the freedom to read without an adult standing over their shoulder. One of the most resonant things for me about Tara Westover’s Educated is when she talks about reading one of the few books that her crazy dad owned and how they were way over her head. But it was important for her to have that exposure and experience so she would one day understand the ideas in those books.

  3. Julie Corsaro says:
    • Thanks for the links! I did look at the Washington Post one and thought perhaps we’ll stick with selections by librarians and reviewers who have read a larger swatch of 2018 output for this post.
      There are also the newly released Kirkus Teen lists ( and Horn Book Fanfare (as Monica pointed out). More lists are coming out every day, such as the Blue Ribbon from The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books or the LA Times best books of the year lists. The varied results just to show the richness and diverse opinions of our field. So glad to see so many titles/authors/illustrators are recognized widely.

      • Julie Corsaro says:

        That’s fine, Roxanne. But I do want to point out that the three reviewers for the Washington Post do read all year long and have monthly review columns published in the Post (their selections follow Jason Reynolds). In addition, one of them is a longtime ALSC member and collection development librarian for a large public library system.

      • Julie – thanks for pointing that out. My ignorance! Now I know.

  4. I was surprised to see IT WASN’T ME on PW’s best of list. I hadn’t heard anything about that one at all. I checked it out and I’m going to see how I like it. Have any of you read it?

  5. Book Page gave JUST LIKE JACKIE some love on their “Best Of 2018” list…

  6. Debbie Reese says:

Speak Your Mind