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

And the Heavy Medal Award Winner Is…. (not yet)

HMACLast night, all 17 members of the Heavy Medal Award Committee cast our votes for the first time.  And we have not yet selected a winner.

Here are the guidelines to determine a winning title.

A. Each member must cast three separate votes.  One each for First Place, Second Place, and Third Place.

B. A First Place vote equals 4 points, a Second Place vote equals 3 points, a Third Place vote equals 2 points.

C. In order to win – A book must receive more than half of the committee’s First Place votes – in our case, 9 First Place votes — AND the book must have a 9-point lead over the second highest point title.

D. Any title not receiving a vote is off the table for further discussion.

15 out of the 18 titles received at least one vote.  So only three titles are OFF the table: The Girl Who Drew Butterflies, The Parker Inheritance, and The Prince and the Dressmaker.

No title has received more than 4 First Place votes.  Here’s our result in votes, then points, order as of Thursday morning.  We will open the discussion right here right now and HMAC members must spend some time discussing these titles before re-balloting (this afternoon) and spectators are welcome to weigh in.   Although the final goal for the discussion is for members to come to consensus, the discussion MUST continue to center on literary qualities according to the terms and criteria and not just telling each other which titles to drop or how to vote in the next round.  However, there should be now definitely an added layer of purpose: either persuading others or being persuaded by your fellow members by even more deeply examining each title.

Let the Discussion Begin! (Again)

[Louisiana’s Way Home] – (7 members voted for this title)
4 First Place votes; 1 Second Place vote; 2 Third Place votes = 23 points

[The Book of Boy] – (6)
3 First Place votes; 1 Second Place vote; 2 Third Place vote = 19 points

[Hey, Kiddo] – (5)
3 First Place votes; 2 Second Place votes = 18 points

[The Assassination of Brangwain Spurge] = (6)
2 First Place votes; 2 Second Place votes; 2 Third Place votes = 18 points

[Sweep] (5)
2 First Place votes; 3 Third Place votes = 14 points

[The Faithful Spy] (3)
1 First Place vote; 2 Third Place votes = 8 points

[The Journey of Little Charlie] (3)
1 First Place vote; 1 Second Place Vote; 1 Third Place votes = 9 points

[Just Like Jackie] (1)
1 First Place vote = 4 points

[The Poet X] (4)
3 Second Place votes; 1 Third Place vote = 11 points

[Snow Lane] (4)
2 Second Place votes; 2 Third Place votes = 10 points

[Front Desk] (2)
2 Second Place votes = 6 points

[Small Spaces] (2)
2 Second Place votes = 6 points

[The Night Diary] (1)
1 Second Place vote = 3 points

[A House That Once Was] (1)
1 Third Place vote = 2 points

[The Season of Styx Malone] (1)
1 Third Place vote = 2 points



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. Cherylynn5691 says:

    Louisiana’s Way Home is a book that I have trouble seeing as distinguished because I feel that we are rewarding an author because we like the way this author does the same thing that is already part of current literature that was written in the past. I am more excited about the books that are a little more unique. The assassination of Brangwain Spurge or Front Desk have more unique properties

    • While I admit that Louisiana is not the book of my heart, every time I tried to make a coherent argument against it my quest for the evidence of less-than-distinguished content led (frustratingly for me) to notice that the evidence I was sure was there…actually wasn’t. This discussion forced me to recognize that the things I disliked about the book were intentional.

      The charge is to find things that are distinguished, not things that are unique (and that’s even before we recognize that we have to compare the work only to what else is published this year. While it may not be a huge departure from the author’s previous work, it is distinct from the other books published this year.) I’d argue that very few winners or honors over the years have been outstandingly unique. I understand why you describe Brangwain Spurge as unique, but I’d like to hear your arguments for why Front Desk is unique when viewed in the context of realistic/historical fiction. I loved Front Desk, but I didn’t see it as outstandingly unique.

      • I’ve been a fan of Louisiana since the word go, and I think our rich discussion about most of the titles really brings to light the true challenge Newbery committees have every year: how do you parse out which books are most distinguished? Every year for the past 10+ years, I idly make predictions (and then cheer or act indignant if ones I love win/lose) but this process – even though it’s all been online – has changed my perception. How on earth does the committee tackles this monumental task? How will we ever reach concession?

        For example: Book of Boy I really liked, but I didn’t think it was particularly distinguished. Now, I’m not so sure. Our discussion changed my perception. I quite liked Front Desk. Despite the messy ending, I think it’s a book that many children will connect with it. Does that make it distinguished? I have no idea. I really don’t.

        Here’s what I do know: the books I vote for today might not be the same ones I voted for last night.

    • DaNae C Leu says:

      BRANGWAIN got one of my votes, not one I was expecting to give, but at the end of the day, I feel it brought something new to the cannon. I don’t know that it will have as broad an audience but there are certain readers who will appreciate it immensely.

    • Cherylynn, I see what you are saying about Louisiana — however, that is one argument that we would actually have to “lock” in an invisible safe and cannot consider as a committee. In our terms and criteria, innovation, freshness, uniqueness, etc. are not part of the literary quality consideration. (If that’s the case, many traditionally formatted historical fiction titles would not have won so many times through the years.) If the book as it stands is of high literary quality — regardless of the author’s past achievements or records, we have to discuss it accordingly. I hope you and the rest of the committee would accept this.

    • Cherylynn, I wrestle with this very same thing regarding LOUISIANA.

      On one hand, I wonder how much of DiCamillo’s previous work plays a part in our subconscious analysis of the book. When I read the definition of “distinguished” writing in the criteria, I go both ways. On one hand, DiCamillo’s voice is definitely unique which makes the work “individually distinct” but then I read “significant achievement” and wonder if DiCamillo sounding like DiCamillo is really that significant of an achievement.

      On the other hand, there are certainly distinguished examples of plotting and sentence level writing within the book though. I think all that’s been written about Louisiana’s hunger was masterfully done. I also think Granny’s final letter to Louisiana was beautiful in a cryptic, symbolic way.

      • Courtney Hague says:

        I am going to admit to something shameful here… I actually haven’t read very much DiCamillo. I didn’t get to Raymie Nightingale last year and other than reading Flora & Ulysses, I’m not sure I’ve read much else of hers. (I should probably hand in my Children’s Librarian badge over that).

        So, with that said, I think that I can safely say that her previous works do not really subconsciously effect my analysis of her works. I definitely thought the tone and themes as well as the characters in Louisiana’s Way Home were distinguished.

      • I’m feeling the same way about LOUISIANA. I really love her voice and the quirky feel of the read. I don’t, however, see anything necessarily distinguished in the characters/setting. Then comes the plotting and dialogue, as you mentioned. It’s just so good.

      • Courtney, I teach 5th grade and DiCamillo has always been heavily covered and introduced at 4th grade in my school. Therefore, like you, I’m sad to say I’ve never read WINN-DIXIE, or TIGER RISING, or EDWARD TULANE! You are not alone!

        I am planning on reading all of them this summer, and get caught up!

    • Leonard Kim says:

      Sorry to distract as a non-committee member on procedural issues. I definitely think Roxanne should act as “chair” and set the procedures. But I wanted to point out that the Newbery Manual seems to suggest this is done on a per committee basis, and so how this Committee chooses to operate should not necessarily be assumed to be the way all Committees operate. For example, I I do not believe the Newbery Manual explicitly prohibits revealing how one voted during discussion, but of course it’s easy to see committees agreeing not to, whether explicitly or implicitly.

      Similarly, on questions of interpreting the Terms and Criteria, I could imagine different chairs offering different kinds of guidance. I’ve argued in the past that the language, “committee members need to consider the following” does not, to me, mean committees are prohibited from considering any other thing that might pertain to literary quality (such as innovation, freshness, uniqueness) unless explicitly prohibited (didactic content, popularity). And we’ve even seen Steven and Roxanne disagree on the interpretation of “individually distinct.”

      • Leonard, you’re probably right that some Committees or Committee members might decide that innovation and freshness are parts of something distinguished – especially when compared against other books of the same year. However, I also believe that personal experiences with an author’s past work should never come into consideration — because, as we already saw, that we simply couldn’t expect/demand the entire committee to share that same “knowledge base.”

        As to voting on which titles… it is true that the Manual does not specify the voting is secretive. My various experiences on ALSC/YALSA award committees had always been that the voting is a confidential process. I think the reason for that is so we then would keep our focus on discussing the books themselves and not on how to persuade which Committee members to change their minds. Does that make sense to you?

  2. I have to admit, I thought there would be a little bit more consensus than this! My second observation is that two of the ones that nobody on the committee nominated (THE PRINCE AND THE DRESSMAKER and THE PARKER INHERITANCE) didn’t get any votes.

    I’d like to make a case for THE BOOK OF BOY as a book to consider building consensus around. When we discussed it before, the writing, the setting/world-building, the quest, and of course the reveal were all praised as distinguished and fresh. I also think it is a book that benefits from a re-read as you watch the way that Murdock drops clues and unfolds the story. The writing is, to me, the strongest and loveliest of the books we considered. The realistic setting, the magical quest, and the protagonist reveal made it stand out in a very strong year.

    • DaNae C Leu says:

      While I agree BOOK OF BOY is beautiful, I do feel it appeals more to adult sensibilities. I keep having students return it unread.

      I agree with Roxanne, that SWEEP needs a closer look, outside of the concerns that may have closed the door on much of the discussion, the main objection to it was raised by Leonard who felt it may be too kid-friendly? I don’t think that detracts from distinction. I was happy to see BLACK PANTHER included on this year’s best picture list. A book can be fun and dynamic, even a bit predictable and still be a complete package of perfection. Some felt the pacing dragged. I appreciated the breaks to build character and relationships and feels it shows great respect for child readers.

      • I’m not sure I agree Book of Boy it isn’t kid-friendly. This is exactly the sort of thing I’d have read over and over when I was a kid – though I admit that I haven’t tried it out on any actual kids yet. I suspect that Mock Newbery programs are driving up circulation, because every time I get ready to booktalk it, it’s checked out. Back to talking about re-reading, I think it does reward multiple reads, as we see how the author placed all of the various elements together.

        Since we are moving towards comparing books – several of our books have something about them that is either a straight up plot-twist (Small Spaces, Book of Boy) or otherwise something of a surprise (Snow Lane). We could discuss how effectively the author used foreshadowing and subtle clues to lay the groundwork for the surprise. I’d argue that the most distinguished use of clues was in Snow Lane, but Book of Boy was not far behind, even if it was a little more obvious.

      • Alys, I am inclined to agree with you, even though I gasped when it was revealed what Boy’s hump was.

        However, I think the intentionality behind the clues in Snow Lane – and then the gutwrenching twist – sets it apart from Boy. If it were to come down to those two, I’d throw my vote over to Snow Lane. Plus, I think I liked the language and plotting of Snow Lane more – and perhaps it had a more timely message, too.

      • Alys, there are also very many “reveal” moments in Sweep that are done well: Char’s transformation, the Attic of growing things, Ms. Bloom’s somewhat hidden identity, etc. None of this is the “ah-ha” kind of reveals but they keep the readers going and anticipating of more surprises down the road (which there are plenty — both happy and very sad.)

        I find the twists in Small Spaces forced. My rule of thumb of evaluating very different books is to think each book as how well it’s done in its own genre — and as a horror and a book about dealing with deaths/losses, Small Spaces isn’t truly outstanding. (I was also quite disappointed at not enough emphasis or depiction of the importance of “Small Spaces” throughout the story.)

      • Leonard Kim says:

        DaNae, though I didn’t specify, Black Panther was *exactly* what I was thinking about when I was writing about SWEEP. If Black Panther were to win, those who think the Oscars already have an out-of-touch credibility problem will celebrate, but others will bemoan what they see as sacrificing quality for popularity. Certainly in some circles, the Newbery suffers from the same perception of being out-of-touch with its audience, and that’s why I said, from that standpoint, SWEEP might be a perfect choice, even though I for one don’t think it’s the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children. It just comes down to what kind of award you think the Newbery should be.

      • Isn’t popular kid appeal one of the things we’re specifically not allowed to consider? Although I am curious if they’ve given you any particular reasons they didn’t get into it. It’s so action packed that I find that surprising!

      • In Book of Boy one can turn to any page and find beautiful, pithy, delicious writing. The author’s skill with the language is there shining all over the place. That’s a big part of the definition of ‘distinguished ‘ for me.

      • Since I had to write it up, SNOW LANE is the one I have spent the most time analyzing, but I agree with you all that its reveal packs a powerful punch and that it is masterfully plotted. I find it a little bit hard to compare BOY’s reveal with SNOW LANE’s reveal since one was a joyful surprise (at least to this reader) and one was, as Joe says, gutwrenching. I agree with Roxanne that the “small spaces” theme didn’t carry out as strongly as I would have liked in that book.

      • I like both very much, but I think both the writing and plotting in book of boy are just perfect. But I think both are excellent in snow lane too.

    • Interesting process observation, Kari!

  3. Cherylynn5691 says:

    Front Desk was different from several other books about the immigrant experience in the number of different experiences that it told. Each visitor to the hotel had a slightly different story. I personally am not aware of a story where a child helps in the running of a hotel.

    • I don’t think I mentioned this before – I thought that part of FRONT DESK was very realistic – there was an immigrant family who owned a motel in my small rural NC town when I was growing up and I know the kids helped out! I also know of a family now where the children help out at a restaurant owned by the family. My family’s story is not one of recent immigration, but my dad was a small business owner and we were struggling to make ends meet, so my brother and I helped out when we were kids and young adults. I liked that part of the story quite a bit. Of course we know it’s based on her real life but I thought it portrayed something realistic that I enjoyed. I don’t know that that made it distinguished or even necessarily unique but it did feel like something I was happy to see in a book.

      • I agree with you, Kari. Yang makes each visitor to the motel feel as fully realized as Mia. You get sketches of lives beyond the walls of the motel that fill in experiences that immigrants can face in this country. That’s a powerful and, quite frankly, difficult task to conquer.

        I still think the ending is messy and a bit gimmicky, but all that comes before it is powerful.

      • I thought FRONT DESK was well written for the most part, but everything led toward the ending, which did not work well. I also thought the protagonist’s writing did not feel authentic.

      • Joe, I agree. The Most Distinguished book of the year for children’s shouldn’t have an ending that feels gimmicky or contrived. I also agree with you, Mary, the writing felt flat to me throughout.

      • Sorry, Mary. I was hasty in this response this morning.
        I found the writing in the book flat, and agree with you that Mia’s own writing didn’t feel probable.

    • FRONT DESK still stands as a strong contender for me. I agree with the points made about the glimpse of a unique portion of immigrant life regarding hotel living, as well as the quirky characters that each had their own stories to tell. I think Mia was such a strong character, but after a reread of the ending, I do agree with Joe and Mary’s points about the flaws.

  4. Deborah Ford says:

    Though ASSASSINATION is certainly distinguished in this year’s field of contenders, I go back to our conversation about “without the illustrations.” If we are considering only text, doesn’t taking away Yelchin’s contribution, lessen the story?

    • I don’t believe we are taking away the illustrations from our discussions. The book should definitely be taken as a whole — the two authors definitely collaborated and the scenes and sensibilities conveyed via all the illustrations serve as cohesive parts of the telling of complete story. We will be awarding the medal to two authors, I believe, if we pick this title.

    • I actually think the distinguished elements of BRANGWAIN can all be found within the text, without even including the illustrations. The illustrations help serve the book’s central theme and purpose (so there’s that) but I think most of the plot points that the illustrations depict are all explained in the text. I actually didn’t realize that the illustrations were inaccurate depictions of the goblin land until Werfel reveals that to us.

      I didn’t vote for BRANGWAIN, but could see myself doing so…

  5. Deborah Ford says:

    I also agree to rethink Sweep. After reading Monica’s comments and also the Jewish Book Council in NY (thanks Lisa), I wonder if many of us may have taken it off its pedestal after reading Sarah H’s viewpoint. Religion is certainly personal, so your perspective can be altered, depending on your lens.

    As a story, it wraps up history with a spoonful of sugar (sorry, I couldn’t resist) while adding a dose of Jewish culture/religion/folklore. It’s a different kind of 12yo orphan story. It’s Oliver Twist meets Clara and the Shirtwaist Makers. There’s plot tension, characterization of multiple characters.

    And wait– I didn’t even vote for Sweep. (but I hadn’t thought through Monica and Lisa’s comments before voting.)

    • I agree, Deborah. I think new light has been brought to Sweep, and we should consider its merits and what it would bring to the canon. I appreciate Sarah’s insight, as well as Monica’s and Lisa’s, because they collectively allow us to see the book from multiple perspectives. Like all great literature, the enjoyment (or unenjoyment, if I may invent a word) stems from reader experience and reader lens.

      Just like The Parker Inheritance – two LGBTQ-identifying people on this committee interpreted that book’s LGBTQ themes in two completely different ways – and, happily, neither of us is wrong. We’re informed by our own experiences and our own desires to authentic representation. Though, I’d argue, what’s authentic to me isn’t necessarily authentic to, say, my husband. Or my non-binary cousin. Or any one of my queer friends.

      I’m grateful that we can have these conversations and feel safe in expressing those opinions here on this platform.

  6. Deborah Ford says:

    My problem with FRONT DESK (though I loved it and am so happy for its success) is the ending. The logistics and logicality of finances in the purchase of the motel seem unbelievable. It’s the early 1990s. No internet or cell phones. Mailing and receiving of letters takes time which they don’t have.

    I have a similar problem with LITTLE CHARLIE. He seems to have transformed when he saves Syl, but it doesn’t carry over to the parents. Saving them seems last minute (or Hail Mary), as if I missed a chapter.

    • Yes, I have to say that the ending was a dealbreaker for me when it came to FRONT DESK. I appreciated the defenses of it but I felt it took away from the story’s overall impact.

    • I don’t actually think there is a “transformation” of Little Charlie — which is what I think Curtis is so great at creating. Little Charlie is a kind and gentle soul. He’s also an ill-informed, naive young person. His behaviors are in accordance to how his “heart” (which is both his conscience and the society he lives in) tells him to do at any given moment. The defiance against Captain comes under extremely intense circumstance and he made an almost snap decision which resulted in “saving Syl.” He didn’t suddenly become an abolitionist.

      • Deborah Ford says:

        Hmm. That makes sense. Maybe it’s just me that assumes he has had a transformation. If so, then what is the catalyst for his decision to save the parents? The chains? The proximity of a boat?

      • Then what is the character arc if he’s not changing? He makes a whole big thing about him finally realizing black people are real people when he sees Syl in love and that’s what makes him want to help him. That’s well before the moment he finally actually does help him, so I don’t see how that can be a snap decision under pressure. I think there’s supposed to be a transformation, it’s just not that well done. Because even if you go with him not transforming that doesn’t explain why he goes to take Syl’s parents back to slavery. He feels bad for them and has no reason that he needs to do it and hasn’t wanted to return anyone to slavery all along. So what’s his motivation at that point?

      • I’m SO wrong… so sorry. Charlie totally set Syl’s parents free. So there is a huge transformation. This teaches one to consult the actual book on hand! He DID become someone who is willing to risk his own safety in helping others.

      • Oh good, I was very confused! For me the problem though is he goes back and forth so much in his evolution and still goes to return the parents after he’s had his transformation (before then transforming again). And that he did start out as a kind person, as you said, and also not particularly pro-slavery, so it’s not a very drastic transformation internally.

  7. This is going to be hard to keep up with today!

    About FRONT DESK… the ending is a problem for me. Plain and simple. Too much suspension of disbelief. Furthermore, while I think FRONT DESK told a great story (up until the ending), the sentence level writing didn’t jump off the page to me as distinguished. I would need to see examples to convince me.

    I’m not sure I agree with the argument that it’s distinguished simply because we’ve never had a book about an immigrant kid running a hotel. For that matter, we’ve never had a book about a black grandfather with Alzheimer’s and his white granddaughter either. By that account, JUST LIKE JACKIE is highly distinguished too (I promise, I’ll move on now…)

    • What about an angel? Have we had a story about an angel who didn’t know they were an angel before??? 🙂

    • Agree, Mr. H. The sentence level writing in Front Desk is not at Distinguished level. It has other fine qualities, but is not Newbery material.

  8. My issues with LOUISIANA’S WAY HOME feel like minor quibbles, but they were enough for me that I never felt fully invested in the story.
    I don’t think Granny would be that understandable after having all of her teeth removed.
    I don’t think a family would swoop in and adopt a strange child with no warning and no serious discussion (see the conversation in STYX MALONE).
    The timeline did not make sense to me. I kept thinking she had already missed the funeral when it hadn’t happened yet.
    As I said, none are major, but they kept the book from working for me.

  9. Cherylynn5691 says:

    My problem with the Book of Boy is calling Boy an angel. It does not fit my religious definition of an angel.

    • Did we already unpack this in the previous discussion? How was the issue resolved? Sorry for being foggy on this.

      • Also, trying to figure out how it affects the book’s literary qualities. In my mind, I might treat this similarly to the considerations of thematic presentation: not so worried about what the theme of a book is but how the theme is presented. I’d love some clarification: Is there a singular definition of Angel in the medieval times? Is there room for creative or alternate understanding of angels within the context of this book? Or does it break trust between author and readers (which readers) because of it?

      • Boy seems to be based on paintings of angels as cherubic with wings The Bible never describes them that way, which is where some people get upset. But clearly many people have believed that or we wouldn’t have all the paintings! (Or even modern comments about a kid looking angelic, etc.) Boy’s lack of sex does always make me think of the verse about there being no marrying in heaven, that we will be like the angels. But could also just come from paintings, I’m sure.

    • But that doesn’t really have anything to do with it’s literary merit, does it? Particularly as it’s not trying to portray any particular religious tradition accurately. It’s creating its own fanasty world loosely based in the folklife of medieval Christian culture.

      • I’m a Christian and I liked Boy being an angel. I thought it was a clever reference to the verse that talks about entertaining strangers for you could possibly be entertaining angels unaware. That verse is usually talking about the host but I thought in this case it was referring to the guest also being unaware that they are an angel. 🙂

      • I like that!

  10. I just wanted to chime in a little bit about the Season of Styx Malone. I see it as one of those sleeps novels that could easily be missed or overlooked. Something about this book just feels “distinguished” to me in a way that feels fresh and important for young readers.

    From Styx’s characterizations of smoking fake cigarettes, losing his “sister”, wanting the attention of our two main brothers (Bobby Gean and Caleb). He feels like a character that is emotionally flawed, yet someone you want to know.

    I love first lines and think “distinguished” novels can make that line resonant throughout the entire story. Magoon does such a powerful job of this with “Styx Malone didn’t believe in miracles, but he was one.” (The ending and the scrunched license plate spelling miracles harkens back to this line)

    This theme of not believing you’re a miracle also resonates with Caleb’s overall journey for wanting to be more than “ordinary” even if he can’t vocalize what that means.

    As a story, I would say this is “distinguished” in a way that feels timeless to me. A book that I would want to give to all the readers.

    • Deborah Ford says:

      Good point TJ. It also took a bit for me to realize that that Caleb thought extra-ordinary meant more ordinary. I saw it after multiple readings. (Maybe I need to slow down more when I read.)

    • Thank you for this – I hope more people will chime in about STYX.

    • I’m still bothered by the way the story unfolds in Styx and would love for a supporter of the story to set me right…

      Throughout the story we’re led to believe that Styx is extraordinary. He’s a miracle. He’s a smooth talker that is going to introduce Caleb and Bobby Gene to a world outside of their own. To some extent, he does this with the train ride. He also helps Caleb find his voice and talk his father into leaving the house. But it’s the Escalator Trade that I can’t wrap my head around. Maybe it’s that I was expecting something bigger, more thought out, well planned. I was fully expecting Styx to know from the beginning what he was going to trade for what, and then what he was going to trade for what, and then what he was going to trade for what in order to get the moped. It’s why he tells that story of the Escalator Trade.

      But then in the end, he really only gets them a motor and that’s only because it’s the house of a former guardian. Smooth talking Styx really has NO ideas about how to get the moped. It ends up being Caleb that comes up with the suggestion of the Harley Davidson memorabilia and that doesn’t even present itself as an option until long after Styx has them talked into working up to an Escalator Trade. So, what was Styx’s plan all along? I guess what was it all for? What’s the meaning in all this?

      I guess I agree with Katrina (I believe it was Katrina) who made the point in the thread about STYX, that for all the hype and buildup, I didn’t really find that particular summer to be anything more extraordinary than your typical realistic fiction fare.

      • That’s a good point about Styx not knowing what he was doing! I would agree that he doesn’t, but I think that is the point. Styx is a miracle in that he’s this person that opens the world up for Caleb and Bobby Gean. Both boys are able to open up in ways that they couldn’t before.

        The summer is a shift into what could be. I can’t remember the last line right now, but I think it involved something about being the beginning or that there’s more journeys to come?? Maybe I’m wrong.

        As for the Escalator Trade, I do think it isn’t meant to be this whole “Styx knows everything.” I think the point is that Styx is also a young kid. He hasn’t really had a stable home life or background. He feels at a lose. The fact that he knows how to take the train to autonomy shop of his previous foster dad shows how vulnerable Styx is. He’s trying to find connection. He’s trying to do so with these boys, with visiting his previous foster home that he didn’t understand why he had to leave. Nothing feels stable to him.

        I also really like that the escalator trade falls apart because I think as a story, it’s cool to imagine a paperclip turning into a house, but is that actually possible. Would there be holes in this scenario? And it turns out there are.

        It’s also important that it IS Caleb who solves the issue in the end. He helps figure things out.

        Styx, for me, is a miracle because he creates hope and provides discovery for these kids. He’s imperfect, wants love, is searching for his place. He finds it with the help of these boys, and I think in the end Caleb and his brother are miracles too.

        I also think taking a look at line level things we might notice some of the “distinguished” nature of the prose as well, but I don’t currently have the book with me haha.

      • It may not be extraordinary compared to other books, but for a real kid, those adventures would be completely out of the ordinary, the sort of stories you’re telling for the rest of your life. (Jumping a train! Making all those trades!) Styx is a miracle, in more ways than one. He’s a miracle to Caleb because he helps Caleb to get a taste of the world, and because he’s meaningful to Caleb. But he’s also a miracle just because he’s himself. Everyone, no matter how ordinary, has a part to play, and is a miracle. I think part of the book is realizing that Styx can be a miracle, and still not know what he’s doing or be perfect.

      • We don’t have a reliable narrator here and I think that’s why some people love the book — unreliable narrators allow readers to make more nuanced and deeper interpretations. Styx turns out to be a young person in need of love and kindness, rather than the “heroic” legend and that is more poignant because the readers come to realize that rather than being told.

      • Mary Zdrojewski says:

        It seemed to me that Styx being ordinary and not knowing what he was doing was the point of the book.
        Caleb was looking for something extraordinary and he thought Styx had all the answers, but as the book went on he realized that Styx wasn’t more extraordinary than he was (or that they were both extraordinary in their own ways) and that he didn’t know all the answers.
        I thought this was a well-done portrayal of that moment in your middle grade years when you realize the older kids you look up to don’t actually have it all together the way you think they do.

      • Yep, that was me. I expected Styx to have more of a plan too. I still think it’s weird that the book itself hypes the summer as so extraordinary and then it’s not really. I don’t mind the point being him learning everyone is a miracle, but not sure why he’s hyping Styx as being so life changing even in telling the story in retrospect. And that he’s presented as so specific to that summer since they then have an ongoing relationship with him. But I do see what everyone is saying about the ways he is life-changing. But does it really make sense to be an unreliable narrator in past tense?

        (TJ, there actually is a guy in real life who traded a paper clip for a house.)

    • I enjoyed my read of Styx. It was quiet, but in a really nice way and Styx is a stand out character. I think many kids can find something to love about it, so I’ve been recommending it like crazy. I don’t see the distinguished nature, however. An excellent realistic fiction read, but nothing that made me feel it was different.

      • Katrina asked, “But does it really make sense to be an unreliable narrator in past tense?” To me, it definitely does — if the narrator’s intent is to faithfully document those moments in life — which I think the author did a stellar job sustaining throughout. The voice and the cast are distinct and palpable, real humans.

    • Leonard Kim says:

      Mary, I don’t think I agree with your interpretation. The book is in past tense, a reminiscence of that summer. And the book doesn’t say on page 1 or elsewhere, “when it all began, I thought Styx and that summer were going to be extraordinary but ended up more ordinary than I wanted.” Throughout the book, Styx and that summer are still presented as this amazing, special, extraordinary chapter in Caleb’s life. And I’m not sure whether Roxanne’s invocation of the unreliable narrator helps because if perhaps Caleb really does feel this way about that summer, even in retrospect, and the rest of us objectively think eh not really, I don’t know if that’s a good thing. Anyway, as I was experiencing this book, I personally felt it conveyed that Styx and the summer really were supposed to be that amazing.

      • Yes, exactly. (Thank you, Leonard, I think you explained it better than I did!)

      • Leonard — I don’t mean that Caleb is purposefully “fooling” the audience, that kind of unreliable narrator — but that we can’t rely on everything he sees/says because he has a particular viewpoint/bias and naivete.

      • Roxanne – Similar to Charlie in some ways – we know full well that we aren’t getting the full understanding of his world, because Charlie himself doesn’t have the experiences that would give him that understanding until later in the book.

  11. Deborah Ford says:

    LOUISIANA: I read hundreds of books each year for my “real job.” Without considering her past works (and if I did, I’d say this is far more distinguished than Raymie), LOUISIANA has many distinguishing qualities. Take secondary characters. No other book in 2018 has as many very different, outstanding characters. A motel owner with curlers: slowly we learn about her divorce and what makes her such a cranky pants. A boy with a crow on his shoulder who climbs trees, sits on the roof and would rather skip school than go. A walrus-mustached preacher who listens more than he advises. A terrible, food-eating, gum chewing organist. A mom who makes cakes. A granny with no teeth.
    Louisiana says: “There are the rescuers in this world and there are the rescued. I have always fallen into the second category” (page 20) She has multiple rescuers: the man who takes them to the gas station. The man who lets her have as many peanuts as she wants. Mrs. Ivy and her tin of cookies. Grandpa holds her hand and gives her his dessert.
    There’s also a plot twist. Louisiana Elephante doesn’t come from a circus family. Granny is no relation. Throughout the story we have the rise of Pinocchio. Lies are everywhere. A person you thought you could trust, well, you know. There’s the Blue Fairy who rescues her (Betty Allen)…
    And then there’s the language. It’s a book you want to read slowly, just to savor the words. (which by the way, DiCamillo reads everything she writes out loud while she writes. That’s why her works are such good audiobooks and read alouds.) Other contenders in this discussion we read slowly, but that could be their flaw: FAITHFUL SPY for miniscule font and color that makes reading difficult; LITTLE CHARLIE for dialect. We read slowly to participate in the story.
    “The day of reckoning has arrived. The hour is close at hand. We must leave immediately.” It was three a.m. [pg 2] The last sentence being in a different paragraph, causing readers to pause. Within each chapter there are breaks, indicated by three dots. After those dots, Dicamillo gives us brilliant writing:
    “And then there is the matter of the bill.” [pg 53] This also causes us to pause. Breaks within each chapter also cause us to slow down.
    Louisiana’s voice is childlike. I love her voice: “I love driving!” “And what did I do? I’ll tell you what I did.” [p24]
    And I could go on and on…

  12. There weren’t any surprises or plot twists, but while I’m thinking about the careful doling out of information, Hey Kiddo also rises to the top for me. It would have been easy to overwhelm with unnecessary details – or, alternatively, to leave out things that seem “obvious” because they were lived experiences. Krosockza carefully thought about young people’s sensibilities, and used that information to determine what information was needed and when to provide that information. While there was a lot of exposition, it never felt like an “infodump”.

    • I still feel that tone-wise, Hey, Kiddo is for much older readers than Poet X. Anyone?

      • I agree.

      • Yes, I definitely agree with you there, Roxanne.

      • Mary Zdrojewski says:

        I don’t know that I would say much older readers. Definitely both are at the upper end of Newbery range. I think upper middle school students could relate to more events in HEY KIDDO — the school author visit, the art classes, drawing comics, not having a ride somewhere. I think THE POET X had fewer situations that middle school students could relate to.

      • Deborah Ford says:

        I agree as well.

      • I personally think BOTH are too old. But yes, I agree with you. As much as I loved HEY, KIDDO, I just don’t know that it’s audience is children.

      • Mary, you said, ” I think upper middle school students could relate to more events in HEY KIDDO — the school author visit, the art classes, drawing comics, not having a ride somewhere. I think THE POET X had fewer situations that middle school students could relate to.”

        I disagree — I think her situations with being viewed as a sexual object, her will to protect loved ones, her relationships with her mother and her boyfriend as just a normal teen are all superbly relatable. While as many of Jarrett’s experiences seem very singular and specific to him. (Not that the readers won’t understand — but I don’t think many 13/14 year olds would relate.)

        I’m also not saying that being “relatable” makes any title more distinguished 🙂

  13. SAMUEL LEOPOLD says:

    I think SWEEP is being overlooked here. Though I value the opinions of others and respect their viewpoints, I feel that our discussion of the book was slanted toward appeasing the issues of certain remarks made by non-committee members—and a large portion of our Sweep discussions did not focus on all the criteria of the Newbery Medal.

    I loved the book SWEEP. I saw the plot development as flawless and beautifully paced. The quality of the writing is top-shelf and only one or two other novels on our list compare with it.

    • I 100% agree with you on this Sam. The same Susan N says above about BOOK OF BOY can be said about SWEEP. Open up to any random page and you will find highly descriptive language, oozing with period details.

      I do agree with a few others that book tends to follow a certain formula but it does it rather well and I was completely invested. I have to admit, that when Charlie brought the bird back to life, I knew the same was going to essentially happen to Nan. And knowing this ahead of time, didn’t cheapen that final moment at all for me. That’s saying something.

    • Sweep is the book I just can’t stop talking about or thinking about when I pick up another book to read. I had such a full experience with it. All kinds of emotions were felt – I cried, was angry, laughed, and just felt a contentment while reading. It has a historical background that I really enjoyed learning about, resulting in rabbit holes of Googling late at night. The pacing was perfect and the amazing sentences Auxier left me rereading many times. I just loved it.

      • Amanda, I also wound up down rabbit holes, particularly on the Children’s Protection Acts in England during that century.

      • I remember the first moment I felt engaged with Sweep. It was on page 136 (when Nan tells Charlie that the letter A makes the sound “Aaaahh” and then Charlie tries to listen to the A on the paper). Pge 136 was a long way for me to go to feel like there was something interesting in it. It really felt like a slog up to that point and beyond. Then I felt annoyed by the cinematic-feeling ending with the parade, climb up the matchstick (shades of the final battle in the movie Enchanted?). Just not something to connect with.
        Sweep had funny, sad, revelatory moments for me, but ultimately it felt pretty formulaic and sort of like a kid’s movie I’d tell my nephews to have someone else take them to.

      • “Sweep had funny, sad, revelatory moments for me, but ultimately it felt pretty formulaic and sort of like a kid’s movie I’d tell my nephews to have someone else take them to.”


        I can’t say I disagree with you at all, Susan. And though I know we aren’t supposed to discuss books from past years, but I think The War That Saved My Life is a good comparison. That ending was so pat and so Hollywood, but I remember thinking, “Usually this kind of ending would infuriate me, but Lord don’t these children deserve a happy ending?!”

        That’s kind of how I feel about Sweep. It’s a little formulaic. It feels cinematic and a bit manipulative in parts (I agree with the matchstick qualm – I might have rolled my eyes a little bit during that sequence). But on the whole, it works. And it offers the kind of ending that the characters just deserve.

      • I actually thought of the parade final scene as kind of like the strike in Newsies but maybe I just like to compare everything to Newsies.

        I personally was 100% invested in SWEEP from the first page but my husband said something similar to you after I made him read it. I was surprised that it took him so long to get into it.

      • “I actually thought of the parade final scene as kind of like the strike in Newsies but maybe I just like to compare everything to Newsies.”

        Literally choked on this sip of water I just took.

        I will admit to taking about a week to read Sweep, though I’m not sure how much of this was the pacing of the book and how much of it was the fact that I read it during Christmas week. Maybe both? Will have to think more about that.

      • Kari, I totally thought of Newsies. Which isn’t a bad thing!

      • One more element that hasn’t been spoken of, what the mishmash that became Charlie, the doll’s eye, the feather of the protected sparrows, the bit of cloth from the blanket Nan was found in. They all circle back to the scene where the Sweep is creating story soup. Eventually their back story is told in Nan’s memories, but she is not realizing what they are.

      • Oh DaNae… thank you for reminding me of this! I had completely overlooked/forgotten that in all this discussion. The Sweep had a plan all along! I loved this part.

  14. SAMUEL LEOPOLD says:

    More Concerning SWEEP….

    The character development was dynamic and strong. I can only think of a couple books on our list that were as strong in this area. The author allows us entrance into the minds and feelings of the characters in a way that is genuine and authentic.
    One example from the text of this…… page 108…..
    “Charlie had the chance to become any sort of thing he wanted. Nan looked at her own skinny legs and stained fingers and thought about how she might change herself, if she could.”
    Young readers can relate to a character struggling with these kind of thoughts—and the author makes these types of connections throughout the story and this makes it relevant to our young readers.

    I also check off the boxes for development of theme and age appropriateness. The theme is being willing to think of others as more important than yourself. This is a “humanitarian, unifying theme” that does not belong to just one religious or political group. All citizens of our world can understand this theme.

    When looking through the lens of the Newbery Criteria, I cannot see how this title does not garner a top three vote.

    • I also wanted to say more about the character development of Sweep. What was done with Roger in that small, chilling scene outside his family home was so layered. Roger did not have a life any harder than Nan’s or Newt, or Shilling Tom or Whittles, but knowing he was discarded by the people who were biologically responsible fore him, twisted him beyond repair.

      Also Toby, Without every being in his POV we can create our own images of what his day to day existence outside of the time he spends with Nan. When we first meet him, Nan is frustrated that no matter what direction she takes on a given day, he is in her way. Later, when we find out the promise he made with the sweep, that statement takes on a truckload of weight.

  15. Jessica Lee says:

    I want to talk about BRANGWAIN and art and prejudices. We all have our preferences when it comes to books – favorite genres, favorite authors, styles of writing, etc. But visual prejudices are stronger and often more emotionally powerful. I have heard librarians refer to the art in BRANGWAIN as “ugly” and not want to read it based on the cover. This is exactly where the directive that art not be considered should come into play when considering the Newbery. Theoretically, we are only swayed by the story, not by the packaging. To make it more messy, though, I would argue that in this book one aspect of the art should be considered: the storyline. While style and presentation are not to be considered, I think that the narrative strands of the illustrated pages should be considered. I know, the terms and criteria dictate, “The committee is to make its decision primarily on the text.” But I am going to tease out the intent of that a little bit. They didn’t want the award to go to mediocre writing dressed in pretty pictures. But so much of modern storytelling infuses the tale in the images; they are not just decorations. Can we consider the “story” as told in the images? This is relevant to HEY, KIDDO and any other graphic novel considered for the award. One could argue that the characters are not fully developed if only reading the text, but when taken as a whole, the characters are clearly distinct.

    To sum up, I advocate for looking at the story elements in the art as part of the text. But not being swayed by one’s visual style preferences.

    • Jessica, I see what you’re saying, but I would still want to be able to find any distinguished examples of writing in the text. I think the illustrations help tie in the theme so they definitely don’t HURT the text, but I would want to focus primarily on the distinguished characteristics of the text (characters, style, plot, setting.)

      I think BRANGWAIN is high on all of them, but plot and theme throw me a bit because of the ending. The ending was clever upon my initial read, but fell apart a bit when beginning to analyze it too much. Which is frustrating because this is a book that kind of begs to be re-read with the inconsistencies in the illustrations and clues in the story. If the ending doesn’t hold up on multiple reads, that’s a problem for me.

      I have to go back to that thread now (wasn’t that our FIRST book!) and see what people said about the ending…

  16. Alright… about SNOW LANE…

    I don’t know if another book this year (at least that I’ve read, and if I’m in this group then I could argue I’ve read some of the best offerings), is as quietly carefully plotted as SNOW LANE. Looking at Newbery Criteria…

    I think it develops its theme in a wholly original way, putting us in Annie’s shoes throughout, hiding the abuse and clutter in realistic ways. I think the reveal of these, the moment Annie begins to realize the abuse and clutter is NOT normal, showcases remarkable writing skills. I know some took issue with the ending, but having taught students like Annie, I feel as if this ending is far more realistic than some were painting it.

    The payoff also speaks to the quiet but sophisticated way the plot is developed. Annie, being the protagonist, is the character we identify with and we learn that what she may want is different from what she may need. Every event in the book paints further a portrait of this dysfunctional family in a very authentic way.

    Annie’s voice is the strongest but there is depth to the supporting cast of characters as well. Her mother, her father, her siblings… A lot of fantastic details emerged in our discussion of just how rich these characters were. Why the older siblings acted as they did and what this told us of the way they had been raised compared to the neglect Annie should have been feeling. The moment when Annie’s abuse is revealed and her older sister (the antagonist) steps in the way and takes the punches for her was such an emotional moment that revealed further depth in these characters. Even the way Annie is so willing to forgive her mother tells us so much about the mother!

    While DaNae questioned the reason for the story to take place in the 80’s, I think the setting is delineated rather vividly. The chaos of house is well felt. Their day to day work with chores, church, and school are all well detailed.

    And the style… I think the positive, hopeful, upbeat tone Annie’s voice takes on is a perfect fit for a character that doesn’t know any better than what she knows. Makes the reveals of her situation all the more powerful.

    I just think across the board, this book lacks a lot of faults.

    • SAMUEL LEOPOLD says:

      Snow Lane is one of about 6 titles now that are “recruiting” my vote. It is hard to find faults in that title…which I can also say about a few others.

      At this point, I am trying to remind myself to focus mainly on the criteria and not on what I may personally prefer or like—-sometimes that is hard to do.

      Reading and considering the excellent comments all the members are making is very helpful in helping me decide my top three.

    • I agree with all of that, Jordan.

    • I wanted to touch on the ending of SNOW LANE. I can understand why people were frustrated with it but the reality is that the goal of the foster care system is reunification of the family and Annie’s mom has made progress (although it’s not perfect). I thought it was an appropriate ending – some hope and some setbacks.

      One moment that stuck out to me as an outstanding observation was when Annie said that she and her friends had all watched the same show but they didn’t get to watch it the same way – her friends weren’t hungry, and it was quiet at their houses, etc. (I had to return my copy to the public library because someone else was on hold for it so I don’t have it here to reference the page!) I think that moment spoke volumes as far as being a realistic observation for a kid her age just starting to really see the dysfunction in her family. I also thought it was such a perceptive way to demonstrate what her house was like without having us sit through a scene. This was a short book compared to many of the others and yet little observations like that were able to explain quite a lot in just a few sentences.

      • Her thoughts as she sees Jordan’s house for the first time is pretty first rate writing as well.

      • I agree—I really liked the ending. And it was nice that it gave her agency because she made the system work outside of its norm but in the way she needed it to. And I thought the part where she says she loves her family just as much as the social worker loves hers was powerful and did a really good job illustrating the complexities of dysfunctional families.

    • I don’t disagree with this at all, Jordan. Snow Lane is rising slowly to the top for me. I consulted my book journal, and I wrote about Annie’s characterization… particularly how the reader gets the impression that she isn’t aware of what’s happening around her. But it’s in this that Angelini is masterful: Annie is *acutely* aware of her homelife being Not Okay, but her trauma is written in such a way to mask that awareness. So when the physical violence hits, we’re completely blindsided. But Annie? She isn’t. She knew it was coming. Her reaction is terrifyingly rationalized.

      I’m trying to think of a parallel, but the only one that springs to mind is a bit slipshod and messily “adult” in its approach. I’ll try to relay here, but I have the sinking feeling that I won’t be able to construct this in any suitable way. Have you ever been in a relationship that you knew wasn’t right, but you go along with it anyway? And you might have friends who are like, “Your boyfriend is [insert bland descriptor here]” and you think, “Well, they just don’t understand us!” But there’s always some laser in your brain that’s etching THIS IS WRONG over and over in your cerebral cortex? But to the rest of the world Everything Seems Fine and Everyone Is Confused Why You’re With This Not-So-Great Match. Then the relationship dissolves and you’re super-aware that you had your blinders on But Not Really? That’s how I feel about Angelini’s characterization of Annie: Annie knows how bad things are. We don’t think she knows (and we don’t think she knows that we know) but SHE DOES.

      Gosh, that reads like the ramblings of a crazy person. Sorry, everyone!

      Anyway, before I twist myself into nonsense knots that make sense to me and no one else, I’ll just state that I don’t think I’ve encountered that kind of character development in children’s literature this year. I know it’s probably been done in the past, but not this year and not on this level.

      • I am 100% with you on that characterization. I cannot think of a different way to describe what you are saying, so no help to that end, but I’m right there with you. We are blindsided by the abuse, but I never felt as if I had been tricked or misled…it was simply that Annie’s brain was protecting her (and therefore us) from the realities of what was happening. Oh gosh, now I’m back to loving SNOW LANE even more. This is quite difficult!

      • Courtney Hague says:

        Actually I think this makes a lot of sense, Joe. Her awareness of the situation is such that she knows it isn’t right but also thinks it’s just the way her family is and what is she supposed to do about it? It rang very true as far as characterization goes.

      • I do want to clarify that I am *not* equating being in an abusive household is the same as being in a “meh” or “you can do better” relationship.

        I’m just (sloppily) trying to construct a parallel where people think you don’t know that you know but you do.

        Gosh, I need to stop while I’m ahead of myself. Thanks for indulging me, Mary. 🙂

      • I agree.

  17. SAMUEL LEOPOLD says:

    And concerning SEASON OF STYX MALONE…….

    Obviously I am in the minority here,but I find the character development well done and realistic. And ,though it is unusual for 10 year old kids to hang around with a high school aged student, it is not completely weird. I have seen many times in my school where ten year old boys hung out with 9th or 10th graders.
    One of my African- American students read this book and said “Mr.Leopold, I really liked this book with African -American boy characters who were just young kids having fun. Usually they are only seen in books that focus on slavery or the civil rights movement.” What a refreshing insight from a young reader.

    I know there are several titles that are receiving more “Newbery noise”….so this could be one of those novels that quietly sneaks up on us this Monday.

    • Mary Zdrojewski says:

      I thought the situation was perfectly authentic. Younger kids love when teens let them hang around, and Styx’s character was crafted so that it wasn’t unusual at all that he would enjoy hanging out with them, too.

  18. SAMUEL LEOPOLD says:

    I am absolutely elated to see HEY KIDDO getting a lot of positive attention here. I am convinced a graphic novel will win gold one year—and Hey Kiddo would be a great way to make that happen!

  19. We will be closing comments at 2:00 p.m. EST Half an hour to go!