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Heavy Medal: A Mock Newbery Blog
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Early Heavy Medal Mock Newbery Picks and September Suggestions

We are so excited to be able to offer even more perspectives this year here at Heavy Medal!  Annisha, welcome welcome welcome!

Roxanne: Now that we’ve had been reading the many reader suggestions (more than 60 titles!), perhaps we could each pick 2 or 3 that we would love to see advance far in the 2020 HM Mock Newbery roster?  Steven, do you have some top picks and why are they your top choices?  

Steven: This has been a fascinating year because so far I haven’t read a book that reaches that “most distinguished” level we’re looking for. NEW KID is very strong in terms of plot, themes, and character…it’s just that process of evaluating the text in a graphic novel that continues to challenge me. When I re-read I hope to pay more attention to that without getting so caught up in the story. QUEEN OF THE SEA will also require another read with a notepad and the Newbery Criteria handy. A PLACE TO BELONG is my top novel so far: strong narrative voice and unique characters in a historical setting that will be new to most readers. Usually I have a handful of top nonfiction picks by now, but nothing really stands out so far.  Is that just me?  

Roxanne: Steven, I hear you.  And agree with you that NEW KID and QUEEN OF THE SEA (both Graphic Novels) are strong — and to me, it’s not difficult to consider them distinguished: both have successful character development, clear and multi-layered theme, vivid delineation of setting, etc.  I am about to read BEST FRIENDS (sequel to REAL FRIENDS) by Shannon Hale to see if I am going to champion for it again! For non-Graphic Novel titles, the ones that are most memorable for the first half of 2019 are: THIS PROMISE OF CHANGE, LINE TENDER, and HOW HIGH THE MOON, the last being probably my current top pick for the Heavy Medal Award. I eagerly anticipate much discussion around the use of multiple voices and the dark historical event lurking through the story. 

Roxanne: Annisha, you?

Annisha: It’s never easy after you have read so many books to select titles as Steven mentioned that reaches “most distinguished” level. With that being said, there are some books that I may not have considered as one of my picks until I re-read it. On my second reading, I made the decision to select THE REMARKABLE JOURNEY OF COYOTE SUNRISE. First, this book has so much heart and soul. Eccentric characters, a strong narrative voice and a genuine coming of age story that deals with grief, love and friendship. GENESIS BEGINS AGAIN deals with many issues and one that is rarely discussed in children’s literature. It is a moving, extremely powerful story that continues to stay with me. I will second Roxanne’s pick and also add HOW HIGH THE MOON. This book is one of those under the radar gems. 

Heavy Medal readers, do you agree with our personal picks at this early stage? What are your top 2 or 3 titles? And what are some new titles that everyone should pay attention to? Please let us know — and keep those suggestions coming!

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 was thinking the other day that nothing has completely blown me away (or at least captured my heart) this year, but I am excited to read a few of these I haven’t read yet! Maybe one of them will be “the one” for me this year.

  2. Meredith Burton says:

    I agree with New Kid as I listened to the audio version of the graphic novel. I was able to follow the plot without relying on the pictures. I cannot judge the pictures as I am blind, but I loved the way the book examines similarities in the older and younger generations. For instance, Jordan’s father’s interrogation of his son when he’s about to head off to school: “Got your keys? Phone? ETC., is identically exchanged between Jordan’s father and his own father later in the book. Also, the dinner Jordan has with his grandfather is profound with the symbolism of the different Chinese food items being a metaphor for making friends. Also, Jordan talks of wishing he were Batman because Batman can fit in anywhere. Just those uses of metaphor and the development of the characters is intriguing.
    I hope to read Queen of the Sea at some point if it becomes available on audio.
    I did love Genesis Begins Again, particularly how the main character took such desperate steps to change the way she was perceived. I did think the ending a bit too pat, but if I hadn’t recently read Other Words for Home, by Jasmine Warga, then Genesis would be one of my top picks for realistic fiction.

    I am a bit surprised no one is championing Eventown, by Correy Ann Haydu. Elodee is such a vibrant character, and I love the contrast between her and Naomi. Also, the book deals with grief in such a unique way, and I love the air of mystery that permeates the story. I never determined what had truly happened until the climax, and that is the mark of a talented author. I also loved the celebration of mistakes: how Elodee felt free enough to experiment in her baking even if the result was not intended. The book was unlike anything I’ve ever read. I liked that there were no villains in this one, but the characters were genuinely seeking a place to forget their grief. I do not know if this book resonated so much with me because of a recent loss I have experienced, but I haven’t been able to forget it, and I first read it in March. I think it deserves consideration.

    I have just finished Lalani of the Distant Sea, by Erin Entrada Kelly and love the complexity. The characters, particularly the children, are ordinary but possess so much potential and are vivid. I think this book deserves much consideration as well as it is truly unique.

    Here are my top five picks so far:
    1. Eventown, by Correy Ann Haydu.
    2. New Kid, by Jerry Craft.
    3. Other Words for Home, by Jasmine Warga.
    4. Lalani of the Distant Sea, by Erin Entrada Kelly.
    5. Pay Attention, Carter Jones, by Gary D. Schmidt.

    • I completely agree with you about Eventown! I read it earlier this year, and it’s still stuck with me, in a way that most books I read don’t. I’m really hoping it picks up an award!

      • Can’t wait when we talk about Eventown. It’s a title that should both entice and excite me as a reader but it left me cold and with questions: not the “I love it so much and want to explore more of its themes and inspiration” kind, but questions about the author’s choices and world building.

    • Steven Engelfried Steven Engelfried says:

      I agree Kari. It seems like most years there’s at least one book that I read early on that stand out. Something to measure everything else again. Like when I read “The Book of Boy” early last year. And I’m pretty sure “The One and Only Ivan” was the very first book I read in 2013, when I was on the committee. In a way the lack of a front-runner (in my mind at least) makes this year even more interesting….

      • The Book of Boy was my heart book for last year, too! Nothing this year has grabbed me in that same way. I am looking forward to the discussion but I feel like I have no dog in the fight!

    • Steven Engelfried Steven Engelfried says:

      I agree that “Eventown” is one to watch, Meredith. It hadn’t really struck me, but you’re right, there are no villains, even though there’s plenty of tension and peril. I also appreciated the way the truth about the town was revealed gradually and artfully. Interesting to hear that the audio experience of “New Kid” was so effective, even with no picture. Just finished “Other Words for Home” and am looking forward to “Lalani…”

    • I really liked Eventown as well, Meredith. I liked the writing in Genesis Begins Again a little bit more than the writing in Other Words for Home but both of them were very enjoyable.

  3. Hi everyone!

    THIS PROMISE OF CHANGE was the first eligible book I read this year. I agree with Roxanne. It was a standout for me.

    I agree with Roxanne and Steven about QUEEN OF THE SEA. On Goodreads, I compared it to Book of Boy and Inquisitor’s Tale – both Honors, so I think this should contend.

    Another book that stood out to me that is perhaps more under the radar is THE SIMPLE ART OF FLYING. On Goodreads, I compared this to Ivan, Wednesday Wars, and Edward Tulane: obviously extremely rareified company (and I was being a touch hyperbolic.) I also said this was the best debut novel I’d read since Wolf Hollow.

    Steven, of the non-fiction I’ve looked at, I think I liked A THOUSAND SISTERS best and I think MORE DEADLY THAN WAR deserves mention. I don’t think either one will contend. Non-fiction picture books have even less of a chance, but I’ll mention BIRDS OF A FEATHER and THE IMPORTANT THING ABOUT MARGARET WISE BROWN.

    • Steven Engelfried Steven Engelfried says:

      Thanks for the nonfiction recommendations, Leonard. I haven’t read A THOUSAND SISTERS yet, but should. Though it looked it might be pushing at the upper end of the Newbery age range of 0-14. Do you think that’s why it wouldn’t likely contend?

    • Annisha Jeffries Annisha Jeffries says:

      Leonard, thank you for suggesting the SIMPLE ART OF FLYING. I’m on the last chapter, and I must say that this is wonderful surprise! Smart, funny and unique. I agree comparing it to THE ONE AND ONLY IVAN and THE MIRACULOUS JOURNEY OF EDWARD TULANE. I’d even add BECAUSE OF WINN DIXIE.

  4. Steven Engelfried Steven Engelfried says:

    I just started SIMPLE ART OF FLYING. Wasn’t that eager to read a parrot story for some reason, but I’m enjoying the writing, especially Alistair’s narration, so far.

  5. One more that slipped my mind, but definitely stood out to me:

    SAL AND GABI BREAK THE UNIVERSE – I personally felt this had everything Merci Suarez did, but on steroids and with an extra-dimensional chicken.

    Steven, re: THOUSAND SISTERS. I suspect among 15 Committee members, you will have some who think it too old, some who think it glamorizes combat, some who will dislike its approach to femininity, some who think it celebrates Stalinists, etc. Though arguably these things shouldn’t matter, it seems to me based on past discussions here, that it’s easy to sink a book’s chances if it’s potentially “problematic.”

    • SAL AND GABI BREAK THE UNIVERSE was inventive, emotionally smart (both author and protagonist), and just as charming as all get-out.

      Loved GENESIS BEGINS AGAIN too. Williams has such a keen eye for characterization and the nuances of peer and family relationships. I’m thinking particularly of the power dynamics of all the middle school girls in the book.

      Plus, both books were hilarious and I’m always thrilled when award committees show funny books some love!

  6. I think the worldbuilding for Eventown was artistic and profound: I.E., the lack of rain, which is in direct correlation with the founder’s experience with storms, the rose motif, which fits with the major focal point of the story, the three unique ice cream flavors and the only song. All these aspects made the town, while reminiscent of the nostalgic 1950’s, sad and symbolic of individuals being stuck and unwilling to move forward. Yes, some of the characters are static at certain parts of the book, unwilling to try anything remotely different, but that’s the point, I think, how fear and the need to forget the past can paralyze us into being less than what we were meant to be. It takes Elodee’s uniqueness and her willingness to make mistakes to create change, so it’s a book about how she finds her own voice and helps the town in the process. I think that makes the book worth considering.
    I will be so interested to hear everyone’s views, and I can see how the aspects of the worldbuilding that intrigued me might be problematic for others. That’s the mark of good literature, though, how it makes you think. I suppose this one could be controversial, but I would be delighted if it was at least seriously considered.

    I am reading The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise now and am thoroughly enjoying it, (wonderful audio narration, by the way).

    Interestingly, I started The Simple Art of Flying and could not get into the story. I will give it another chance, though. The One and Only Ivan is one of my absolute favorite books. By the way, has anyone else noticed that it’s mentioned a lot in books released this year? That makes me smile.

  7. I am going to have to revisit EVENTOWN with the appreciation being shown here for it. It left me cold with an ending that felt contrived and manipulative, but that might have been me the reader and not the book.

    LET ‘ER BUCK!: GEORGE FLETCHER, THE PEOPLE’S CHAMPION is still at the top of my list – for such a short book, I was impressed with how well I got a sense of the time and place, and Fletcher was such a three dimensional character.

    Speaking of character, also at the top of my list is GENESIS BEGINS AGAIN, FOR BLACK GIRLS LIKE ME, and QUEEN OF THE SEA.

    I just finished LALANI OF THE DISTANT SEA, and it quickly moved into my top 5, it gave me all the feels of reading WHERE THE MOUNTAIN MEETS THE MOON for the first time.

  8. I enjoyed reading Eventown and New Kid. I would also love to suggest THE MIRACULOUS by Jess Redman. This booked moved me in so many ways. As a teacher, I wanted to use it as a read aloud after finding a teacher’s guide that the author recently provided. I currently have 5 of my students that are reading it independently and sharing their thoughts with me each week. It is definitely a must read and I highly recommend it!

  9. The books that have stayed with me so far are mostly ones that felt joyous and triumphant, rather than ‘important’. I feel I should be looking for more depth for Newbery, but criteria wise I found them solid, particularly in character:


    In the cases of these books, over many of the other titles that I’ve read this year, I feel the authors have gotten out of the way of their characters and allowed them to show themselves to the reader. Rather than have the author tell the reader all about them, as they spew out an agenda of “important insights”.

    I’m halfway through THE ART OF FLYING, where I’ve been for awhile, not because I don’t appreciate it, but I began it at a time when focus was difficult. I just read a chunk today and see what Leonard sees. Both Alistair’s and Aggie’s voices are so distinct and vibrant.

    I have a list of juicy titles in my Audible queue, many recommended here, so I may be altering or adding to my list soon.

  10. Kate McCue-Day says:

    The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise is by far my favorite book of 2019. I can not stop thinking about it and recommending it to everyone who will listen.

  11. I think my top two right now are Other Words for Home by Jasmine Warga
    and Changeling (The Oddmire #1) by William Ritter, which is a fairy tale-type fantasy with great writing and a lot of emotional depth. And TO NIGHT OWL FROM DOGFISH may still be the one I had the most fun reading.

  12. Hi. I don’t usually post, but feel compelled to draw everyone’s attention to the Oct 15 release of Ashley Bryan’s autobiography, INFINITE HOPE: A BLACK ARTIST’S JOURNEY FROM WORLD WAR II to PEACE.

    I suppose, given Newbery criteria, this book may not fit in that category. But I would argue that the text is powerful, and searing in its simplicity. He describes what it was like to be a young nineteen-year-old artist from the Bronx joining the U.S. Army and facing not simply discrimination, but segregation.

    Ashley Bryan spent months on Omaha Beach loading cargo after D-Day, and later guarding German POWs. “I came to the realization that, for the most part, the German POWs we were guarding were ordinary men, just wanting to go to their homes, their families, their jobs. Then came another, more disturbing realization: The German POWs were being given more respect than the Black soldiers who has just fought for Europe’s freedom.”

    The book is incredibly beautiful, full of sketches and excerpts from diary entries and letters. Much of the artwork was hidden away for years in a bureau. The artist notes, “Only my family and close friends even knew that I had served in World War II.”

    INFINITE HOPE is a magnificent achievement, a gift from a human being who truly embodies infinite grace. Ashley Bryan is ninety-six.

    • Annisha Jeffries Annisha Jeffries says:

      What a great suggestion Deborah. I have loved Mr.Bryan’s books since I was a little girl and once you meet him, you are never the same. His love of song, storytelling and art strikes a chord with all ages.
      I’m sure that his memoir will not go unnoticed and I can’t wait to read it.

  13. The two that have risen to the top for me are both books about grief, but each takes a very different approach to the subject: The Line Tender and The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise. I found the Line Tender to be especially strong in the areas of theme and character, and the prose is gorgeous. The moment near the end when I realized the meaning behind the title wrecked me, and even minor characters felt like fully realized people. However, I wonder about the plot. It was a bit of a slow starter, and I have had a couple of students not be able to stick with it.

    Coyote’s voice has lingered in my head all summer. Everything about that book shines. It’s funny and heartbreaking and beautiful and transcends your standard over-the-top road trip story to become so much more.

  14. The most memorable and impactful that I’ve read this year so far:

    THE WHISPERS by Greg Howard
    LAST OF THE NAME by Rosanne Parry
    GENESIS BEGINS AGAIN by Alicia D Williams

    I found all of these to be much more emotionally resonant than Coyote Sunrise, which just felt over the top in terms of quirkiness for the sake of being quirky at the expense of the deeply moving emotional storyline about grief.

  15. So far, I have loved Genesis Begins Again and Song for a Whale, but I haven’t read all the titles yet 😉

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