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What Have We Missed?: “Best Books of the Year” lists

The year-long question for every award committee member is:  What did I miss? December offers a good checkpoint as the major children’s literature review journals announce their “Best Books of the Year” lists. The amazing Jen J. compiles these every year on her awesome Jen J.’s Booksheets page, making it easy for us to see the titles that are making multiple lists. So far, her list includes School Library Journal, Horn Book, and Publisher’s Weekly.  Kirkus, Booklist, and the Bulletin (BCCB) will be added eventually (not all are released yet), but for now let’s look at the partial list.

As expected:  Here are some titles that have made at least 2 of the 3 lists and have also been discussed to some degree on Heavy Medal:

  • THE LINE TENDER by Allen (2)
  • LOOK BOTH WAYS by Reynolds (3)
  • NEW KID by Craft (2)
  • OTHER WORDS FOR HOME by Warga (2)
  • PET by Emezi (2)
  • QUEEN OF THE SEA by Meconis (2)
  • UNDEFEATED by Alexander (3)

Some surprises:  Three books that have received fairly strong support on Heavy Medal (three or more Nominations through November), but did not appear on any of the first three Best Of lists:

  • EVENTOWN by Haydu
  • PLANET EARTH IS BLUE by Panteleakos

Did we miss these?:  Here are a few that are getting recognition on the Best Of lists (named on two of the three so far), but have not been featured on Heavy Medal…but maybe they should have? 

  • BIRDSONG by Flett (3 Best Of lists)
    I haven’t read this yet, but both writing and art get high praise from reviewers. We haven’t looked at a lot of picture books on HM this year…is this one a possibility?
  • GUTS by Telegemeier (2)
    We’ve discussed several graphic novels, but not this one. It’s one of the most popular books of the year.
  • JUANA & LUCAS: BIG PROBLEMAS by Medina (2)
    The second book in the series; the first won a Pura Belpre Medal. Another category we haven’t highlighted much on HM.
  • RIVER by Elisha Cooper (2)
    Beautifully written longer picture book about a solo canoe trip down the Hudson River. Illustrations do a lot, working with text to help set pace and tone; but the words are just what they should be.
  • THIS WAS OUR PACT by Andrews (2)
    Another excellent graphic novel. This one is a highly original adventure, with strengths in plot, characterization, and theme.
  • WITH THE FIRE ON HIGH by Acevedo (3)
    Reviews put this at 13-14 and up, so it may just fall within Newbery range. Acevedo’s THE POET X was a big winner last year (Printz, Belpre, and NBA) and was one of our finalists on Heavy Medal.

There are more than 100 more books listed that made just one list so far, including several we’ve discussed on HM. Do you see standout titles on the list that we should be paying attention to? Possible longs-shots, late-entries, or surprises? If so, please share in the comments below…

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. Leonard Kim says:

    I am tickled HAROLD AND HOG PRETEND FOR REAL made one of the lists. The book is quite a feat in its own way. It actually does the Criteria weirdly well in how its characters, look (setting), plot, theme, and style relate to Willem’s Elephant and Piggie.

    Clearly it doesn’t stand a chance, moreso since people may be confused into thinking it’s for the same readership as E&P, whereas it seems to work better for older readers (like 8-9) who’ve “outgrown” but remember E&P fondly.

  2. Steven Engelfried Steven Engelfried says:

    Agree: HAROLD AND HOG is kind of brilliant. Under Newbery terms, is it a “self-contained entity, not dependent on other media…?” You really do have to know Elephant and Piggie to get the jokes. But you could argue that the intended child audience is: kids who know E & P.

    Among early readers that made at least one Best Of list (SLJ’s), I think CHARLIE & MOUSE: EVEN BETTER by Laurel Snyder is another strong one. Within a fairly tame range of events, you get strong characterizations, a neatly built plot, and a style that’s just right.

    • Leonard Kim says:

      Also in this category, though it didn’t make any of the lists, a new PRINCESS IN BLACK book came out a couple weeks ago, and it’s a good one, which, for my money, should make it a contender most years.

  3. One of my favorites this year, FAR AWAY by Lisa Graff, has not appeared on any lists.
    It tells the story of CJ who travels on a tour bus with her aunt, a psychic who helps grieving people contact loved ones who have passed on. It explores issues such as:
    -What is truth?
    -Meaning of family
    -How to know the right thing to do?

  4. Kate McCue-Day says:

    I nominated This Was Our Pact last month, I really loved it. The illustrations are beautiful and my students have been fighting over my 3 copies for months!!

  5. Steven Engelfried Steven Engelfried says:

    For some reason I’m having an even harder time than I usually do with graphic novels in evaluating THIS WAS OUR PACT as a Newbery contender. I wonder if it has to do with the role the illustrations play in establishing that odd and fascinating world those kids entered. It’s such a good use of the graphic format, where words aren’t needed to convey mood or the physical details of each new place, or the deft slide from the real world into the magical. But I do think the dialogue and the narrative voice worked very well also…

  6. Cory Eckert says:

    This Was Our Pact is one of my favorite books of the year. It’s incredibly brilliant. Like Steven, I had trouble figuring out how to evaluate it for Newbery in terms of the illustrations.

  7. Steven Engelfried Steven Engelfried says:

    And Booklist’s Top of the List Youth Nonfiction is MONSTROUS by Carolyn Beccia. Their Picture Book is HOME IN THE WOODS by Eliza Wheeler. Neither of these made the Best Of lists from SLJ, PW, or HB. I haven’t read either myself (just placed my holds though)

  8. I LOVED This Was Our Pact. But, I believe there is a previous, short web comic that the published graphic novel is an expansion of. Doesn’t that disqualify from Newbery consideration? I would love to see it win, though. It’s so beautifully illustrated and the story is so magical and leaves you feeling nostalgic for your childhood….

  9. Steven Engelfried Steven Engelfried says:

    Thanks for the information about THIS WAS OUR PACT, Nancy. It does look like it was an 80 page web comic, available online from 2013 to 2016 at least. We can’t view it now, but it seems likely that this would be ruled of Newbery consideration, since the Newbery Manual states that “The substantial majority of the book must be wholly new, original and previously unpublished.” The real Committee and ALSC might go to more lengths to confirm, but we’ll rule it out of Heavy Medal discussion based on what we know…

  10. Thanks for linking to my blog once again – I’m always so glad to hear it’s still useful to people. I’ve updated the 2019 Best Books Spreadsheet to include Kirkus and Booklist. I’ve also added a link to it with the other spreadsheets on the right side of the homepage. Just waiting on the Bulletin now!

    • Steven Engelfried Steven Engelfried says:

      Thanks Jen. You’re amazing! Your blog is great for Heavy Medal and other mock awards, but also a great tool for collection development that I (and I’m sure many others) use regularly with book selection.

  11. Sharon Huffman says:

    Loved Planet Earth is Blue! A timely book which takes place during the time of the Challenger. Many young people are unfamiliar with this time period. My students will be reading this book for our book club next month!. I hope it it will be strongly considered!

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