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Heavy Medal: A Mock Newbery Blog
Inside Heavy Medal

HMC Ballot #3 – Discussion of the Final 7

Results of our second Heavy Medal Mock Newbery ballot are in and we still do not have a clear winner. Under Newbery rules, the winner will need to receive at least 8 first place votes and lead the second place book by 8 points.

We will now open up discussion again on the remaining contenders. We have removed the books with the five lowest point totals on the second ballot. That leaves us with seven books (from the original 15). Please share new insights, strengths, and concerns about these titles in the comments below. As in the past, any Heavy Medal readers may share opinions, but ballots will be submitted by the Heavy Medal Committee members only.

The seven books are:

  • Other Words for Home
  • Torpedoed
  • The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise
  • New Kid
  • Genesis Begins Again
  • Pay Attention, Carter Jones!
  • Lalani of the Distant Sea

This discussion will close at 10:00 pm EST tonight. If all goes well, we will have the results of Ballot #3 posted first thing on Friday. Will we finally have a winner?

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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 sengelfried@yahoo.com.

Comments

  1. Cherylynn says:

    Other Words for Home is a master of its craft for the way the author told such a rich story using such an economy of words. Poetry can be rich with meaning, but it also means a need for careful word choice that helps tell the story without lots of language. The halting and carefully chosen language is part of the story of someone who does not speak the English of their peers. I was really impressed with the authors choices.

    • Annisha Jeffries Annisha Jeffries says:

      Cherylynn, I agree with you. The author uses poetry to tell this story that could have also been written as a work of nonfiction. With hints of Brown GIrl Dreaming, I was so moved by this novel that is truly unforgettable.

      • Tamara DePasquale says:

        Yes, Annisha! It reminded me of Brown Girl Dreaming in its ability to take me to an unfamiliar place, to feel so intensely, and to come away with a deeper understanding.

  2. Leonard Kim says:

    What is the evidence for this claim that the line breaks are reflective of ESL? On page 25, the family is still in Syria and her brother speaks, presumably not in English, and we read, “You only think it is good because that is / what you have been told. / You need to / open your eyes, / Issa says.”

    What’s motivating the line breaks here?

    My own impression of this book, reinforced by the fact that the setting doesn’t move to the States until 60 pages in, is more in agreement with those who felt this was more broken-up prose and questioned why this novel had to be in verse and whether it is really verse at all.

  3. samuel leopold says:

    I agree with Leonard. Although Other words for home is beautiful poetry, I also felt that it did not need to be in verse to get its message across….. and the broken up prose was distracting at times. A wonderful book that I am sure will win an award on Monday….. but not Newbery Gold.

  4. Cherylynn says:

    I thought some of those lines spoke to how difficult the conversation was and was indicative of emotional speech

    • Leonard Kim says:

      I don’t know. Chapter 5 is about Jude and Fatima comparing themselves to Sandra Bullock and Julia Roberts. I am of course not saying the line breaks are arbitrary. I suppose I am saying that not every line break seemed like the only right choice. In contrast to two books off the table, BEVERLY and PROMISE, where every single word seemed considered and nothing was superfluous, OTHER WORDS had some excess. Its verse runs about 80 pages longer than PROMISE, and it really didn’t need to be. You could easily cut many words and even chapters with no loss of effect. Take the example Molly cites from page 173. Many an editor or poetry teacher would say the clause “I’m starting to think” should be cut. As poetry or prose, “Hoping might be the bravest thing a person can do” is stronger without it. There are many many examples like this.

      • Courtney Hague says:

        I think this is where my quibbles with this book lay. Like you’ve said, Leonard, it’s not that the line breaks are arbitrary but more that they don’t feel like the only right choice. The word choice doesn’t seem as tight as it could have been and that feels less distinguished when compared to Beverly Right Here or This Promise of Change

      • Leonard, I don’t agree with that edit. It changes the rhythm and the meaning somewhat because “starting to think” shows her tentativeness. Making it a declaration would be too definitive for where her thought process is. I think the sentence level writing is excellent and just as strong as Beverly (and to me, more than Change.)

      • Leonard Kim says:

        Katrina, I guess this is my blind spot. For me the passage, with its mix of feet, had little rhythm to begin with, and that was a big hurdle for me. If you aren’t going to be rigorously aural in your writing, then it should be prose, in which case I would have written something like, “I’m starting to think hoping is the bravest thing a person can do.” I agree I changed the meaning slightly for the sake of using fewer words, but I’d argue the simple word “might” already conveyed the required tentativeness. (My prose rewrite that kept “I’m starting to think” substituted “is” for “might”. I think having both is redundant.) But in the end I think we just disagree about excellent sentence-level writing when it comes to this book and PROMISE. At least we agree on BEVERLY.

  5. Samuel leopold says:

    As I look back over all my notes I have written in my books this year—- my daughter has told me I should not do that—- Three things come to the forefront for me as we face the third ballot. 1. These seven remaining novels are all excellent examples of exemplary literature. 2. All of them have many distinguished qualities as well as some flaws. And I am impressed by how well my colleagues on this committee have gone over the details of those positive qualities as well as the flaws. And 3. Torpedoed and New Kid— in that order—- in my opinion, are the most distinguished two novels of the seven that remain. And the most distinguished two novels…. period …..this year. Whatever our results are, it has been an honor collaborating with all of you throughout this process. Thanks…… this has been fun.

  6. Tamara DePasquale says:

    Okay, so I have argued strongly against The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise for reasons discussed in previous posts, and I feel somewhat guilty for lobbying so hard. I know there are those who love this title, and I’m a big fan of Dan Gemeinhart. I was so disappointed when Some Kind of Courage didn’t receive more recognition, but… I can readily recap my opposition with a few additional concerns to consider.

    • I cannot accept that Coyote’s voice is that of a 12 year-old.
    • I’m irritated by the number of issues that are crammed into this title, yet only one is fleshed
    out with any kind of resolution.
    • I’m deeply troubled by the checklist of diverse social stereotypes.

    And now I ask you to look more closely at the need for the reader to suspend disbelief, to accept behaviors that are dangerous and even unlawful for the sake of good storytelling. Rodeo’s behavior as a father has already been addressed, so this goes beyond that. I’m looking at the number of times that Coyote goes off on her own and interacts with strangers without consequence. She even gets into a stranger’s car to hide from the police without consequence. She is truant without consequence. She rides on top of a moving bus without consequence. She drives that same bus on highways and through neighborhoods without consequence. She frequently has complete disregard for police officers without consequence.

    I also struggle with Coyote’s grief. Coyote was spared from that car accident. Was she present but survived? Was she someplace else? We know nothing about the details of the tragedy. My experience with adolescents tells me that her grief would include circling back to herself and feeling guilty. As she faces her grief, wouldn’t this come pouring out as well? This again speaks to her lack of authenticity.

    In summation, I look at our seven finalists. Many are worthy of the gold and silver stickers. So, it comes down to giving our readers a roster of winners that include believable or relatable characters who allow the reader to see themselves or others with a new perspective. Give them characters who help them navigate their own world with a broader understanding of the people in it. Give them the opportunity to experience a solid nonfiction title that reads like fiction. Give them passages to pause and ponder. Give them a magical place to escape and wonder. Give them the nothing short of distinguished.

    • Amanda Bishop says:

      I’ve been thinking more and more about some of the issues in Coyote Sunrise thanks to my fellow reviewers. I do think it is odd that she and her father could get away from avoiding school, work, etc. without someone taking more notice. It definitely was not in her best interest to be taken away from her life. The father’s grief was very overwhelming. I feel like she had to play along and wasn’t allowed to grieve for herself.

    • I’m just an observer this year and not voting but I think I am allowed to comment? You speak for me on Coyote Sunrise, Tamara! I have been holding back here but I was not a fan. I can appreciate that kids like it but to me it had a lot of problems. The one thing that bugged me that I haven’t seen you mention (and I might have missed it if you did) is that I found her lack of concern about her body/puberty to be very unbelievable and that really took me out of the story. It actually might have worked better for me if the character was a boy for that reason. At 12 I wasn’t changing into a bathing suit without some serious consideration, and I know some girls do, but I didn’t get the sense that Gemeinhart had even considered the repercussions of having a 12-year-old girl as the protagonist and what that would legitimately mean about her need for privacy.

  7. Leonard Kim says:

    Another challenge to OTHER WORDS advocates. I see several opportunities for direct comparison with GENESIS. If a school show is a tired plot device in one, why wouldn’t it be one in the other? Who has the more memorable voice? Which is the more sensitive, insightful look into otherness, both as heritage and in the new school here and now? Whose secondary characters—family members, classmates, teachers—are more vividly and richly drawn?

    I enjoyed OTHER WORDS for its sensitive new kid at school portrayal, but I am not sure it betters NEW KID in that regard, and holding it up directly against GENESIS, I personally think the latter is stronger (but I said the same thing about direct comparison with PROMISE so what do I know?)

  8. Cherylynn says:

    My issue with New Kid is I felt the pictures did a lot of the heavy lifting. The story told depended a lot on graphic elements.

  9. Rachel Wadham says:

    I’m also interested that Genesis Begins Again got three top votes but there was not discussion about it this morning. I’d be interested to hear what other’s think about it and why it comes out on the top for them. For me in falls a little in comparison to the top four because they push boundaries with format, genre, and storytelling than Genesis Begins Again does. While the characters are engaging and the setting adds depth, it is another story about a girl finding her own voice, and that as far as plot storytelling covers a lot of other books. Also for me it has to do with the minor characters, especially the “villains” being so stereotypical and if fact the two bullies one at the beginning and one in the middle read so much the same you really can’t tell them apart. So all of this takes it down in distinguished for me.

    • Molly Sloan says:

      I was also surprised that this book had several top votes when it hadn’t received much discussion in the last few days. I believe this book is an important about a girl finding her voice. The representation of an insecure household will resonate with many readers and be an eye-opening experience for others. For may reasons I am glad this book is in the world and in my library, but I do agree with you, Rachel, there are several points where this book falls short of distinguished. As you point out, the villains are stereotypical mean girls. The resolution of the plot was another point where the book faltered for me. Ending with a show stopping talent show performance felt a bit too predictable. Satisfying, yes. Distinguished, no. So overall this one falls short for me too.

    • Leonard Kim says:

      But Molly and Rachel, couldn’t the things you both said about GENESIS be said of OTHER WORDS? Isn’t Sarah, for example, too pat? A lesson rather than a character?

  10. Molly Sloan says:

    I agree with Leonard. This has been fun! Everyone’s thoughtful engagement has elevated my own thinking. I’ve been turning wheels of criticism that have been a bit rusty in recent years. So thanks to all for the friendly sparring over many remarkable books.

    So turning those rusty wheels a bit, let me see if I can convey why Other Words for Home has had such a powerful affect on me. Some readers have said that this book did not need to be written in verse; that it could have been a prose novel instead. It certainly could have been, sure. I’m not sure if that argument is meant to imply that the verse is lacking in merit as it is. Leonard cited the fact that the novel begins in Syria as evidence that the choice to tell the story in verse was not dependent on the verse format to show the acquisition of language and translated thought one feels when learning a new language. I’ll address that argument first. It might have been interesting for Warga to have started the novel in prose format, switching to verse when Jude arrives in the strange new world of the United States, but she didn’t. Instead she gives us the internal monologue of a girl making her way through adolescence at first in a home she knows and loves and then in a new society. The best passage I have found that expresses this frustrated, halting progress of finding her way is:

    Mrs. Ravenswood helps me with the English words
    That I stumble on
    And nothing comes out the exact way I want it to.
    My voice cracks more than once–
    From sadness,
    From frustration that I can’t say
    What I truly want to say.

    I do not have the right words
    To describe the space between
    My brother’s eyebrows
    That wrinkles when he is laughing
    Or deep in thought.

    But in talking about him,
    In saying anything,
    Even in my mangled
    Fractured English,
    I am imagining him
    Imaging and wishing
    And hoping
    That he is safe.
    Hoping,
    I’m starting to think,
    Might be the bravest thing a person can do.
    (pages 172-173)

    In this passage I think Jude is expressing as clearly as she is able her frustration and simultaneous satisfaction with trying to convey her thoughts in a new language. I think the format Warga uses accomplishes this in a way that prose sentences would not.

    Here is another part that also conveys the way poetry represents her ability to process and communicate in English. This is later in the story, after the beautiful scene when Jude accompanies her mother to the ultrasound appointment. They are leaving, filled with joy having just learned a baby girl is on the way. It is Christmas and Jingle Bells plays in the lobby.

    “There is so much happiness and cheer
    And for a moment,
    I feel that Mama and I are part of it too.
    It feels like a party we were invited to,
    Not one that we are watching through a window. . . .”

    A woman comes in and says “like a stone thrown,” “You don’t have to wear that anymore.” pointing at her mother’s hijab. “Do you speak English?”

    “The snake of fear
    Uncoils in my stomach.
    I am frozen for a moment
    And then I urge Mama through the door,
    squeezing past the woman
    stepping closer to the outside,
    To the cold.

    As I pass the woman, my shoulder inches from
    Her chest,
    I say,
    Excuse us. Thank you. We are
    Happy.

    I do not know why I say that.
    My English words are all mumbled,
    And I’m not sure she heard me,
    Or that she understood.
    But I wanted her to understand
    That we’re happy here,
    Even if we don’t look like what she thinks of
    as happy.

    Outside, sleet is
    Falling from the sky.
    Mama has not let go of my hand.
    We are happy, I say again, whispering it into the cold air.
    Saying it to Mama,
    To the baby.
    (pages 187-189)

    I think because of the way this passage is written we feel Jude’s struggle to say what’s on her mind and in her heart during this icy moment with a stranger. The halting way the words come in bits and lines makes us hear them differently than if they had been lengthy sentences.

    Later, when she is working up the courage to announce that she wants to try out for a part in the play, she says,

    “Layla worked on the sets last year, I say, and I know
    My English words are difficult to understand because
    When I get nervous my accent gets thicker
    And I also think the fact that my feet are
    Freezing is not helping matters.
    It’s hard to think in two languages
    When your feet are freezing.”
    (p. 198-199)

    I found this to be such a delightful aside. Yes, it is hard to think, even in just one language when your feet are freezing.

    I’m sorry this is such a long post. It’s hard to capture the effect of these verses without quoting lines and lines. I will simply close by saying that Other Words for Home is one of the most moving books I have read in a while. I know we aren’t supposed to compare it to other books from other years, but the comparison that others have made to one of my favorite books in verse ever is very apt. I think the verse in this novel is an important storytelling choice.

    I would like to also hunt for some passages where the language really rings like poetry, but I’d better post this much for now. Apologies again for the length.

    • Courtney Hague says:

      Thank you for this analysis, Molly. I may not one hundred percent agree about the poetry but this is some excellent analysis of it and you have made a solid argument.

      • Molly Sloan says:

        Thanks, Courtney. It has been a rich conversation over all of the books. I found that the poetry was more musical when I read it aloud. I will try to find some of the passages that sang for me when I get done cooking dinner. 😉

  11. Samuel leopold says:

    Molly….. that analysis was fantastic. I still have it behind three other books because of what I said in a previous post tonight. But still got to give you credit for a thorough argument, even if I disagree a little.

    • Molly Sloan says:

      Thank you, Samuel. It has been a rigorous conversation. Thank you for the excellent points you’ve raised. (I have two border collies and and a mini-Aussie so we’re on the same team in the end ;).

  12. Samuel Leopold says:

    Molly…. my daughter has an Aussie! What a small world!

  13. I am super surprised that This Promise of Change didn’t make it to the top 7. If we’re so taken by a book in verse — the poetry in that book is so much stronger, more intentional, and masterfully composed. I am not a voting member of this committee so there is little I could have done — and even if I were, the possibility for me as one single voice to turn the tide is extremely low. This is how the process goes! Glad to see we are down to 7!

    • Molly Sloan says:

      This Promise of Change is a wonderful and important book. I love it too. If it is recognized by the real committee on Monday, I will be happy. In my deliberations I found it didn’t rise into the top three for me because of reasons that I mentioned before. However those reasons may have had more to do with my own failings as a reader than they were real failings of the book. We’ll see what the committee decides. Ultimately I am glad that This Promise of Change is in our world and I know it will be an important part of my middle school’s literacy program for years to come.

    • To me, This Promise of Change was one of the strongest books of the year by far. It was also one of the very first I read last January and I wonder if it has just lost some steam because it’s been out longer than some of the others.

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