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Heavy Medal: A Mock Newbery Blog
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Share Your Newbery Favorites So Far

Since March, Heavy Medal readers have been submitting titles and authors of potentially Newbery-worthy books. Our cumulative list now stands at 81 titles. And that’s without any Fall publications, which will be coming up soon. Our Suggestion process only includes authors and titles, though, so it’s hard to tell from the list which books people are really excited about. Here’s a chance to let us all know about the book (or books) that you think might be among the strongest contenders of the year so far. Suggestions have been limited to titles that have already been published, but for this post feel free to share what you think about any 2020 titles, even if they’re not out yet. I’ll start us off.

I ended up making 19 suggestions altogether, and probably could have added others. And I’m afraid I still have several on my must-read-soon list that I haven’t finished yet. A few stand out for me, though, at least after the first reading:

A GAME OF FOX AND SQUIRRELS is one. The interplay between the game and real life seemed just right to me. You feel like you’re right in Sam’s shoes trying to make choices and figure things out as the plot steadily builds in intensity.

Lois Lowry’s ON THE HORIZON impressed me a lot too. Her short poems are poignant and insightful; together they create a powerful impact on the reader. (On this adult reader, anyway…I’m not sure how children will respond).

I also rank FIGHTING WORDS, THE RISE AND FALL OF CHARLES LINDBERGH, and WHEN STARS ARE SCATTERED very highly. I’d love to hear what others are most impressed with so far. Please share your early favorites 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. Amanda Bishop says:

    Everything Sad is Untrue by Daniel Nayeri
    Show Me a Sign by Ann Clare LeZotte
    From the Desk of Zoe Washington by Janae Marks

    • Steven Engelfried Steven Engelfried says:

      Thanks for sharing your top 3, Amanda. It’s not required, but in this post everyone should feel free to also tell us a few things about the books that made them stand out…

  2. Jennifer Carlile says:

    I also loved A GAME OF FOX AND SQUIRRELS! It’s been very popular in our store. I didn’t see THE WATER BEARS by Kim Baker or LAND OF THE CRANES by Aida Salazar (out next week) on the list yet, but I think they’re each strong contenders. Love having the compiled list of favorites. Thanks!

  3. Meredith Burton says:

    1. A Game of Fox and Squirrels, by Jenn Reese. I will expound on my points when the book is discussed, but I was most impressed with the character development, the author’s use of literary allusion and the third person narrative point of view that still was able to place you completely in Sam’s mind. I also loved the balance between whimsy with the squirrel characters and the suspense and unpredictability of the antagonist. The story explores the theme of finding a home without resorting to moralizing.

    2. The List of Things that Will Not Change, by Rebecca Stead. This story is character driven and plunges you into the mind of a ten-year-old extremely effectively. Bea’s anxieties and joys are so vivid, and every character is wonderfully portrayed. By the end of the story, you find something to like about almost every individual, and you feel like you know them personally. This story is uplifting and simple but profound in its exploration of character. The interconnectedness of the symbolism is excellent as well, (listening to the sound of corn growing, Bea’s analyzing of her feelings, the wedding cake, etc).

    3. The Blackbird Girls, by Anne Blankman. Setting stood out the most for me in this book as did the three narrative perspectives. I loved seeing Valentina and Oksana’s stories unfold along with the back story of Valentina’s grandmother. The upheaval caused by the nuclear reactor explosion, the description of the snow-ravaged winters and the historical detail were pitch perfect.

    4. When You Trap a Tiger, by Tae Keller. The mixing of Korean folktales with the sisters’ changing perspectives were very effective. The main character grows and gains wisdom as she learns about her dual nature. This is a novel that works on many levels and is very engaging.

    5. Fighting Words, by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley. Voice is the most effective part of this book for me, and I loved the humor. The main character is engaging, and both sisters are characters whom you grow to love.

    6. From the Desk of Zoe Washington, by Janae Marks. I find myself rereading this book a lot this year. I love Zoe’s voice, but I think plot is the strongest element of this book. The story is told in a linear fashion, and it is a straightforward mystery. The author’s use of Marcus’s letters, songs that Zoe adds to her playlist and the creation of a cupcake recipe inspired by Marcus add depth and poignancy. The book inspired me to look up and listen to all the songs on Zoe’s list, and it is clear why the author chose to include them. That aspect of the book was such fun. I also loved the relationship between Zoe and her grandmother and the complicated relationship she has with her mother. Marks illustrates these plot threads very effectively.

  4. Leonard Kim says:

    In no order,

    ALMOST AMERICAN GIRL – there are five books by and about Koreans on the suggestions list this year. I’ve read four of them and, to this Korean-American at least, this felt the truest.

    LEAVING LYMON and THE BLACKBIRD GIRLS – both well-written works of 20th-century historical fiction. One might wonder how the stories of a 1940s Black boy and a 1980s Ukrainian girl got lumped together in my mind. Both move north and live with a grandmother, both reunite with mothers who take the side of a new, abusive male partner over their child, and despite the crushing experiences and setting, both have sympathy and hope for characters and readers alike.

    SAL AND GABI FIX THE UNIVERSE – “My dudes, people make art because they want you to learn what life feels like to them.” Hernandez is an artist, even when one character calls another, “a jar of farts.” Later in the book, Sal’s explanation of the purpose of life is as good as any I know.

    • Steven Engelfried Steven Engelfried says:

      Leonard, I think A GAME OF FOX AND SQUIRRELS also fits with LYMON and BLACKBIRD, or at least it’s close. Moving north is just from California to Oregon and Sam lives with an aunt instead of a grandmother. She also must deal with a mother who permits abuse (though it’s not from a new male partner). It’s always fascinating to see those kinds of similarities…and also how very differently each author’s approach is.

  5. I know this book has not yet been released, but please do not miss Uri Shulevitz’s CHANCE: ESCAPE FROM THE HOLOCAUST. It is due to be published on October 13. The NY Times, Kirkus Reviews, and PW have already acclaimed this unusual graphic memoir. Shulevitz combines single drawings which accompany parts of the story with extended graphic sequences. He describes his family’s escape from Poland, where almost the entire Jewish population would be annihilated. As the title implies, he acknowledges the painful, chaotic, and sometimes unbelievable role of chance in his fate, rather than seeking a facile or uplifting moral. He also emphasizes his early love of art, and his parents’ encouragement of his gift, as central to both his young life and his later career. He uses humor, irony, literary allusions, poetic and quotidian language, and the perspective of age to reflect on his experience.

    • Steven Engelfried Steven Engelfried says:

      I’m really looking forward to CHANCE, Emily. We’ve at least one excellent visual autobiographies by artists in the past couple years: Ashley Bryan’s INFINITE HOPE last year and Jarrett Krosokzka’s HEY, KIDDO in 2018.

  6. Courtney Hague says:

    I’m just really diving into my reading for the year, but so far what has really stood out to me are FROM THE DESK OF ZOE WASHINGTON and ON THE HORIZON.

    I agree that FROM THE DESK OF ZOE WASHINGTON really shines in its plot. I loved the way the two conflicts in Zoe’s life intertwine with each other, both the high stakes conflict of her incarcerated father as well as the conflict surrounding her baking dreams.

    I just recently finished ON THE HORIZON but the poetry and the connections Lowry makes between these two tragedies and her own childhood are very well done.

    I also liked PRAIRIE LOTUS but it’s been a while since I finished it so I would need to revisit it before I could discuss

  7. I absolutely loved WHEN STARS ARE SCATTERED. The setting was so vivid, and the characterization was amazing. I thought the complicated relationships were portrayed very well, can’t wait to talk more about that.

    I really enjoyed WHEN YOU TRAP A TIGER, and thought the theme of stories being able to hurt and heal (sometimes both at the same time) was well developed.

    With the caveat that I only just started it yesterday, STAMPED has already very much impressed me, and unless it takes a major turn somewhere in the part I haven’t read yet, it’s definitely within the 14 year old range, very much aware of itself as a book for a teen audience.

  8. Steven Engelfried Steven Engelfried says:

    I’m not sure about STAMPED’s eligibility for the Newbery. It’s described as as young reader’s version of Ibram X. Kendi’s STAMPED FROM THE BEGINNING. The Newbery Terms and Criteria state that “abridgements are not eligible,” and I don’t believe STAMPED really is an actual abridgement. But the Newbery Manual provides more specific examples: “Children’s books derived from previously published adult books can’t be considered eligible. The intent of the award is not to see who can successfully adapt an adult book; the award is intended for the original creation of a distinguished book for children.” This seems to me to point to STAMPED being ineligible.
    But I was also convinced last year that Kwame Alexander’s THE UNDEFEATED was ineligible because it appeared as a poem on a website, and was clearly wrong about that. Has anyone read both STAMPED and STAMPED FROM THE BEGINNING? If so, does STAMPED seem like enough of an “original creation” or more directly “derived from” the adult book?

    • I’m reading the adult one (which is fantastic) and I read the sample of the YA one and from that they’re totally different. It seems more like Reynolds took the research and wrote his own book with it. So it’s definitely not like the books that are just abridged into kid versions. So I *think* it’s probably different enough, but it depends how you read the rules.

  9. I’m crazy about Fighting Words—I laughed, I cried (I was going to say it’s the only book that’s made me tear up so far this year, but then I just read Kent State and am still bawling!). Great voice, deals with difficult topics at just the right level.

    When Stars are Scattered —Did such a good job at bringing the refugee experience to life. The characters felt fully fleshed out and I loved the relationship between the brothers.

    Leaving Lymon—such a lovely, lyrical writer with a great sense of place and time period.

    Snapdragon was so much fun and packed so much story in.

    Lindbergh was fascinating and pretty fast paced (even though I still had to take some breaks because it was so long!)

    We Dream of Space
    Blackbird Girls

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