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A Monster Calls

As Nina mentioned, eligibility issues are decided by the chair in conjunction with the priority consultant.  I’m going to hazard a guess about A MONSTER CALLS.  The book has been getting lots of buzz, and deservedly so.  It’s one of the better middle grade titles of the year.

The monster showed up just after midnight.   As they do.

Conor was awake when it came.

He’d had a nightmare.  Well, not a nightmare.  The nightmare.  The one he’d been having a lot lately.  The one with the darkness and the wind and the screaming.  The one with the hands slipping from his grasp, no matter how hard he tried to hold on.  The one that always ended with–

“Go away,” Conor whispered into the darkness of his bedroom, trying to push the nightmare back, not let it follow him into the world of waking.  “Go away now.”

Is it eligible?  Despite living abroad in London, Ness is an American citizen, so that’s not a problem.  Is it an original work?  Absolutely, despite the tagline “inspired by an idea from Siobhan Dowd.”  Now the one that gives us the most pause, especially because of the very close, but not always transparent relationship between Walker Books (UK) and Candlewick Press (US).  Did the editorial originate (or co-originate) with his US publisher?  Monica has provided this interview snippet that sheds light on this question, and when I asked Candlewick Press about the editorial at ALA Annual, they confirmed as much.

Ness does a first draft that no one sees, according to Adair [his American editor]. His first “public draft” goes to Johnstone-Burt [his British editor], and then to Adair. With A Monster Calls, Adair says that the two editors conferred about what they thought needed finessing, to make sure they were “on the same page.” Each gives her comments to Ness directly, and Adair includes Johnstone-Burt in her correspondence with Ness.

So everything’s all good, right?  Well . . .

Publication Eligibility Issues

(A) SIMULTANEOUS – means “at the same time.” For purposes of these awards, “published simultaneously” means that a book was first published in the United States within the same calendar year that it was first published in any other country, whether or not the actual dates of publication are identical.

Example: How I Live Now, by Meg Rosoff, was published in 2004 by Wendy Lamb/Random House, and “simultaneously” published in Great Britain. It was explained by the editor, Wendy Lamb, that the book had been jointly acquired by the U.S. and British publishers; that editorial work had, from the beginning, been a joint process by the two editors; and that every effort had been made to be sure that the two editions were, literally, simultaneous. However, certain procedures specific to each publisher were impossible to manipulate (such as Tuesday always being publication day in the U.S. while the British publication day was always Thursday for these publishers). For this reason, the British edition was actually released a few days—but only a few days—before the U.S. edition. The book was ruled eligible with regard to date.

You will remember that THE GRAVEYARD BOOK won the Newbery, but it was actually published first in the US on September 30, 2008.  Then the following month it was published in the UK on October 20, 2008.  Now THE GRAVEYARD BOOK also subsequently won the Carnegie, but the rules for that award stipulate that a book can be published in another country first so long as there is a UK publication within six months of the original publication (a clause that has probably benefited some authors from Commonwealth countries–I’m thinking Margaret Mahy, for example–but more recently Americans like Sharon Creech and Jennifer Donnelly).

The British edition of A MONSTER CALLS was published on May 5, 2011.  The American edition was just published earlier this week.  Amazon currently has September 15 listed as the release date, but it was listed as September 27 until last week.  In either case, however, it is more than a four month delay, and thus A MONSTER CALLS does not conform to this definition of a simultaneous publication.

It may seem harsh to disqualify a book on a single niggling point, but I think this point may become more important because of the murky editorial question.  The only hope for this book, I believe, rests with Candlewick’s ability to convince ALSC that there is a good reason for the delay.  While the exception for HOW I LIVE NOW seems entirely reasonable, I’m not sure what would explain or excuse a four month delay.  Thus, I am not very optimistic that A MONSTER CALLS will be ruled eligible.  But, take heart, Candlewick!  Word on the street is that you yet have a thoroughbred in your stable for the Newbery race: BLUEFISH by Pat Schmatz.

Jonathan Hunt About Jonathan Hunt

Jonathan Hunt is the Coordinator of Library Media Services at the San Diego County Office of Education. He served on the 2006 Newbery committee, and has also judged the Caldecott Medal, the Printz Award, the Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards, and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. You can reach him at


  1. Dang Jonathan! You are a killjoy this morning! It seems to me that A purpose of the Newbery is to encourage better children’s books for youngsters in this country. I am wondering whether we need to continue requiring books to be published in the US first (or simultaneously, in all its eligibility manifestations)? What would be the downside of opening the Newbery to ANY book published in the year from any country as long as it is distributed in the US?

    Happy Friday!

  2. Whoa, hold on there.

    The sentence: For purposes of these awards, “published simultaneously” means that a book was first published in the United States within the same calendar year that it was first published in any other country, whether or not the actual dates of publication are identical.

    Doesn’t seem to negate A MONSTER CALLS but affirm its eligibility. A four month span is still “within the same calendar year”. If it had come out in Jan of 2011 in GB and Dec in the US, wouldn’t that be the same calendar year? Am I misinterpreting?

    Upon receipt of my US copy of MONSTER yesterday I began reading it again. I have to say life was easier when only one book had all my Newbery love. Oh Schmidt and Ness, my devotion is divided.

  3. (I agree, I don’t understand what is disqualifying A Monster Calls, either, based on what’s written here. But I’m really commenting to protest: it looks like we just lost our “most recent comments” box on the blog-front to make room for the Printz and Caldecott blogroll thing, and I MUST PROTEST. Please tell whoever’s in charge of web design for this space that “most recent comments” is absolutely vital to the conversation here. We’re often having active conversations on three or more posts at once, and we’ll never know that other people are commenting, especially on posts that are more than a day or two old, without that box.)

  4. Jonathan Hunt says:

    Wendy, I agree and have a note into the powers that be. Cross promotion is wonderful, but it cannot come at the expense of the recent comments.

    Look very closely at the example provided for HOW I LIVE NOW, especially the last sentence of that paragraph.

  5. Heh, Recent Comments are already back. Maybe I caught them in a moment of web redesign.

    I don’t get it, Jonathan. I may be obtuse. That sentence says that How I Live Now was “ruled eligible”. A Monster Calls was first published in the US in the same calendar year it was first published in the UK, which is what the criteria calls for. Right? The difference was a few days in regard to How I Live Now and a few months in regard to A Monster Calls, but where in the criteria does it give a timeframe other than calendar year?

  6. What Wendy said.

  7. Jonathan Hunt says:

    While the expanded definition does indeed restrict the publication date to the same calendar year (which criteria A MONSTER CALLS obviously meets), the example *further* restricts it (i.e. the British edition was actually released a few days—BUT ONLY A FEW DAYS—before the U.S. edition). The implication is: We’ll let this one slide, but only because the US publication date is five days later–and only because you have a good excuse. If ALSC did not want this criteria to be interpreted this restrictively, they would have chosen a different example (e.g. a British book published in January of one calendar year with an American edition published in December of the same year). You are correct that they have not given a more specific time frame, probably because they could not look into their crystal ball, and see that Wendy and DaNae would think that a four month difference is simultaneous, but also to allow for flexibility in differing circumstances. If Candlewick can come up with a timeline that explains the four month delay to the satisfaction of ALSC (e.g. the printing press broke and we had to wait for the parts, the editor was on maternity leave and so the project was held up for a couple months, etc.), then I think it may be ruled eligible, but I am not as optimistic as either of you.

  8. Jonathan Hunt says:

    I would like some discussion on this thread that presumes the book will be eligible, and that focuses on the distinguished qualities. I, too, really like the book, and am frustrated by my reading of the criteria (but I see no other way to read them). I don’t want the negativity of the eligibility discussion to overwhelm the celebration of its distinguished features.

  9. Mark Flowers says:

    I am VERY impatiently awaiting my copy of the book, so I can’t discuss it’s actual merits, but I have to agree with Wendy and others that the publication criteria does not seem to preclude its eligibility. A single example of how to apply the rules can’t possibly (in my mind) change the plain text of the rule itself which simply requires publication within the calendar year. At the very least it seems that there is enough room there for the committee to make an argument about it.

    I’m more concerned about the residence requirement. It seems like it requires that the author maintain a residence in the US, even if s/he travels or maintains other residences. Jonathan – do we know if Ness actually has a home in the US? Or does his citizenship make this criterion unnecessary – I don’t quite get it.

  10. Jonathan Hunt says:

    While most of the issues the committee faces (e.g. Is this a book for a 13-14 year old?) are handled very democratically with each member given the opportunity to give input, eligibility issues are the exception. These are the sole discretion of the chair, made in conjunction with the priority consultant who acts as a liasion with the ALSC Executive Board and/or previous Newbery chairs. I don’t even think chairs solicit opinions, but they are not required to do so, and would not be bound in any way by those opinions even if they did. So . . . you could have 15 commitee members who want to recognize a book, and nobody would know the prevailing sentiment, because it won’t even be brought up for discussion before the committee–if it’s ruled ineligible by the chair.

    If Ness is a US citizen then it doesn’t matter where he lives.

  11. Jonathan Hunt says:

    I also hasten to add that the eligibility decison on A MONSTER CALLS was almost certainly made months ago, and thus whatever we say here will have no bearing on that decision.

  12. Jonathan, maybe a new post that is about the book instead of about its eligibility would inspire discussion about the distinguished features–but I think many of us are in the same boat, since the book just came out over here, and have not read it. Meanwhile, there are lots of other good books that have been out for months… we might better be able to talk about those.

  13. Jonathan Hunt says:

    I had hoped to start out with a discussion of eligibility on spring titles such as THE QUEEN OF WATER and THE GIRL WHO CIRCUMNAVIGATED FAIRYLAND, but people were clamoring to discuss A MONSTER CALLS in a recent thread, so I obliged.

  14. Damned if you do/don’t. I want to discuss The Queen of Water and Fairyland–I returned the second unread to the library because I heard its eligibility question was open-and-shut, so if I need to get it back, I want to know.

  15. Just finished my first Newbery Club with 5th and 6th graders. I read the first page of A MONSTER CALLS in a discussion on deliniation of character. I then asked the kids to tell me what they knew about Conor after just one page. Responses:

    He is afraid of something
    He is a loner
    He is shy
    He is tough

    We then talked about how great writing doesn’t come out and tell you what to think about characters and theme, but shows you.

  16. Jonathan Hunt says:

    Well, let’s be cautiously optimistic, then, shall we? I believe the only point that would trip it up would be the staggered publication date, but I would *LOVE* to be proved wrong because I think the book easily belongs in the top tier–OKAY FOR NOW, WONDERSTRUCK, DEAD END IN NORVELT, PENDERWICKS, MAY AMELIA, AMELIA LOST–that we have discussed so far. We’ll return to it next month after more people have had a chance to read it, and we can discuss its literary merits. In the meantime, if you want to weigh in on its eligibility status, then you can continue to post here.

    I’m leaning toward ineligibility on THE GIRL WHO CIRCUMNAVIGATED FAIRYLAND, but like A MONSTER CALLS, I think you can make a case either way. It’s up next . . .

  17. Jonathan Hunt says:

    One final point and then I’ll shut up. Obviously, we only have the Expanded Definitions & Examples before us (which isn’t necessarily a lot to go on), but the chair through the priority consultant may tap into the collective brain, so to speak, to see if/how similar issues were dealt with previously. So that could be a piece of the puzzle, too . . .

  18. Nina Lindsay says:

    Whoa…I get busy for a day and look what I miss.

    Hm. Ok–my gut reaction is in the more liberal interpretation. I know these manuals are worded extremely carefully, and I would expect the definition itself to mean exactly what it says. I think the wording of the last sentence of the example can be read in two ways.

    (I expect that *nothing* we say here bears on any eligibility decision. It is possible that someone might pick up a point here and further research it, but–folks–it’s not our game. Maybe this will be my weekend post…)

  19. Isn’t The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland ineligible because it was first published in e-form on the web two years ago?

  20. I’m not sure if this is best place on the site to ask this burning question, but I know the frequent flyers on this here will be the most informed.

    What books that have to yet to be released should I be on the lookout for?

    I am anxiously awaiting the new Richard Peck. Although by my count it is the third rodent book by a Newbery Medalist this year. (Was there some sort of vermin advocate demonstration at the secret Newbery clubhouse?)

    I am waiting delivery on:

    Never Forgotten
    Heart and Soul
    Spiral by Spiral
    The Apothecary
    Tuesdays at the Castle

    Is there anything else I should be on alert for?

  21. Jonathan Hunt says:

    Recently published, but perhaps under your radar–


    Still to be published in November–


  22. Ok, have Breadcrumbs on the way and in possession of Jefferson as of Thurs.

    Amazon classifies Bluefish as YA, I take it it’s under the 14 year mark.

    I’ll look out for the other two.

  23. Jonathan Hunt says:

    Bluefish is published by Candlewick for ages 12 and up, and the Horn Book thinks it is a strong Newbery contender. I’ve read the first 20 pages or so, and there’s nothing that would give me pause yet. Besides, Travis is an 8th grader–just like Doug in OKAY FOR NOW. Is that YA? 🙂

  24. Jonathan Hunt says:

    Also, WITH A NAME LIKE LOVE by Tess Hilmo got a couple mentions on the 2012 Newbery Reading List, now has two starred reviews, and came out on September 27.

  25. Eric Carpenter says:

    To echo some early commentors BIGGER THAN A BREAD BOX is another recent book that deserves a close look. I read half last night and think it will be a useful book to compare with A MONSTER CALLS.

    Regarding A MONSTER CALLS, since no one else seems to want to take up Jonathan’s plea for a discussion of the book’s merits instead of its eligiblity I will offer up my initial thoughts on the book:

    (copied from my goodreads review)
    Who is the audience for this book? It seems like another adult book masquerading as a children’s book. I totally get where all the praise is coming from but for me I couldn’t get over how unlikable the characters were. I found myself pitying Conor but not really liking him. This isn’t a book I would reread so that I could spend more time with the characters or their world. I didn’t think the sentence level writing was particularly exceptional and the plotting wasn’t anything special either. I get that a lot of readers will have a strong emotional response to the story and it’s a legitimate response. The book isn’t manipulative or anything like that it’s just was not particularly interesting.
    I will say that the book design and illustrations are superb.

    I feel like this is a book I would recommend to an adult rather than a student. Is this a book that comforts parents more than it speaks to children? (a better written Love You Forever?)

    To reiterate what I said above, I just couldn’t see anything likable in any of the characters. I thought the most interesting character was Harry but I wouldn’t call him likeable.

    Am I way off base here? Is there a neccessary amount of emotional baggage the reader must bring to this book in order to be fully invested? If so would middle grade readers who haven’t experienced a loss meet this requirement?

    In the book Conor is enraged by the fact that everyone seems to be giving him a pass because of the situtation he’s in, let’s make sure we aren’t doing the same thing with Ness’ book.

  26. I want to take up a discussion of the book . . . just haven’t finished it yet!

  27. KT Horning says:

    This discussion thread is a perfect example of why eligibility is NOT determined by the committee or even the committee chair but, rather, referred to the Priority Group Consultant who will discuss the hairiest cases with the ALSC Executive Committee. The EC has the final say in such matters, and it is these very questions that can lead to clarification and tweaking of definitions. Imagine how awful it would be for the committee to waste time having these sorts of discussions — their attention must be on whether books are distinguished, not whether they are eligible.

    This is actually, I think, one of the perils of mock discussions. Eligibility issues become magnified and can be easily blown out of proportion. This is fine if participants understand that chief purpose of mock discussions in to educate people about the process and how the awards work, rather than to guess what will win or to make a case for what should or shouldn’t win. The real Newbery Committee wouldn’t spend so much time focused on a book with an eligibility question looming unless or until eligibility had been verified.

  28. Well, actually, isn’t the chief purpose of mock discussions whatever the participants want it to be? Making “a case for what should or shouldn’t win” is exactly why I’m here.

  29. KT Horning says:

    In my experience with mock award discussions in university, public school, and public library settings, the purpose of such discussions is purely educational. In fact, it’s always stressed that the real committee considers and discusses far many more books, and that there’s no way to know what they are discussing, what they are saying about them, or what the results will be prior to the announcement of the winners.

    “Making a case for what should or shouldn’t win” certainly has a long tradition with people who are outsiders to the process, and is exactly the type of interest Frederic Melcher hoped to spark in children’s books when he created the Medal. People do it all the time and many who do have read far fewer books than the people on this blog have.

    But given the attention given to eligibility and other process-related issues, I had assumed the purpose of this blog, as with other mock discussions, was to help people understand what the Newbery Medal is and how it is awarded. Perhaps Nina or Jonathan can clarify.

  30. Nina Lindsay says:

    Wendy, I think as long as you’re only hoping to “make a case for what should or shouldn’t win” to everyone *except* the committee members…then you won’t be disappointed. Committee members will likely pay attention, but again, they’re really relying on each other only for the ultimate case-making.

    I certainly started the blog, and the mock discussion, to help spread understanding *and excitement* about the Newbery. This discussion we’re having right now is, by necessity, one that happens every year around this time, and is part of the whole shebang. Making a case for certain titles is also part of the shebang, but only one part of it, and not the ultimate purpose. Doesn’t mean there’s not a place for those who are drawn by that part of it.

  31. Jonathan Hunt says:

    Eric, when I was reading A MONSTER CALLS I definitely thought this qualified as most distinguished in the elements of style and theme, but I never had the emotional reaction that many people did either.

    You bring up some interesting questions. Do characters need to be likeable in order to be distinguished? Do we need to identify with them? I think the answer to both questions is absolutely not. Clearly, the fact that we like Doug and identify with him helps enormously. Not everyone, not even all children, necessarily read with these requirements in mind.

  32. KT Horning says:

    Interesting question, Eric and Jonathan. I have always found unlikeable characters a very hard sell with young readers — even college students, who always want characters to be “relatable.”

    Can you think of an unlikeable character in a Newbery book?

    Also, while the Newbery isn’t for popularity, the committee does have to keep audience in mind, and if someone were going to convince me that “Okay for Now” is distinguished, it would be by showing me how it speaks to young readers. It strikes me as a wish fulfillment novel for the 10-14 age group. I would love to hear how young readers respond to it. (I almost had a chance to do this when I saw a 12-year-old girl reading it a few weeks ago, but she was only half way through.)

  33. Jonathan Hunt says:

    Likeability, too, is probably relative to each reader. I didn’t find Conor unlikeable. Unlikeable characters from the Newbery canon? Hmmm. How about WHAT JAMIE SAW? I pitied him more than I liked him, same as Eric with Conor. Gilly and Turtle are not likeable–at least, not initially. Others?

    Generally speaking, I do agree with you about likeability, KT, but does a reader need to be able to *identify* with the reader in order for the book to be successful? That’s the more problematic question for me. And if the answer is yes, then I would ask if that means first person is a superior narrative voice for that end?

  34. Mark Flowers says:

    The likeability question is a really good one. Personally, I seem to recall liking all of the protagonists of the books I read when I was young, simply BECAUSE they were the protagonist. I don’t think it would have occurred to me to dislike them. The specific examples I can think of are various kid-oriented biographies I used to read–including some truly horrifying people like Stalin (seriously – I remember reading about Stalin and insisting that he must have been an OK guy at some point 😉

    On a different tack, reading them as an adult, I found Harry Potter to be among the least likeable of the main characters in the series, but I doubt that his child readers would agree with me.

  35. KT Horning says:

    Concerning first person, Jonathan, I believe it actually distances young readers from the text. As a ten year old once told me, “‘I’ books are hard for me because I never know who ‘I’ is. But in a book like HOLES you always know who the characters are because the author tells you.”

    I think what this child was saying was that as a novice reader, he hadn’t yet developed the skills for inferring and suspending disbelieft that are required for first person narratives. A 12 or 13 year old would probably be better able to handle first person. Whether he or she would identify with it more, I don’t know. I don’t always identify with first person voices — do you?

  36. I actually thought first person was often easier for novice readers, at least so I’ve seen among my 4th graders. I’m thinking of the tremendous appeal, for example, of Wimpy Kid. Those first person books (by an arguable unlikeable protagonist) are particularly enjoyed by my less-sophisticated readers. They also go for Percy Jackson partly I’m thinking because of Percy’s snarky first person voice. Goes down smoothly and easily.

    Perhaps there are different sorts of first person narrators for kids? Percy being the sort they’d follow anywhere while Doug is one they are a bit way about, indeed not sure who he is. That is, maybe it is more about reliability than first person?

  37. “a bit wary” i meant.

  38. Yeah, I’m wondering if Mark and KT are underestimating the young reading masses a bit . . . when likeable characters do unlikeable things in the books I read aloud, it doesn’t take too long for my students’ opinion of the character to be swayed, or at least called into question.

    They recognize likeability just fine. I’ll try and think of some examples . . .

  39. Jonathan Hunt says:

    I don’t know that child readers have a preference between first and third person. I think I could cite examples from each that are popular with students–and I could find students that would prefer one over the other. I do, however, think that many adults prefer to read first person in children’s and young adult books, especially when the voice works well. To my mind, first person is harder to write well, but now everybody’s writing in that annoying first person present tense voice. Yuck! And the worse thing of all is first person present tense combined with a lack of editing.

  40. KT Horning says:

    You may be right, Mr H, but it could also be the difference between third graders (readers I am most familiar with) and fifth graders. I do agree that it’s important to get responses from the young readers themselves, rather than making assumptions about them.

    I also think there is a big difference between an unlikeable character and a likeable character who does unlikeable things. And I would bet that adults and kids would sometimes disagree on which characters were likeable and which were unlikeable.

  41. Mark Flowers says:

    Just to be clear, Mr. H – I’m only reporting my own experience. I am perfectly willing to concede that I could be a huge freak.

  42. Sam Bloom says:

    Just saw your mention of Bluefish here, Jonathan – have you finished it yet? Just finished it tonight and loved it. I’m laying the bait (ha) – I hope you and/or Nina tackle (ha) this one soon!

  43. Jonathan Hunt says:

    I liked BLUEFISH quite a bit, too. I’m not sure that I liked it better than A MONSTER CALLS, though. It came about a month ago, but I haven’t heard too much buzz, despite two starred reviews, and from the stingiest publications, no less: Horn Book and Bulletin. Have enough people read it?

  44. Sam Bloom says:

    Yeah, I’m waiting oh so impatiently for my copy of Monster Calls to come in… that whole Bluefish scenario (a few starred reviews, not a whole lot of buzz, few people reading it) reminds me eerily of a certain book from last year by a first time author. I’ll bet you can guess what I’m talking about…

  45. I liked Bluefish quite a lot, and wouldn’t be too surprised to see it with an award, but for me it didn’t beat my top picks. I could be persuaded, and would love to see Jonathan or Nina talk about it in terms of the criteria.

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