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Heavy Medal: A Mock Newbery Blog
Inside Heavy Medal

Louise Erdrich

I’ve mentioned here and there in the comments that I just never warmed up to THE BIRCHBARK HOUSE and THE GAME OF SILENCE for whatever reason, and I’m not even sure that I read THE PORCUPINE YEAR, but I really, really like CHICKADEE.  While it’s currently not in my top three, should one of those titles falter, this is one of a dozen or so titles that I can be talked into supporting, so I’m pleased to see that it has a couple nominations already.

I like the shorter length of this book, I like that the narrative frequently switches viewpoints and generates more suspense, and I like the humor.  Here’s one of my favorite scenes, when Two Strike finally catches Chickadee’s kidnappers, and they fall head over heels for her.

Babiche trembled as he gave directions to the cabin.  Even as he shuddred, though, he was filled with admiration for Two Strike.  He looked at his brother.  Batiste had opened one eye just a crack, and its gleam told Babiche that he thought Two Strike was magnificent.

“We have treated the boy like our own son,” cried Babiche.  “Because we heard of the beauty of this vision before us.  This woman, Two Strike.”

Two Strike bent over and snarled at him.  This snarl completely melted the heart of Babiche.  He begged her to marry him–and his brother, too–right on the spot.

“And the horses will be our wedding gift!” he said.

Two Strike’s hand grabbed his throat.  “You are lucky to escape with your own life,” she said.  “If I ever see you or your brother again I’ll slice you to ribbons, I’ll tear you to shreds, I’ll grind you to pulp.  I’ll destroy you!”

“Oh, what heaven!” cried Babiche.  “My heart is already mashed like a boiled potato!”

Batiste lifted his head, dizzy with emotion.  He quickly added.  “And mine is crushed like a rotten turnip!”

“We are a bouyah of love, boiling for you!” they shouted together.

But the two were calling after a quickly disappearing Two Strike.

But Louise Erdrich has written another book this year that we might do well to consider: THE ROUND HOUSE.  This book just won the National Book Award for Fiction.  Yes, it is published for adults, but that does not preclude it from Newbery consideration if an intended potential audience is children up to and including the age of fourteen.

This part of the criteria was tweaked recently, presumably to discourage the committee from considering books published for adults, but I find that it clarifies nothing.  HarperCollins could have published this as a YA book, clearly indicating that children are an intended potential audience, but that might have robbed the book of a broader audience.  Publishing THE ROUND HOUSE as an adult book does not mean that HarperCollins did not intend for the audience to include 7th, 8th, and 9th graders.  Nor do I believe that Louise Erdrich, when writing this book about a thirteen-year-old boy, intended to exclude a middle school/junior high audience.  And, honestly, if we are going to consider things like NO CRYSTAL STAIR, BEYOND A METH MOON, NEVER FALL DOWN, and CODE NAME VERITY, then should we not consider this one, too?

Now before anyone gets their knickers in a twist, let me say that I haven’t read this book beyond the summary, the reviews, and the free preview on Amazon, but I like what I see so far.  I’m 41st on the hold list at my public library.  I wouldn’t go out of my way to search out books published for adults, but this one–or, say, FAIRY TALES FROM THE BROTHERS GRIMM by Philip Pullman (if it had been eligible by virtue of residency) are the kind I would check out, at the very least.

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. I’m halfway through THE ROUND HOUSE and so far it’s easily young YA (junior high) as far as the plot goes. But the suspense of the story (which is in Jodi Picoult territory) is getting bled by the flatness of the prose and I can’t see kids sticking with it. (Nor me, come to that.)

  2. Chickadee, on the other hand, has suspense, humor, a plethora of child-appealing incident and detail, and lots of heart, all superimposed on a backdrop of a pivotal point in our national history.

  3. Now is perhaps the time for the obligatory mention that novels such as THE SECRET GARDEN, ANNE OF GREEN GABLES, ALICE’S ADVENTURES IN WONDERLAND, and many more were originally published as “adult” novels.

  4. Can’t speak for the others, but Carroll certainly wrote his for children and published it himself. Why do you say it was published for adults?

  5. I am quite certain that Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland was intended for children. Carroll invented the tales to entertain Alice Liddell and her sisters, and eventually published the two books. (And Burnnett definitely wrote with child readers in mind as well.) I feel obliged also to remind everyone that at the time of these classics mentioned by Mark, there were no specialized children’s literary publisher or children’s department within publishing houses when these books were created and published. So, it was natural for these book to have a wider readership. But, eventually, they found their way into children’s lives and are now firmly viewed as children’s classics. A huge part of the intent and influence of The Newbery is indeed to give notice and separate the field so the children’s books publishing business can be taken care of by people who are most interested in creating and publishing good books for children.

  6. Well, as for Alice – it was certainly intended for both adults along with children, especially considering the mathematical underpinnings of it. But Monica and Roxanne are right that it was written with Alice Liddell in mind.

    THE SECRET GARDEN though was initially published as a serial for adults in American Magazine, though it too was widely read by children from the start. I probably could have found better examples if I hadn’t been in a rush. Perhaps Mark Twain would work better for my purposes.

    Roxanne is certainly right that part of the purpose of the the Newbery was exactly to delineate a specifically children’s literature. My comment was only meant to refer to the fact that the publishing history of a title has very little to do with how books are actually used by real people, especially after the initial marketing push has faded.

  7. Mark, Carroll absolutely intended Alice for children. 100%. As Roxanne/fairrosa noted he first told the stories to the Liddell children and then, at the encouragement of George MacDonald and others, developed it into a book for publication. While certainly adults enjoyed (one notable one was Queen Victoria) the book, it is firstly a book for children. Yes, Carroll has a lot of mathematical play in it doesn’t mean he intended it for adults. Absolutely not. The play is very much written for children, in fact. I’ve read this book aloud yearly for over twenty years from the annotated version and so I know it very, very,very well. In fact he took the pseudonym Lewis Carroll to separate his writings for children from the logic writings he did under his real name Charles Dodgson.

    Sorry….but my blog is called educating alice for a reason:)

  8. Just finished CHICKADEE and quite liked it. I was a fan of the previous books (especially THE GAME OF SILENCE) and enjoyed being back in the world of this family. There are some wonderful scenes of drama, humor, warmth, and caring. I loved, for instance, the section with Chickadee and the Father, Mother, and Sisters. I’m still processing the rehabilitation of the two big bumbling brothers who kidnap him initially. Having just finished Philip Pullman’s magnificent retellings of the Grimm fairy tales these two felt like something in one of those tales. However, there were also moments where I felt there was a bit too much relating, telling if you will, information for the child readers. Also, there was a moment where Chickadee has a huge epiphany about the future that I found a tad over the top. So one I wouldn’t necessarily nominate, but perhaps one I could be convinced to get behind.

  9. Jonathan Hunt says

    TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD (1960) and WHERE THE RED FERN GROWS (1961) are more recent books that were published by adult publishers that would have been entirely welcome in the Newbery canon. Of course, A WRINKLE IN TIME (1962) was also published by an adult house–FSG did not publish juvenile books at that time–and it won the Newbery Medal. In his recent Horn Book article, “What the !@#$ is a Children’s Book Anyway?”, Neil Gaiman talks about how close CORALINE came to being published as an adult book. It was only pubilshed as a children’s book because his agent’s six-year-old daughter lied about how scary it was. CORALINE would have made a wonderful Newbery book, regardless of how it was published.

  10. Monica – I bow to you on anything Alice related. 🙂

  11. I’ve never understood the juvenilification of To Kill a Mockingbird, myself. In fact, I think it’s a great example of something that irritates me about most–not all–discussion of adult books for kids, especially as regards awards. I don’t believe that any child reader gets out of To Kill a Mockingbird what a teenager or adult does. That may seem like an obvious statement, and I know that just because a kid may not grasp the main points of a book doesn’t mean they don’t get SOMETHING from it. But when a really talented author writes a great book for young people, I think almost always they do it with a specific goal of presenting the story for young people; they say things differently from how they might in an adult book. It takes a different skill set, a different kind of talent, perhaps. And isn’t that the point here? To honor authors and books that speak especially to children? (Sometimes serendipity happens, and an author writes a children’s book without planning it; and sometimes, as with ANNE OF GREEN GABLES, trends in adult fiction leave a certain kind of story behind that happily retains its magic for children and young adults.)

    That TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD is mysteriously being seen, more and more, as a children’s book doesn’t serve the book well. I think it’s less likely to reach its intended readers.

    I said something similar (or maybe just thought about saying it?) when we’ve discussed CODE NAME VERITY. To honor the book for children ignores and distorts the skill with which it’s presented for young adults.

    And Jonathan, A WRINKLE IN TIME was certainly published as a children’s book, even though FSG didn’t normally do that. Madeleine L’Engle often spoke about how she just wrote books without regard for whether they were for children or adults, but I think she was being pithy and a bit disingenuous; some of her other remarks about specific books refute that idea. Not to mention the books themselves.

    As for whether we “should” consider THE ROUND HOUSE since we’re considering NO CRYSTAL STAIR, BEYOND A METH MOON, NEVER FALL DOWN, and CODE NAME VERITY… oh, come, now. For one thing, all of those books were published for young readers, and THE ROUND HOUSE, despite any crossover appeal it may have, was published for adults; that’s not a really apt comparison. And the mentioning of those titles reinforces the point I wanted to make above. My sister disagrees with me (and she’s the expert), but I thought NO CRYSTAL STAIR was elegantly presented for a middle school audience, when it COULD have been an adult book. I don’t know how she accomplished it, but she did. I think I’ve been clear enough that I am puzzled that anyone would consider the other three eligible for the Newbery. METH MOON, maybe, at least in an “interesting to talk about” way. But aren’t there other good, well-reviewed, ahem, children’s books we haven’t discussed yet, even if you also only know them from the Amazon reviews and previews?

    I do enjoy CHICKADEE. I thought it started very slow, or it might be in my (genuine) top five. (I was one who nominated it.) It’s one of the few Newbery-buzzed books this year (though the buzz has been very mild) that I thought was really funny, and I want more funny books in the canon as much as I want more of any other underrepresented thing.

  12. I’ve been reading and writing these comments as I sit on the reference desk for 3 straight hours, and just after I posted my last comment, a teen came up to me and asked me for a copy of THE SCARLET LETTER for a school assignment. Now, I have no problem whatsoever with teens reading Hawthorne, but it does strike me as somewhat odd that books like THE SCARLET LETTER have become YA titles to a certain extent – the vast majority of the copies in my library system are labelled YA. And I think it is because I agree with Wendy. I think it’s great when teens read up to adult titles, or when children read up to teen or adult titles, but I certainly don’t think that makes the adult title magically become a teen or children’s book.

    This might seem to somewhat contradict my earlier comments. But I don’t think so. I think there are certain books that could easily be published in any number of markets and it is essentially a publishing decision as to how they are handled. Others really are published with a specific audience in mind. THE SCARLET LETTER is . . . um, not really a YA book.

    TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD . . . I read it (in school) in 7th grade, 9th grade, and in my Freshman Lit class in college (and maybe one other time – teachers sure love that book), and I got something different out of it each time, but certainly got a ton out of it even that first time. Though I completely agree with Wendy that it is not a “children’s book”, I think it might be one of those rare books that is appropriate sort of across the board. Not that I’m going to go back and read it a 4th (or 5th) time to try to find out.

  13. Mark, could you point examples of children’s classics from that time period that were actually published by a “children’s publisher” with no adult readership that were not primers or something educational, etc.?

    I’m trying to track down some other canonic children’s classics and found that: “Water Babies” was published in serial form in Macmillan Magazine in 1863 (even though his intent was pretty obvious that this is a tale for his son a “land baby.”) And “Just So Stories” was originally titled “Just So Stories for Little Children” and published in 1902 by Bernhard Tauchnitz, which did not have a children’s department. But I imagine that the book was mostly shared by families with their “little children.” Wondering how we can verify that.

  14. Roxanne – nope, I can’t. I clearly got in way over my head with my early comments. For some reason I thought this was a more or less standard view point so I didn’t need to research it. Obviously not! Sorry! I humbly retract my comments about the publication histories of those turn of the century novels I mentioned. Thanks for keeping me honest.

  15. Mark, your comments did make me wonder about the separation of “children’s books,” “YA books,” and “Adult Books.” Are there truly inherent literary distinctions or perhaps the separations had more to do with targeted marketing and the bottom line?

  16. Jonathan Hunt says

    I’ve never thought of TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD as a juvenile novel, and I’ve never seen it referred to as such. I do think it would have made a good YA novel, one that could easily appeal to 13- and 14-year-olds, and I’d certainly put it in the canon sooner than I’d put CODE NAME VERITY or CHIME there.

    Madeleine L’Engle clearly wrote A WRINKLE IN TIME as a children’s book, and I’m sure that most, if not all, of the 2-3 dozen publishers that rejected the book were children’s publishers. I’m sure Farrar thought of this as a children’s book when they published it even though they didn’t publish children’s books, but since their marketing team wasn’t hip to the children’s scene, I wonder what kind of advertisting push it got, and how the sales team got it into bookstores and libraries. Was the book even submitted to the committee? I really don’t know the answers to these questions, but my guess is that this was a vigilant committee that went out of their way to find this book and recognize it.

    I really don’t care who a book is published for, the real question is how do children respond to it. Some books are published for adults that succeed wonderfully at presentation for a child audience. Some books are published for children that fail miserably at presentation for a child audience. I haven’t the slightest clue how children would respond to THE ROUND HOUSE, but you can bet that if I found it sufficiently distinguished, and I was curious about how it appealed to children, whether it respected their abilities, understandings, and appreciations, then I would field test it on junior high students until I felt that I could answer those questions with confidence.

  17. Oh, A Wrinkle in Time got several positive reviews when it was published; I don’t get the impression that it was an out-of-nowhere choice. Yet again, missing Peter Sieruta here.

    (Agreed, by the way, that I’d rather see TKAM in the Newbery canon than CNV.)

  18. Jonathan Hunt says

    My impression is that the choice was more prone to surprises then because of (a) the lack of communication that we have today and (b) the diversity of publishers. I mean, L’Engle was rejected by at least 26 publishers. Are there even 26 publishers left?

    From Wikipedia–

    When she completed the book in early 1960, it was rejected by at least 26 publishers, because it was, in L’Engle’s words, “too different”, and “because it deals overtly with the problem of evil, and it was really difficult for children, and was it a children’s or an adults’ book, anyhow?”

    L’Engle explains another possible reason for the rejections: “A Wrinkle in Time had a female protagonist in a science fiction book,” which at the time “wasn’t done” according to L’Engle. After trying “forty-odd” publishers (L’Engle later said “twenty-six rejections”), L’Engle’s agent returned the manuscript to her. Then at Christmas, L’Engle threw a tea party for her mother. One of the guests happened to know John C. Farrar of Farrar, Straus and Giroux, and insisted that L’Engle should meet with him. Although the publisher did not at the time publish a line of children’s books, Farrar met L’Engle, liked the novel and ultimately published it.

    From the Washington Post–

    Finally, one publisher, John Farrar, decided that “Wrinkle’s” uniqueness was what made it worth publishing. He didn’t expect it to sell many copies, though, let alone win the Newbery. L’Engle herself was surprised that so many kids loved the book. She didn’t set out to write a kids book. She wrote what was in her head, whatever that was, and she felt she had no power to change the story that came out.

  19. It was advertised in the Horn Book prior to publication and got a good review albeit along the lines of “a lot of people are going to look down their nose at this, and, yes, it’s preachy and uneven, but we love it anyway.”

  20. Liz Burns had a piece on her blog recently about various labels for literature such as ‘new adult’ and ‘cross under’ that are being tossed about by the media these days. My feeling is that it’s much more for marketing purposes than any actual literary distinction between the levels. A good book is a good book, at least in my opinion.

    Almost everything we discuss here is assumed to be pleasure reading for kids, and although some Newbery titles are curriculum by now (GIVER, MANIAC MAGEE being the two I can think of offhand), once we hit middle and high school most of the books on school reading lists have traditionally been adult titles as opposed to YA. I think that’s changing (I only taught elementary, so can’t really say), but THE SCARLET LETTER was definitely curriculum when I was in high school and I think still is in Virginia, so you will have lots of teens reading it (possibly unwillingly!).

  21. Barbara Ehrenreich’s NICKEL & DIMED and Eric Schlosser’s FAST FOOD NATION (granted, NF examples) are two contemporary curricular titles that are read by a lot of teens, but there’s no argument I can entertain that they were written *for* teens.
    Truly, not every title has to seep downward into the teen or kids collection.

  22. Debbie Reese says

    Glad to see The Round House being discussed. Definitely works for teen readers. I loved it and Chickadee, too.

  23. I just finished reading The Round House and loved it. I do wonder from time to time why some books with teenage narrators aren’t designated YA and others are. But I was stopped at a couple of fairly graphic sex/violence scenes in the novel that took it out of the YA category for me.

  24. Valerie: They’re no worse, in my mind, than the rape scene in JULIE OF THE WOLVES.

  25. Jean Mendoza says

    I also thought The Round House was amazing. It pulled me in and kept me there — laughing, shivering, weeping — and I had to immediately read it again, but not because it was entertaining. It was a rough and painful ride, a complex horror story that brought up rough and painful emotions although there was comfort in there somewhere, too. I reread it because there was more to know, that I couldn’t let in the first time through. My husband also found it compelling. But I’d be cautious about recommending it to a young teen I didn’t know well.

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