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Heavy Medal: A Mock Newbery Blog
Inside Heavy Medal

Mock Newbery Results!

20 people (19 voters) gathered together yesterday afternoon at the Rockridge branch of the Oakland Public Library to discuss our shortlist with the following results.


















During the discussion, I thought BOMB and SPLENDORS AND GLOOMS emerged as the most likely contenders and the first ballot reflected this.


BENEATH A METH MOON . . . 1 (1st) + 1 (2nd) + 1 (3rd) = 9 points

BOMB . . . 8 (1st) + 7 (2nd) + 1 (3rd) = 55 points

LIAR & SPY . . . 2 (1st) + 3 (2nd) + 6 (3rd) = 29 points

MOONBIRD . . . 1 (2nd) + 3 (3rd) = 9 points

NO CRYSTAL STAIR . . .  1 (1st) + 2 (2nd) + 2 (3rd) = 14 points

THE ONE AND ONLY IVAN  . . . 1 (1st) + 1 (2nd) + 1 (3rd) = 9 points

SPLENDORS AND GLOOMS . . . 6 (1st) + 3 (2nd) + 3 (3rd) = 39 points

STARRY RIVER OF THE SKY . . . 1 (2nd) + 2 (3rd) = 7 points


We decided to keep all the titles for a second ballot; discussed BOMB, LIAR & SPY, and SPLENDORS AND GLOOMS further; and proceeded to the decisive second ballot.


BENEATH A METH MOON . . . 1 (2nd) + 2 (3rd) = 7 points

BOMB . . . 11 (1st) + 4 (2nd) + 4 (3rd) = 64 points

LIAR & SPY . . . 4 (1st) + 4 (2nd) + 4 (3rd) = 36 points

MOONBIRD . . . 1 (3rd) = 2 points

NO CRYSTAL STAIR . . . 3 (2nd) + 2 (3rd) = 13 points

THE ONE AND ONLY IVAN . . . 2 (3rd) = 4 points

SPLENDORS AND GLOOMS . . . 4 (1st) + 7 (2nd) + 1 (3rd) = 39 points

STARRY RIVER OF THE SKY . . . 3 (3rd) = 6 points


Because BOMB had 10 first place votes and a 10-point spread, we declared it our winner and chose SPLENDORS AND GLOOMS and LIAR & SPY as honor books.  In slightly different circumstances, I believe any of these books could have emerged as the winner.  Indeed, we have seen these books consistently rated the highest during each round of our online nominations, so it’s possible that when we vote for that later in the week, we may come up with the same three books, but in a slightly different order.  Our discussion of each title was illuminating and insightful, and the positive comments for each book seemed to weigh heavier, in my mind, than the negative ones.  Nina and I will respond to questions and comments, but I hope that other participants will also feel free to chime in with their thoughts on the afternoon.


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. Since those have been my top three choices for months I’m thrilled to bits to see this. I would love to know about some of the discussion, especially about the issues that have come up around BOMB. In particular, did anyone shift from questioning those re BOMB, to feeling satisfied about them?

  2. Jonathan Hunt Jonathan Hunt says:

    Since we only had 15-20 minutes to discuss each title–and there were 20 of us!–we didn’t spend a lot of time rehashing the online discussion. In fact, during our first round of discussion, I think we spent more time discussing whether the horrific moral consequences of Hiroshima were sufficiently communicated to the reader. During the second round of discussion, when we were largely comparing BOMB and SPLENDORS AND GLOOMS head-to-head, the documentation issue was brought up again and contrasted with MOONBIRD. I don’t know that people changed their mind on BOMB. I think everybody finished with a healthy respect for the strengths of the book, and probably some slight disagreement about its weaknesses. I think the bigger factor is that some people simply saw SPLENDORS AND GLOOMS as the stronger book, regardless of whatever issues BOMB had.

    • ” I think the bigger factor is that some people simply saw SPLENDORS AND GLOOMS as the stronger book, regardless of whatever issues BOMB had.”

      I’ve been struggling with a thought all weekend. I find your top three to be my top three, with little to no faults to be found. But my gut reaction after rereading all three is that SPLENDORS AND GLOOMS is by far the most distinguished. I can argue criteria point by criteria point for each, but how do you argue for some sort of ethereal rightness that is not based on logic? Am I just being stupid to even factor this in?

  3. What wonderful choices! Each of these utterly sucked me in as a reader, giving me the thrill of being utterly swept away by a story, by amazing writing, by characters that stay with me long after I finish the last page. Thank you for sharing the journey and all the discussions along the way. Most of all, thank you for celebrating such wonderful books.

  4. Nina Lindsay Nina Lindsay says:

    Danae, our second round of discussion, following that first ballot, centered for quite a while on whether BOMB or SPLENDORS & GLOOMS was the *most* distinguished…and at some point I think we realized that we weren’t necessarily going to shift any votes between those two…that if someone had one as their #1 and the other as their #2, they probably felt just as strongly as the next person that they were right. I’m guessing that the shifting happened among people who’d picked a different title as their #1. Note that in that first ballot…every single title had at least 1 first place vote! And that SPLENDORS actually lost a few first place votes in that second ballot.

    I always like to look at the number of total votes a book receives, even though this has no relevance in the official decision-making. I like that both SPLENDORS and LIAR have 12 votes total in that final ballot…which says to me that a clear majority of us felt they deserved at least an honor. Meanwhile, BOMB had a runaway 16 votes out of 19 possible voters. We did indeed discuss the problems that some of us still have regarding the weaknesses in the source material paired with the style of narrative…but we talked about them in balance of the overall package. Our group had a deep appreciation for the effectiveness of Sheinkin’s narrative, both at sentence level and in structure.

    And though not everyone needs to reveal their voting, I’ll let you in on mine. My first ballot was 1st: SPLENDORS & GLOOMS, 2nd: LIAR & SPY, 3rd: NO CRYSTAL STAIR. Making the decision on the 2nd ballot is always hard. Sometimes if you try to predict where other people are going to move their votes and vote based on that…you can end up with a funny musical chairs that doesn’t end up driving towards consensus. When it came time for the 2nd ballot, I actually felt the same way about my choices, and do still feel that NO CRYSTAL STAIR is “honor book” material. BUT…I could see pretty clearly that we were headed to a narrow field of winner plus 1 or 2 honors and that NO CRYSTAL STAIR wasn’t going to make it. And…I got the sense from the second round of discussion that there were a lot of pulls towards BOMB, and it did have a small but significant lead in the first ballot. I decided that if it was to be our winner, I wanted it to be very decisively our winner. So…I didn’t shift my first and second, but I did listen to my colleagues and move NO CRYSTAL STAIR off my ballot, and BOMB into the third slot for just those couple of points, in case they made a difference. My second ballot was: 1st: SPLENDORS & GLOOMS, 2nd: LIAR & SPY, 3rd: BOMB. It didn’t need my points in the end, but I do really think our second ballot tally is a beautiful one, and shows what a strong consensus looks like. So maybe *I* needed it to have those points.

  5. Jonathan Hunt Jonathan Hunt says:

    DaNae, when it comes right down to it, I think you can make very compelling cases for any of those three books (and perhaps several others, too), so I would encourage you to go with your gut (and with your heart), having done the hard work of reading, rereading, and reflecting. As for me, I think Sheinkin’s narrative nonfiction is in a class by itself, not just when compared with some other fine narrative nonfiction books published this year, namely TITANIC, THE IMPOSSIBLE RESCUE, THE FAIRY RING, and THE GIANT, but when compared with what has preceded it in previous years. I think many people yesterday felt similarly and that’s probably why we voted the way that we did. While I appreciate the work of Schlitz and Stead, I don’t feel like either are a watershed moment in the development of a genre like I do with BOMB.

    • Jonathan, I will concede the watershed moment. I truly hope that with the justifiable recognition BOMB is about to receive that more books of this style will appear. My student readers can’t get enough of it.

      Thank you, and Nina, both for your responses. I will see if I can convince my committee to go with my gut.

      • I found the ballot process really fascinating, particularly the rise of Liar & Spy on the second ballot. I’m thrilled with our winner and honors, and having seen how the removal of any 4 members of our group could have produced an entirely different result has given me a new appreciation for the work that the comittees do. I left our disucssion with the impression that Splendors & Glooms and Bomb are so comparably distinguished that at the end of the day it does come back around to those gut feelings.

        I didn’t include Splendors & Glooms on either of my ballots, although I’m perfectly happy to see it take an honor in our discussion. On my first ballot I went IVAN, BOMB, LIAR & SPY, but on the second moved BOMB and LIAR & SPY up into the first two places and left poor IVAN as my third.

  6. @DaNae – I think Jonathan and Nina have said most everything that needs to be said. Certainly, for many readers, S&G is simply a more powerful book than BOMB, but part of this process is consensus, and I could definitely tell from the room that the consensus was headed towards BOMB.

    I’ll reveal my voting as well. I went into the room prepared to get behind pretty much any book as at least an honor–I felt the shortlist was very strong. Still, I had very strong feelings in favor of BOMB and LIAR AND SPY personally, and a strong belief that although S&G was not a favorite, it deserved attention. So, although I listened carefully to the discussion, and would perhaps have voted differently if stronger cases had been made for, say, STARRY RIVER, I ended up voting on the first ballot as I would have when I walked in: 1) BOMB, 2) LIAR AND SPY, 3) SPLENDORS AND GLOOMS.

    Unfortunately, given the first ballot votes, that didn’t give me a lot of room to move. I would actually personally have liked to move S&G up to number 2 on my second ballot, but I was motivated by similar concerns to Nina’s – I wanted to be sure BOMB had a decisive victory, so I ended up voting the same on the second ballot.

  7. Jonathan Hunt Jonathan Hunt says:

    I voted for 1. BOMB, 2. NO CRYSTAL STAIR, 3. MOONBIRD because those were my top three going in. I ranked them according to the support I felt they had in the discussion, but I could easily have voted for NO CRYSTAL STAIR with my first place vote had the committee been inclined that way. It was clear from the discussion that it was a two-horse race between BOMB and SPLENDORS AND GLOOMS. I didn’t have a good handle on how the other books would fare so I voted strategically until I could see the lay of the land, but I voted the same on the second ballot. Since I’m not the natural reader for either SPLENDORS AND GLOOMS or LIAR & SPY, I would have preferred for this committee to chose SPLENDORS and GLOOMS as the Medal book (if not BOMB) rather than settling for a consensus choice in LIAR & SPY (albeit a very worthy one).

  8. I do think we need to be clear with students the difference between “creative nonfiction” and what they will be expected to do as college students.

    The Bomb is a great book, no doubt about it. As a former grad student in history and a research nut, I got curious about sources and bought the book about Norway that is the sole source for one of his chapters. I found that in at least two cases he turned narrative text into dialogue.
    Does he do it a lot? No idea. Does it matter to most readers? Probably not. Will college students writing nonfiction papers be ablle to do this? No.

    And do all nonfiction authors — for adults or young people do this? Absolutely not. In fact, I tend to doubt some would do this EVER, which means they are trying to create compelling books that adhere to accepted academic standards where sources are NEVER altered. And it means they are not adding dialogue to make their work more novelistic at will.

    One example is this.
    The source , Against the Atom, on p 42, says,”During the fighting in Norway I had felt the lack of military training, and now I asked if could have instruction in the use of weapons. Yes, there was a section that was just the thing for me.”
    On page 51of Sheinkin this becomes.
    “‘Can I have more instructions in the use of weapons?’ Haukelid asked.
    ‘Yes,’ said the officer.”There’s a section which is just the thing for you.'”

    Notice my use of quotes – hey I was well trained! Again, I have no doubt 99 percent of readers have no trouble with putting words into the mouth of this officer. But if students put words in someone’s mouth in a reseach paper it is simply not considered accepted academic standards of documentation and sourcing. And I do think when we are comparing books or talking about watershed moments we should be aware that books and authors may have different approaches to documentation and sources.

  9. Jonathan Hunt Jonathan Hunt says:

    Of course, there is a difference between creative/narrative nonfiction and academic nonfiction, but the reader of both can expect to have the sources documented properly and have the narrative hew to the factual record, no matter how creatively. To my mind, this kind of allegation is more serious than the previous ones discussed here because I do think he crosses the line with the officer’s response. I’d have to spend more time checking the book against its sources (including ASSAULT IN NORWAY by Thomas Gallagher–the other Norwegian source listed in the book) to see how widespread the problem is. Does it just happen twice in the Norwegian section? Or does it happen throughout the book? JR, would you mind citing the other example of fictionalized dialogue that you found?

  10. JR – would you prefer moving BOMB to the fiction section where some other stunning works of history such as Carry on Mr Bowditch is now located?
    I personally feel like the labels we put on books (fiction, nonfiction, narrative nonfiction, creative nonfiction, etc) should not affect how we view a book’s level of distinction. The Newbery award is after all, an award for the most distinguished contribution to children’s literature and not the most accurate contribution to academic history.

    Jonathan, back in September you wrote “While we don’t need to decide if NO CRYSTAL STAIR is fiction or nonfiction–or, more precisely, *which* parts are fiction and nonfiction–in order to find it the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children”
    Can the same not be said for BOMB?
    Also, I don’t think the reader should necessarily expect to have “sources documented properly and have the narrative hew to the factual record”. You might expect it, and you might value these things, but I don’t believe any title must do these things. Can you expect them? Sure, but that seems more like a personal preference. Thinking way back to our Conspiracy of Kings discussion, I commented that I really wish MWT had included a map. Others noted that they didn’t feel a map was necessary and did not hold the lack of a map (something I do expect in fantasy stories of that specific type) against the book. How exactly is that expectation different than the expectation of perfect documentation and an explanation of methods?
    I feel like most of the BOMB criticisms have been about what readers would have preferred to see in the book’s back matter and much less about what Sheinkin does include in the actual narrative.

  11. @Amanda, I was sad to see the fall of IVAN in your court. After a rereading last week I’m convinced of how strong of a book it is. I dearly hope the legit committee sees it’s way to give it an honor. It is number four on my personal list, AKA GoodREads. I find I can praise it on every level of the criteria.

    BTW, in my rereading of WONDER, while I’m still very fond of the book, it’s literary flaws are much more apparent.

  12. Just read this by Amy Laura Schlitz about winning the Newber:

    “To win this is in some ways an accident—it all depends on the 15 people on the committee,” she says. “It’s almost like a struck-by-lightning thing. So many good writers have not won it—you want to be worthy of it.”

    She is easy to adore.

  13. Jonathan Hunt Jonathan Hunt says:

    I’m still thinking about this, Eric. I’ll weigh in tomorrow with some additional thoughts.

  14. Nina Lindsay Nina Lindsay says:

    Re Norway, I do think you have to consider all of the sources he cites for those sections, esp the Thomas Gallagher ASSAULT ON NORWAY which I browsed through. I’m not a history buff, so maybe someone else can give us the low-down on Thomas Gallagher, but he has a style very similar to Sheinkin’s, and was also a novelist.

    Eric, you note that “I feel like most of the BOMB criticisms have been about what readers would have preferred to see in the book’s back matter and much less about what Sheinkin does include in the actual narrative.” The two are connected… what Sheinkin does include in the actual narrative provoked me, as a reader, to rely on his backmatter, which I found lacking. So, I couldn’t engage with his narrative in the way he intended, because of what he did not do in the back.

  15. Eric, with regard to genre and labels, that is no doubt true for Newbery. Would you say the same for a nonfiction award, where authors may be taking different approaches to sources? Would it be advisable to have nonfiction divided into “regular” and “creative” subgenres, which is sometimes done for adult awards? (BTW, I am not sure narrative necessarily means not adhering to scrupulous use of original sources.)

    As far as other citations, the only source listed for the chapter, Norway Connection, is Haukalid, Skis Against the Nation. Again, this is great and compelling writing — it is just different than “academic” nonfiction that does not alter sources in any way.

    We looked at him and came to a decision. When we were about 300 yards from the shore we went up to him.

    “Heil Hitler!” I said and offered him a handshake. He took my hand, and my soldiers just lifted him over the railing and into the lake.
    The Bomb:

    After waiting until the boat was about 300 yards from shore, Haukelid gestured for his friends to follow. He walked up to the Nazi.
    “Heil Hitler!” Haukelid said, using the typical Nazi greeting.
    “Heil Hitler!” the man said, reaching out to shake hands.

    He remembered my mother. When she was arrested she had slapped one of the Gestapo men, to the great amusement of the others. Fehmer had asked her where I was. “He is the mountains,” my mother said. “No,” said Fehmer, “He is in England. Our contact in Sweden tells us that he has been taken across the North Sea in a fighter plane. And what do you think he is doing there?” “You will find out when he is coming back!” my mother had answered.

    P 37
    A Gestapo officer corned his mother, demanding information. She wouldn’t talk. A furious S.W. Fehmer, chief of Gestapo Intelligence in Norway, stepped forward and ordered her to tell him where Haukelid had gone. “He is the mountains,” she responded.
    “No!” shouted Fehmer. “he is in Britain, Our contact in Sweden tell us that he has been taken across the North Sea in a fighter plane. And what do you think he is doing thee?”
    Haukelid’s mother had no idea. But she knew her son. She suspected it would be something big.
    Staring Femher straight in the eye, she said,”You will find out when he comes back.”

  16. I’m very puzzled about why any book should be expected to meet the standards of an academic paper unless it states that it does so.

    Do you somehow think that a book read when a student is 13 is going to mean that student gets a D on a paper when s/he is a sophomore in college? That college students will go around thinking they can add dialogue to their essays because the books they read as children did?

    Since I read, oh, dozens of non-fiction books with invented dialogue that were already archaic by the time I was a kid, and presumably all those books were read by my elders when they were written, I think I can speak to this: I just don’t think there’s any connection, or any responsibility on the part of the author. Writing engaging non-fiction does get students excited about learning, however, which is the real prerequisite to succeeding as a college student.

  17. JR- good question about nonfiction award. I think such an award has very different goals than the newbery.

    What I’m most worried about is the idea that one would want/require a newbery winner to teach it’s reader (by example) what good nonfiction writing should look like. I for one do not want books teaching their readers anything other than how enjoyable it is to read.
    Expecting our nonfiction titles to teach students is no different than expecting our fiction titles to do the same. Do we really want to judge a fiction title on whether or not students learn something? That seems like the way books such as WONDER make it into the discussion. My main argument against WONDER is that its central goal is to teach students about understanding and bullying. As a committee member one would ignore these and focus on the literary quality (except when questioning whether or not the title is overly didactic).
    BUT it seems like for nonfiction some are focusing on what the book is teaching. Whether one questions how a nonfiction title teaches the historical record, or how it teaches the nonfiction writer’s process, neither question seems any more valid than asking how well WONDER teaches kids to accept others or how well SPLENDORS AND GLOOMS teaches kids about Victorian England or the puppetry arts. If you wouldn’t expect the committee to consider these two questions, than you shouldn’t demand that the committee ask similar questions about nonfiction, just because it is nonfiction.

    • I can’t fully agree with you there, Eric–the express purpose of non-fiction is to provide information. If it doesn’t do that well, it isn’t good literature. But on the other hand, I don’t think BOMB’s purpose is to provide information about what makes good academic writing–it’s to provide information about the history surrounding the atomic bomb.

      This is part of the Newbery criteria–don’t forget the “presentation of information” criterion.

      • Nina Lindsay Nina Lindsay says:

        Here’s another angle… the Newbery is specifically not for didactic content, so *what* is being taught is not at stake for the award. However, the Newbery is a standard for excellence in writing, so each winner or honoree must stand as an example of excellent literature of its type. So: not what it teaches, but what it models, it literary terms… and literary terms for nonfiction including presentation of information, as Wendy notes.

        I’d urge BOMB discussers to review the More Bomb post where Jonathan and I shook out our own thinking on this particular issue in this title….and backtrack it to the Documentation post where Jonathan and Sheinkin communicated specifically about it.

  18. Nina, who determines a piece of literature’s “type”?

    Presentation of information doesn’t necessarily mean presentation of factual information, does it? I am not claiming that BOMB contains any nonfactual information, but what does it matter if it does? All this goes back to what was discussed in October in the Peccadilo discussion so I won’t belabor my point any further. Other than to point out something Jonathan wrote in that discussion which i quite like:
    “Presentation of information isn’t something that helps either fiction or nonfiction move from the realm of distinguished to *most* distinguished. It’s the “literary” criteria that do that. In both cases, then, don’t the “literary” criteria trump presentation of information?”

    • Nina Lindsay Nina Lindsay says:

      Eric, those having the conversation determine the “type”. So: you and me! Or the committee.

      I think that we’re down to semantic thumb-wrestling at this point…I do mean “literary” AND “presentation of information” simultaneously. The literary tools/style used to present the information….

  19. Jonathan Hunt Jonathan Hunt says:

    Okay, now that I’ve had time to think about this a little bit . . .

    1. If I was on the real committee, I would spend more time with the source material so that I have a much better handle on the relationship between Sheinkin and his sources. Unfortunately, many of the books are not available to me in my public library system.

    2. Nina and I mentioned to each other that the criteria of the Sibert committee allow them to have a slightly different conversation about BOMB than the Newbery. For one thing, they will be able to discuss design freely, for another they have a more specific set of criteria when it comes to presentation of information. And, of course, they will be able to discuss those issues in the context of the other nonfiction books. Other approaches to nonfiction, both narrative and documenation, do have equal validity to those on display in BOMB, and I am open to arguments that such books may be superior to BOMB. We were unable to mobilize support behind MOONBIRD, for example, as a nonfiction alternative to BOMB, but that doesn’t mean that a group of fifteen different people couldn’t.

    3. My issues with the documentation are only twofold. First, that specific page numbers within the sources need to be cited. And second, that each quote needs to be sourced rather than relying on the reader to infer that absent quotes can be found in the same book as previously listed quotes. I suspect that the publisher took shortcuts here because they ran out of space, but they really should have coughed up the costs associated with an extra sixteen pages in the book. As a committee member, I can’t be sympathetic to that even though that may have more to do with editorial and marketing than anything else.

    4. Academic historians do not necessarily cite everything that informs each of their books. You will generally not find general reference works in their bibliographies or sources–even if they were consulted. You also won’t find books that are only tangentially related to the thesis. They won’t list a five-hundred page Walter Isaacson book if they only read the one-page scene about Einstein meeting with Szilard and Wigner. But, then, academic historians are more concerned with analysis than with storytelling, so they wouldn’t be looking at sources more like a novelist or journalist would, anyway. Most academic historians can’t write their way out of a paper bag, a fact I know from majoring in history and flirting with graduate school.

    5. I was initially taken aback by JR’s examples because while I have no problem with Sheinkin synthesizing various primary and secondary accounts of the same scene, this kind of “translating” seems to be of a slightly different stripe. He does stick very close to the factual record, but he infers some of the dialogue, and while I think most of it is probably accurate and based on sound logic–didn’t all Nazis answer “Heil, Hitler!” with an echoing response?–there is no way of knowing with precise certainty. I am comfortable with calling this a slightly fictionalized treatment, but I still find it distinguished as all get out and here’s why: no harm, no foul.

    6. What exactly is the incorrect understanding of these historical incidents that children will come away with? I do not believe that there are any–or that if there are, they do not stem from this particular kind of treatment. On the other hand, I think the benefits are tremendous. I do not read books for facts–that’s why I use Wikipedia–I read nonfiction to be engaged. And I think this kind of treatment–plus some better documentation–would bring many new readers to the genre where they could experience other approaches to history. I still think it is a potential watershed moment.

    7. I cringe a bit with JR’s examples, not because I think it necessarily diminishes Sheinkin’s work, but because I think it makes it more difficult to build consensus around. I do agree with Nina’s earlier sentiment that many of these departures from the strict factual record do not necessarily make the narrative more exciting, but they alienate judges. On the one hand, the benefits do not seem to outweigh the risks. On the other hand, Sheinkin sticks with his treatment every bit as much as Schlitz, who might have picked up more readers by streamlining her story. I see Sheinkin’s treatment as an impediment to consensus more than an actual flaw.

    8. I know that some people will disagree violently with me. Some people will find this treatment unacceptable under any circumstances. Some will find it acceptable with better sources and a note. And some will be like more me, perhaps wishing for those things, but not necessarily bothered by them. Having better documentation and an author’s note (as Nina has argued for) would make this book easier to build consensus around.

    9. Does this really not knock the book down a few pegs in my estimation? Of course, it does. The problem is that it’s still ahead of LIAR & SPY and SPLENDORS AND GLOOMS, all things considered, while the book that stands to gain the most–NO CRYSTAL STAIR–has consensus problems of its own. So I still don’t think I would have voted any differently than I did on Sunday.

  20. Looking at the criteria, I feel Bomb is distinguished in development of “character”, construction of “plot”, delineation of setting, and conveying the theme. I can picture Los Alamos, have come to know the players involved, feel their intense urgency, and gained insight into this historical time period.

  21. Here are some thoughts on the definition of nonfiction from the Line Between Fact and Fiction
    John McPhee, as quoted by Norman Sims, summarizes the key imperatives:
    “The nonfiction writer is communicating with the reader about real people in real places. So if those people talk, you say what those people said. You don’t say what the writer decides they said. … You don’t make up dialogue…. And you don’t get inside their heads and think for them. You can’t interview the dead. You could make a list of the things you don’t do. Where writers abridge that, they hitchhike on the credibility of writers who don’t. ”

    This leads us to the conviction that there should be a firm line, not a fuzzy one, between fiction and nonfiction and that all work that purports to be nonfiction should strive to achieve the standards of the most truthful journalism. Labels such as “nonfiction novel,” “real-life novel,” “creative nonfiction” and “docudrama” may not be useful to that end.

    • Thanks for the link and for pushing us to think hard about this. I understand the strong desire for a firm line and the reasons behind it, but I’m not sure it is possible. As the writer of the article pointed out there are many fuzzy areas, history is not set, primary sources are not necessarily reliable,there is always the issue of picking and choosing what goes in and what doesn’t, etc. etc.

      I’ve got my first children’s book about a child on the Amistad coming out this year. For years and years I was determined to tell her story as nonfiction, but editor after editor felt that it didn’t work because there wasn’t enough firsthand material to bring her up close and personal for young readers. I finally made the leap across the line into fiction, but with mixed feelings. I love the way it now reads, but I also still want my readers to know that it is a true story. That said, as I consider a new project about another real person, I’m leaning toward fictionalizing it as it feels like a way to make it engaging for young readers without these issues of creative nonfiction.

      Sometimes this conversation makes me think of years ago when I crossed the border between Belize and Guatemala and discovered each country had a different idea as to where that border was, resulting in an “adjacency zone” covering the disputed area running a kilometer each way. It seems that there is something like here where books like mine, perhaps BOMB, NO CRYSTAL STAIR, and others reside. I appreciate the CCBC which has put together a “Between Fact and Fiction” list of K-5 books, most being clearly nonfiction, but some fictionalized too.

      No easy answers here.

      • It seems to me that fiction and nonfiction are terms created to assist in classifying literature. Maybe the issue is not with particular books but with the need to have new terminology. I am more concerned with the examples from Bomb provided that a passage from a source is lifted with only slight changes. But there is no real “truth” in historical research, simply the varying perspectives of records and documents of the time. Selection of what to include and organization of how to present those pieces of information can alter the interpretation of so-called facts. In that sense, all history is story, and Sheinkin seems to excel in the selection and organization of what is presented to make a thrilling story, aka history. As Monica suggests, documentation alone does not guarantee accuracy (if such a thing exists). Mistakes from secondary sources are repeated by later writers and eyewitness testimonies can be slanted or require balance from other perspectives. Bomb assembles a fascinating account, and I am satisfied that it is a distinguished contribution to children’s literature.

  22. I also want to say that just because a book has a ton of documentation, that everything appears to be sourced, doesn’t mean it is accurate. As some may recall, I found a very problematic source in Fleischman’s Chaplin bio of a couple of years ago, something only someone like myself with a deep knowledge about Chaplin would have caught.

  23. I didn’t realize there were rules about art.

  24. Nina, do you know if the ALA website archives the award press releases or the statements made by the chair in bestowing the awards at the dinner? I ask because while you’re correct in stating that the Newbery criteria specifically call out didacticism, the statements (at least as I remember them) made by the awarding committee often include remarks about the significance of a winning book’s themes. So I don’t think most the committee is always deciding on purely aesthetic grounds.

    • Nina Lindsay Nina Lindsay says:

      Roger, I’m fairly certain these remarks aren’t archived online. You and I have heard many, and each written one too… and I think that in these remarks the chair is trying to express why the book won the award…but also, since now it *has*, what is it about the book that will especially connect with readers, add to the canon, etc. That is, once a book has been awarded, it becomes easier to talk about its message within a package.

      Having said that, I’m sure that you are right that at least some of the committee are always considering didactic as well as aesthetic criteria. In fact, I’m sure that ALL of us do. It’s pretty impossible to eradicate this kind of value judgment. But by drawing attention to it, and *attempting* to keep it separate from the aesthetic discussion, and respectfully calling each other on it when we see it….I think a good committee does get very close to a consensus based on literary, not didactic, content.

  25. Jonathan Hunt Jonathan Hunt says:

    JR, I like the Clark essay very much–I’ve read it before–and think it has many good points. I find it somewhat hard to apply to our discussion here in its entirety because it is concerned more with the fine line–with definitions–than with what constitutes good and bad nonfiction or good and bad literature.

    “Hersey draws an important distinction, a crucial one for our purposes. He admits that subjectivity and selectivity are necessary and inevitable in journalism. If you gather 10 facts but wind up using nine, subjectivity sets in. This process of subtraction can lead to distortion. Context can drop out, or history, or nuance, or qualification or alternative perspectives.

    “While subtraction may distort the reality the journalist is trying to represent, the result is still nonfiction, is still journalism. The addition of invented material, however, changes the nature of the beast. When we add a scene that did not occur or a quote that was never uttered, we cross the line into fiction. And we deceive the reader.”

    Isn’t this just playing the semantic game? Isn’t reality distorted with both addition and subtraction, no matter what you call it? Our job on the Newbery committee is to weigh this book holistically and compare it against the other books in the field. Some people will find this treatment a fatal flaw, some people will find it a peccadillo, and many will fall somewhere in between. If I felt deceived–or if I felt that children were deceived–I would probably find this to be a larger problem with the book. I don’t believe this book communicates historical falsehoods. Children are not going to read this and think George Washington chopped down the cherry tree, nor are they going to think this is how to write college papers.

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