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Heavy Medal: A Mock Newbery Blog
Inside Heavy Medal


As I get ready for the Oakland Mock Newbery this coming Sunday, I’m thinking of the members of the many actual award committees, also doing some final re-reading and considering before they head to Boston to huddle in.  They meet for two full days, as many hours as they can squeeze in, and deliver their decisions and draft press releases (still by hand?) to the press office Sunday, for final preparation for the awards press conference Monday morning January 11th, just two weeks away.  If you’d like a close look at what’s in store for the committee, start on page 34 of the Newbery Manual.

I think that each person approaches this point of the deliberations differently.  While of course I play in my head with different arrangements of my 1st, 2nd, and 3rd ballot choices, I resist it…I don’t like the idea of being to firm with my favorites until I have to be. (Yes, I can take forever to chose ice cream, though when it’s really time to move along, because I’ve teased out all the options, I can just go with my gut.)  Instead, I like to turn to each title and review all its strengths and weaknesses, make a mental map, then move to the next.  I’ll do this over and over in the same rotation, or mixing the order to hold different ones next to each other… I’m comparing, but not deciding.   I want to have a well-developed and easy-to-mind analysis of each title, so that through the discussion, as the group collectively shapes its assessment of what makes “distinguished,” I can see clearly which books in my mind fit the description best.

What does make distinguished? The Newbery criteria give us handles, though what makes a “distinguished contribution” in “Delineation of a setting; Appropriateness of style; etc” is ultimately each committee’s decision. I think that what excites me most about these discussions is learning from colleagues what they feel about this.  I’ve always brought with me a strong appreciation for sentence-level writing and narrative structure in novels of the kind that rivals the best in adult fiction.  I have a personal penchant for the quirky and dark.  I’ve learned from colleagues, over the years, how to read and appreciate nonfiction, humor, and the wonderful straightforward contemporary novels that were never my own thing.  So now, what I “know” about what makes distinguished writing for kids is based on my own reading reactions, this learned reaction (which I have to practice, constantly, as I read outside my own tastes), and as much as possible what I can glean from kids themselves.

So what do we know about what kids think about what they read?  As much as we press them to tell us in a multitude of ways, sometimes I feel like it’s a black box, since kids responses so often are conditioned by the context in which they are asked, and their expectations for needing to please, or give the right answer.  Good teachers I think probably get the closest to it, for individual students.  Public librarians, for a “crowd-sourced” sense of a larger community.  Scholastic’s biannual Kids & Family Reading Report tries to tell us, and while I find the form of the questions to be a little leading, the fact that 91% of kids agree with the statement “My favorite books are the ones that I have picked out myself” assures me that what I see in libraries is true.  Kids are looking for the book that speaks to them, whether or not they know what it is yet.   If we can use the awards to provoke a wide variety of truly excellent work (whether the award winners themselves, or just the publishing output that reaches for the awards), then I think we are on the right track.

Nina Lindsay About Nina Lindsay

Nina Lindsay is the Children's Services Coordinator at the Oakland Public Library, CA. She chaired the 2008 Newbery Committee, and served on the 2004 and 1998 committees. You can reach her at


  1. The Bulletin Blue Ribbons list is up! That’s the last of the 6 best lists I track consistently, which means my Best Books Spreadsheet is complete for this year:

    6 lists (2 titles):
    Drowned City
    Most Dangerous

    5 lists (2 titles):
    Challenger Deep
    Funny Bones

    4 lists (13 titles):
    The Boys Who Challenged Hitler
    The Emperor of Any Place
    The Game of Love and Death
    Goodbye Stranger
    My Seneca Village
    The Nest
    Sidewalk Flowers
    Symphony for the City of the Dead
    The Thing About Jellyfish

    3 lists (19 titles):
    Bone Gap
    The First Case (Detective Gordon)
    Gone Crazy in Alabama
    The Hired Girl
    Last Stop on Market Street
    Lenny & Lucy
    March, Book 2
    More Happy Than Not
    The Night World
    The Princess and the Pony
    Roller Girl
    Thank You and Good Night
    The Tightrope Walkers
    Tricky Vic
    Turning 15 on the Road to Freedom
    The War That Saved My Life
    Written and Drawn by Henrietta

    There are 47 titles on 2 lists so I’m going to let people go to the spreadsheet to find those. There were also 177 titles on 1 list. 260 distinct titles were named across the 6 lists which varied greatly in size.
    PW: 52; SLJ: 63; Kirkus: 160; Horn Book: 31; Booklist: 61; Bulletin: 35

    To get a sense of how being named to best lists might effect any handicapping going on regarding what’s going to get a medal this year, I looked at data from the 2010 publishing year through now (that’s when I started keeping spreadsheets). Data is below, but here’s my summary:

    All 5 winners were on at least 1 list so the likelihood is that somewhere in those 260 books named to lists this year is the winner. 3 of the 5 were on 3 lists or more, but we’d need more data to make a good conclusion on that – 5 titles really isn’t enough.

    Over 5 years 15 honor books were named. 1 each was on 0, 1, and 2 lists. So 12 of those 15 were on 3 lists or more. Of those 12, 1 each was on 5 and 6 lists. That means 2/3 of the honor books from the last 5 years were named to 3 or 4 lists.

    Of course this doesn’t take into account things like eligibility of other titles and such. For example, the chances of a 6 list book being named are very small just because there’s not nearly as many of them! In the 2010 and 2011 best lists there was not a single title that made all 6 lists. In 2012 Code Name Verity, The Fault in Our Stars and This Is Not My Hat made 6 lists, in 2013 it was just Boxers and Saints – all 4 of these titles would be considered long shots for the Newbery. 2014’s 6 list titles (Brown Girl Dreaming, The Family Romanov, This One Summer) were actually in contention – Brown Girl Dreaming picked up an honor, The Family Romanov was on the shortlist here. Although, now that I think about it, I’m not sure This One Summer was eligible (Canadian author? Clearly the illustrator was eligible given its Caldecott Honor!). This year our 2 six list books are Drowned City and Most Dangerous – both have been considered here, but due to both being non-fiction, and DC being graphic to boot, history does not favor them. But then again, last year’s committees blew history out of the water!

    The Crossover was on 3 lists
    El Deafo was on 4 lists
    Brown Girl Dreaming was on 6 lists

    Flora & Ulysses was on 4 lists
    Doll Bones was on 4 lists
    One Came Home was on 2 lists
    Paperboy was on no lists
    The Year of Billy Miller was on 3 lists

    The One and Only Ivan was on 2 lists
    Bomb was on 3 lists
    Splendors and Glooms was on 4 lists
    Three Times Lucky was on 3 lists

    Dead End in Norvelt was on 3 lists
    Breaking Stalin’s Nose was on 1 list
    Inside Out and Back Again was on 4 lists

    Moon Over Manifest was on 1 list
    Dark Emperor was on 3 lists
    Heart of a Samurai was on 3 lists
    One Crazy Summer was on 5 lists
    Turtle in Paradise was on 3 lists

    My apologies for the ridiculously long comment – I just tend to geek out over the numbers!

    • Jonathan Hunt Jonathan Hunt says

      Thanks for doing this, Jen. I just got back from a remote area with no internet access and was planning to update the list, but it would have been a headache to manually check the additions to the two star list. It’s interesting that 3/4 of the top book are nonfiction! Take note committees!

  2. Jonathan Hunt Jonathan Hunt says

    I’ll also add that with four best of the year lists and a National Book Award nomination, I’d love the chance to revisit THE THING ABOUT JELLYFISH. Any last minute thoughts?

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