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Heavy Medal: A Mock Newbery Blog
Inside Heavy Medal

Ten Picture Books That Can Win the 2017 Newbery Medal

























































































































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. Eric Carpenter says:

    So happy to see the return of the Heavy Medal season. Looking forward to a wonderful few months of discussion.

    • Jonathan Hunt Jonathan Hunt says:

      Happy to be back! ๐Ÿ™‚

      Especially now that our occasional forays into picture books as serious Newbery candidates, which once seemed like intellectual exercises in futility to many, I’m sure, seem like bright new possibilities on the horizon . . .

  2. Glad to see HM back in action!

    We’ve got Ideas Are All Around by Phil Stead in our Mock Newbery shortlist (along with Jazz Day, which is a picture book?!). Can’t wait to see Before Morning; what’s the pub date on that?

    • Jonathan Hunt Jonathan Hunt says:

      Personally, I think JAZZ DAY is a poetry collection rather than a picture book, but I was looking for a way to get to 10, a nice round number. ๐Ÿ˜‰ BEFORE MORNING pubs in mid-October, I believe.

      • Thanks! And of course, the BG/HB committee chose Jazz Day as their winning Picture Book, right? So there’s precedent there, you could have used that as your excuse!! =D

  3. Leonard Kim says:

    Happy to see a Heavy Medal post show up in my feed!

    I think if JAZZ DAY is included here, then definitely WHEN GREEN BECOMES TOMATOES, which currently stands at #10 on the Goodreads poll and is, I think, a realistic and serious contender for at least an Honor.

    Among “spare” picture book texts, I think John Coy’s THEIR GREAT GIFT merits discussion. I love the writing in McClintock’s EMMA AND JULIA LOVE BALLET, but don’t think it has a chance.

    It’s just me, but I think JAZZ DAY is a stronger Caldecott candidate than Newbery. I don’t think the poems really do service to their subjects nor are the strongest poems out there nor the most respectful of “children’s understandings, abilities, and appreciations.” I’ve read most of the others, but my preferences are as above (and also Sam’s IDEAS ARE ALL AROUND suggestion.)

    • I felt the text in IDEAS ARE ALL AROUND and THE UNCORKER OF OCEAN BOTTLES, (just to wallow in the Stead universe where I’m so content), were speaking to the adult in me more than the child audience. I also believe JAZZ DAY up against WHEN GREEN BECOMES TOMATOES is the lesser of the two poetry collections for the audience. There were moments when JAZZ really broke out a spoke to the universal kid-ness of it all, but mostly, for me, it was hitting on a narrow experience that might be hard for many young readers to connect with – as important and interesting as it was to document.

      I say this with the understanding that the Newbery is not, NOT, N-O-T awarded for popular appeal.

  4. Tenisha McCloud says:

    Very glad to see the return of Heavy Medal! So much ground to cover… These are some excellent suggestions to consider, with a lot of big hitters in the children’s book world included (for better or worse?). I absolutely love JAZZ DAY but I am forced to agree with Leonard Kim in that I believe the illustrations are stronger than (especially some of) the poetry. That book has a bit of an age-appropriate focus issue going on as well, but not necessarily a deal-breaker. Speaking of focus issues, I’m not as sold as you are on FRANK & LUCKY GET SCHOOLED. Not really sure this book really knows what it is trying to be, and it read longer to me than it actually was. I gotta be honest that IDEAS ARE ALL AROUND fell terribly flat for me and I don’t think it’s that strong. It screams pet project to me.

    • I agree with you about Ideas Are All Around. That was one eye-roll after another for me.

      The art was lovely, though.

    • Leonard Kim says:

      Despite what I said above, I am actually on the fence about the text of IDEAS ARE ALL AROUND, but I think its case could be argued better than some of the others on Jonathan’s list. I do agree, like JAZZ DAY, the visuals are its true strength in the end. I feel bad for saying this, because I am a big fan of the Steads, but I think Philip Stead is his own worst enemy — I get the impression he thinks so much about his texts that, for all their care and rewards, they end up feeling a little too self-conscious and worked-over to be as perfect as I think a Newbery-contending picture book has to be. My copy is at home, but if the discussion continues, I can come up with some examples.

    • Just an early thought here… We should probably be comparing the poetry text in JAZZ DAY to other poetry text, right? Instead of disqualifying it because its own illustrations are better than its text?

  5. Eric Carpenter says:

    What about Evan Turk’s The Storyteller? There was a time when Newberys for folk tales were a not uncommon occurrence. It is easy to be blown away by the art in this one, but thought the writing was as good or better than some of the above.

    For the record, I’m 100% behind Freedom in Congo Square grabbing all the medals in Atlanta.

  6. Jennifer Strunk says:

    So, doesn’t that sort of de-legitimize the Caldecott if we’re going to consider every great picture book for both the Newbery AND the Caldecott awards? (It reminds me of our county beauty pageant that is not restricted to residents…so the runner up level beauties from the city come to compete because they can’t win in their own home area.)

    I can see it working in the case of those gorgeous, doorstoppy Selznick books that were a weird fit because they were technically picture books, but not written for the 32 pg crowd.

    • I don’t think that considering picture books for the Newbery medal de-legitimizes the Caldecott medal at all. The criteria for each award are very different, Newbery looking at text and Caldecott looking at illustrations. If a book has excellent text AND illustrations, it could very well win both (as Last Stop on Market Street won both the Newbery medal and a Caldecott honor). I’m sure the discussion from each committee looking at the book through the lens of their specific criteria were very different. And since Newbery criteria states that books for ages 0-14 are considered, we do a disservice to the award by NOT considering picture books, which would cover approximately half of that age range.

    • The Caldecott and Newbery have completely different criteria. MARKET STREET was recognized by both, but for its excellence on their respective turfs. As I’ve needed to explain, oh so many times this past year, Newbery is awarded for a child audience from birth to fourteen. It’s just that those under nine and those over twelve have usually been asked to sit in a corner and ‘shut-up about it already already’. Here at Heavy Medal it has been driven home with a pile driver to the cerebral cortex that ALL eligible books deserve to be considered. Just you wait, at some point Jonathan will find an easy reader with three words per page for us to pour over.

      Also, we’d better be talking SALT TO THE SEA!

    • I’m a little nervous of this as well… Nervous that the picture-book-as-Newbery-contender idea becomes “trendy.” I wouldn’t want it to undermine all the great literature out there every year. I don’t think it will. There’s a lot of smart people on these committees. You just never know…

      To me, the Newbery Medal was not designed with picture books in mind. Simply put, that’s why we have the Caldecott. I know others are excited about the possibility now of opening the door to picture books… I’m not really. Sure, you can make the argument as the committee did last year, that they can sometimes fit, but I do not believe it was ever the intent of the Medal. It’s why throughout the Newbery criteria you see mentions of the word “text.” Literature is referred to as TEXT. Besides, I’m not sure the committee can read every single picture book out there along with all the novels and nonfiction work… To me, it opens up a can of worms that I hope doesn’t become the norm.

      The other problem I have with picture books is that NO picture book solely relies on the text. They are designed and conceived to. I love MARKET STREET and love the text of the story, but it’s not entirely fair to say that it accomplished what it set out to accomplish (in the text) better than other novels did because the picture book was created with the text and the pictures in mind together. Does that make any sense? I know people will argue this, but really, I think you need to consider picture book text all by itself, on a blank white page with no illustrations. Does it stand out as distinguished then? Does the text accomplish what it set out to do in a far more distinguished way than other text of other literature.

      Not looking to start an argument… Just saying ๐Ÿ™‚

  7. Just saw Adam Rex yesterday and glad School’s First Day is included on this list! SOOOO happy Heavy Metal is back!!!

  8. Why should the texts of picture books be excluded from consideration for a Newbery Medal? It doesn’t seem fair to the authors of outstanding picture books.

    From the ALA/ALSC website:
    “The Medal shall be awarded annually to the author of the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children published by an American publisher in the United States in English during the preceding year. There are no limitations as to the character of the book considered except that it be original work…”

    Can’t a picture book be the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children in a given year?

  9. Safranit Molly says:

    I am delighted to see Heavy Medal back and I am not at all surprised that we’re right back into debates and discussions on day one! I was exceedingly pleased to see Last Stop recognized last year because I think our youngest readers deserve excellence in language, well delineated characters and all the other criteria by which we judge novel length books. As long as we are discerning readers, able to separate magnificent (or for that matter, lousy) art from the quality of the writing, I think we are obligated to consider all books that fall within the age of the Newbery Medal.

  10. MIchael Scott says:

    if One Day in the Eucalyptus Tree wins the Newbery, I’ll eat a copy of the book for breakfast.

  11. Welcome back, Jonathan. Are you flying solo this year? It makes me giggle to think of a picture book with the word fart getting the Newbery. If only scrotum could have been worked in as well.

  12. Anamaria Anderson says:

    I’ve mentioned this in another forum, but Frank and Lucky Get Schooled has some egregious errors in the Spanish text that should, I think, disqualify it. Otherwise a lovely book!

    • Jonathan Hunt Jonathan Hunt says:

      My native Spanish-speaking wife only noticed one error in Spanish–Es lo tu perro?–but it’s one that really bothers her a lot, and significantly dampens her enthusiasm. Since no book is perfect we’ll have to consider whether the strengths of the book outweigh its weaknesses (and we’ll have to consider that from the perspective of Spanish speakers as well as non Spanish speakers), and perhaps too whether this can easily be corrected in future printings of the book; that has happened before . . .

      • Anamaria Anderson says:

        Thanks, Jonathan. I’m a native speaker as well, and that’s the error that really bothers me, too (the others are minor). It would be great if it could be corrected in future printings.

      • Jonathan Hunt Jonathan Hunt says:

        I realize that you may not have the book in front of you, but if there are additional errors I would love to know about them–or maybe you can chime in later in the season when we break the book down. There really isn’t much Spanish in it at all, and it is very disappointing that they couldn’t get this line right. It’d be one thing if the non-Spanish speaker said that line, but the Latina . . . um, no. But there are some nice touches, too. For example, the dog learning Spanish, too, at the end: “Guau!”

      • Anamaria Anderson says:

        I love that the dog says ยกGuau! The other error I noticed was when the girl says (in a speech bubble), “Me encanta, Lucky.” I think she means that she loves Lucky, but it doesn’t make sense with the comma. I suppose she could be speaking TO Lucky using formal address? But that’s a bit of a stretch. And a minor quibble–I don’t think most native speakers would reply with the article “el” when asked how to say snail in Spanish.

        I was surprised at how much it bothered me that the minimal amount of Spanish in the book was mostly wrong–maybe because the book is at least partly about learning Spanish. Would we be okay with it if, say, the stars were mapped incorrectly (I have no idea if they are)? That said, I love the page about fractions and percentages, and the whole section about Art..

      • Jonathan Hunt Jonathan Hunt says:

        Agreed that most people would say not put the article first and merely say “caracol.” Odd, but not necessarily wrong. Although I must agree with you on “Me encanta, Lucky.” ๐Ÿ™ I think my mind wanted to read it as “Encantada, Lucky” which is what made sense to me in the context of the picture. The formal address here and on the opposite page (“Venga”) also strikes me as odd, but not necessarily wrong. But then that’s at least four things we’ve noted now, whereas I only caught the one on the first pass. Rethinking this one.

  13. Our Mock Newbery group really appreciated Jazz Day, so perhaps we’ll have to work some of these other suggestions in to upcoming discussions. Happy to see the discussion already taking off here!

  14. Leonard Kim says:

    Another picture book text I found strikingly rich yet still child-focused was THERE IS A TRIBE OF KIDS, though I think it also would never have had a realistic shot, even without the controversy, which I think completely sinks its chances.

    It’s hard to say whether last year’s Medal was an anomaly or a genuine opening. My gut actually says the former (though ROLLER GIRL’s Honor argues the opposite) and I feel safe predicting we won’t see a picture book repeat unless it’s something relatively text-heavy like JAZZ DAY or WHEN GREEN BECOMES TOMATOES.

    • Leonard,

      I think Julie Fogliano’s WHEN GREEN BECOMES TOMATOES is a lovely poetry book…and worthy of consideration. I wish more poetry books would receive acknowledgment from Newbery committees.

  15. To me, Jazz Day is more in the vein of A Visit To William Blake’s Inn – less a picture book, more an illustrated collection of poetry.

    I *loved* it, and would be delighted to see it heavily decorated this award season!

  16. sam leopold says:

    I think this could be the year for either a graphic novel or a Non-fiction gold medalist!!!

  17. Welcome back, Jonathan! Yay for Heavy Medal season!
    I just read Before Morning recently and was blown away by both the writing and the pictures. Joyce Sidman didn’t tone down her poetry just because it’s short. It would be a longshot… but is truly wonderful writing. The author’s note at the back has more words than the text of the book itself. But they are well-chosen words.

  18. Really good picture books this year but text wise, nothing is blowing me away yet. I guess we’ll see & I’ll keep reading. ๐Ÿ™‚

  19. Greenwillow Books says:

    Greenwillow Books deeply regrets the Spanish-language errors in the first printing of FRANK AND LUCKY GET SCHOOLED. The errors are the responsibility of the publisher and the publisher alone. The artwork and text were corrected for the second printing. We can and we will do better, and we are indebted to the readers who have pointed out the mistake. Thank you.

  20. I am a HUGE fan of Duncan Tonatiuh and am so glad to see this new book getting the attention it desrves. However, I thought he was ineligible for the Caldecott or the Newbery because he’s not an American resident. Am I wrong?

    • Jonathan Hunt Jonathan Hunt says:

      He needs to be either an American citizen or an American resident. Since he is an American citizen–I believe he actually has dual citizenship–then it doesn’t matter where he resides. Case in point, Sharon Creech was living in England when she won for WALK TWO MOONS. Tonatiuh has already won awards from the Belpre and Sibert committees which have the same residency/citizenship requirements as the Newbery.

  21. With all this scuttlebutt about favorites to win the Newbery, I’m curious if books that get submitted late in the year truly are considered as heavily (bad pun on this blog) as those that have been read, re-read, and considered for months. Can you shed any light on this?

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