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Heavy Medal: A Mock Newbery Blog
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The “Early Six”: Creating the list for our Mock Newbery Medal discussion

Our discussion of the best children’s books of 2020 is leading up to an eventual Mock-Newbery vote, where the not-yet-formed Heavy Medal Award Committee (HMAC) will choose a winner from a list of 12-15 titles. The schedule for how we’ll get there appears in this post from late October. At this point, though, it’s time to start developing that Heavy Medal Book List (HMBL). 

We can’t pick the final list yet. There are still more books we need to read and discuss, including three Guest Blogger posts coming up soon. And we haven’t even done our December nominations yet! But we have discussed many worthy titles in the past few months. We built a list of suggestions from March through September. And have a compiled nominations list from the first two rounds. And I’m hoping there are other titles that folks are considering for the next round of nominations. From all that, we’ll make a list of six books that should definitely be on the final list. For those of you who are considering volunteering for the HMAC, that “Early 6” list can give you a good head start on the reading, since HMAC members will need to read all of the books on the full HMBL.

In past years, the HM bloggers have chosen those Early 6. Last year’s list is here.  This year, though, it’s only me, so I’d love some help. Please share any thoughts you have about what titles clearly need to be on our list, and why. This isn’t really a ranked vote kind of thing, but rather a discussion about what should be on the Early 6 list and why. Some possible reasons to include a book:

  • It has a lot of nominations from Heavy Medal readers.
  • It’s generated especially rich discussion.
  • It has a lot of buzz beyond this blog.

We’ll also want the Early 6 to have some variety in terms of:

  • Genre:  Fiction, nonfiction, and the genres within fiction, for example.
  • Format: We’ll probably want at least one graphic novel.
  • Age level: But we won’t include any short books, like picture books or early readers, on this first list. One reason for posting this list now is so people can get a good chunk of reading done, so we’ll wait until December to add any of the shorter stuff.
  • Uniqueness:  A book that stands out not only for quality, but for something that just sets it apart from the others.

Any titles can be put forward, including ones that haven’t been discussed much on HM yet (which allows me to make a pitch for EVERYTHING SAD IS UNTRUE). This won’t be a ranked vote kind of thing…we kind of have that already with the nominations to date. So we’re looking for good reasons why individual books should be “sure things” on a 2021 Mock Newbery list. Add your thoughts in the comments below. If there’s not a clear consensus, I’ll make the final decision based on the discussion and share the results in a week (November 23rd).  

Steven Engelfried About Steven Engelfried

Steven Engelfried is the Library Services Manager at the Wilsonville Public Library in Oregon. He served on the 2010 Newbery committee, chaired the 2013 Newbery Committee, and also served on the 2002 Caldecott committee. You can reach him at


  1. I’d like to second Steven’s enthusiasm for EVERYTHING SAD IS UNTRUE, a book that blew me away as soon as I started reading it last week. It’s always so exciting to discover a fresh new storytelling voice, and Daniel Nayeri’s voice is exactly that. His storytelling style is exuberantly freewheeling, jumping with aplomb from his experiences in Oklahoma as a 12 year old Iranian immigrant to family stories and Persian myths, weaving them all together in a ruthlessly frank, riveting voice that you can’t tear yourself away from. This is a book I’d love to see more people talking about, and I think its appeal is broadly intergenerational.

    I also think that NBA finalist THE WAY BACK by Gavriel Savit, which publishes this week, is an especially strong contender. A rich ghoulish fantasy bound up in the traditions of 19th century Eastern European Jewish folklore, atmospheric and voice-y with a memorable cast of characters, this is a great example of a fantasy with the potential to rise to the top on the basis of its literary merits.

    ECHO MOUNTAIN by Lauren Wolk has strong support on Heavy Medal and I agree that its a worthy title from an excellent writer skilled at building quiet, powerful moments with beautiful turns of phrase.

    • Steven Engelfried Steven Engelfried says:

      I’m glad you mentioned THE WAY BACK, Jenny. I haven’t read it yet, but it’s received some high praise and sounds fascinating. Adding a late release like this could be good for the Early 6, since many won’t have read it yet. Or would it be better to wait and consider it for the final list decisions in December, in case folks can’t get a copy in the next few weeks?

      • Steven, I have read THE WAY BACK. It’s an unusual mix of magical realism, folklore, and literary allusions. It’s definitely worth reading. I would also like to remind readers not to forget Uri Shulevitz’s CHANCE, which was released on October 13. It’s challenging for books that come out in the fall, and it’s important that they be considered for the Newbery if they are excellent.

  2. The four that I feel really strongly about are:

    SNAPDRAGON: I’ve already made my case for why I think this one stands out. In terms of setting, characters, plot, how magic is worked in, and more, I think it’s hands down the best graphic novel of the year, and one of the best books over all.

    SHOW ME A SIGN and PRAIRIE LOTUS: while both of these are historical fiction, their settings, storylines, plots, and characters are very distinct from each other, and both were exceedingly well written. I also thought they generated a lot of discussion on the blog.

    FIGHTING WORDS: I just couldn’t put this one down. Della’s voice was one of the clearest I’ve heard so far this year, and her story, for me, was probably the most compellingly told. I appreciate that this is subjective, we’ve compared this book to lots of other ones this season, but from my point of view FIGHTING WORDS is just one of the best written books of the year.

    • Steven Engelfried Steven Engelfried says:

      The two historical fictions that Aud mentions have definitely done well with reviewers and with HM readers. As she notes, they’re both historical fiction, but very different. For discussion purposes, it can make sense to pick books that are more different, but you can just as easily say that discussions are more focused when the books do have common elements.

      We should probably have at least a couple graphic novels on the final list, and probably one or two at least on this first six. SNAPDRAGON is right up there on my list, and so is CLASS ACT. And there have been a bunch of great graphic memoirs and nonfiction: DRAGON HOOPS, ALMOST AMERICAN GIRL, ASTRONAUTS, DANCING AT THE PITY PARTY, WHEN STARS ARE SCATTERED…

    • FIGHTING WORDS is my favorite of the year!! Loved it

  3. Here are my suggestions:

    1. Everything Sad is Untrue, by Daniel Nayeri. This is such a unique book and so hard to classify. I assumed it was a memoir then saw it was fiction. The setting is so vivid, both the descriptions of Oklahoma and Iran. Nayeri’s ability to interweave Persian mythology, family history and vivid characterization into this book is incredible. The nonlinear style perfectly resembles the Persian rugs that he so vividly describes, and theme is explored to stunning effect. The book has no chapter headings, (at least, the Braille edition did not), so it’s difficult to stop reading because you want to see what happens next. Also, never have I ever read such a fascinating treatise on poop, (yes, poop)!

    2. A Game of Fox & Squirrels, by Jenn Reese. Another unique book, this novel weaves together fantasy and reality with such adept handiwork. The suspense keeps the pages turning, and the story explores dark themes in an accessible way. Characterization is strong, and Reese trusts her readers to understand what is going on without resorting to didacticism. The novel has the right balance of light and darkness that a book should possess.

    3. The List of Things That Will not Change, by Rebecca Stead. This book’s strength lies in character development. You truly get to know Bea and her family, and the anxieties she faces will be relatable.

    4. Echo Mountain, by Lauren Wolk. Rich in historical detail, I found the setting to be the strongest part of this book. Also, the protagonist is resourceful, and the book explores her journey of self-discovery and her guilt in a profound way. All the characters are dynamic and possess strengths and flaws that make them engaging. Unlike Wolk’s previous books, there are no all-evil or all-good characters, so this offering felt even more authentic than her previous works.

    5. From the Desk of Zoe Washington, by Janae Marks. A fun read with a character who has a distinct voice. I enjoyed Zoe’s descriptions of her love for baking as well as the mystery that she must solve. For a fun read that explores the growing relationship between a father and daughter, this is a strong choice.

    6. When Stars are Scattered, by Victoria Jamison. I listened to this one on audio and enjoyed the character development. It’s an excellent graphic memoir that explores family and community.

    I hope these suggestions are helpful. I am so excited to read Savit’s The Way Back soon.

  4. Leonard Kim says:

    Even though I think Steven’s posts on genres like informational and picture books are important and valuable to the Heavy Medal mission, I wonder whether the Mock portion really benefits from their inclusion. Having participated on one HM committee and closely followed the rest, my subjective impression is that those types of books drop out quickly in the voting and discussion of them is comparatively constrained, perhaps because of the difficulty of comparing them to the other books.

    In my ideal HM list, each book would have at least one strong champion and each would generate “rich discussion” both on its own *and* in comparison to its peers. With that in mind, here are some thoughts.

    I think two of ECHO MOUNTAIN, SHOW ME A SIGN, and PRAIRIE LOTUS would lend themselves to a really good discussion, but all three might be excessive.

    I think it’s probably important to have both of FIGHTING WORDS and GAME OF FOX AND SQUIRRELS. I’d almost rather have neither instead of just one.

    WHEN STARS ARE SCATTERED is high on the nominations list and might be a good discussion pair with EVERYTHING SAD IS UNTRUE.

    WHEN YOU TRAP A TIGER is #6 on nominations. I didn’t love it, but it would certainly serve as a useful discussion foil to a wide variety of books, including the last four aforementioned.

    LIST OF THINGS THAT WILL NOT CHANGE is tied at #3-4 with WHEN STARS ARE SCATTERED for nominations and in a different way might also work well as a discussion pair with EVERYTHING SAD (particularly the question of when does writing become too “sophisticated” for children?)

  5. Julie Corsaro says:

    I’m not sure why we are asked to vote if our votes don’t matter. The people who have taken the time to participate in discussion and make nominations have spoken. The top six vote getters are: ECHO MOUNTAIN, FIGHTING WORDS, THE LIST OF THINGS THAT WILL NOT CHANGE, WHEN STARS ARE SCATTERED, SHOW ME A SIGN and WHEN YOU TRAP A TIGER. If there are 15 titles on our final discussion list, it leaves room to make arguments for books that might produce a final compilation that is more broadly diverse; as it stands, there is one graphic novel, four own voices titles and even a title that incorporates magic realism. I wouldn’t use my final two votes for any of these if they were guaranteed a spot. It might also help make room for noteworthy publications that have come later in the year (to that point, BECOMING MUHAMMAD ALI has quickly moving up in the balloting).
    While requirements can be implemented here, a lot of time is also spent on this blog referring to the award’s terms, definitions and criteria and how the actual committee works. For that reason, I think it’s important to emphasize that that there are no requirements for variety in genre, age range, etc. for the actual Newbery committee.

  6. Steven Engelfried Steven Engelfried says:

    You’re right, Julie, the nominations are essentially votes, and indicate the top ranked titles so far among Heavy Medal leaders. In past years, the bloggers have weighed those results, along with other factors, to arrive at a final discussion list, which typically is not exactly the same as the ranked nominations. My thinking here was to involve the readers in that process, instead of just having the bloggers make the decision. Upon reflection, that probably makes more sense when it comes to deciding on the final list, when the decisions are tougher. This first six really is more straightforward, and the choices matter less in the final process. I’ve still found the input so far on the six interesting, though, even if we do end up with something very close to (or the same as) the ranked nominations list.

    And yes, I hope this process hasn’t implied that a balance in genres and age ranges has anything to do with the real Newbery Committee. That emphasis is ONLY for the purposes of providing variety for Heavy Medal participants. The actual Committee looks at the books of the current year, and tries to identify the most distinguished titles, whatever they look like. On this blog we dual goals of simulating Newbery processes and facilitating book discussion. Most what we (and readers) do serves both purposes, but it’s important to be identify when the line gets blurred and one side of that seems to contradict the other. Sometimes I’ve wished I could use a different font color or something for the times when I step out of that just-like-the-Newbery mode…but I’ll just keep trying to do that with care and clarity…

  7. Courtney Hague says:

    I agree in part with both Julie and Leonard above.

    First, I kind of agree with Leonard about the inclusion of picture books. I understand why we choose to do that but they do almost always fall out of consideration pretty quickly. Unless someone on the Mock Committee is really going to champion a picture book title I don’t necessarily think it strengthens our discussions to include one. I do however like the inclusion of at least one informational text like last year’s “Torpedoed”, I think the comparison of historical fiction to a nonfiction title can make for an interesting discussion.

    Julie, I see what you are saying about votes and how this year’s votes have created a pretty strong top 6. I think the reason Steven is asking to create a list rather than just take the top 6 is because often times the top vote getting titles just happen to be those that were published earliest in the year. Sometimes a really strong title is published late in the year and doesn’t receive as many nominations because not as many people have had a chance to read it but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be included on the list.

    I do think the list of top 6 vote getters looks very strong, but I’d love to see FROM THE DESK OF ZOE WASHINGTON or PRAIRIE LOTUS included or possibly something published this fall that we haven’t had a chance to read and discuss yet so that when the final list is compiled it’s not all new titles.

    • Leonard Kim says:

      I agree about Torpedoed, but if there isn’t a Torpedoed of 2020, I’d be wary of including an informational text just because.

      There has been grumbling in past years when the Nominations list wasn’t the sole determinant of the reading list. I get that, but I also think there are many reasons to consider other factors. As Steven points out – it is both like and unlike the actual Newbery process. On the actual committee, only committee members nominate and a single nomination gets you to the discussion table. That’s very different from HM where 1) a fraction of the nominated books will get discussed, 2) most of the nominations are from non-committee members and 3) as pointed out, it is unavoidable that earlier, buzzier books read by more people get more nominations.

      I think a good compromise is to transparently say up front that some number (8-10?) of the top nomination getters will make the list. That way people know their nominations and voices are being heard and counted. The remaining 2-4 books can be Steven’s or the eventual committee’s choice.

      It is impressive how much time and effort the HM committee puts in every year, so I do think they should get a lot of leeway in changing or adding books and even having the final say on the list (that would be more actual Newbery-like). If there is a top Nomination getter that the committee doesn’t want to discuss (maybe none of them nominated it — that’s happened before) I think they should be allowed to swap it out for something they like better and have all read or could easily read. Or if a committee member feels very strongly about making a case for a book like EVERYTHING SAD that may not have made the list on nominations, and if the other members have read it or are willing to read it, I see no reason not to add or swap it in.

  8. Previously, I raised the question, and Steven responded, about whether it is necessary for a book to have a particularly forceful and convincing advocate to win the award. I thought of this again because Courtney mentioned the unlikelihood of a picture book winning unless someone really “champions” it. I would like to ask everyone reading this blog if anyone has read Uri Shulevitz’s CHANCE: ESCAPE FROM THE HOLOCAUST. I certainly have not read every book mentioned although I am trying to catch up. I ask because I believe that it is exceptional, and it is an illustrated memoir with some graphic sequences. It has received excellent reviews in The Times, Kirkus, PW, and other outlets. (PW also had a profile of Shulevitz.) Whenever I bring it up, I get the response that people have not read it. Aside from the fact that, to me, it clearly qualifies, it also makes me wonder how much undefinable contingencies can determine if a book is seriously considered, let alone wins.

    • Leonard Kim says:

      Emily, there are definitely some Newbery years that I think, if you were to replay history with a different 15 people, there is no way the book, however deserving, wins. Not because of the book, but because of the individual people and the 7 books they chose to bring to the table.

      I haven’t read CHANCE either, but I just downloaded it. And I think it’s the perfect example of the “committee choice” concept mentioned above. Maybe it hasn’t been read by a lot of HM followers. But if you were on the HM committee, I think you should have the power to say CHANCE is the book I want to lead discussion on, can we add it to the list? And since it seems like it’s a very quick read, I could see the committee being agreeable to this.

    • Steven Engelfried Steven Engelfried says:

      I just finished CHANCE and it’s an example of a title that could be a good fit for our mock list, beyond reasons of quality.
      – It’s written in a very different style from most books. It can be a good challenge to try to compare a book like that to other more conventional styles.
      – It’s short. Definitely not a factor in real Newbery discussion, but even the devoted, committed members of our Heavy Medal Award Committee will likely appreciate a slightly lesser page count (and double spaced!)
      – It’s highly discuss-able. I know, there’s stuff to talk about with all of these books, but some books just have more angles to look at, more comparisons to make, and possibly more divisive assessments.
      With all that, I the the “it’s short” factor might make it a better choice for the final list, since those who haven’t read it should be able to do so quickly. Either way, I second Emily’s recommendation for CHANCE.

  9. I guess I can see the value in naming books to the Early 6 that are not in the top six nominees. Those books have been read by many of the potential committee members. For example, EVERYTHING SAD is a lengthy book and may not have the nominations because not as many people have read it. I don’t feel qualified to speak about it right now because I just began reading it two days ago. Also, I could see the possibility of a book like THE WAY BACK which was released today and has only been read by those of us fortunate enough to have an ARC. I feel like I lag behind on the reading, reading books as they gain attention by HM participants. If I could go back and change my nominations, I would nominate A GAME OF FOX & SQUIRRELS, which I just finished reading. That will be one of my December nominations. I would have to admit that my nominations were from books that were published early in the year. I think that a combination of top-nominees and recently-released titles would be acceptable for the Early 6 list.

    How do other people read so widely? Do you check out library books or purchase them, either as ebooks or hardcovers?

    • I think this is part of my problem. I am a children’s librarian and I always start with books that my library system has purchased. I have not read a Game of Fox and Squirrels because my library was late to purchase it. I have not yet gotten my hands on a copy. I do pay special attention to books that get lots of attention here, but also books with reviews. I think that is why I lag behind in Indie books too. I think this is why it is good for upper and lower end books as well as nonfiction to be included because otherwise our list would end up being middle grade fiction with lots of reviews in major journals.

      • Steven Engelfried Steven Engelfried says:

        Access to books is another factor when it comes to Mock Newberys. I’ve struggled with that when I’ve done mocks with students too, where our choices typically leaned towards books that lots of libraries in our system had purchased, usually in the first half of the year, and that’s left some great choices out. Last year I got caught late on the waiting list for THE TOLL, and barely got it read in time to discuss

  10. Ms. Sue: I purchase books or get them from an accessible website called, which provides Braille and audio versions of titles in partnership with publishers. If I love a book enough, I’ll purchase both an audio and hard copy in order to support the author. Supporting authors is very important to me as I am an Indie author and understand the need to support authors. I did this with AGAFAS.

    Ms. Emily: I did read Chance and thought it was excellent. I am torn between nominating that one or Everything Sad is Untrue next month. I realize they are different genres, but with only two nominations left, it is getting more difficult to decide. It depends on The Way Back, which I hope to read over this coming weekend.

  11. Steven, could you please clarify one point, given Meredith’s comment? I this list strictly limited to books on your original list, which had all been published by September of this year? (If so, CHANCE could no be on the list.) Is the December list going to be composed of all new titles? Will there be posts on the December books, or just comments? Thanks.

  12. Steven Engelfried Steven Engelfried says:

    Good question, Emily. The final Heavy Medal Book List (HMBL) could include any book, even one that has not been nominated or discussed on the blog. And that can be true of this Early 6 too. We could put CHANCE or EVERYTHING SAD on there because it’s likely that fewer people have read them yet. Or we could say, wait on those for the final list and fill the Early 6 with books that more people are familiar with.

    December nominations will follow the same process as they did in October and November. As soon as those December nominations are in, we’ll start finalizing the HMBL. That will include some discussion here on the blog, and maybe a quick tiebreaker poll if needed.

    In the end we’ll have a list that will leave off some very worthy titles, because that’s how it always goes. But it will certainly be filled with a bunch of excellent, discuss-able books that I hope will lead to some rich and worthwhile discussion.

  13. I think I remember Steven clarifying the nominations as NOT a voting process but a chance to bring titles to other’s attention. For that reason, I never nominated a title that had already been nominated no matter how wonderful I thought it was. In that case, especially if I’m not the only one who chose that route, it would not be reasonable to see the top six on this list as a ranked vote. And yes, I will just second the access issues. I have had some ARCs but a lot of what I do has been purchased or borrowed from the library, some of which I had to request, so the wait was longer as they ordered and processed it.

    Also I appreciate your language here, Steven. The early six is very different from the top six, right?

  14. Steven Engelfried Steven Engelfried says:

    Sara Beth is correct. The Early Six does not mean the Top Six. It will just be the six books that will be on our final list for sure, with the rest to be added in early December. My apologies to all for any confusion this part of the process has caused. I might re-think this piece next time around…

  15. I enthusiastically second (or third, fourth, or fifth . . . whatever) EVERYTHING SAD IS UNTRUE. I haven’t been that blown away by a book in a long time. It’s phenomenal. I’m also a big fan of ECHO MOUNTAIN. You know how people say they would enjoy hearing great singers “sing the phone book?” I feel like if Lauren Wolk re-wrote the phone book, it would be riveting–her writing is that just that good. WHEN STARS ARE SCATTERED, SHOW ME A SIGN, and PRAIRIE LOTUS are also stand-outs for me this year.

  16. Samuel Leopold says:

    Having finally finished reading what I consider to be the top 60 contenders, I have 12 books on the top shelf of my book case which I could find reason to argue for in a friendly Newbery debate. I cannot get it down to six….yet. So, for what it is worth, here are the 12 I would love to see discussed. In no particular order.

    Echo Mountain, Ways to Make Sunshine, Chance: Escape from the Holocaust, When Stars are Scattered, Show Me a Sign, Fighting Words, A Game of Foxes and Squirrels, List of Things that will Not Change, Everything Sad is Untrue, From the Desk of Zoe Washington, The Way Back, and Prarie Lotus.

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