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And Then There Were Five: Announcing the finalists for the Heavy Medal Mock Newbery Award

We’ve been discussing the best books of 2020 on Heavy Medal since September. And focusing on 15 titles over the past few weeks. Now the Heavy Medal Award Committee (HMAC) has selected five finalists. These are the books that the HMAC will discuss and vote upon during our live Zoom discussion on Friday, January 22nd at 1:00 pm EST / 10:00 am PST.

You can sign up for the free webcast of What’s It Really Like? Join the 2021 Mock Newbery Live on the School Library Journal website. Registrants can pose questions or comments during the webcast, and we’ll have two separate ballots: one for the HMAC members and another for everyone else. Here are the titles we’ll be looking at:

  • ECHO MOUNTAIN by Lauren Wolk
  • FIGHTING WORDS by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
  • KING AND THE DRAGONFLIES by Kacen Callender
  • WHEN STARS ARE SCATTERED by Victoria Jamieson & Omar Mohamed

The HMAC chose these titles from the list of 15, based on the past weeks’ discussion and their assessment of the relative excellence of each book based on the Newbery Terms and Criteria. During the live Zoom discussion, members will take another hard look at each book’s strengths and weaknesses, then submit weighted ballots that will determine this year’s 2021 Heavy Medal Mock Newbery winner.

And just three days later, we will learn what books the real Newbery Committee has selected. We can all watch the ALA Youth Media Awards live, starting at 9:00 am EST / 6:00 am PST on January 25th.

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. These are all distinguished books, but I’m disappointed there isn’t more diversity in terms of audience age. All five are intended for the upper end of the Newbery range. Why do you think writing for older children is often considered more distinguished than writing for younger children?

    Do you think qualities like difficulty, complexity, and seriousness are sometimes conflated with excellence? To be clear, I’m not suggesting there is something wrong with difficulty, complexity, and seriousness in children’s literature. But when those qualities dominate, I question whether we are valuing clear, lucid, fun writing, which tends to be in books for younger readers. (Not exclusively, though. NEW KID, I think, is lucid and fun while also taking on serious themes.)

  2. Meredith Burton says

    This is such an excellent question, Destiny, and I’m afraid I do not have a good answer as I often feel that way as well. I do think adults are more drawn to the more “serious” topics, (and possibly to the more complex writing styles), that books for older children provide. It would be fascinating to see what a group of children in the age range for the award would ultimately choose.
    I do think the list chosen has a good range of topics and varying writing styles that make them unique. I do lament that no fantasy book was ultimately chosen for a finalist, (although Nayeri’s book has fantasy elements). I think, overall, judging books for award committees will always have some form of subjectivity. I do hope that books for younger readers, such as Skunk and Badger, are considered by the ALA committee. I am also holding out hope for one of my favorites that’s not on the fnal list here. I hope that it will win an honor. It will be fascinating to see what is ultimately chosen.

  3. Meredith Burton says

    And, you are right about New Kid. It’s such a fun book that also explores relevant issues. Class Act is finally on audio, so I’m super excited to read it!

  4. Elaine Fultz says

    I am thrilled with these top five. I’m late to the Everything Sad fan club, but am so excited about the possibility of any of these winning and the impact this year’s winners will have on 2021 young readers.

  5. Leonard Kim says

    Was the selection process a Newbery-style vote? Just curious. Even though I didn’t care for EVERYTHING SAD, I think this is a really great short list.