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Heavy Medal: A Mock Newbery Blog
Inside Heavy Medal

Past Newbery Winners: Can They do It Again?

Winning a Newbery Medal or Honor is a lifetime achievement and gives you instant notoriety in the children’s literature world. Past winners typically receive an extra look at their books, and they deserve it. However in all honesty- winning twice is no common feat.

There have been five dual medal winners: Joseph Krumgold (1954, 1960) Katherine Paterson (1978, 1981 and an honor in 1979) Lois Lowry (1990, 1994) Kate DiCamillo (2004, 2014 and an honor in 2001) E.L. Konigsburg (1968, 1997 with an honor ALSO in 1968) Elizabeth George Speare (1959, 1962 with an honor in 1984). It’s more common to win multiple honors, but a huge accomplishment nonetheless.

Could Kate DiCamillo be the first author to achieve the Newbery trifecta? Could my wildest dreams come true and we have a Newbery repeat of 2019 (Meg Medina, Catherine Gilbert Murdock, Veera Hiranandani). Could Gary Paulsen post-humously win his first Newbery medal? (Rest in peace). These are all possible, but unlikely outcomes.

That being said obviously I need to highlight THE BEATRYCE PROPHECY in this post. To have seven nominations after only being published in September is pretty amazing. I say that DiCamillo’s biggest strength is her storytelling ability and she weaves a big one in Beatryce. The overarching theme of love and good versus evil weaves everything together while the imagery, setting, plot and characterization keep the reader enthralled to the end. Once I started reading this one, I could not put it down.

I was particularly drawn to the secondary characters and what a crucial role they all played in the story– the mother, the tutor, Jack Dory of course ANSWELICA THE GOAT, Brother Edik and the mysterious former king. I thought they all had strong development and explanation, even those that weren’t present much (the tutor and the mother).

I’ll just leave you here with the characterizations of the goat. Because, goat.

“Answelica was a goat with teeth that were the mirror of her soul — large, sharp, and uncompromising.”

The goat’s head is, “as solid and warm as a stone on a summer afternoon.”

I think what else I was most impressed with was pacing. DiCamillo puts a medieval epic story in less than 250 pages, with short chapters and takes you from a monastery to a tavern to the woods to the palace without anyone getting lost along the way.

I think I could go on and on about THE BEATRYCE PROPHECY, but want to hear everyone else’s thoughts on the strengths and weaknesses!

Another title that’s been receiving a lot of buzz and five Heavy Medal Nominations is LION OF MARS. Jennifer Holm has won three Newbery honors. Could she finally break her drought with Lion?

Taking the popular outer space setting, but putting life and characterization on Planet Mars, Holms presents an endearing story showing that conflict, emotions and disease can happen anywhere. Bell is likable and relatable and all of the dialogue seems very realistic.

I was most impressed by the setting. I’m no expert, but the descriptions of Mars seemed very plausible along with issues the characters dealt with in the environment.

I enjoyed this title, but not sure if it rises to winner status, I thought the pacing was a little flat and the secondary characters were not all believable. I would love to hear from the nominators or other fans!

Past medal winners with books this year are Linda Sue Park THE ONE THING YOU WOULD SAVE, Karen Cushman, WAR AND MILIE MCGONGLE and Laura Amy Schiltz AMBER AND CLAY and Meg Medina MERCI SUAREZ CAN’T DANCE.

Books with authors that won honors include: BILLY MILLER MAKES A WISH, DA VINCI’S CAT, HOW TO FIND WHAT YOU’RE NOT LOOKING FOR, JUST LIKE THAT, LION OF MARS, DEAR TREEFROG, THE SHAPE OF THUNDER, GONE TO THE WOODS.

Will Newbery history be made this year with repeat authors? We shall see.

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About Emily Mroczek-Bayci

Emily Mroczek (Bayci) is a freelance children’s librarian in the Chicago suburbs. She served on the 2019 Newbery committee. You can reach her at emilyrmroczek@gmail.com.

Comments

  1. Mary Lou White says

    Unlike you, Emily, I put this book down a lot, but for good reasons. I wanted to savor this book and I did not want it to end. I know Newbery does not consider art, but Sophie Blackall’s illustrations provided additional beauty, humor and love to the story. Instead of reading ahead quickly, I would go back and study the pictures and enjoy the details in the decorations. The slightly mystical feel to the story was perfectly woven into the setting with subtle reflections of the medieval religious worldview. My only criticism of the book (which I finished around midnight) was the ending felt a little rushed. I believed everything that happened in this book until (spoiler alert) the goat opened the dungeon cells with her head. After so much bloodshed, so many difficulties, the end came too easily for me. The conclusion itself was perfect but I wished it had provided a little more development. And I wanted to know more about her mother.

  2. Steven Engelfried Steven Engelfried says

    I enjoyed LION OF MARS and am glad to have it in the collection. Very accessible science fiction for readers new to the genre. I agree with Emily, though, about pacing and characters. The main conflict was built around a misunderstanding. That can happen, of course, but it felt a little anticlimactic when it turns out that open communication was all they really needed. And it’s not that I wanted people to die, but the sickness turned out to be less serious than it seemed, which also lessened the drama a bit. I like the way she leads readers to think about how the situation on Mars parallels what’s happened on Earth, but I wanted the Mars piece to be more involving. I thought the adult characters in particular seemed a little stiff and undeveloped, and they actually play fairly large roles. Very accessible science fiction for readers new to the genre and I’m glad to have it in the collection, but it falls short compared to other books in terms of Newbery for me.

    • Leonard Kim says

      I just finished LION OF MARS. I agree. I enjoyed this as excellent science fiction for a child audience. I think this may be an example of a book where its “excellence of presentation for a child audience” may actually be the reason for some of the things we are seeing as literary “flaws.” I think that can happen just as the flip side happens in other books we laud for literary qualities that are beyond children and may even diminish their excellence of presentation. I think it’s easier for these qualities to oppose each other than support each other (which is another argument for HARRY.) I agree LION is great on theme, setting, information, and style. But maybe I could also argue that character and plot are strong in respecting “ children’s understandings, abilities, and appreciations” if not adults’. Steven, I understand and agree with your points about the misunderstanding and the illness, but I think for children I am not sure I can think of a better way to set up and in motion the central point and contrast of the book of isolation vs community.

  3. Meredith BUrton says

    I absolutely adored THe Beatryce Prophecy, especially how the events are so skillfully woven together. Like Ms. WHite, I did feel the ending was a bit rushed. As insidious as the villain is, (and he’s such a vivid character), I would have enjoyed more of a confrontation. Also, I wish there had been more explanation as to how Beatryce ended up at the monastery. I found it hard to understand how she could have gotten there on her own, and I kept thinking that somehow Answelica had something to do with it. I liked the air of mystery but am stilled puzzled by that particular plot point. I did appreciate that Answelica was solidly a goat. THe book has some fantasy elements, but Answelica is definitely an animal. I liked that realism.
    I was particularly impressed, though, by the secondary characters, particularly Brother Edik. I loved how all the characters faced pain in their lives and how they are drawn together. DiCamillo’s use of flashbacks and Beatryce’s dreams are skillfully conveyed, providing well-needed information while keeping readers’ interests. I loved how even characters with little appearing time in the story, (like Beatryce’s mother and Jack Dorey’s adopted grandmother), played such pivotal roles. Even the inkeeper’s wife is more than she seems. It’s a tightly woven plot with immersive settings and superb characterization, and I think THe Beatryce Prophecy has a good chance of winning the Newbery.
    I also think Milo Imagines the World, by Matt De La Pen`a is a strong contender. It’s a beautiful story that I recently read and cannot forget.

    • Emily Mroczek-Bayci says

      Ahh I forgot Milo in my list!! Thanks for bringing that up, definitely a huge contender and my second favorite Newbery possible picture book (Watercress is first)

  4. Beatryce Prophecy is on my list–and I can’t wait to dive in, because The Midwife’s Apprentice was my favorite in elementary school.

  5. Leonard Kim says

    THE BEATRYCE PROPHECY is the book that makes me want to find some legalistic loophole around “the committee is not to consider the entire body of the work by an author.” (I’d start with the definition of “consider”.)

    Beverly, Right Here is one of my favorite DiCamillo books, and my favorite scene is when Beverly is visited by an angel. “Hovering above the dead orange trees was an angel. . . . She kept opening and closing her mouth. She flapped her brown wings . . . . But the angel didn’t speak.”

    So it bothered me immensely to read in THE BEATRYCE PROPHECY:
    “The angel hovered at the foot of the soldier’s bed and flapped her black wings. . . . The angel opened her mouth and closed it again. . . . And then she fell silent.” (61)

    There’s more like this. Both books, for example, celebrate the color blue in ways that felt awfully similar, though I haven’t done a close comparison.

    On Goodreads I gave the book a grudging 5 stars explaining it was more the average of 3 stars (for all the stuff that I’d read before in her other books) and 7 stars for the fresh, awe-inspiring stuff from one of our greatest writers. I made the comment that DiCamillo is like Astaire of whom Baryshnikov said, “He gives us complexes, because he’s too perfect. His perfection is an absurdity that’s hard to face.” I do feel that way about DiCamillo’s writing. But it’s also true that one Astaire movie can feel very similar to another. And so I struggle deeply with how to assess THE BEATRYCE PROPHECY for the Newbery.

  6. Thanks Leonard for that analysis. It does provide context for a discussion of the Newbery criteria “original work”.

    • Leonard Kim says

      Hi Kate. I don’t want to suggest I think the book is ineligible or that DiCamiilo is doing anything wrong. I love DiCamillo and I think this book deserves consideration. And my ellipses were strategically placed to emphasize similarity. I do think there is a particular challenge assessing DiCamillo. Flora and Ulysses, which won the Medal, featured a giant doughnut — which also appeared in a Bink and Gollie book. When we discussed Raymie Nightingale, I pointed out DiCamillo’s idiosyncratic use of the word “also” citing examples from Flora and Ulysses. DiCamillo is, as Ann Patchett wrote in a wonderful NY Times gush, sui generis. But that attribute makes it hard to apply usual standards. (Also, I now remember feeling that the description of Beatryce’s happy feelings about being around Jack Dory felt straight out of Beverly.)

      https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/30/books/review/kate-dicamillo-ann-patchett.html

      • Emily Mroczek-Bayci says

        Thanks for your thoughts Leonard can you please help me understand more. I feel like it makes sense in DiCamillos writing if some ideas are shared (which you are very good at catching BTW) but does not have to be a bad thing? Does using similar ideas make it not original? Or affect the overall quality of the work?

      • Leonard Kim says

        Hi Emily, to me, for example, that image of an angel opening and closing its mouth is pretty indelible. I would be surprised if any other author in any other book has ever used this image. So I think for something so specific to re-appear in consecutive books goes beyond similarity for me. And in general, DiCamillo is so distinct and specific a writer, that her re-use of devices is particularly noticeable to me. Is it a bad thing? Not necessarily. I can imagine DiCamillo always striving for the most perfect thing for the moment, and thus converging on similar solutions for similar situations. Does it make it not original? Well I’d say these things are original to DiCamillo, but it is not original in a specific book if something very like it appeared previously. Also, it may not matter as I don’t think “originality” is anywhere in the Newbery criteria. Does it affect the overall quality of the work? This is the hard question for me. Sometimes, when DiCamillo does this, I have felt characters feel less fully realized and more like mouthpieces for DiCamillo’s distinct authorial voice.

      • Emily Mroczek-Bayci says

        Thanks for the clarification Leonard! I get what you’re saying and I guess I kind of have the feeling, this is good and well done but is it just another awesome kate di camillo story and nothing NEW (which kind of goes off your point but makes sense)

  7. I am one of those people who could not stop reading THE BEATRYCE PROPHECY after I had started it. The beautiful language, the strong characters and the apparent medieval setting drew me into the story. I did think the character of the mother was weakly portrayed, especially since she had a pivotal role in the final resolution. I found the ending less satisfying than the earlier chapters.

  8. Carol Arlene Edwards says

    Here’s a small nitpick which might be terribly unfair, but I found the maple candies in a medieval story jolting. Maple sugar is an indigenous thing in North America and does not appear until 1600’s in white men’s history.

    Even today when my brother visits from France he takes home lots of maple syrup. It’s not European now and it sure wasn’t in medieval times.

    Now if this is fairy tale territory it probably doesn’t matter a bit. But it pulled me right out of the story, and I simply couldn’t get back in.

    • Thanks for sharing this, Carol. I knew there was a reason those maple candies were bothering me!

      • Emily Mroczek-Bayci says

        Thanks for sharing! That is definitely bothersome and although errors like that may not disqualify a book from the beginning it could definitely make it rank lower in like setting which means it doesn’t hols up enough against other books. I think a cool thing about the Medal/ honor books is really they’re all amazing and I feel like when you get to that level they’re so good that you have to be nitpick. OK apologies this comment got ramble but hopefully you get my point!

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