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Mock Newbery 2012 Discussion

Five Ocean County Librarians and one retired OCL Librarian met to determine our Mock Newbery and Mock Caldecott titles. Here are some snippets of the confabulation.

Priscilla commented, “When I’m reading, I’m thinking what will the committee vote for versus what will I vote for.” I took the moment to remind folks this is our opportunity to decide what we would select if we were the committee. Still, I understood where she was coming from.

Regarding Okay For Now by Gary Schmidt, what makes it distinguished? Kristen answered immediately: “Its characters.” Does it tie itself up too neatly? Kristen said, “It needs to tie up neatly with all the over-the-top stuff, though some of that stuff might have been needless…. But it ends with a sense that we’re okay for now but not necessarily forever.” That’s what made it okay in Okay For Now.”

Then we mused on how willing we are to suspend disbelief when reading a children’s book. Did the ending in Okay For Now seem too implausible? Does it even matter? Kristen, who will attend the 2012 ALSC Morris seminar at ALA mid-winter, shared an article that stressed the importance of looking at a book’s strengths within its genre and evaluating it on those strengths, not its weaknesses. What does it contribute to that genre? (Which means more support for Okay For Now from my perspective!) Interesting.

So what about the Audubon art? Does it serve the message? Priscilla was skeptical. My arguments: the art resonates with Doug. He’s illiterate. Learning through pictures isn’t threatening. “But why the lessons?” Priscilla countered. First, Doug wouldn’t talk about the pictures to begin with. He learns because the Librarian leaves some paper and a pencil by the prints. So Doug wants to learn. And when have you known a Librarian to pass up the opportunity to impart a lesson? It’s in my (our?) nature to teach! Kristen added, ” It gave him something to be successful at.” Elise chimed in, “He’s getting acknowledge and support from an adult.”

Amanda pointed out, “The children in each of these books (meaning Dead End in Norvelt, Okay for Now, and Hound Dog True) are learning something. Mattie is learning to trust. Doug is learning about art. Jack is learning about writing. Priscilla argued learning to write in Dead End was more important than Doug learning art in Okay For Now.

Kristen predicts A Monster Calls will win saying, “It doesn’t do character as well as Okay for Now but it does plot and language better.” Elise wanted Okay For Now to be tighter, more spare. She though Norvelt was streamlined and macabre but very funny.

What do we do with Wonderstruck? Even if it is included in the Newbery committee’s discussion, we did not think the text strong enough to contend with our other titles.

We’re all very sad The Girl Who Circumnavigated the World is ineligible.

And finally, we voted.

After the first round, we had four clear frontrunners. A second round of voting showed a clear favorite with a majority of #1 votes. Okay For Now by Gary Schmidt is our 2012 Mock Newbery winner.

Our three honor books are much loved reads. With the strongest showing of the three, Hound Dog True by Linda Urban (it also received a first place vote in the final round) is our first honor book. With an equal number of points, we added Dead End in Norvelt by Jack Gantos (which also received one first place vote in the final round) and A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness.

Our Caldecott winner was Me… Jane by Patrick McDonnell!

Overall it was a tight race. We selected three honor books. I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen was a tight tight second place. It had equally as many first place votes as Me… Jane. Coming in on their heels were Grandapa Green by Lane Smith and Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick.

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A Long Way from Chicago by Richard Peck (1998)

The town had emptied out because this was prize day at the fair. But when we went by The Coffee Pot Cafe, there were faces at the window, and a loafer or two paused on the sidewalk to see us pass. Grandma inclined her head slightly. Most people wouldn’t take their bows till after they’d won a blue ribbon, but Grandma wasn’t most people (p 67).

Joey and his sister Mary Alice spend a week each summer at their Grandma Dowdel’s Illinois house, where their larger-than-life Grandma alternately ignores and instigates the townsfolk, cleverly outwitting them all. An excellent book whose humor I enjoyed. I highly recomend it.

At our last mock Newbery meeting, someone posed the question, “Will the committee select a funny book?”  Dead End in Norvelt is hilarious and it’s on our reading list for this weekend’s meeting but when was the last time a straight-up funny book won?

Turtle in Paradise had its laugh out loud moments. The Mostly True Adventures of Homer P. Figg was a riot! Oh, and The Wednesday Wars had me in stitches. But the most recent funny book to win the Newbery Award was 2000’s A Year Down Yonder by Richard Peck (it also happened to be the year Gantos was awarded an honor for Joey Pigza Loses Control).

So does a funny book like Dead End in Norvelt (or The Adventures of Sir Gawain the True for that matter) have a chance at taking the prize? Like A Year Down Yonder, it is historical fiction and if the past awards are anything to judge by, the committee members love a good historical fiction!

Library copy | Dial Books for Young Readers | ISBN 0-8037-2290-7 | Ages 8-12 | $16.99

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The Adventures of Sir Gawain the True by Gerald Morris (2011)

King Arthur covered his eyes with his hands. Sometimes in those early days he wondered what it would take to prove to his knights that courtesy was as important as courage (p 10).

From the author of The Squire’s Tale (read my review) comes the third in the Kinghts’ Tales series of transitional readers. Morris takes Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and makes it highly accessable to an elementary school audience.

What appears at first to be a straightforward episodic tale quickly takes on depth and humor, making it one of the best I’ve read all year. After reading Jonathan Hunt’s comments on Heavy Medal, I’m convinced it needs a sticker (and wouldn’t it be wonderful to have a book for young readers win?)! I especially support his point on length and ecomony of language. If this book can manage to be concise, humorous and true to the spirit of the original, why can’t a book like Breadcrumbs?

Read other reviews:
Heavy Medal
Kidlit Reviews
There’s a Book
The Excelsior Files

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A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness (2011)

Stories are wild creatures, the monster said. When you let them loose, who knows what havoc they might wreak (p 51)?

Oh, this book is so goooooood.

Connor has nightmares so terrifying, the monster who appears in his back yard doesn’t scare him in the least. The monster may be the size of a yew tree, contorted with an evil grimace, but it is not scary. Connor’s mother is sick and the treatments she receives only make her worse.  His father is has moved to America with his new wife and child.  At school, Connor is either bullied or ignored. So instead of being afraid of the moster, Connor hopes it can help him. After all, the monster is powerful.

The monster’s help comes in the form of three true stories, with the agreement that Connor will tell a fourth truth. But truth is at the heart of Connor’s nightmares.

This story within a story techinique and the story about story theme have been explored in many other much-discussed novels of 2011: Breadcrumbs, The Mostly True Story of Jack, and The Girl Who Circumnavigated the Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making. Interesting.

This slim novel packs a strong punch. I appreciated it front to back and up and down. It’s a book I don’t want to review in detail because I’m still savoring the experience. I’m not ready to share. Well-written and well-paced with complimentary illustrations, it’s one of the best books of 2011.

Is it elegible for a Newbery? Jonathan Hunt talks about it on Heavy Medal. I would be so disappointed if a sidebar kept this one from being recognized. Of course, there’s always the Printz!

Read other reviews:
Books, Time and Silence
Fuse #8
The Guardian

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Bigger than a Breadbox by Laurel Snyder (2011)

I buried my face deeper into the pillow and mumbled into it, so that nobody would hear me, “I wish I were home. I wish I were home. I wish I were home.” But of course wishing wouldn’t make it so (p 37).

Moments later, one of Rebecca’s wishes comes true and she finds a pair of squawking gulls inside the breadbox – the one she found in her gran’s attic. She soon discovers that she can wish for anything and it will appear, as long as it exists and as long as it can fit inside the breadbox. Bereft at her parent’s abrupt separation and miles away from her father and her home in Baltimore, she uses her wishes, at first, for material things that make her feel better or garner her lots of friends at school. But it isn’t long before she realizes the breadbox can’t give her what she really wants, her family and her home just like it used to be.

Bigger than a Breadbox is an excellent middle grade book that takes seemingly incongruous things – a contemporary story about the breaking of a household set to classical prose and propelled by fantasy embodied in an obsolete item (a breadbox) – and weaves them together easily, naturally. Let’s discuss what this novels does so well.

Atmosphere
There is a strong sense of place. Though Rebecca’s emigration from Baltimore, MD to Atlanta, GA happens early on in the novel, we revisit the home she misses so much through the treats she wishes and through her remembrances. Reader’s can also compare gritty Baltimore to the cleaner Atlanta as Rebecca walks to school and travels solo via cab at the conclusion.

Fantasy that Reads like Realistic Fiction
At one point in your life, you’ve probably fantasized about what you would wish for if a djinni rose out of a magic lamp. I’ve done this many times. When Rebecca has the opportunity to have her wishes granted (with the compulsory strings attached), she follows a path to enlightenment many preceding stories have followed. Only, it doesn’t feel like reading fantasy. And it’s not like any other story because it is Rebecca’s story and not a story about magic. (A good fantasy author never allows the magical elements to overrun the story.) Like When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead, this story will have a strong crossover appeal because it seamlessly includes magic in a strong realistic setting.

Language
Crisp, clean prose. Coming in at 223 pages (with large lettering), this book is the appropriate length for its audience. It is neither too verbose nor too fancy. No tricks here. Just good wholesome prose where words are not wasted but, rather, put to work.

Character Development
Rebecca is well-developed. She comes to conclusions in her own time and her development accurately reflects the thought processes of a middle school child. Her classmates are painted in broad strokes but they are not marginalized. They have a real impact on Rebecca, as peers always do. The tension between her parents is palpable. And while it may seem easy to blame her mother, Snyder makes it clear the father is not blameless. Instead, it takes a lot of energy to raise a family and unemployment can hit families very hard, making this a timely story as well. Rebecca’s grandmother is another well-drawn character, who takes sides with Rebecca but works subtly to build bridges.

BUT… is it distinguished?
And that is the question. Is it a great book? Yes. It is written well? Yes, very well. Is it enjoyable? Yes. Is it distinguished? … But let’s not get too wrapped up in the Newbery. This is a book many children will love.

Library copy | September 27, 2011 | Random House | 240 pages | Ages 9-12 | ISBN 978-0375969164 | $16.99

Read other reviews:
New York Times Book Review
A Patchwork of Books
Points West
Publisher’s Weekly
Slatebreakers
Stacked Books
The Word Hoarder

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Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu (2011)

A boy got a splinter in his eye, and his heart turned cold. Only two people noticed. One was a witch, and she claimed him for her own. The other was his best friend. And she went after him in ill-considered shoes, brave and completely unprepared (p 155).

Hazel does not fit in at her new school. Most of the children treat her differently though she doesn’t understand why. At home, her mother struggles to provide for her after her father left. Her one happiness is her best friend, Jack. Jack does not belittle her thinking differently and imaginatively. Instead, they are partners in adventure. But Jack also befriends the very boys who tease Hazel, splitting his time deftly between her and them.

One day, a shard from an enchanted mirror enters through his eye and goes directly to his heart. Jack changes. He is mean to Hazel. Then he disappears all together.

Now it is up to Hazel to enter the woods and rescue her friend, Jack, the Prince of Eternity.

Breadcrumbs is, in many ways, a book about books. I counted references to at least ten different titles including: The Chronicles of Narnia, A Wrinkle in Time, The Wizard of Oz, Alice in Wonderland, The Golden Compass, The Snow Queen, Harry Potter, The Keys to the Kingdom, When You Reach Me, and Coraline. Hazel is described as a reader and the author pulls from these sources to describe her experiences.

There was a Nithling in her stomach, chomping away at everything around it. Tears filled her eyes, and she squeezed them away (p 74).

Nithlings are fearsome animal-like creatures formed from nothing in Garth Nix’s The Keys to the Kingdom series. For well-read children, these references will add a layer of understanding and connect prior emotional experiences to the current pleasure.

The first part of the story is (too) slow to unfold. It focuses on Hazel’s friendship with Jack, her tense relationship with her mother, and her unhappiness at her new school. We also learn of a mischievous troll-like creature named Mal and his twisted mirror. His magic mirror “took beautiful things and made them ugly, and it took ugly things and made them hideous” (p 70). When this mirror shatters high above earth, a shard falls into Jack’s eye, changing him.

Part Two picks up the pace with Hazel entering the woods. Here we see shades of Anderson’s other fairy tales and here Ursu explores a variety of themes. Her maticulous exposition pays off (for the most part) as Hazel struggles with identity and Jack weighs the painful reality of his distressed home life vesus the cold serenity of the Snow Queen’s palace. I couldn’t put the book down once Hazel entered the woods.

Read other reviews:
Book Smugglers
Fuse #8
Good Books Good Wine
Jenn’s Bookshelves
Kirkus (starred)
Publisher’s Weekly (starred)

Breadcrumbs | Advance Reader Edition | September 27, 2011 | HarperCollins Childrens | ISBN 978-0062015051 | 336 pages | Ages 8-14 | $16.99

The Snow Queen | Hans Christian Anderson | retold by Naomi Lewis and illustrated by Christian Birmingham | $18.99

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The Mostly True Story of Jack by Kelly Barnhill (2011)

Someone watched him.
She had been sleeping – a long, troubled sleep. And something – She did not yet know what – had woken Her. Partially. She couldn’t move, though. Not yet (p 65).

Jack has always felt invisible and lonely. When his parents split up, he is taken to his Aunt Mabel and Uncle Clive’s house in Hazelwood, Iowa. His arrival does not go unnoticed.

Frankie was the first to notice. Four years ago, Frankie went missing. Some people in town began to forget that he ever existed. But not his sister, Wendy. She clung to his memory even as pictures of him began to fade. Then Frankie, disfigured and mute, was found and returned by Clive. But his scars have memories and he knows things.

Clayton Avery notices too. His ears are ichy, like there’s a bug in them. But he doesn’t understand why and his father, the richest man in town, dismisses him angrily. Then it becomes clear Mr. Avery would like to Jack dead.

The Mostly True Story of Jack is a good first offering by debut author Kelly Barnhill. The opening sequence gripped me but my attention waved as the novel lengthened and the foreshadowing was too thickly laid. The underlying themes of friendship and storytelling (i.e. knowing most of the story) were well done, but the magical elements were poorly developed compared to other fantasy books I’ve enjoyed. I didn’t feel transported to a magical community.

Is it Newbery worthy? Not according to Nina Lindsay. While it is a book I could easily booktalk and recommend, I’d also say it falls short of Newbery standards.

Read other reviews:
Geo Librarian
The Boy Reader

Advance reader copy (print) | August 2, 2011 | Little, Brown Books for Young Readers | 336 pages | Ages 9-12 | ISBN: 978-0316056700 |$16.99