Heavy Medal Guest Post: Jonathan Hunt on UNDER THE RADAR

When I saw that one of my favorite seasonal blogs Heavy Medal was having an emergency hiatus, I invited them over here until they were able to resume operations.  They liked the idea and so here is Jonathan Hunt with his latest:

December can be an interesting month because you might get the impression that we think there are only a dozen books worthy of discussion as we go back through our shortlisted titles.  But, not to worry, there are still many books out there that we have not taken the opportunity to discuss, so I’m lumping a dozen of them here, and we’re going to depend on you, as always, to chime in and help us separate the wheat from the chaff.

BEYOND COURAGE by Doreen Rappaport . . . There are several very good nonfiction books, what I would call reference books, not because they are written as such, but because I think that is likely to be their primary purpose: BEYOND COURAGE, HAND IN HAND, and DISCOVERING BLACK AMERICA.  The former book has gotten the most attention with five starred reviews and three best lists so far.  A comprehensive look at Jewish resistance to the Holocaust, it’s an important book, and well written, but I found it too difficult to keep the parade of names, dates, and places straight.

CHILD OF THE MOUNTAINS by Marilyn Sue Shank . . . This one has had a small presence during each round of nominations.  I have not read it yet, but did glance at the preview on Amazon, and found the Appalachian voice quite striking: “My mama’s in jail. It ain’t right. Leastwise, I don’t think so. Them folks that put her there just don’t understand our family. My mama’s the best mama in the whole wide world. Everbody used to say so afore the awful stuff happened. Even Uncle William. And he don’t say much nice about nobody.”  Hmmm . . . Does this remind anybody else of DOVEY COE?  I’m already on record as not being completely floored by every last Southern/country/folksy voice that comes along.  Does this one have more to recommend it?

THE FALSE PRINCE by Jennifer Nielsen . . . We’ve mentioned this one in the comments here and there.  It’s the book that my twelve-year-old self would probably vote for the Medal.  Yes, it’s reminiscent of THE THIEF and THE HUNGER GAMES, too, but I found it a good book in its own right.  The reason that I can’t build a stronger argument for this one is SPLENDORS AND GLOOMS.  I may not be able to vote for that book, but it would be wrong of me to rank my personal favorites ahead of it.

IN A GLASS GRIMMLY by Adam Gidwitz . . . While I liked A TALE DARK & GRIMM quite a bit, I found the charm of this one wore very thin very quickly.  I particularly didn’t care for how this one veered farther away from the original source material than its predecessor, nor did I appreciate the additional length.  I’m inclined to recommend FAIRY TALES FROM THE BROTHERS GRIMM by Philip Pullman instead.  And yet, the book does have three starred reviews and three best lists.

KEEPING THE CASTLE by Patrice Kindl . . . A lovely homage to Jane Austen with a dash of Cinderella and I CAPTURE THE CASTLE, this is yet another example of a book that looks stronger in the Newbery field than it does in the Printz.  To be sure, it’s a book for grades 7-9, but I think it would be perfectly at home with the other romances in the Newbery canon.  Three starred reviews, three best lists.

ONE FOR THE MURPHYS by Lynda Mulally Hunt . . . Despite our best efforts to dismiss this one as guidance counselor fiction, it remains at #6 on the goodreads poll, and it’s also maintained a small, but decent presence during each round of nominations.  I haven’t read this one yet, but if you’re a fan, then here’s your chance to plead its case.

REMARKABLE by Lizzie Foley . . . This one got two starred reviews and has maintained a small group of fans through each round of nominations.  Another one that I haven’t read yet, but it seems light and fun–always a welcome relief from the heavier stuff that we often gravitate toward.  Pitch this one to us as a Newbery contender.

SEE YOU AT HARRY’S by Jo Knowles . . .  We compared this one and ONE FOR THE MURPHYS with WONDER early in the year in terms of how each book played to the reader’s emotions.  That’s not necessarily a bad thing when it’s done well–and this one is.  Despite its lone starred review and best list, this one remains at #9 on the goodreads poll.

SERAPHINA by Rachel Hartman . . . Here’s another one for grades 7-9, and while some people will want to dismiss this as a better fit in the Printz field, the Newbery committee has to pretend like that other award doesn’t exist.  It’s arguably the best fantasy in the field with STARRY RIVER OF THE SKY being the other strong candidate.  I would definitely want this one on the table, especially so that we can compare it to SPLENDORS AND GLOOMS.  Schlitz does some amazing stuff with 400 pages, but is it more impressive than what Hartman does for a slightly older audience with slightly more pages?

THE SEVEN TALES OF TRINKET by Shelley Thomas Moore . . . I find the premise of this one intriguing, and I’ve started it a few times, but keep getting sidetracked.  It does have three starred reviews, though, and both MOON OVER MANIFEST and DEAD END IN NORVELT also had three stars, running in the middle of the pack before sprinting to victory in January.

THE SPINDLERS by Lauren Oliver . . . Is there such a thing as a sophomore slump?  Well, we’re not discussing THE GIRL WHO FELL BENEATH FAIRYLAND, IRON-HEARTED VIOLET, or THE SPINDLERS very much this year (in contrast to THE GIRL WHO CIRCUMNAVIGATED FAIRYLAND, THE MOSTLY TRUE STORY OF JACK, and LIESL AND PO last year), but at least Oliver’s book has maintained the same level of critical praise.  It’s a great riff on the changeling story with nifty prose and good storytelling.  I’m not sure that it’s enough to break into the top five books of the year, but a worthy read–and, thank heavens, a relatively short one, too.

WHO COULD THAT BE AT THIS HOUR? by Lemony Snicket . . . Can Daniel Handler follow up his Printz Honor for WHY WE BROKE UP with a Newbery Honor for this one?  It’d be very interesting to compare this one to THREE TIMES LUCKY and MR. AND MRS. BUNNY to see how they each play with the conventions of the mystery novel.  Those two have gotten more Newbery buzz, but this one strikes me as a book that grows in appreciation on multiple reads.

So which of these dozen books are contenders?  And which are pretenders?  And which under the radar books, not on this list, should we be paying more attention to?

Jonathan Hunt, HEAVY MEDAL

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19 responses to “Heavy Medal Guest Post: Jonathan Hunt on UNDER THE RADAR

  1. I’m glad you mentioned The Spindlers. It’s my favorite MG fantasy of the year. It’s also a popular title with my Mock Newbery book club readers (gr. 4 & 5). It has just enough of a creepy factor (giant spiders with human hands) to compel MG readers without scaring them, and readers love the humor with Mirabella, the rat with terrible fashion sense.

  2. For whatever it’s worth, my 11-year-old ADORED Remarkable. Me, I’m a big fan of Beyond Courage (not only distinguished, but gorgeously published) and had no trouble keeping names and dates straight. Maybe because I am a big ol’ Jewy-Jew. Which means I knew some of the stories already…but I was very impressed that Rapaport managed to do new and groundbreaking reporting in this VERY well-covered territory.

  3. wendyb79

    While REMARKABLE isn’t quite a Newbery choice for me, it is very well done; I called it Raskinesque, if that intrigues you. It’s quite an original book, so that was refreshing.

    I disagree about KEEPING THE CASTLE being a better Newbery pick than Printz–I don’t think it’s even close to the age range. I really suspect it of being more an adult’s pleasure than a teen’s, actually. I can’t imagine that it would make much sense to kids.

    Several of my favorites haven’t gotten any Heavy Medal attention yet… KINDRED SPIRITS, THE GREAT UNEXPECTED… I think these are worth discussing.

  4. DaNae

    With the exception of SPINDLERS (meh) and THE FALSE PRINCE (slightly less meh) all these are still on my to-read list. Jonathan’s write-up knocks CHILD OF THE MOUNTAINS and KEEPING THE CASTLE to the top, (which shows you where my passions lies). I’d better get SARAPHINA read and see if I can squeak it into my collection. I’m not adverse to pushing the 6th grade limit for those readers who are ready and I have many fantasy readers looking up.
    I’m with Wendy on KINDRED SPIRITS and THE GREAT UNEXPECTED. I don’t see them passing SPLENDORS AND GLOOMS, LIAR & SPY, or BOMB, but they also stand out for me.

  5. Ooh, “Raskinesque” makes me want to read Remarkable!

    If “adult book masquerading as kidbook” is a problem, No Crystal Stair should be totally out of the running.

    • wendyb79

      Oh, I don’t think so–I thought NO CRYSTAL STAIR was written to meet young people where they are. I have a hard time imagining it sitting in the adult section of the library. KEEPING THE CASTLE, on the other hand–I mean, even the blurbs are from adult authors.

  6. Just finished reading aloud IN A GLASS GRIMMLY to my 4th graders and found that that experience caused it to rise in my estimation a great deal. I’d liked it when I first read it on my own, but I read quickly so it was when I had to slow down and read it to an audience that I began to truly savor Gidwitz’s prose which is gorgeous. I think it is possibly easy to miss because the setting, stories, and such are quite compelling, but the man has quite the way with words too. This time and with my first reading I had no problem with his movement to original stories nor the length. In fact, it has gone up in my long list of Newbery contenders! So take that, Jonathan:)

  7. Jonathan Hunt

    1. BEYOND COURAGE . . . Marjorie, the thing about this book is that being a Gentiley Gentile I had never heard that Jews went meekly to the slaughter and, in fact, would have expected opposition and resistance as part of human nature. So these stories weren’t quite the revelation to me that they were to Rappaport and perhaps other Jews that grew up with that blaming-the-victim rationale for the Holocaust. MONSIEUR MARCEAU by Leda Schubert has another story about Jewish resistance that I don’t think is covered in BEYOND COURAGE. And, of course, I’m not saying it’s not a good book–just that I think it’s going to be very difficult to crack the Newbery line-up.

    2. REMARKABLE . . . Yes, Wendy, your description of this book as Raskinesque makes me want to read it sooner rather than later.

    3. KINDRED SOULS/ THE GREAT UNEXPECTED . . . We actually did cover both of these books in a post called “Will Lightning Strike Twice?” When we get back online then you can revisit that post to jumpstart the discussion.

    4. KEEPING THE CASTLE . . . I actually didn’t say that this is a better Newbery book than a Printz book, or that it is necessarily a leading candidate for either award, but rather that it looks stronger. Because the Printz picks lately have sort of trained us that a book needs to be 300-400 pages and/or literary fiction, books like BENEATH A METH MOON and KEEPING THE CASTLE are probably too easy to dismiss from the Printz field. I do think both books could appeal to grades 7-9. I had a 6th grader reading PRIDE AND PREJUDICE, and this book would have been perfect for her, I think, and many other young teens who begin to read the classic works or Jane Austen and the Eyre sisters.

    5. IN A GLASS GRIMMLY . . . To me, this fits in the same mold as STARRY RIVER OF THE SKY because of its use of folktales–and I think it just pales in comparison. Sorry. :-(

    • Jonathan Hunt

      ummm . . . the Bronte sisters.

    • While Gidwitz trumps Lin for me in terms of sentence level writing, I liked STARRY RIVER very much (strong plot structure, setting, and characters) and if I were on the committee would have no trouble supporting it.

    • wendyb79

      I don’t quite see how that isn’t saying that KEEPING THE CASTLE is a better Newbery than Printz, but whatever. I know kids that age read Jane Austen and the Brontes… I first read and loved REBECCA when I was Newbery-aged… but I think the angle and level of the humor is more to an adult’s taste. Though a lot of the adults who reviewed the book on Goodreads also didn’t “get” it, so who knows.

      KINDRED SOULS and THE GREAT UNEXPECTED were pretty briefly mentioned, but I’m hoping for an analysis along the lines of many other books we’ve done. (When I talk about “Heavy Medal”, I always mean the commenters as well, not just “Have Nina and Jonathan mentioned it”–and these two titles have not featured much in comments.)

      I’m still in the middle of BEYOND COURAGE but am very impressed with it. While I’m familiar with some stories of Jewish resistance by young people, Rappaport’s comment about “lambs to the slaughter” struck a chord in me, and reading further confirmed it–I had never really noticed how many Holocaust books focused on Jewish persecution and non-Jewish resistance efforts. (NOT “blaming the victim”–I think any book with that mentality would be drummed out of existence before publication.) To have so many collected this way is lovely, and the writing is excellent. It’s certainly in the top echelon of the year’s nonfiction for me, and may make it to my top group overall.

      • Jonathan Hunt

        When I compare KEEPING THE CASTLE to, say, CODE NAME VERITY or THE BRIDES OF ROLLROCK ISLAND, the age of the intended audience may be similar, but the difference in literary quality is fairly different. On the other hand, when I compare KEEPING THE CASTLE to SPLENDORS AND GLOOMS and LIAR AND SPY there is likewise a difference in quality, but to my mind, that difference is not quite as great as the former comparison. The chief deterrent to Newbery recognition is the perceived age of the audience. If Vegas carried odds on KEEPING THE CASTLE winning Newbery and Printz recognition, I think the odds would favor the Newbery. But I think that’s perception rather than reality.

        I’d like to take another pass at KINDRED SOULS in the context of transitional chapter books (i.e. books for 3rd and 4th graders). We’ll see if we get there.

        Have you read either HAND IN HAND or DISCOVERING BLACK AMERICA? If so, I’d be interested in your take on them–and how you think they compare to BEYOND COURAGE. I lump them together in my mind because they are big thick collections of stories that can be read straight through or simply browsed.

  8. Jonathan Hunt

    I don’t know if you have IN A GLASS GRIMMLY handy, but if so, I’d love some examples of Gidwitz’s wonderful sentence level writing. But then again if I invoke SPLENDORS AND GLOOMS . . .

    • Er, “wonderful” is your word not mine. I just said it trumped Lin for me as far as this goes, but that could be a taste thing and I just finished reading the Gidwitz aloud whereas I haven’t the Lin. That said, randomly from the ARC as my finished copy is at school:

      Late, late at night, when the wind had died down and the crash of the waves on the rocks had subsided into a calm rhythmic beat, Jill sat up in bed. (118)

      The calls came from a section of the market filled with fruit stalls. Tables were stacked high with pyramids of big black grapes, domes of blood oranges, tangles of ruby cherries. (165)

      They traveled in something like a carriage. It was golden and royal and very luxurious. But, like all very luxurious things, it had much in common with a cage. Jill stared through the silver bars… (205)

      Not at the rarified heights for me that SPLENDORS AND GLOOMS is, but something I really appreciated when I did my second reading aloud. Nothing elaborate, but elegant world choice and sentence structure, I felt. You may feel it isn’t anything special, of course:)

  9. Meghan

    I’m soon to pick up In a Glass Grimly and will be very interested in noticing the sentence level writing after reading these comments. I am a sucker for it- but strongly believe it cannot be the largest pillar upon which a distinguished work stands (I’m looking at you Splendors and Grooms). As far as Starry River goes- I have been so impressed by Lin’s plot work, it would be difficult for me to find another book of similar genre (folklore/fantasy) comparable. Her development of a story-within-a-story is so acutely delineated that the “within-ness” seems to dissolve in the final chapters and the story seamlessly transitions into a singular thread.

    And on a completely un-realted note, I though Remarkable was silly. It was light, yes, and I do find that refreshing in a field of serious-minded contenders. However, the creation of a “light” book should not involve sacrificing character development and sensical plot connections so that it can cram in as many assumed, middle grade literary trends as possible ( see: pirates, monsters, mysteries, hopeless love, etc).

  10. I’ve been reading Albert Einstein and Relativity for Kids, by Jerome Pohlen, and I think it’s some outstanding science/biography writing, making complicated ideas accessible. It was an October release, and I haven’t heard much buzz, but I’m impressed.

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