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