Category Archives: Newbery

Thoughts on Newbery: The Day After (and El Deafo Redux)

Well, saying I’m pretty happy today is an understatement. First of all, congratulations to all honorees, committee members, contenders, creators, publishers, readers, writers, editors, marketers, publicists, librarians, and everyone else who had a stake in these awards. Secondly, EL DEAFO!!!!!!!!!!!

After telling my 4th graders that it was the day of the award announcements and about my hopes for winners, highlighting El Deafo as the one I hoped for the most while also telling them why it was unlikely, I went into the hallway to watch the announcements while someone else was teaching them. The period ended just before the final two awards were announced so I went back and a few of my students stayed to watch while some 6th graders started coming in for a class they have in my room. When El Deafo was announced I screamed and jumped about. Now I often scream and jump about when I’m at the announcements in person, but the practice isn’t something most people associate with me at school, especially my students. So the kids were rather amazed, not quite sure why I was behaving this way. After they headed off to art class, I tried to express my enthusiasm to some colleagues who smiled benevolently and went back to whatever they were doing. Thank goodness for twitter where there were others who understood and shared my enthusiasm.

I’m very happy with The Crossover getting the medal and Brown Girl Dreaming getting the other honor — both were on my short list — but my heart is with El Deafo.  I just hope that its honor does not cause ALSC to sit back and feel this proves that the criteria don’t need to be changed. They do. While El Deafo, as I proved, shines for its text, in many other fabulous graphic novels the text does not work as well without the art. On Sunday I ended up in a lively twitter conversation about this — I argued then, before, and now that the criteria need to be altered so that it is easier for graphic novels to be considered with their art and design being considered in a positive way, not if they make the book “less effective,” as in the current criteria.

As for the other awards, let’s talk Caldecott. I was especially thrilled with three personal favorites of mine,  The Right Word, Viva Frida, and Sam & Davegetting honors. And then, This One Summer, my oh my. I love it, but it never occurred to me to think of it for Caldecott. Kudos to the Committee for be more out-of-the-box thinkers than me. It is a beautiful book and highly deserving of the award. That said, its honor doesn’t get ALSC off the hook in terms of relooking at the Newbery criteria. Still needs doing. And then the Sibert Awards. Awesome to see The Right Word get the medal followed by a fabulous array of honors.





Filed under graphic novel, Newbery

Thoughts on Newbery: Today’s the Day!

In a few hours all will be known. The award winners will have been called and the announcements in snowy Chicago will have been made. My congratulations to all in advance — the honorees, those who were considered, and the hard working committee members. And as a public service for anyone dismayed for any reason, here are a couple of posts that may help.

  • If you think the committee missed an important book, must have not given the award because the author was too well-known, felt another committee would take care of the particular book, or have other unhappy thoughts about why the book you loved wasn’t honored, I wrote the following for you: Top Ten Things You May Not Know about the Newbery Award.
  • And for those creators whose books were getting a lot of buzz, but ended up without honors, this one is for you: Thoughts on Newbery: This Year (and be sure to read the comments).




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Thoughts on Newbery: What I’d Like to See Honored a Week from Today

Next Monday morning the ALA Youth Media Awards will be announced. Many wonderful books came into the world this year, some receiving a great deal of attention while others were appreciated more quietly. And as is true for all the hardworking committee members, those charged with selecting the Newbery will have spent an enormous amount of time considering the eligible titles before making their careful decision. (See this post for more about the criteria and their process.)

Because it is fun to see if any of your own favorites get the nod here are eight of mine. While there were many more I loved this year (including some on this list), based on recent conversations, hard thinking, and irrational feelings from the heart these are the ones I’d be preparing for the most if I were on this year’s committee.

  • El Deafo  This is probably a long shot, but I can dream, can’t I? My arguments for this wonderful graphic novel memoir are here.
  • West of the Moon Way back last March I wrote in my review, “Mixing fairy and folktale with harsh historical reality, Preus has created a gorgeous story of migration set in 19th century Norway.”
  • Brown Girl Dreaming  I wrote here that it is “One of the most lyrical and moving books of the year.”
  • The Key That Swallowed Joey Pigza  “By the time this final book of the series—as elegantly and propulsively written as the others—draws to a close, you know that no matter what the future holds, Joey’s inner strength and smart, sweet nature will prevail.” is how I concluded my starred Horn Book review.
  • The Madman of Piney Woods  In another starred Horn Book review, I wrote,” Curtis takes his young protagonists — and his readers — on a journey of revelation and insight. Woven throughout this profoundly moving yet also at times very funny novel are themes of family, friendship, community, compassion, and, fittingly, the power of words.”
  • The Crossover About this powerful verse novel, I wrote here, “The poetry is energetic and the story compelling — a sure-fire hit for a wide range of readers.”
  • The Family Romanov Of this elegant work of nonfiction I noted here, “Balancing the over-the-top lifestyle of the last Russian royals with firsthand accounts of the rest of the populace, Fleming provides a fascinating and highly readable version of this tragic story.”
  • The Fourteenth Goldfish In my New York Times review I wrote, “Youth, old age, life, death, love, possibilities and — oh yes — goldfish all come together in this warm, witty and wise novel.”





Filed under awards, Newbery

Thoughts on Newbery: El Deafo

I don’t usually do single titles for this series, but am making an exception for Cece Bell’s El Deafo, a graphic novel that is getting some serious Newbery buzz. About this affecting and funny childhood memoir, I wrote elsewhere, “While Bell doesn’t shy away from issues dealing with her hearing loss, doing so with wit and a refreshing lack of self-pity, it is the search for a good friend that will resonate most with young readers.” I’ve definitely been part of the buzzing (say over at Heavy Medal where I put it as the first of my 3 votes for their online Mock Newbery), but also have been dubious about its chances due to this part of the criteria that the award committee is required to follow:

2. Each book is to be considered as a contribution to American literature. The committee is to make its decision primarily on the text. Other components of a book, such as illustrations, overall design of the book, etc., may be considered when they make the book less effective.

However a rereading focusing on the text has changed my mind. First of all, I found it surprisingly easy to do. This is because the text carries the story completely. Those panels where it is necessary to look at the art to make sense of the text are not critical to making sense of the story overall.  I also found in this reading a new appreciation for the voice, one that I realized is very much brought out through the writing. As Nina Lindsay notes here, “Cece’s emotional arc of self-awareness, her coping mechanisms and challenges in navigating friendships, are all delivered in a voice that is as lively in the text as in any non-graphic novel this year.” I agree wholeheartedly.

Something that really struck me on this rereading is Bell’s use of text boxes and speech bubbles. She uses them as a poet does line breaks, building scenes, expressing feelings, and so forth. Take this text from pages 44-45. Look at the way the text builds in the way that lines in a poem would do. (I have taken the liberty of using caps, parentheses, italics, bolding, and line spacing to differentiate as a poet might well do.)

I can hear everything my teacher says and does! In the classroom…


(I will gain the wisdom of the ages!)

…in the hallway….


(I will discover the secrets of my fellow man!)

…in the entire school building….


(I will –wait! Is she using the bathroom again? Ha! Ha!)

…and possibly in the entire world! And no one else can hear what I hear!


(Holy Hearing Aid, Batman—)

(I will amaze everyone –)




So how about looking at El Deafo as one does a work of poetry and considering the textual elements in those terms?

Something else that wowed me on this rereading was the pacing. In the overall story arc, there is such fluidity in the way we move from scenes featuring her hearing loss to those about friendships to the smaller ones –say those with her siblings and mother— that offer texture to the overall book. This is a complex work and Bell elegantly weaves these different threads in and out of each other without ever dropping a single one. Highly distinguished plotting, I say.

Then there is setting, something that you’d think was largely established in the art. But not so, I say. I think there is a great deal that gives you the sense of the time period in the text. Go take a look at Pages 77 – 80 when Cece struggles to make sense of television; the shows that she watches are all of a particular time. In fact, they almost seem like little Easter eggs for adults as kids now are not going to even know what shows like The Waltons are. Not to mention, it is a way of watching television that doesn’t tend to happen for kids today, I suspect.  And just about all of it is text-based. (I grant you the Star Trek panel is definitely funnier with the image, but not critical to the overall story. Also, it will mean more to adult readers than children of today. The rest of them work perfectly just with the text, I’d argue.)

Characters. Beautifully developed through text, especially in terms of friendships. Consider this on pages 48-49:


It’s all kind of sudden, so I think about it for a minute or two…

[writes list of pros and cons]

Frenz with Laura? 

Yes                                                       No

Fritos                                                    kinda pushee 

        duz not mine heerin aid__                       ______             

… and then I say:


What else? Bell communicates vividly through text the ups and downs of childhood. While it is set in her childhood of a few decades past she has managed to beautifully capture certain universals — first crush, the need for a best friend, sleepovers etc. Take this little bit on pages 94-95 from the sleep-over when the other girls want to do her hair and make-up, something Cece hates, but struggles to get out of:



(That’s the dumbest question I ever — wait a minute! Here’s my chance to get out of this!)


I don’t believe we can. Messes up the hearing aids, and stuff.




And so, for the moment I rest my case.(I may update this post when I have more time.)  This book, in my opinion, can absolutely be considered the most distinguished children’s book of the year using the current Newbery criteria.


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Thoughts on Newbery: Flaws, Fatal or Not?

Heavy Medal has started up again and some fascinating conversations are well underway.  One aspect of the conversation that has struck me is the idea of flawness (my made-up word). That is, are all books perfect? And if not, how do we grapple with perceived flaws? Can we reach consensus on the degree of their significance?

This came to mind when in her Heavy Medal post on Deborah Wiles’ Revolution, Nina noted that “There is a fatal flaw that I find in REVOLUTION, and that is that Raymond is not as fully realized a character as Sunny, not by a very long shot.” She goes on to thoughtfully articulate why she thinks this and others of us have been discussing this concern in the comments. Now I adore Revolution (you can read my review here) , but had noticed that Wiles had been able to write Sunny through her own personal experience while she couldn’t with Raymond resulting in a more cautious presentation. If I were on the Newbery Committee this is something I’d want to explore long and hard. I’d pester a huge range of people, those with different racial and regional backgrounds and historical experiences, to read the book and tell me what they think. I’d have to stand back from my first love of the book to honestly attempt to figure out if this is a flaw and if it isn’t, why not. And if it is, is it fatal? How would I argue that it was or was not when in my deliberations with the Committee?

Then there is Jonathan’s post on A Snicket of Magic which has generated a fabulous conversation about vernacular, about so-called folksy literature. By attempting to categorize a collection of titles as being this, Jonathan provoked a wonderful series of comments. For some, I know, this sort of voice is tough going. So when you are on the Committee, how do you distinguish a personal distaste from a flaw, much less a fatal one?

Thinking about this fatal flaw business caused me to head to my goodreads Newbery list and add a few more personal favorites, some of which also have flaws…er…blemishes…er..imperfections… (Roget, I need you!)… I’m wondering about. As a result, I’ve now got ten books there, three more than I’d be able to nominate if I were on the Committee.  I’ve added Kwame Alexander’s The Crossover as I thought it fabulous –except for the ending.  And I’ve added Cece Bell’s El Deafo even though I have no clue how to make a case for it as it is a graphic novel.  Similarly, despite not having figured out how interlaced the text is with the art, I’ve added Patricia Hruby Powell’s picture biography, Josephine.  This review of Rachel’s of Dana Alison Levy’s The Misadventures of the Family Fletcher reminded me of how I loved it (reviewed it for Horn Book) and so it is now on the list. Does it have a fatal flaw? Not so noticeably that I can figure out.  Finally, I added Jack Gantos’ series finale, The Key That Swallowed Joey Pigza. While I don’t think it is flawed, I’m sure there will be some absolutely horrified by Joey’s circumstances as they were with the previous books.

Fatal. Flaws. Fascinating.



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Thoughts on Newbery: Patrick Ness’s CBAITS

Some of you may bristle (or already have) about this topic, but I think it is one to take very, very seriously. It is Patrick Ness‘s provocative point in his SLJ Battle of the Kids’ Book decision this week about what he has termed CBAITs:

Crappy Books About Important Things; you know exactly what I’m talking about: books with either important subject matter or important formats that are so terrible-but-worthy they turn reading into medicine for young people.  People tend to be far too afraid to give these books bad reviews and they often go on to win prizes.

I think Patrick has a point, an important and enormously complicated one. First of all, what Patrick may consider a CBAIT may not be what someone else does. That is, our criteria may be different, our idea of what is good, our taste, and so forth. Which is why, presumably, some end up winning prizes. That is, enough people on a particular award jury may have the same sense of what is good even if it isn’t what others think. And so they are going to give an award to a book they sincerely think is good not crappy.

And that gets to the heart of Patrick’s issue: what do people consider to be a good book? Many indeed think a book is good if it takes on an Important Thing and will dismiss questions about the quality of sentence level writing that would be something I’d be paying attention to . While Patrick and I probably would agree that something with painfully poor sentence level writing is crappy there are some who might feel differently. Not to mention what I might consider overwrought writing might be something someone else would think is wonderful, and vice versa.

That said, I do think there is a tendency for those of us who review and/or participate in selecting best books, award books, and such to pay a lot of attention to books that deal with topics that we feel need to be more known. And sometimes we excuse weaknesses in such books because we think they are so important. Because they are so few and because we so badly want young people to take in the topics, to know about these Important Things.

I think this has special resonance when considering the Newbery award. While the criteria are clear that it is for literary merit not popularity or didactic intent, I suspect most  of us can look back at the books that have received the medal and find one we’d call a CBAIT.

Thank you, Patrick, for pointing out that metaphorically children’s book award emperors sometimes have no clothes.



Filed under awards, Newbery, Review

Thoughts on Newbery: This Year

I’ve been deeply involved with the Newbery award for years, mostly by reading and speculating during a given year and once as a member of the Committee itself.  I’ve enjoyed tremendously advocating for my favorites on this blog, participating in the Heavy Medal discussion, making my own goodreads list of possibilities, and so forth. Because being on the committee itself gave me a better sense of things, last year I wrote a post for the Nerdy Book Club to help others better understand the process behind the award and recently I was interviewed for this article about those who serve on the various award committees. So I feel I’ve been on that side of things for many years. I know it pretty well. I know, for instance, how personal the committee process is. That is, each committee is a collection of individuals and they will come together and interact in a particular way. A different collection of people will most likely act in a different way. This, to my mind, more than anything explains the variety of choices.  And it is why I applaud and celebrate the decisions every year whether my favorites were selected or not.

This year…well, this year was oddly different for me. I wanted to do what I usually do — champion my favorites and so forth, but  then there was this: my very own debut book for children was being touted as a contender. This  was unexpected, thrilling, and totally marvelous.  Because I felt it was wild and I wanted to avoid thinking too much about it, I tried to keep going as usual. However, I couldn’t completely.  Yes, I did keep my goodreads list and yes, I did comment on Heavy Medal, but I did barely anything here. No post about my Newbery druthers, for example.

And then came this past weekend.  I was at Midwinter networking as usual.  I looked at forthcoming books, talked with friends, and enjoyed myself as usual. We talked about what we’d like to see win awards and so forth.  And mostly there was little mention of the elephant in the room — my book that is. But every once in a while there was.  Someone would say they would be rooting for me on Monday. Someone else would suddenly connect that I was the author of that book and gush.  One of the best comments made to me was an editor who reminded me that just being considered a contender made my book a winner.

Now I have to confess that I had fantasized quietly this year about getting the call, figuring it a harmless game. I imagined going down to my hotel’s Starbucks early Monday morning, getting the call, and keeping it a secret so as to surprise my roommates at the announcements. They were kind and didn’t say a thing, thank goodness (other than suggesting the night before that I should take a sleeping aid which wasn’t actually necessary:). And when it didn’t happen I was absolutely fine. I mean, for all my fantasizing,  I really didn’t imagine it could possibly really happen. And so I was excited as always as we went to the announcements and delighted when titles I’d especially liked were honored for various awards. It was a happy day as always.

But then I went home.  And while I respected greatly the Newbery choices, especially the winner which I’d read aloud to my class last year (and will again this year),  I think perhaps I was feeling a tad disappointed that none of my favorites had been recognized. I was tired Tuesday morning and a bit cranky. At school I fussed about a missing adaptor for my laptop, dealt with various small issues, worried about a doctor’s appointment that afternoon, and was all in all a little off.  By the next day with some sleep and distance I was fine again. And it made me wonder — did my grumpiness have something to do with something I was trying very hard not to think about — how my book fared at the awards?  I can’t quite say because I don’t want to go there in my thinking. I’m still thrilled at the reception my book has gotten. I’m thrilled it was even being mentioned in this way.

But it also makes me even more sympathetic to all those children’s book creators out there when it comes to this time. Those who were winning Mock Newberys and Caldecotts, who were getting huge amounts of buzz, and then were shut out from the real thing. I hope they can feel as happy as I do now, happy to have been so seriously considered. And happy for those who were honored — those are good books too.

This is a rambling post, I know. But I think I’m an unusual case as someone who, after so many years being deeply involved in the selection side of things suddenly was on the other side. And so I just want to say thank you to those who saw Africa is My Home as an award contender.  And congratulations to all involved in the winning titles —  the authors and illustrators and editors and publishers and designers and copy editors and marketers and publicists and editors and agents and friends and family members and everyone. Lastly, bravo to all those hard working committee members.  You did a great job.


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Thoughts on Newbery: Heavy Medal and Calling Caldecott

In case you don’t regularly follow Heavy Medal and Calling Caldecott, I suggest that if you are interested in the two awards or just in thinking deeply about children’s books, you might want to reconsider. I do know it can be challenging to read hard-hitting critical analysis of books you adore, but the moderators of these two blogs are really only putting out in public what happens during both committees’ deliberations in private.  Right now there are a couple of posts that are particularly thought provoking, at least to me.

First of all, there is Jonathan Hunt’s guest post over at Calling Caldecott, “In defense of graphic novels.” Now, of course, as it is Jonathan he is being provocative, but he is making some very powerful points. I thought he’d convinced me until today when commentator Brandin took Jonathan on sufficiently well to make me step back a bit and rethink the whole thing. That is, I’d been all behind Jonathan’s argument for GNs being Caldecott contenders until Brandin made some very good points on how different they are from picture books.

And then there is Nina Lindsay’s post over at Heavy Medal, “It’s an Honor,” in which she addresses the way some (Jonathan, for one) who comment that they think a particular contender would be a great honor book, but not the medal. I wrote:

Hear, hear. I am completely in agreement with you, Nina. When I was on the Committee I nominated seven books I felt deserved to win — gold or silver, it didn’t matter. However, of course, there is also strategy going on (as Jonathan has written about when describing his decisions for mock nominations here) and so what ends up where is a result too of individual strategy and working toward consensus. I have never been able to understand how someone could go into the process already having decided something is an Honor but not the Medal.


Nina, I always remember something you said to our 2008 Committee regarding the oppositional tension we needed to have — to both be fierce in our passionate love and arguments for our nominees and equally open to letting them go without misery as we worked toward consensus. My personal goal (which I achieved) when on that Committee was to be happy with our choices. I just wonder how you can do that if you go in having two tiers of books.

Good comments on all sides of the issue there too.

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Thoughts on Newbery: The Age Problem

Children are defined as persons of ages up to and including fourteen, and books for this entire age range are to be considered.  

That is directly from the Newbery criteria and can be one of the hardest to sort out.  At least it has been for me.  I teach 4th grade in a 4th-8th grade middle school and since my students come back to me as they get older for book suggestions as well as for an after-school book club, I have some sense of how kids at the upper end of that age range respond to eligible books. Our middle school librarian, Roxanne Feldman, who was on last year’s Newbery Committee, has an even closer ear to the ground for this.  We both see many incredibly sophisticated readers who totally appreciate and get books that are for adults and/or are clearly YA. And they certainly get those books on the cusp, the ones we struggle with when trying to figure out if they fit within the Newbery level or are beyond. The question though is just because these sophisticated young readers get such books, are they within the broader cohort of their age group? That is, are these books that they are getting, but others their age are not especially –within the age range of the award?

Even harder for me as a 4th grade teacher is fighting against my personal desire to see the award go to a book for the age group I teach —  9 and 10 year olds.  I really, really, really want that, but I also want the best book to win.  And sometimes that book may be too old for 9 and 10 year olds, but just right for 13-14 year olds.

Nina Lindsay over at Heavy Medal has just posed this perennial question with her post, “The Age Question*” and I’ve already written the following comment. I look forward to others weighing in and helping us all with this complicated issue.

When I was on the Committee I consulted with our school psychologist (I’m in a 4-8 grade middle school) about development when dealing with cusp books. He was incredibly helpful at helping parse things out with such titles.

My feeling is that there are always going to be kids who can read completely anything. Kids who are sophisticated, who have a personal depth that results in their “getting” what they read in a remarkably adult-like way. I come across kids like that now and then at my school. I think of one of our students who at age 13 adored Mal Peet’s LIFE: AN EXPLODED DIAGRAM which many saw as a book mostly adults would appreciate. (He has been one of our two Kid Commentators on BOB — RG—and you can read his enthusiastic pick for LIFE to win it here: But that doesn’t convince me that the book is for his age group. He and his cohort read more as adults do, they have developed quicker than their peers. That they love and appreciate these books does not convince me that they are for their chronological age group.

This year I’d put Tom McNeal’s FAR FAR AWAY in this category. I don’t know what you and Jonathan think about it and whether it will be on your discussion list, but it is getting Newbery buzz and I’m trying to work out if it is within or above the age range. The reason I lean toward above is that while there are certainly kids 14 and younger who will read and enjoy the book (always are, after all) it seems to me that the darker elements in the latter part of it will be better understood by those older with slightly different orientations on life, more experience so to speak. That is, I think that you can truly get the whole gestalt of this book if you are beyond 14 by and large.

Nina, I actually think you are on to something similar with HOKEY POKEY — in my experience, those who enjoy it and seem to get it are out of childhood, be they 50 or an 8th grader. So it may be out of Newbery age range. (That said, someone here — can’t remember who, sorry — wrote that it is being very much enjoyed by younger kids around her. That hasn’t been my experience, sadly.)

* Nina sees this as a “question,” but it has been definitely been a knotty “problem” for me.

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Some Words from a Few Past Newbery Winners

“I got my name in a crossword puzzle.”

That’s Betsy Byars on winning the Newbery. More in this lovely video from Open Road Media on some of their award winning authors, among them Virginia Hamilton, Jean Craighead George, and Chris Raschka.


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