I solicited October (top three) and November (top five) nominations, and now it’s time for the final December (top seven) nominations. We’re almost certainly a couple of weeks behind the real committee in that regard, and they did not have the luxury of tweaking their nominations with each successive round. However, they not only had a huge head start on us, but they have the benefit of a shared suggestion list. So here goes . . .
A CONSPIRACY OF KINGS . . . This one is dominant in all literary elements–plot, character, setting, style, theme–and is quite simply the best fiction book of the year. People have questioned whether it exceeds the Newbery audience and they have questioned whether the literary elements can be appreciated on the merits of this single book, but to my mind nobody has brought a serious challenge to the literary merit of the book.
DARK EMPEROR . . . The poetry is divine: exquisitely crafted language poured into elegant forms. The sidebars are superb: lucid, concise, and engaging. And the marriage of two (coupled with the illustrations that the Caldecott committee is surely considering) is just transcendent. The more I read this one, the better it gets. Like A CONSPIRACY OF KINGS, I think its biggest enemy is the perception that it is not a Newbery type of book, but it’s as distinguished as all get out.
SUGAR CHANGED THE WORLD . . . A book that will engage the mind as well as the heart, this is nonfiction writing at its finest. The scope and ambition of the book are breathtaking, not to mention the passion and enthusiasm that exudes from every page–even the back matter. Some people have noted some stylistic excesses, but to my mind these are differences of opinion rather than genuine flaws in the book. And again, another book that defies the Newbery stereotype.
These three books are in my top three. They are so different from each other that it is hard for me to rank them in order, and with the weighted ballot system I would allow the discussion to prioritize them, meaning that the book that appeared to have the most support would get my first place vote, the book that appeared to have the next most support would get my second place vote, and the book with the least amount of support would get my third place vote. It’s also quite possible that one or more of these books would have so little support from the committee that I might replace it with one of my lower ranked choices.
KEEPER . . . Sometimes you read a book that you would normally hate, but somehow you just end up loving it, and this book definitely had that effect on me. The literary elements–plot, character, setting, style, theme–are all strong here, but through two readings, my one concern has been the pacing of the novel, particularly the first half, and that suspicion was confirmed by our mock Newbery group. Of my top five nominations, this is the only one that is a stereotypical Newbery, but then there is the elephant in the room: if this book gets chosen, it will make Scrotum Hysteria pale by comparison.
THE NOTORIOUS BENEDICT ARNOLD . . . This book has everything a boy could ask for in a Newbery book: adventure, courage, treachery, and intrigue. A terrific piece of storytelling that rivals any of the novels in terms of the literary elements, and yet it’s built on a solid foundation of facts. Well, I think it’s built on a solid foundation of facts. Nina begs to differ, but I’ll let her address her own concerns.
With my final two nominations, I mulled several of my personal favorites–THE LEGEND OF THE KING, THE DREAMER, and CITY DOG, COUNTRY DOG. In a real Newbery situation, I would have the benefit of knowing from the suggestion list how much support there is for each of these titles, and it’s quite possible that one or more of these would have filled out my final two. But without the benefit of that knowledge, I am going to use my final two nominations to move toward consensus.
ONE CRAZY SUMMER . . . This one is strong in all of the literary elements, particularly the style (i.e. Delphine’s voice) and characters, and the book is the strongest middle grade fiction in these respects. I don’t find the plot particularly strong, although we don’t feel a deficiency in this area when we are reading the book because we are so invested in the other elements. In fact, I only feel it has an inferior plot when I compare it to A CONSPIRACY OF KINGS (which matches or exceeds the other strengths of ONE CRAZY SUMMER). Where KEEPER has one big problem, I think ONE CRAZY SUMMER has a dozen niggling ones, but I’m sure people would dismiss my qualms just as easily as I am dismissing those about SUGAR CHANGED THE WORLD.
THEY CALLED THEMSELVES THE KKK . . . I have this ranked as the third best nonfiction book, but I think it may be easier to build consensus around this one than SUGAR CHANGED THE WORLD and THE NOTORIOUS BENEDICT ARNOLD. I can definitely find room on my ballot for this one, as evidenced by the mock Newbery vote. These three books are so different in terms of style, treatment, and subject matter (it’s the whole apples vs. oranges conundrum–within the same genre!) that I have been pondering how much my ranking of these titles is based on subjective considerations. Hmmm.
So those are my top seven nominations. What are yours?
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About Jonathan Hunt
Jonathan Hunt is the Coordinator of Library Media Services at the San Diego County Office of Education. He served on the 2006 Newbery committee, and has also judged the Caldecott Medal, the Printz Award, the Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards, and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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