The finalists for the National Book Award were announced this morning.
MY NAME IS NOT EASY by Debby Dahl Edwardson
INSIDE OUT & BACK AGAIN by Thanhha Lai
FLESH & BLOOD SO CHEAP by Albert Marrin
SHINE by Lauren Myracle
OKAY FOR NOW by Gary Schmidt
CHIME by Franny Billingsley (see link in comments–this post was written before this addition)
I haven’t even heard of MY NAME IS NOT EASY, probably because (a) Marshall Cavendish is a smaller press and (b) it is published this month. We’ve already discussed FLESH & BLOOD SO CHEAP and INSIDE OUT & BACK AGAIN, both to mixed reviews. OKAY FOR NOW stands out clearly as the probable winner. Of course, I said that last year about ONE CRAZY SUMMER and look what happened.
It’s natural to wonder what effect the National Book Award finalists and the eventual winner have on the Newbery committee, either consciously or subconsciously. The answer is absolutely none. Committee members have almost certainly read these books already, some of them multiple times, and formed their own opinions–and they will not bring these previous awards and honors into their discussions.
Meanwhile, sometime this month (quite probably October 15) the Newbery committee will submit their first three nominations to the chair who will compile them and send them out to the entire committee. These are submitted without names so that you are not moved one way or another by who submitted the nomination, but rather by the brief arguments laid out. Two more nominations will follow in November, and a final two in December for a total of seven.
Up to this point, the committee has been trading suggestions of titles to consider. These, too, are submitted to the chair without names, compiled, and sent out periodically to the entire group. Depending on the chair, these may simply be titles, or they may be accompanied by very brief annotations (1-2 sentences).
There is a bit of strategy involved in what to nominate. Let’s say that all 15 members suggested OKAY FOR NOW and you are solidly behind it, too. You may decide to let others nominate it, and spend yours on a title without nearly as much support that deserves a closer look, or you may wish to push various agendas. There are a couple of problems with agendas. First, we tend to have lots of them. Mine include fantasy, nonfiction, easy readers, picture books, debut authors, small presses, and ethnic diversity, to name a few. And second, we simply we do not discuss the books in terms of these agendas once the formal January discussion begins.
Having said that, I’m not really set yet on what my first three nominations would be. I haven’t done any rereading yet (with one exception), and rereading is absolutely essential for me to determine which books to support in the next rounds of the process. So far, these are the books that I would consider for nominating . . .
THE ADVENTURES OF SIR GAWAIN THE TRUE by Gerald Morris
AMELIA LOST by Candace Fleming
BLIZZARD OF GLASS by Sally Walker
BLUEFISH by Pat Schmatz
BOOTLEG by Karen Blumenthal
DEAD END IN NORVELT by Jack Gantos
THE FREEDOM MAZE by Delia Sherman
A MONSTER CALLS by Patrick Ness
OKAY FOR NOW by Gary Schmidt
THE PENDERWICKS AT POINT MOUETTE by Jeanne Birdsall
THE TROUBLE WITH MAY AMELIA by Jennifer Holm
WONDERSTRUCK by Brian Selznick
I’d probably go with AMELIA LOST because even without a second read, I think it’s the class of the nonfiction. And I have actually reread SIR GAWAIN THE TRUE and continue to be impressed with this chapter book (I’ll post on it soon) so I’d pick that one, too, but I’m not sure how I feel about the middle grade fiction. Some titles are clearly most distinguished in certain elements–OKAY FOR NOW, A MONSTER CALLS, THE FREEDOM MAZE–while others just seem strong in all elements, but not necessarily best in any single area–PENDERWICKS, BLUEFISH, MAY AMELIA. Maybe my third nomination would be one of these, but if I had found an awesome picture book, easy reader, or poetry title, I would probably nominate it now, and then nominate the middle grade fiction in the later nomination rounds.
So . . .
What do you think of the National Book Award finalists?
Whether you play it straight or strategically, what would your first three Newbery nominations be?
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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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