Shortlist, the Long Way
Our shortlist requires a little context, so we’ll start with some details.
This year’s in-person Mock Newbery Discussion will take place on Sunday, January 13th, in Oakland CA. Logistics and registration are handled by email, so if you’re interested in participating, email me.
Over the course of four-ish hours that afternoon, we’ll discuss and vote on, according to the procedures of the real Newbery committee, the eight titles listed below: our fabricated list of nominations. Those participating need to read all eight titles. Thus, we try to make sure our list is manageable: usually eight titles (it has been more) announced before Thanksgiving, and avoiding Nov/Dec pub dates. We want you to be able to participate.
At the same time, we only select titles that we feel are strongly defendable according to the Newbery criteria. Nothing you see below should be a huge surprise, nor should any omissions, once you’ve considered what Jonathan and I have said about each title so far this year. Recent past years’ shortlists have had more “outlier” types of titles, especially in terms of format or genre, but in the end this year we had a strong core of 8 that we thought would make great Newbery discussion, still with a lot of variety, and each exemplifying some aspect of distinguished literary content. For all that I’ve said recently about pushing the boundaries of the word “literature,” I do want to say something about words for a moment. Because whether or not a Newbery book has distinguished elements outside of its text, the *writing* in it should be distinguished. We’ve been talking about what makes a “typical” Newbery title, or a surprising Newbery title. About what makes a certain title rise to the top for a particular reader or critic. The Newbery criteria give us handles by which to measure them: “character,” “plot,” “theme,” etc. But we can’t call a theme, or a plot, “distinguished” without showing how it is achieved in the text of the book. It may be achieved through other elements as well, but, the prose has got to be distinguished. I feel that more often than not adult readers lose sight of this; that our thoughts about what *kind* of theme, or *type* of characters are important and responsive to child readers drowns out the conversation on how *well* the author writes that theme, or those characters. You are not going to see some very good books on this list: WONDER, CROW, THREE TIMES LUCKY, etc. Some of you will disagree, but in my judgement, these books are all proficient, but not distinguished. I see more clearly, in their prose, what the author is meaning and trying to do, rather than them doing it.
So, with just a little further ado, here are 8 that do it. This isn’t the end of exploring other possibilities on this blog. However….Jonathan and I have decided this year to forgo the online voting that we tried the last two years. It doesn’t seem to achieve much beyond our weekly conversations, nomination tallies, reports on other Mock Newberies, or Goodreads polls. Rather, we’re going to urge you outside of Oakland driving distance to go forth and try to arrange your own Mocks…and please report them here! ALA’s Newbery and Caldecott Mock Election Toolkit is a useful resource if you need a hand in the mechanics…and the purchase comes with free access to the accompanying archived webinar by this year’s Newbery Chair, Steven Engelfried.
In alphabetical order by title:
BENEATH A METH MOON by Jacqueline Woodson. Without argument: there’s an argument to be made regarding age level. But one that the committee is bound to consider, and should with this title in particular, whose theme is developed so richly within the moment-to-moment texture of the prose.
LIAR & SPY by Rebecca Stead. Author expectations and fan-dom aside, here’s characters, setting, and a teasing plot that stand out as some of the most vividly real of the year.
MOONBIRD by Philip Hoose. I read it a while ago now but Hoose’s narrative still rings clearly in my mind. Though it’s not a fail-safe test, that kind of “stickiness” in prose is usually a promising sign.
NO CRYSTAL STAIR by Vaunda Nelson. Still a standout work of literature, it resists whatever box you try to put it into. Will make “mixed fruit” from our “apples and oranges” discussion.
THE ONE & ONLY IVAN by Katherine Applegate. Though we’ve been considering it all along, I think it lightly surprised both of us that this one still made out list. Sometimes those risky and unusual early-in-the-year titles take a picking apart in order to stay abreast with the front of the pack.
SPLENDORS & GLOOMS by Laura Amy Schlitz. Whether this is your type of book or not, it stakes its claim and builds a world utterly convincing in both interior and exterior landscape. Even Jonathan had a hard time arguing against it.
STARRY RIVER OF THE SKY by Grace Lin. Yep, my praise was pretty tempered back there, but some of your comments were convincing enough that I’m starting to wrap my head around it in a different way.
There they are. Start re-reading.
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About Nina Lindsay
Nina Lindsay is the Children's Services Coordinator at the Oakland Public Library, CA. She chaired the 2008 Newbery Committee, and served on the 2004 and 1998 committees. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org
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