Jonathan and I are working on our shortlist of titles that we’ll be discussing at our in-person Mock Newbery discussions in January (dates TBA for Oakland and San Diego). We try to announce our list just before Thanksgiving, to give you the chance to read up, and limit ourselves to publication dates through October, so that you can get your hands on them. We are getting close, nosing around the few last titles. Here are some that are NOT on our longlist at this point–though they might deserve to be–and which we haven’t discussed yet. So…here’s your chance to convince us otherwise.
THE BOYS OF BLUR. I’m an N.D. Wilson fan: he is a very fine writer, with a great sense of adventure that fills a needed niche for boy readers in particular. The writing here makes an interesting comparison I think to THE NIGHT GARDENER: both tight, tension-filled narratives with engaging characters. But this one has the same problem: the final explanations of the fantasy element don’t do it for me. In THE NIGHT GARDENER I just found it thin; in BOYS OF BLUR I don’t understand it…it feels like a hodge-podge of a lot of allusions thrown together. I greatly admire the effort, but this just doesn’t rise to the top for me.
RAIN REIGN. Amy Martin’s talent at straightforward narrative that is evocative of character, voice, and setting, all shows to great effect here. At the end of the day though, I’m just not sure that this story distinguishes itself for young readers beyond the introduction of this particular voice for this audience. It’s a fine book that doesn’t deserve this label: but, with a Newbery sticker, wouldn’t it just be that Newbery book that adults want kids to read?
NEST. Hooray for first time author Esther Ehrlich! Her character’s voice is zippy, unique, a little more realistically edgy in tone than in a lot of fare, which I particularly appreciated. She takes us nose-to-nose with Chirp’s emotional roller-coaster in a realistic way. That said, the narrative felt a little ungainly to me; as much as the characters compelled me, the plot and narrative shape did not. Some parts seemed to take too long, and other times I wasn’t sure where we were heading. This may be an impossible side-effect of Chirp’s own disorientation, but it kept on getting in the way of the reading experience for me.
THE MEANING OF MAGGIE. Megan Jean Sovern is another first novelist I’d like to hear more from. She’s in the running for the “keep it short and sweet” award, and shares Ehrlich’s talent with immediacy of voice. I felt I knew this family, and their dynamics, instantly. This seems to be a very personal story, and maybe because of that, in the end didn’t have the kind of plot development or narrative dynamic that we see in other contenders.
THE GREENGLASS HOUSE. Kate Milford is one for plot, but doesn’t touch any of these writers above for character or setting. I was compelled to follow the puzzle to its end, and enjoyed the characters and the cozy setting enough, but it took me a very long time to figure out who was who and where was where…and not that much time to see through the twist. (I have to know though: does Blue hook up with Brandon? I kept waiting for that one…)
THE RIVERMAN. A few of you have mentioned Aaron Starmer’s spring title, and I’m a little surprised more haven’t been clamoring. My problem at this point is that I can barely remember it; however, I remember that despite the fact that I wanted to like this book… I simply didn’t buy it (the parts that we’re supposed to buy). The characters never struck me as true, and while that’s part of the point with Fiona, it’s essential that the reader believe in Alistair. He doesn’t talk or think like a kid, even a weird kid. Yes, the premise is amazingly inventive. But what am I missing? Be convincing.
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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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