There’s a concern, somewhat but not totally borne out by reality, that the Newbery only goes to “serious” works. While it does seem harder for lighthearted or funny books to win, there are no limits to the type of literature that is eligible, just that it be “original work.” Here, however, are three titles from early in the year that have remained strong in my memory, and all fit the bill of “serious” work.
THE WAR THAT SAVED MY LIFE by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley. This has been a favorite on Goodread’s Mock Newbery for quite a while (perhaps as it came out in January?) It’s been nine months now since I read it, so I’ll need to give it a re-read, but the clarity of the setting and emotional narrative, in strong unadorned prose, stands in my memory. I appreciated the happy ending that felt deserved and realistic.
X: A NOVEL by Ilyasah Shabazz, with Kekla Magoon, was just nominated for the National Book Awards Longlist in Young People’s Lit. This has, of course, several things working against it in a Newbery discussion, the first which someone while take issue with being age. However, I believe this is easily for many readers ages 13 and up, which makes it eligible for Newbery (See definition #2. It doesn’t have to be for every 13 and 14 year old, just the right ones). Secondly, a fictionalized biography seems rife for dispute, and I’ve seen many commenters online say they wish they just had a straight biography to read. However, I think this daring approach is what makes the book strong, and opens his story to a new readership through what I assume is Kekla Magoon’s fine hand in shaping the writing. My quibbles are where the story tends to a didactic tone, but I think that may be my taste.
BLACK DOVE, WHITE RAVEN by Elizabeth Wein. For me, this title may stray over the age line for Newbery, as I think it’s best appreciated by an audience well above 14; however, it’s worth considering solely for comparison to others. I’m an Elizabeth Wein fan, so I have a hard time not holding up her storytelling prowess and sentence-level technique against all others. Here, the breathtaking flying scenes alone strike me as award-worthy and stay firmly in my memory. The narrative conceit sets a wonderful tension for the length of the book that allows her to take time with each potion of the story. She admits twisting history to suit her fiction, and I’d be curious to hear from experts whether the gist of her story feels true to the time.
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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 email@example.com
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