We’ve often worried that we create a bit of an echo chamber effect here, picking a shortlist to focus on at the expense of many other wonderful titles. Previously recognized authors along with highly praised books tend to dominate our shortlist, exacerbating the effect. Sometimes, I wonder if we should do something radical like exclude authors who’ve previously appeared on our shortlist or omit books with four or more starred reviews, as many of those titles probably don’t need our attention as much as some others.
Earlier this year, Tim Wadham profiled THE SECRET LIFE OF LINCOLN JONES on the eve of its publication. I hope some of you have had the opportunity to read it based on his glowing recommendation. Admittedly, it’s still in my pile–but much closer to the top. The holidays–along with binge reading–cannot come soon enough!
Here are six additional titles that have been put forward in the comments over the past couple months on the blog. They may only be underdogs in the sense that the echo chamber does not love them, but the Newbery committee is its very own echo chamber. And speaking of echoes . . .
ARE YOU AN ECHO? by David Jacobson . . . Betsy Bird first brought this one to our attention on her blog, and Leonard Kim has been championing it here. It’s a lovely book by a small press. The committee will not be able to consider the poems interspersed in the main narrative or the poems in the back of the book, but the biographical narrative is fair game. With the stiff competition in the Newbery field, it will probably be easier for it to breakthrough to the Sibert or ALSC Notables.
I already returned this one to the public library, but here’s the publisher’s description: “In early-1900s Japan, Misuzu Kaneko grows from precocious bookworm to instantly-beloved children’s poet. But her life ends prematurely, and Misuzu’s work is forgotten. Decades later her poems are rediscovered—just in time to touch a new generation devastated by the tsunami of 2011. This picture book features Misuzu’s life story plus a trove of her poetry in English and the original Japanese.”
Lizzie Borden took an axe,
Gave her mother forty whacks.
When she saw what she had done,
She gave her father forty-one!
Today, everything most people know of Lizzie Andrew Borden is contained in those four singsong lines of doggerel. And nearly everything in those four lines is wrong.
This book probably sounds gorier than it is, and I don’t think the cover does it any favors. In fact, I wonder if the cover might be part of the reason why its praises have been under sung this year. I also think–I wonder–if there is such a thing as TMI (too much information). It’s a masterful piece of narrative nonfiction, but is there too much detail here for some readers. That’s entirely subjective, of course, but could still be a very real obstacle. The ENYA finalists were announced yesterday, and I’m mildly surprised that that this one didn’t make the grade. Anyone up for second-guessing the ENYA committee? Anyone? 😉
CLOUD AND WALLFISH by Anne Nesbet . . . Monica Edinger first brought this one to my attention. She reviewed it for Horn Book and I think Roger Sutton has mentioned it on his blog. From Monica’s starred review: “In this atmospheric page-turner set just as the Iron Curtain begins to lift, Nesbet deftly ratchets up the tension, using a close third-person omniscient narration to keep readers experiencing one unnerving event after another, just as Noah does. Scattered throughout are “Secret File” sidebars with facts and information about East Germany and the Cold War at that time. This is edgy, dramatic, and emotionally rich historical fiction that provides a vivid look into an extraordinary moment in history.”
Noah knew something was up the moment he saw his mother that May afternoon in fifth grade. She swooped up in a car he didn’t recognize–that was the first thing. And secondly, his father was sitting in the other front seat, and in Noah’s family, picking up kids at school was a one-parent activity.
GERTIE’S LEAP TO GREATNESS by Kate Beasley . . . I was attracted to this book when it came into my office from the cover alone. I mean, who could resist that wonderful Jillian Tamaki cover, and the matte finish? Not me!
The bullfrog was only half dead, which was perfect.
He hunkered in the dark culvert under the driveway and gazed at Gertie Reece Foy with a tragical gleam in his eye, as if he knew her lovely face was the last thing we would ever see.
And who could resist the opening? Not me! Moving it toward the top of the pile.
SOME KIND OF COURAGE by Dan Gemeinhart . . . This one was mentioned early on in our discussion of PAX and then came up again in our Top Five discussion. Everyone seems to agree that the book has a strong emotional appeal, but the question seems to be whether the literary elements are strong enough to put the book in serious contention.
I reckoned it was the coldest, darkest hour of the night.
That still hour just before dawn. Mama always called it the “angels and devils hour,” on account of how only angels or demons would have any work worth doing at a time like that. I didn’t know if I was doing the Lord’s work or the Devil’s, but I knew it had to be done and the time had sure enough come to do it.
Hmmm. Not a terribly great opening, to my mind, especially compared with GERTIE.
Mary Ann recommended this one to us.
My mother is an elephant and my father in an old man with one arm. Strange, I know, but true.
For a short time, I was under the care of dhole, wild dogs that live in the jungle. Before the dhole, I had a different mother and father who tied a red string around my neck and left me alone in the world. They believed the red string would give me protection. I do not know what become of them or why they abandoned me.
Interesting! The reviews are generally positive with only the occasional nitpicky reservation. Booklist was probably the most glowing: “Poetic and old-fashioned (in a good way), this coming-of-age story features a resourceful hero and a little-seen world. Dinerstein, who has lived in Nepal himself, beautifully recreates the lush, dramatically populated world of the Nepalese borderlands. Touching and unique.”
Calling all fans of these books! Now is the time for you to state your case. What makes each of these the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children?
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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 email@example.com
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