The Glorious Ineligibles
Being on the Newbery Committee means devoting almost all your reading time (and time to do other things in the past) to the year’s output of American Children’s Books. I know that my husband definitely felt the impact of being a Newbery Committee Spouse. Evenings that were family times — watching TV together or playing board games, were suddenly taken over by my sitting on the comfy chair, nightly, reading up a storm. I still recall the 2001 winter break month — David and Lily stayed with my in-laws and left me alone in our temporary apartment so I could catch up with all the nominated titles.
Steven and Sharon, what did you have to give up doing while you served on Newbery?
WHAT DID YOU HAVE TO GIVE UP SERVING ON THE AWARDS COMMITTEE?
My kids were in college by the time I did Newbery, so I had a bit more free time than earlier in my life. I spend two hours a day on trains and light rail, and though I complain about it plenty, it’s a great thing for a Newbery year. I’d have a two hour minimum of reading no matter what. Plus I would take the books I needed to read, but maybe wasn’t excited to read, on the train, and plow through them because I had no choice. I put off a lot of adult reading, and had a long list of holds that were “suspended, reactivate Feb 1.”
I’ve actually never served on Newbery…I’ve only served on the Caldecott Committee. It was before I had my children (in fact I was pregnant with twins during Midwinter when we did our decision-making), so it didn’t impact family too much, but I definitely gave up on some social activities and on reading adult materials. I also gave up a room of my house for space for all the books and the organization system I had to keep track of them all.
Also, as the Newbery tenure marches on, suddenly you realize how varied your “normal” readings could be: grown-up books, books from other countries (in English or in other languages/translations,) and titles that you didn’t get to read from the previous couple of years. Even though I am not serving on the real Newbery Committee this year, I definitely feel the constraint of my reading scope. The four outstanding books that I read this year but can’t discuss here on Heavy Medal are:
Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson. Not eligible because it is general nonfiction for adults and was published in 2014. Informative, powerful, life-changing, hopeful. I want everyone in the world to read it!
The Goat by Anne Fleming – not eligible because it is not by an American author. Charming, illuminating, moving. I have been recommending it to certain students who enjoy quirky and emotionally mature tales.
Bronze and Sunflower by Cao Wenxuan, translated by Helen Wang – not eligible because it is not by an American author and is a translation. Harsh realities wrapped in wise prose to highlight unyielding, positive human spirit and family bond. The translation definitely preserves the integrity of the original text.
La Belle Sauvage by Philip Pullman – not eligible because it is not by an American author. This is the 2017 “I’ll drop everything else so I could read it as fast as I can” book! And it does not disappoint! Meeting Lyra as a baby, seeing her journey, the care that went into rescuing and securing her, and meeting and re-encountering fascinating characters in Lyra’s Oxford is just such a treat that I believe quite a few of those currently serving on the Newbery would have done the same as I did.
Steven and Sharon — what books did you read that you enjoyed and wished that we can discuss them here or are eligible for Newbery?
WHAT ARE THE BEST INELIGIBLE BOOKS YOU’VE READ THIS YEAR?
La Belle Sauvage by Philip Pullman. Like Roxanne, there’s no way I was not going to read this one. I was a little apprehensive, wondering if it would really be its own book, or just more Lyra backstory, but no, it was excellent and I’m ready for the next in the series. Now.
A Face Like Glass by Frances Hardinge. I vividly remember reading the first 100 pages of Hardinge’s “Lost Conspiracy” in 2009 and thinking: this is the Newbery winner! Then realizing the she’s British. This year I knew better, but I also believe this would be a contender (though it’s also an older book just published in the US this year). Her “Skin Full of Shadows” is out this month and I’ll read that for sure too.
The Song from Somewhere Else by A. F. Harrold. I reviewed this one for SLJ and see that it just made their Best of 2017 list. Harrold also wrote “The Imaginary” and I like the way both of those books are deceptively scary. They also use illustrations to great effect, which would make for some interesting “how much does the text do?” discussions if they were Newbery eligible…but they’re not.
Binny Bewitched by Hilary McKay. I’ll always read a new McKay as soon as it comes out. I’m liking the Binny series almost as much as the Cassons and the Exiles.
Also La Belle Sauvage! It was exceptional, but of course is not up for discussion. Beyond that, it’s mostly been books that weren’t published for children or weren’t published this year.
Boundless, a beautiful graphic work by Jillian Tamaki, was one I just couldn’t wait for. My Caldecott year was the year of THIS ONE SUMMER, and I just must immediately read anything a Tamaki touches. This, though, is definitely not a book for children.
Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein. I know I know, it’s so strange that I hadn’t read it before, I just never quite got to it, but with the Pearl Thief this year I knew it was time. I wish I could discuss it! Both in the context of The Pearl Thief, and just in general, but it is obviously not eligible this year.
Dear Heavy Medal readers — what have you read this year that is glorious but not eligible for the Newbery? Share below in the comments!
About Roxanne Hsu Feldman
Roxanne Hsu Feldman is the Middle School (4th to 8th grade) Librarian at the Dalton School in New York City. She served on the 2002 and 2013 Newbery Committees. Roxanne was also a member of 2008-2009 Notable Books for Children, 2015 Best Fiction for Young Adults, and the 2017 Odyssey Award Committees. In 2016 Roxanne was one of the three judges for the Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards. You can reach her at at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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