Best Books of the Year Lists vs. Mock Newbery Titles
December’s here, which means major review journals are beginning to release their lists of the best children’s books of the year. It’s interesting to compare their choices to the books we’ve been looking at for our Mock Newbery, but we shouldn’t be surprised if they don’t line up neatly. On Heavy Medal and other Mock Newbery lists, we’re using the Newbery Terms and Criteria to guide us in our selection of the most distinguished books of the year. The editors and others who contribute to the journals’ lists can look more broadly, balance the lists between genres and age levels, and highlight common themes that might best represent the year. And of course there’s the constant factor when comparing anyone’s “best of” lists: a different group of people will make different choices.
So far I’ve only seen lists from School Library Journal, Publisher’s Weekly, and Kirkus Reviews. Booklist’s “Editor’s Choice” lists, the “Blue Ribbons” from the Bulletin for the Center of Children’s Books, and Horn Book‘s “Fanfare” should be out soon [just released] (and I’ll add links to those here once they’re available). Based on the first three lists, here are some random observations:
School Library Journal: Best Books 2020
- SLJ includes 29 titles on their “Chapter Books” and “Middle Grade” fiction sections, which covers a fairly big chunk of what we’ve looked at on Heavy Medal. 18 of these were either featured or nominated on HM.
- “Young Adult” is a different story. Except for some comments about CLAP WHEN YOU LAND, none of the 16 titles on SLJ’s top Young Adult list showed up on our blog.
- SLJ also has a separate list of 20 “Nonfiction” titles. Of those, just four were either featured or nominated on HM.
- Under “Graphic Novels” six out of 15 were also HM titles..
Publisher’s Weekly Best Books of 2020
- PW lists 16 best “Middle Grade” titles, and almost all should be familiar to Heavy Medal readers. 15 were either featured on the blog or received nominations.
- 5 of PW’s 15 “Young Adult” titles have been nominated here, which is still fairly high considering some on their list are more clearly geared towards older readers.
Kirkus Reviews: the Best of 2020
- Kirkus’s lists are much longer. I’m not sure, but I think they may include all starred titles from the year? They group them by category ranging from genres like “Historical Fiction” to more particular topics such as “Young Changemakers” and “Immigration and Refugees.”
- I only checked the “Middle Grade” section, which includes 98 titles under eleven categories. Overall, 29 HM titles (nominated or featured) are included.
- The categories that matched up most closely with HM are “Historical Fiction,” where five of eight titles were featured or nominated here, and “Immigration and Refugees,” with five of ten.
- “Fantasy & Science Fiction” lists 13 titles…and not a single one showed up on HM! I knew we’ve mostly overlooked that area this year, but just didn’t read any titles that stood out. I suspect that’s due to my reading choices rather than the quality of books, though.
Unanimous So Far
These books made all three lists and have also been featured and nominated on Heavy Medal:
- CLASS ACT
- ECHO MOUNTAIN
- FIGHTING WORDS
- SKUNK AND BADGER
- WAYS TO MAKE SUNSHINE
- WHEN YOU TRAP A TIGER
Surprised Not to See…
Several books received fairly strong HM support from nominations and/or comments on the blog, but do not appear on any of the first three lists:
- A GAME OF FOX AND SQUIRRELS
- KENT STATE
- LEAVING LYMON
- ON THE HORIZON
I’m not sure what it all means, but it’s sure interesting to see the lists and compare. They always leave me with the feeling that, even though I feel like I’ve been reading so many kids’ books that I can barely keep them straight…I still missed a bunch of really interesting books. If you have reactions to any of the lists, feel free to share below.
Filed under: Book Discussion, Heavy Medal Mock
About Steven Engelfried
Steven Engelfried was the Library Services Manager at the Wilsonville Public Library in Oregon until he retired in 2022 after 35 years as a full-time librarian. He served on the 2010 Newbery committee, chaired the 2013 Newbery Committee, and also served on the 2002 Caldecott committee. You can reach him at email@example.com.
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