Nominations Catch-Up: under-the-radar Mock Newbery contenders
Our call for November nominations continues through November 6, but meanwhile, let’s catch up on the list of October nominations. 20 titles received at least two nominations, and we’ve highlighted 15 of those in previous posts. (There are links to each post on that October nominations list). So what about the other 5?:
ONE JAR OF MAGIC by Corey Ann Haydu
Noticing that three out of five of these nominated-but-not-featured books are fantasy leads me to again question my genre preferences. I think of fantasy as one of my favorite genres, but fear that this leads me to too easily dismiss title that don’t live up to my all-time favorites. You don’t have to be Lloyd Alexander or Diana Wynne Jones to be worthy of Newbery discussion, but sometimes that gets in my way.
I really like the premise of ONE JAR OF MAGIC, where the gathering of magic holds a place in Rose’s world that’s similar to coming-of-age issues in non-magical worlds. When Rose falls behind on magic it changes her sense of self and her relationships with friends and family. Her plight has similarities to those of Eliana in STARFISH or several characters in PITY PARTY. The book demonstrates how a well-conceived plot can be the catalyst for exploring themes. I thought the characterizations were fine, but not outstanding, which might be why I never became fully immersed in Rose’s world. This book has strengths, though, and does not seem out of place on our list.
A PLACE TO HANG THE MOON by Kate Albus
This historical fiction novel received 5 October nominations, and is surprisingly popular at libraries. There are waiting lists at all of the libraries in my area, and a quick check shows that to be fairly common around the country. Of course the Newbery is “not for…popularity,” but the high circulation hints at the “excellence of presentation for a child audience” which the book clearly displays. It’s an orphan story set in World War II England. The three siblings are appealing from the start, as a set and as individuals, and the plot is intriguing and easy follow. While the story is built around their search for a home at a perilous time, Albus mixes in thought-provoking elements without seeming heavy handed.
Though it may not have the dazzling originality of AMBER AND CLAY or the emotional impact of JUST LIKE THAT, it’s important not to underrate books that are less spectacular, but still demonstrate excellence in plot, characterization, setting, style, and themes.
ROOT MAGIC by Eden Royce
It’s pretty clear early on that magic is a real thing in books like AMARI AND THE NIGHT BROTHERS and ONE JAR OF MAGIC, but in ROOT MAGIC the magical elements emerge more slowly. When the twins first start to learn root magic, they’re not sure themselves what its powers will be. About 100 pages in Jez’s doll walks into the marsh, so it’s clearly more than just folk remedies, and when Susie sheds her skin as a boo hag, it’s still deliciously surprising.
There’s a lot more going on in this book, though, and the mixing of issues like friendship, family, bullying, and racism, plus the strong historical setting, feels more natural to me than it does in some other fantasies. Some of that comes through Jez, who narrates and is a complex, fully developed protagonist. Her sense of herself grows convincingly through her experiences and some of the choices she has to make, like her decision to trust the boo hag, which could have put her family in danger), are key to establishing plot and themes.
WHILE I WAS AWAY by Waka T. Brown
If I had read this in time I would have included in an earlier post about autobiographies and memoirs. Several other books, including UNSETTLED, WE BELONG, THE YEAR I FLEW AWAY, and RED WHITE AND WHOLE explore the challenges of coming to the U. S. from another country; this one, though, is the true story of the author’s temporary move from the U. S. to Japan in the 1980’s.
Brown captures the immediacy of her childhood experiences, without letting her adult knowledge seep into the narrative. Maka’s emotional responses to everything from her struggles with the guruupu at school to the simple pleasures of Japanese handkerchief practices take readers right into her 12-year-old worldview. The differences she notes between the two countries are fascinating, and the information is effortlessly woven into her day-to-day experiences.
The family relationships are very well drawn, especially the central one between Maka and Obaasoma. I like the way their closeness develops in small steps, sparked by seemingly small events. Like in chapter 12, where Maka sees her laugh for the first time, followed by a conversation where the girl begins to understand her grandmother’s loneliness for the first time (pp 143-150). The revelations near the end, when Maka reveals what will happen in the years after her visit, are especially powerful (291-291). She doesn’t need to describe that part with detail or emotion because by this time readers know Maka so well that we understand the impact those events would have on her. This another stellar memoir from a year that has several.
AMARI AND THE NIGHT BROTHERS by B. B. Alston
I’m afraid I did not get a chance to finish this one yet, so can’t say too much. I started it several months ago, then stopped; that can happen a lot in a Newbery year. You try a book and for one reason or another put it aside, keeping in mind that you may go back to it if it appears on a nomination list, or if you hear more good things about it.
I read about 80 pages and didn’t continue more on my personal reading preferences rather than a critical judgement. I think I’ve just read (or started) too many books about an ordinary kid who learns she has powers and goes to a school for kids with powers and some kids are jealous of her and there are quirky teachers, and so on. But I stopped before getting to the heart of the book, and I do feel that Amari’s situation and her character, as much as I absorbed of it, offer potential for a strong fantasy. It received strongly positive published reviews and two nominations from Heavy Medal readers, so yes, I have to get back to this one. I plan to finish it later this week, but meanwhile would love to hear about its strengths from other readers.
Please share your own thoughts about any of these neglected-until-now titles, and/or call attention to any of the nine one-nomination titles that we haven’t discussed yet….
Filed under: Book Discussion
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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