“Best Books,” Mocks, and the Newbery Medal
This is the time of year that book review journals share their “best books of the year” lists. These are always fascinating, and significantly different from the lists of nominations we collect here on Heavy Medal. That makes perfect sense, since on we’re focusing specifically on Newbery Criteria on Heavy Medal, while the journals have their own guidelines for the lists (and these vary with the different publications). Still, it’s always interesting to compare.
So far I’ve seen four lists by the major journals: School Library Journal, Publishers Weekly, Horn Book, and Kirkus. As far as I can tell, Booklist and The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books are not out yet. [update: Booklist‘s “Editors’ Choice” and BCCB’s “Blue Ribbon” lists are out!] I totaled up the four lists so far in order to compare to the titles we’ve looked at on Heavy Medal. I didn’t track every single title: I only added picture books and teen titles if they received a nomination on HM, for example. And tried to skip all of the Newbery-ineligible titles. Here are a few observations:
13 books landed on at least three of the lists. Four of those received no nominations on Heavy Medal: one graphic novel (BORDERS), one picture book biography (NINA), one nonfiction (REVOLUTION IN OUR TIME) and one poetry collection (HELLO EARTH).
|Title||Author||Total “Best Books” lists (out of 4 so far)||Heavy Medal Nominations|
|BEATRYCE PROPHECY||Kate DiCamillo||4||16|
|BLACK BOY JOY||Kwame Mbalia (ed)||3||1|
|GENIUS UNDER THE TABLE||Eugene Yelchin||3||14|
|HELLO EARTH||Joyce Sidman||3||0|
|LAST CUENTISTA||Donna Barba Higuera||3||3|
|LEGEND OF AUNTIE PO||Shing Yin Khor||3||2|
|MILO IMAGINES THE WORLD||Matt de la Peña||3||5|
|REVOLUTION IN OUR TIME||Kekla Magoon||3||0|
|TOO BRIGHT TOO SEE||Kyle Lukoff||3||8|
|UNSPEAKABLE||Carole Boston Weatherford||3||4|
This next list shows the 16 books that received the highest number of Heavy Medal nominations. Of these, four were not named on any of the Best of the Year lists so far: JUST LIKE THAT, LION OF MARS, A PLACE TO HANG THE MOON, and PITY PARTY.
|Title||Author||Heavy Medal Nominations||Total “Best of” lists (4 so far)|
|RED, WHITE, AND WHOLE||Rajani LaRocca||19||1|
|BEATRYCE PROPHECY||Kate DiCamillo||16||4|
|AMBER AND CLAY||Laura Amy Schlitz||14||2|
|GENIUS UNDER THE TABLE||Eugene Yelchin||14||3|
|JUST LIKE THAT||Gary Schmidt||13||0|
|SHAPE OF THUNDER||Jasmine Warga||9||1|
|LION OF MARS||Jennifer L. Holm||8||0|
|PLACE TO HANG THE MOON||Kate Albus||8||0|
|TOO BRIGHT TOO SEE||Kyle Lukoff||8||3|
|AMARI AND THE NIGHT BROTHERS||B.B. Alston||5||1|
|DAVINCI’S CAT||Catherine Gilbert Murdock||5||1|
|MILO IMAGINES THE WORLD||Matt de la Peña||5||3|
|PITY PARTY||Kathleen Lane||5||0|
How has this played out in past years? Below is the list of Newbery and Honor books from the past three years, along with the number of Best Books lists they made and the number of Heavy Medal Nominations.
Most (but not all) Newbery titles also do well in the area of starred reviews (thanks once again to Jen J. for her handy spreadsheet of starred reviews that goes all the way back to 2011). There are more misses on the Heavy Medal column; most (but not all) of those are with books on the lower or higher edge of the age range.
|Newbery Books||Award Year||Best Books Lists||Heavy Medal Nominations|
|WHEN YOU TRAP A TIGER||2021||5||11 (most noms: 15)|
|WE DREAM OF SPACE||2021||5||7|
|A WISH BEFORE DARK||2021||1||5|
|NEW KID||2020||4||20 (20)|
|GENESIS BEGIN AGAIN||2020||3||8|
|OTHER WORDS FOR HOME||2020||5||7|
|SCARY STORIES FOR YOUNG FOXES||2020||1||8|
|HELLO UNIVERSE||2019||4||7 (8)|
|LONG WAY DOWN||2019||6||1|
|PIECING ME TOGETHER||2019||4||3|
It would be cool if we could look at all of this and come up with a numbers-based way to predict Newbery winners, but I’m afraid not. It’s still going to come down to the 15 individual Committee members and their year of exhaustive reading, intense discussion, and the casting of their final ballots.
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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