The Early Six: The half-dozen books that will definitely be part of our Heavy Medal Book List
We’ll announce our full Heavy Medal Book List (HMBL) in early-mid December. That list of 12-15 books will be discussed on the blog, in-depth, by the members of the Heavy Medal Award Committee (HMAC), culminating in our Mock Newbery selection. We’ll form that volunteer committee in December as well.
In advance of that, though, we’ll select the books for our “Early Six.” These will be titles that will be on the HMBL for sure, and by announcing them earlier it gives folks who are thinking of volunteering for the HMAC a chance to read ahead. Emily and I picked those six together, writing back and forth on a shared document:
STEVEN: Picking the Early Six is never as easy as I think it should be.. Emily, where do you think we should start?
EMILY: Let’s take a look at our top six nominated titles so far: THE LAST MAPMAKER, I MUST BETRAY YOU, HOW TO BUILD A HUMAN, LOVE IN THE LIBRARY, THE OGRESS AND THE ORPHANS and SWIM TEAM. One thing I’m thinking about… they’ve received support in nominations, but have they in comments (particularly SWIM TEAM and LOVE IN THE LIBRARY)?
STEVEN: Good point. And while comments have included some questions about a couple of others (MAPMAKER and OGRESS), in those cases I think we’ve heard enough positives that we’re looking at good, rich discussions.
EMILY: Is it worth saving quicker reads (graphic novels, picture books) until later and giving our readers titles that take longer now?
STEVEN: Yes. We should stress that the Early Six aren’t meant to be a “Top Six” at all. We do it for practical purposes, so readers can prepare early for the in-depth discussions that start in January. So packing it with the books that will take longer makes sense.
EMILY: The “initial six” has two fantasy, one historical fiction, one non fiction, one picture book (maybe non fiction and one graphic novel) I know MAPMAKER and OGRESS have both received a lot of support, but do we want two fantasy titles this early? Maybe we should do a post comparing the two…
STEVEN: Or should we maybe assume that because both books were early year publications (March and April), both are by recent Newbery authors, and both have been high on our suggestion and nomination lists from the start, that we don’t need to include both? Or either?
EMILY: Are there any titles from lower down the list that are worth adding? AVIVA VS. THE DYBBUK has a lot to unpack and ATTACK OF THE BLACK RECTANGLES and BLACK BIRD, BLUE ROAD have received a lot of recent support.
STEVEN: Great point. As soon as I finished AVIVA and RECTANGLES I felt like I needed to re-read or at least re-skim both to get a fuller understanding. Those could be good ones to include for that reason. And I only just started BLACK BIRD and am already thinking: there’s a lot here. It’s a fall publication that some (like me) may not have gotten to yet, plus it already has three nominations. Rooted in Jewish mythology, like AVIVA, but the two books are still so different. Seems like a good choice to me
EMILY: So these are all good thoughts, but we still have to decide on six for sure! Our readers can really see the complex thought process now! This is our first time on Google Doc, we’ve done email and phone calls in the past.
STEVEN: And it’s possible to just keep going in circles, so I’ll propose a couple of sure things: I MUST BETRAY YOU and HOW TO BUILD A HUMAN. What do you think?
EMILY: I’m with you on that. Then how about RECTANGLES and BLACKBIRD because they are both later publications with a lot to talk and think about?
STEVEN: Agree. I’m wondering about AFRICAN TOWN. I did struggle with that one some, but am not confident that I read it carefully enough.
EMILY: You know I’m team AFRICAN TOWN! But…are enough people struggling with it that it’s not quite there….?
STEVEN: Maybe so. I know we talked about short books above, but I like all of the books you just mentioned in your recent Chapter Book post. And though they’re shorter, they can generate some complex thinking too. Maybe VIOLET AND JOBIE?
EMILY: What do you want an Early Six of only beginning chapter books? HA HA
STEVEN: That would be fun. We’ve got some excellent choices this year. And I have to admit, with all the reading we do for Heavy Medal, it’s very satisfying to read a book in one sitting. But maybe I’ll try to make my case for those for the final list, not the Early Six. What about THE DOOR OF NO RETURN by Kwame Alexander? It’s also newer, so I don’t know if the single nomination means people haven’t loved it, or just haven’t read it…
EMILY: I’m good for DOOR. So we would have five. You know I’ll give VIOLET AND JOBIE number six too, makes things well rounded. Remind me, how many are on the final list?
STEVEN: We’ve gone to 15 in past years. I think every year we say: let’s just do 12, but can never actually get there. We can also do a reader’s poll for the last few choices when we get there.
EMILY: Ha ha. So there’s plenty of room to get all the “sure things” and “frontrunners” in.
STEVEN: True…so for our last of the six, maybe hop back to OGRESS and MAPMAKER and pick one?
EMILY: Wait. So no AFRICAN TOWN? No JOBIE?
STEVEN: I think we can save JOBIE. But do we want AFRICAN TOWN and DOOR both on the list? Both very different books, but similar subject matter. And it’s hard (but important) subject matter to read. Maybe something lighter……and now maybe I’m back to JOBIE.
EMILY: OK, refresh time: BETRAY, HUMAN, RECTANGLES, BLACK BIRD.
STEVEN: Good, that’s four.
EMILY: I vote we do a duel it out comparison post between OGRESS and MAPMAKERS, hold off on them for the final list- and throw in AVIVIA for a shorter but unique title and actually maybe add a graphic novel instead of an early chapter book. Thoughts?
STEVEN: So the OGRESS and MAPMAKER post results in a winner that gets onto the 6? Or is it not related to the Six?
EMILY: Not related, A fun fantasy battle blog post, and they both probably get on the final list. OMG we could do it as a combo post, with you rooting for one book and me the other.
STEVEN: Yes. We’ll plan on that for sure. So we’ll leave OGRESS and MAPMAKER off for now (but probably not later). And we’re leaning on skipping early chapter books at this point. We wavered a bit on AFRICA TOWN and DOOR OF NO RETURN. So we need our final one. We could go back to GN’s and add SWIM TEAM. Or INVISIBLE? Maybe to replace JOBIE?
EMILY: I think that’s a good idea. Either graphic novel could be good.
STEVEN: We can let the nomination results guide us, which means SWIM TEAM (5 to 2).
EMILY: I agree! IT looks to Me like we officially have an EARLY SIX!:
STEVEN: It looked like maybe it wasn’t going to happen for a while, but we did it! We left off a bunch of really good books, but that’s how these things go. And remember, this is not a top six list. Readers, Let us know what you think of our choices in the comments below, and feel free to make your case for any books to fill the nine slots that are not open…
The EARLY SIX
- ATTACK OF THE BLACK RECTANGLES by Amy Sarig King
- AVIVA VS. THE DYBBUK by Mari Lowe
- BLACK BIRD, BLUE ROAD by Sofiya Pasternack
- HOW TO BUILD A HUMAN by Pamela S. Turner
- I MUST BETRAY YOU by Ruta Sepetys
- SWIM TEAM by Johnnie Christmas
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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