Simon vs. Hercules: Comparing the current leaders in our Mock Newbery rankings
STEVEN: Today in our final Wednesday round-up we look at the books with the most nominations, the ones that are leading the pack. Two books are way ahead with 16 nominations each: SIMON SORT OF SAYS and THE LABORS OF HERCULES BEAL. There’s been lots of little snippets about these books in our comments– but what makes them such front runners? Will they actually stand in Newbery conversation?
EMILY: OK…SIMON vs. HERCULES! That’s the biggie right. I think the Newbery committee is definitely considering those two- A because of the buzz and B because, yes they are high quality. I do wonder if they will last under a microscope though. And of course I have always been team HERCULES and I’m not giving up now.. The characterization both primary and secondary, the plot development, the delineation of themes.. It really hits all SIX CRITERIA on the head!
STEVEN: I agree that HERCULES is a strong contender. But so is SIMON. I read it a while ago and have been mostly thinking about the gripping plot and strong characters, but when I opened it up again I’m reminded of how strong Simon’s narrative voice is. Funny and self-deprecating while at the same time carefully revealing a very serious story. Hercules is a different kind of kid than Simon, but in that book the first-person narration also stands out. Do you think SIMON is a worthy rival to HERCULES, Emily?
EMILY: I think SIMON is a worthy rival to HERCULES, but I’ve never been the biggest fan of this title. It definitely deserves a reread. That’s something to remember later in the year- to reread these titles underneath a different lens. However, I understand the appeal and the strength in Newbery criteria.I need to think more about the plot and narrative voice during my next read.
STEVEN: It’s great when books get such a positive response, so I hate to do this (actually not really), but: let’s consider some possible flaws in these two front-runners. Or we’ll follow the terminology I was taught in a book discussion workshop long ago, and call them “possible concerns” instead of “flaws” or “weaknesses” or “problems.”
I’ve got one for HERCULES: Matching the mythical labors to real life is a fun idea for a book, but does the plot get stretched a little too much to make things match up? If so, do the plot stretches weaken the impact of the themes at all?
EMILY: I actually talked to some of my child friends about HERCULES and they were incredibly unhappy with how the labors matched with the plot. They think that the labors were not accurately portrayed and that Hercules’ challenges could have been much better thought out. So there’s a child perspective for you.
STEVEN: My possible concern for SIMON also runs into plot. Although it led to some interesting character interactions, I wonder if Agate’s plan to contact aliens, and Simon eventually going along with it, is too far-fetched?
EMILY: I don’t know if that is far-fetched or realistic for that age group. Kids do get these different ideas and go to various lengths to accomplish goals. Is it just our jaded adult-ess that thinks it’s unrealistic? Paging Quade!
STEVEN: For now, I give the nod to SIMON over HERCULES, but just barely. Though neither is at the absolute top of my list, I would have no problem with seeing either one of those with a Medal…but I haven’t read them twice yet, and, as Emily noted, that can change things.
EMILY: OK, on that note, of the top five books on our nomination list so far… which one do you think is most likely to win a medal?
STEVE: We actually have a six-way tie for fifth place…so should we consider all ten?. I see a lot of strong potential contenders in that group, including several that I feel are just as strong (maybe even stronger) than our two front-runners. But I’m still putting SIMON as the most likely Medal book. What’s your prediction as of now?
EMILY: I feel like some books people think are”shoo-ins” might barely last in discussion. I would reference my own year… but legalities…
STEVEN: So true. There’s a very good chance that some of our top ranked books aren’t clicking at all with the real Committee. And they may be looking very closely at others we’re not even thinking about. But we don’t get to know (or tell about our own experienced).
EMILY: But now I can talk about whatever I want soo… I am team HERCULES of course, but think the best it’s getting is an honor. I’m looking at THE LOST YEAR and EB AND FLOW (hey they’re both on our early six list). I can’t think of many (any?) flaws for those titles and think they can stand strong against everything else.
OK now the fun question… of the top ten books, which is the LEAST likely to win a medal?
STEVEN: I know it’s a great year for graphic novels, but I see A FIRST TIME FOR EVERYTHING (4th place with 6 nominations) as kind of a long shot. I know I should probably just play it safe and pick MY HEAD HAS A BELLYACHE, but I refuse to stop believing in the poetry possibility. What’s your least likely choice?
EMILY: Sorry Steven, I’m going to name MY HEAD HAS A BELLYACHE. It’s just not as good as I’M JUST NO GOOD AT RHYMING from a few years ago. It needs to fit more criteria to win it all. That being said, I think we have a year of strong contenders and it’s safe to say we are going to be TOTALLY surprised by the medal winner. And I’m OK with that.
STEVEN: Here’s the list of the top nominated books so far. We’d love to hear from HM readers. Let us know which you think has the best chance of winning a Newbery and/or which ones are the biggest long shots…
|1||THE LABORS OF HERCULES BEAL||Schmidt||16|
|1||SIMON SORT OF SAYS||Bow||16|
|3||THE LOST YEAR||Marsh||8|
|4||A FIRST TIME FOR EVERYTHING||Santat||6|
|5||EB AND FLOW||Baptist||5|
|5||THE MANY ASSASSINATIONS OF SAMIR…||Nayeri||5|
|5||THE MONA LISA VANISHES||Day||5|
|5||MY HEAD HAS A BELLYACHE||Harris||5|
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 email@example.com.
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