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Mock Newbery Nominees 2019: Just Like Jackie and The Truth as Told by Mason Buttle

This is the last Mock Newbery post and your last chance to vote on the whole nominee list. These two stories deal with bullying and the difficulty in sharing painful truths. "Just Like Jackie" by Lindsey Stoddard follows Robbie as she struggles with anger at a bully and keeping her grandfather's condition a secret. Leslie Connor's "The Truth as Told by Mason Buttle" finds Mason dealing with grief after his best friend's death and the daily torment of neighborhood bullies.

Let's take a look at the Newbery Criteria and why these titles might deserve the award.

Interpretation of the theme or concept: Bullying plays a large part in both books, but each treats the issue differently. "Just Like Jackie" digs deeper into bully Alex's life, humanizing him and helping readers see bullying behavior in a more complex light. Connor, on the other hand, doesn't provide much background on Matt's motivations, giving only a brief hint that his behavior could be related to the constant absence of his father. Dealing with difficult truths is also thematically important to both titles. Robbie is sure that telling anyone about her grandfather's rapidly declining memory will lead to her removal from his care, so she keeps his condition a secret. As his memory lapses cause problems and eventually injury, she finally opens up to a trusted adult. Mason has his own struggles with the truth. He is unerringly honest, but his learning disabilities make it hard for him to understand the truth of what others think of him. His discovery that the police and townspeople think he had something to do with the death of his best friend rocks him to his core.

Presentation of information including accuracy, clarity, and organization: Both titles are well-written and easy to follow. Textual mysteries, like the identity of Robbie's parents and the circumstances surrounding Benny's death, are necessarily concealed to keep the tension going, but clues are placed throughout, creating a clear picture, once the secrets are revealed.

Development of a plot: The main plot tension in "Just Like Jackie" of whether Robbie will be able to stay with her grandfather comes to a head when she gets lost trying to run away with him. She finally realizes his condition is too much for her to handle on her own. The side plots of becoming friendlier with her classmates and learning the story of her family provide narrative breaks from the more serious main plot. In "The Truth as Told by Mason Buttle," the big question of what really happened to Benny is an ever present undertone, even as Mason makes a new friend in Calvin. The parallel situation of Calvin's disappearance makes for an excellent, page-turning sequence of events, with the positive resolution coming as a huge relief to readers.

Delineation of characters: Mason's idiosyncratic personality and way of looking at the world sets him apart from every other character. Secondary characters all feel like real people with their own struggles and thoughts behind their actions. Even Moonie, the dog feels like a real dog with a non-anthropomorphized personality. The adults in Mason's life are particularly well-written; he views them as generally good and kind, but readers will wonder about how little daily attention he is given by his grandmother and uncle, and how Mrs. Drinker can see Mason's kindness, but not see her son's meanness.  Stoddard does a solid job differentiating her characters as well, particularly Robbie's classmates in group therapy. Robbie herself is a unique and strong character. However, the school authority figures are interchangeable, with only Ms. Gloria standing out.

Delineation of a setting: The wintry maple forest and auto-shop are well-painted by Stoddard, but otherwise the setting description of the school and therapy classroom are unremarkable. Connor lovingly portrays the world of Mason Buttle with memorable locations. The safe SWOOF classroom, the Buttle orchard and crumbledown house, and especially the root cellar hideout are all imbued with a visceral sense of place.

Appropriateness of style: Both stories are written from a first-person perspective, each with a very distinct voice. Robbie's voice shows her difficulty with keeping her temper in check and with focusing her attention. Mason's voice is full of realistic honesty and naive confusion that may actually frustrate quicker readers.

Does one of these Mock Newbery nominees rise to the top of your pile? If so, place your votes here! Remember today is the last day to vote. ICPL's winners will be announced on Friday. Then stay tuned on Monday for the official Newbery and Caldecott Award winners announcement from ALA.

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