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Heavy Medal: A Mock Newbery Blog
Inside Heavy Medal

Trouble

Trouble TroubleGary Schmidt’s Trouble is one of the books this year that hangs on tenacioulsy in my memory, even though it came out in the spring.  With layer upon layer of plot and character development, Schmidt creates a perspective that is real to life and constantly surprising.  He catches the mood shifts of a family in crisis with detail-rich precision:

"But in the fork-clinking-against-plate silence that followed, Henry remembered that Trouble had come. How could he have forgotten it, even for a moment? And then he thought, How sweet it is to have forgotten it for a moment. And then he was so mixed up that he just ate the crescents of yellow bell peppers and tried not to think at all." (p.46)

I especially appreciate the way that minor characters are drawn so well…and become major characters by the end. (Sanborn, Louisa).  It’s as if they were always major characters, but the protagonist just didn’t notice, as is so often the case in real life. On second reading,  the delicate deliberation with which Schmidt lays this out is clear.

Just about every major review of this book hails its significant strengths, but points out different flaws: too many plot threads? Too many shifts in tone? Too broad a brush on racism?  Which begs the question–how do you measure the blemishes against the distinguished characteristics in a Newbery discussion?

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Nina Lindsay About Nina Lindsay

Nina Lindsay is the Children's Services Coordinator at the Oakland Public Library, CA. She chaired the 2008 Newbery Committee, and served on the 2004 and 1998 committees. You can reach her at ninalindsay@gmail.com

Comments

  1. Wendy says:

    How you measure blemishes against distinguished characteristics is a good question–when I was reading all the past winners, and writing reviews for goodreads, it was easier to point out flaws than to explain why I thought a book was a worthy winner. I don’t know if this is an allowable-by-the-guidelines way of judging, but I think in terms of “how distracting is this from the overall goodness of the book”–kind of like how illustrations are only considered if they distract. After I’m done, am I left thinking “This book is so good, except for ____”? or do I think “What a great book! It isn’t perfect, but it’s definitely distinguished!”?

  2. Lazygal says:

    For me, the “distinguished characteristics” (as you say, the well-drawn characters and rich details) paled next to the clunkiness of the message about racism. Schmidt’s books read like books that adults think or want students to like. While I know that’s not a Newbery criteria, for me it distracts and, as with other books with this problem, I couldn’t begin to explain the Newbery Medal or Honor.

  3. Eva Mitnick says:

    Don’t forget Black Dog, hands-down my favorite character in the book. Sanborn was wonderful as well, keepin’ it real in his wry, dry way. Fabulous writing – but I felt that too many unlikely events were crammed into the second part of the book, and this detracted from what was otherwise a really powerful book. But as Nina pointed out once, no book is perfect. My review – evasbookaddiction.blogspot.com/2008/07/trouble-by-gary-d-schmidt.html

  4. Eva Mitnick says:

    Don’t forget Black Dog, hands-down my favorite character in the book. Sanborn was wonderful as well, keepin’ it real in his wry, dry way. Fabulous writing – but I felt that too many unlikely events were crammed into the second part of the book, and this detracted from what was otherwise a really powerful book. But as Nina pointed out once, no book is perfect. My review – evasbookaddiction.blogspot.com/2008/07/trouble-by-gary-d-schmidt.html

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