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Heavy Medal: A Mock Newbery Blog
Inside Heavy Medal

Hades: Lord of the Dead

TRADITIONAL LITERATURE

From the terms and criteria—

“Original work” means that the text was created by this writer and no one else. It may include original retellings of traditional literature, provided the words are the author’s own.

And the expanded definitions in the Newbery manual–

A committee may consider books that are traditional in origin, if the book is the result of original research and the retelling and interpretation are the writer’s own.

Example: On this point, Donna Jo Napoli’s books The Prince of the Pond, Otherwise Known as De Fawg Pin, based on the folk tale “The Frog Prince,” and Zel, based on the folk tale “Rapunzel,” would be eligible, as would Robin McKinley’s Rose Daughter, based on the folk tale “Sleeping Beauty.”

Traditional literature is not often recognized by the committee. The most recent examples are IN THE BEGINNING by Virginia Hamilton (1989) and WHEN SHLEMIEL WENT TO WARSAW by Isaac Bashevis Singer (1969). More recently, WHITTINGTON (2006) and WHERE THE MOUNTAIN MEETS THE MOON (2010) incorporate traditional literature into a novelistic framework.

Thus, a graphic novel retelling of a Greek myth does not have the odds in its favor, but I actually think the fact that this is a retelling helps us appreciate just how distinguished and individually distinct it really is.

A MODERN, FEMINIST INTERPRETATION

This is a retelling that resists the objectification of women and children implied in the original Greek myth by (a) re-imagining the relationship between Persephone and Demeter as that of a modern teenager trying to break free of an overbearing, overprotective parent, and by (b) giving Persephone a measure of agency regarding her own destiny.  It’s a perfect example of how a retelling honors the legacy of the original story, but puts a fresh, relevant spin on modern life.  For me, this is not only distinguished interpretation of theme, but in the realm of most distinguished interpretation of theme.

PRESENTATION OF INFORMATION

Retelling the story of Persephone, however, is only one focus of this graphic novel.  The other is to collect from various Greek myths all that we know about Hades–the people, the places, the landscape–and synthesize it into a smooth, coherent narrative.  Notice how effortlessly O’Connor does this in the opening ten pages.  Here are the first two.

This is what happens to you when you die.

Know this first: You are dead.  You no longer have a body.

But still you will open your eyes.  The first thing you see is Hermes Psychopompos.  It is his job to guide you to what comes next.

You reach out and take his hand.

In Hermes’s grasp, you will move so fast it will seem as if you haven’t moved at all.

He will leave you at the banks of the River Styx.

It’s already very crowded with the recently dead, and more and more arrive by the moment.

There are many people in the world, and they keep Hermes very busy.

Not only does O’Connor convey lots of information about the setting in these few pages, but he does so with a unique second person narration (one that works well on its own, but even better in tandem with the illustrations) that elevates this to one of the best prose stylizations that I have read in a Greek myth–especially when he circles back to this journey again at the conclusion of the story.  I find the prose style of the text boxes also approaches the realm of most distinguished.

DIALOGUE: THE ACHILLES’ HEEL?

Then we come to our first scene with Persephone, Apollo, and Demeter.  The dialogue drives the story, it provides context and specificity, but as with a movie or play the visual part of the story–the scenery, the juxtaposition of camera angles, the gestures and the facial expressions–these are all things that are as important, if not more important, to the story.  These are the things that push this part of the narrative into the realm of most distinguished, so unless O’Connor is a master of dialogue it’s really hard to see the evidence of it in the words alone.

Demeter: Kore!

Persephone: Mother, hello!  Apollo was just about to share his newest song with me.

Apollo: Greetings to you, fair Demeter.

Demeter: Apollo.  Step away from my daughter.

Apollo: I begin to sing of rich-haired Demeter, awe-inspiring goddess, of her and her daughter, lovely–

Demeter: Not so fast!  Just a snippet of song from you and all the pretty girls’ hearts melt, don’t they Apollo?  Your crushes have a nasty tendency to end very badly for the objects of your affection, and I won’t have you hurting my daughter!

Apollo: I–

Demeter: Back to the fields with you!  Go practice your singing on some sheep!

The dialogue advances the plot and develops character and does so with sufficient distinction–at least for a graphic novel text–but the prose here is hardly inspiring.  And since the prose is the only sliver we are considering from this highly visual medium of storytelling, it feels severely underwhelming.

But, pulling a couple of novels from a nearby stack, I find the dialgoue similarly lackluster–not bad, mind you, but not making me want to bestow Newbery recognition on the basis of it alone.

THREE TIMES LUCKY

Mo: Wake up.

Dale: Go ‘way.

Mo: Dale!  Wake up!  It’s Mo.

Dale: Demons!

Mo: It ain’t demons, it’s me.  I stopped by to tell you: The Colonel’s come home and he aint up to cooking.

Dale: You woke me up for that?

Mo: I’m sorry, Dale.  I got to open the cafe today.

SPLENDORS AND GLOOMS

Agnes: Wake up, Miss Clara.

Clara: Good morning, Miss Agnes.

Agnes: Good morning, miss.

Clara: Agnes, I’m twelve years old today.

Agnes: Many happy returns, miss.  Now get up none of this lying around in bed.

Clara: Is it fine today, Agnes?

Agnes: Fine enough to have your party.  Your Mr. What’s-his-name’ll come with the puppets.

I don’t find that the dialogue in HADES suffers in comparison to that in THREE TIMES LUCKY and SPLENDORS AND GLOOMS, so if the dialogue of HADES is not distinguished, then I must question if the dialogue in these other two books is not also undistinguished, and if the dialogue is undistinguished in these two books, then why, pray tell, do we still esteem them so highly?  I think we could probably say the same for any novel, however.

BACK MATTER

Note that research is an important part of distinguished traditional literature and O’Connor provides a bibliography, a suggested reading list, an author’s note, panel notes, and a cast of characters.  O’Connor’s humor, which frequently comes through in his text, really shines in the back matter.  All in all, it’s a model of what we would like to see for all books of traditional literature.

PRESENTATION FOR A CHILD AUDIENCE

In the last post, I lamented the options for transitional chapter book readers this year, but this book (and LITTLE WHITE DUCK) can fulfill that role for precocious students in 2nd and 3rd grade–the text/illustration dynamic provides just as much support as an easy reader or the spot illustrations in a transitional chapter book and the word count places it between FROG AND TOAD TOGETHER and 26 FAIRMOUNT AVENUE.  Yet the entire package is also very appealing to middle grade students in fourth to eighth grades, making it one of the children’s books this year with the most broad appeal.

IN CONCLUSION

Well, it was always a hard sell to begin with.  Have I convinced you?  Have I convinced myself?  Personally, I find the text distinguished in all elements pertinent to it, but especially the interpretation of theme, the appropriateness of style (especially for the expository passages written in second person), and the thorough back matter.  Still, this book does not crack my top three.  Nevertheless, it’s one of about a dozen books that I might nominate and see how it fares in discussion.  If the book picked up support in that process, I could definitely see myself voting for this in the right circumstance.  So, yes, it’s an unlikely choice, but I don’t think it would be an unwelcome choice.  Must the obligatory WTF Newbery book always be a second-rate novel?  Must it?  Why can’t it be a graphic novel, or an easy reader, or a picture book, or nonfiction?  Why?

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Jonathan Hunt About Jonathan Hunt

Jonathan Hunt is the County Schools Librarian at the San Diego County Office of Education. He served on the 2006 Newbery committee, and has also judged the Printz Award, the Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards, and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. You can reach him at hunt_yellow@yahoo.com

Comments

  1. I can find mediocre dialogue in the O’Connor and fabulous dialogue in both the Turnage and the Schlitz. So you sure haven’t convinced me with this that O’Connor truly outshines the other two in terms of dialogue. I think it is a dead end route.

  2. Jonathan Hunt says:

    I don’t think the dialogue in O’Connor is necessarily superb–and I don’t think it makes the book distinguished. I just took the first lines of dialogue in each of those three books. If you think I’ve misrepresented the latter two, then please cite the page numbers and I’ll take a look at them.

  3. Wendy says:

    Agreed with Monica on the dialogue–I think if anything you’ve made the opposite point. I don’t know if it would work the same on something I haven’t read, but even the mundane excerpts you’ve got here make me want to read both the novels again, while I am now dreading reading HADES when I wasn’t before. (Reading it is exactly what I’m going to do as soon as I hit “submit”.)

    So, this thing about the “WTF” Newbery choice. Er, what exactly do you mean? Is there always one book that comes out of left field for you, or always one you think isn’t good enough? or either of those but substituting “the majority” for “you”? And if you find that it’s always a second-rate novel in your estimation (isn’t Nina going to get on you for that, because of the trust-the-process thing?), I mean, it sounds like you’re equating second-rate novels with poetry/non-fiction/graphic novels/easy readers. I guess my point overall is: I’m not quite sure what you’re getting at, if you want to explain further, so I’ll stop attempting to put words in your mouth.

  4. Mark Flowers says:

    @Wendy – I *think* Jonathan’s point has been pretty consistent over the last few days, which is this: that because of a (in my opinion pretty obvious) bias in favor of middle grade novels, even the poorer MG novels get more discussion at the table than picture books, easy readers, nonfiction, which (because of those some biases) get dimissed quickly for a variety of reasons that may or may not be valid, but don’t get applied to MG novels in the same way.

    I know what Nina says, but personally, I *don’t* trust the process, entirely. I think last year’s winners were all inferior to any number of books, especially including AMELIA LOST and I BROKE MY TRUNK. I also think that all three of them are inferior to HADES.

    Meanwhile, I’ve been thinking more about this dialogue issue, and it reminded me of something William Goldman used to say in his books on screenwriting. In THE BIG PICTURE, he says dialogue “is among the least important parts of a screenplay. . . . But for the most part, the public and critics have come to believe that screenplays *are* dialogue. Wrong. *If movies are story, then screenplays are structure*”

    This is useful because it helps me separate out the actual words of the dialogue from how they function in creating the story. As I’ve said before, I think that HADES is an amazing piece of work, largely because of the way O’Connor reworks the myth he’s using to create an utterly new and compelling story. The most important piece in the book is that he moves the timing of Persephone’s eating of the pomegranate so that it becomes he choice to stay in the underworld with HADES, which adds all sorts of layers of motive and characterization that are not in the original myth.

    So, as I’ve said before, plot, character, theme are all highly highly distinguished for me. I had forgotten about the third person narration in the book, and that writing is certainly much much better than the dialogue. So what remains to be shown is whether the mudanity of the dialogue is enough to bring the book down. I’m beginning to think that perhaps it isn’t. For one thing, as I said in my VOYA review, we may need to think about who, precisely, the dialogue is intended for–it may be that it needs to be somewhat more colloquial than I’d like in order to reach the intended audience.

    I’m still very much on the fence on this one, but I think it is definitely worth discussing.

  5. Wendy says:

    Oh, I know (and agree with, basically) Jonathan’s point about that, Mark–I’m not sure I know what he’s getting at with an “obligatory WTF” book.

  6. Jonathan Hunt says:

    The point of comparing the dialogue sections of HADES, THREE TIMES LUCKY, and SPLENDORS AND GLOOMS (or any prose novel, really) isn’t to prove that HADES is more distinguished, it’s to prove that it isn’t necessarily any less distinguished. If the words and pictures in a graphic novel combine to make a book distinguished, we might also say that dialogue and exposition combine for the same effect in a prose novel. In a very strict Newbery sense, I really don’t care whether this comparison entices anyone to want to read further in these respective texts.

    If you think the dialogue in THREE TIMES LUCKY and SPLENDORS AND GLOOMS is more distinguished than HADES (as quoted above) then please, please enlighten us, dear readers. I chose random passages for comparison and if you think that does a disservice to any of these books, then please propose different passages for comparison. Kindly quote the dialogue here and cite the page numbers so that we can follow your logic.

    Lunch is over. Will address Wendy’s question later . . .

  7. Wendy says:

    But, Jonathan, my point in saying that these snippets of dialogue make me want to read more of the books (or, in these cases, actually reread) is that I think that shows how good they are. We have this problem, it seems, any time you pull out blocks of text at random to make a point. You say the block from the golden-text isn’t any more distinguished than that from the underdog; some of us say “sure, it is”. I have a hard time explaining any further regarding the above examples other than “I think they’re better”, to be honest (though part of it is style; I’ll get to that in a minute). And I don’t think you’ve said any more than “they aren’t any better”, really. Is it just as much your task here to explain that?

    I liked the book fairly well, for the reasons you cite above–the interpretation of theme/concept, presentation of information, and, I would add, the delineation of setting. (I barely looked at the pictures, mostly because I hated them, yet I still felt like I got a good sense of the different settings in the book.) But the style, I thought, was… awful might be too strong a word, but maybe not. It is so completely, utterly not my thing, but I don’t know how much of it is that and how much is that I really don’t think it’s distinguished enough. This is, perhaps, fairly reasonable comic-book style. It isn’t standard literature style. But there’s precedent for this in the Newbery canon–SMOKY, THE COWHORSE. That book is written in dialect, basically, complete with bad grammar (or what is considered bad grammar in standard English). In no way is it distinguished according to The Elements of Style or whatever. To me most of the writing in HADES is cheesy, formulaic, cliche-ridden… but it’s in a style that’s recognizable to me as Genre. Suited to its audience? Sure. The most distinguished literature of the year, or close to it?… I can’t imagine, personally. This simply doesn’t work as quality writing for me, and it “doesn’t work” so much that it overshadows the good things about the book that I list above.

    Beyond that it’s in a style I can’t (personally) appreciate on a literary level, there are a few places with poor grammar that aren’t attributable to the style. (There may be similar errors in my favorites of the year, but they didn’t stand out to me.) Example: “Of course you’re mad. What mother wouldn’t be mad to have her daughter stolen from her?”. There are a few spelling and punctuation errors, but my understanding is that that isn’t really taken into account in Newbery judging–would you say that’s true? I don’t particularly care about that, but I know others do. (One of my friends fumed about what I considered a minor typographical error in LIAR & SPY.)

    It’s an interesting exercise to consider this in terms of the Newbery criteria, so thanks for that.

  8. Wendy says:

    Oh, and I wouldn’t go so far as to call this a feminist retelling–stories where women fall in love with their kidnappers are generally… frowned-upon–but happily and amusingly, O’Connor covers this in his “discussion questions”.

  9. Jonathan Hunt says:

    1. Like Mark, I find many elements of this text very distinguished. The dialogue–which I agree is comic book cliche–is the thing that holds it back from being taken more seriously. It’s almost like I want the dialogue to be from a world class playwright–like Arthur Miller, Tennessee Williams, or Harold Pinter. I’m not sure that that’s fair, but I almost feel like that’s what it needs to elevate to the next level.

    2. On the other hand, I do not think it’s that much worse–if it’s even worse at all–than the Southern cliche of THREE TIMES LUCKY or the Victorian cliche of SPLENDORS AND GLOOMS. Those stories have the luxury of building characters over many, many lines of dialogue, and we have not yet begun to see here who they really are yet. In contrast, HADES must jump right into characterization and we have a clearer idea of who Demeter and Apollo, even if it almost feels like info dumping.

    3. Not sure I agree with you on the feminist thing, Wendy, but maybe you can talk me out of it. She’s much more empowered in this version than she was before. The way O’Connor has rewritten this thing, it now reads as much like Beauty and the Beast as it does the original myth.

    4. There are always Newbery surprises and that is as it should be, but consider novels like BREAKING STALIN’S NOSE or THE MOSTLY TRUE ADVENTURES OF HOMER P. FIGG or MOON OVER MANIFEST or THE HIGHER POWER OF LUCKY. Like any number of novels, these all came out of nowhere with little or no fanfare. Other books surprise us because we are unaccustomed to the Newbery committee recognizing them. DARK EMEPEROR had five starred reviews; Sidman’s books previously won a pair of Caldecott Honors. CLAUDETTE COLVIN likewise had five starred reviews plus the National Book Award; Hoose already had major awards under his belt. GOOD MASTERS! SWEET LADIES! had five starred reviews; Some expected Schlitz to win for A DROWNED MAIDEN’S HAIR. HITLER YOUTH had six starred reviews; Bartoletti’s previous book won the Sibert. SHOW WAY had five starred reviews. And on and on. These books didn’t come out of nowhere. They weren’t written by debut authors. They don’t seem nearly as idiosyncratic as those novel surprises.

    5. The most glorious WTF moment is THE INVENTION OF HUGO CABRET winning the Caldecott. Has any committee ever gotten the roar of approval that that committee did? I don’t think so. Why not create that kind of buzz and excitement and controversy? Why settle for the obscure book that will be forgotten by next year?

  10. Eric says:

    “Why not create that kind of buzz and excitement and controversy?”
    —-Because creating buzz, excitement or controversy is not the committee’s job. They are tasked with identifying the most distinguished contribution to children’s literature. Agendas don’t really have a place in this.

  11. Wendy says:

    Oh, I think they do and they don’t. My own answer would have been similar to yours, Eric, but I also think that when I consider the Newbery norms–white authors, boy protagonists, novels, historical fiction–it shows that there is, or anyway MIGHT be, unconscious bias going on. It’s easy to see this when you talk to people who have borderline knowledge about the Newbery–they will tell you that this or that book does or doesn’t have a “Newbery feel”. So the point of bringing agendas into the discussion is to make sure a variety of books are being seriously considered, and that nothing is being inadvertently disregarded just because it doesn’t fit the mold.

    And honestly… I only want the most distinguished contribution to children’s literature, too, but so many years it feels like a tossup for the honors that, all else being more-or-less equal–because there are a LOT of good books out there–if there’s an equally-good novel and non-fiction out there (just as an example), why not give it to the non-fiction just to diversify a little? Any notion of there being a strict hierarchy–this book is best, followed by these three, and everything else is an also-ran–is obviously pretty bogus (which is why the Newbery is meaning less to me the more years I spend with it).

  12. It is this sort of contorting — attempting to comparing three books on ONE aspect (dialogue) that is what frustrates me about the criteria limiting positive consideration of design and art. All three books are the sum of their parts. Where Turnage and Schlitz build their worlds and characters exclusively with words, O’Connor has the visual as well. And so all three are using more than just dialog to make their stories. And I just don’t see the point of spending time teasing out more about dialogue for the three when you’ve already determined it isn’t particulalyr strong for the O’Connor. I also agree with Wendy that your method of comparing three random snippets of text to make this sort of point is …pointless to me. And I don’t wish to spend my time finding other quotes to prove….what? That there is some good and some bad in each? How does that further the discussion on the Newbery-worthiness of the O’Connor?

  13. Alys says:

    I see “WTF” as a hugely negative phrase, sort of outraged, puzzled, and appalled. I would not consider Hugo winning the Caldecott as a “WTF” moment – people were thrilled! There wasn’t a wave of fury because they thought it was a terrible choice and couldn’t understand the judge’s decision. A novel “coming out of nowhere” to win is not necessarily a “WTF”, it’s more “what is that?” If HOMER P FIGG had won the actual Newbery and left WHEN YOU REACH ME out in the cold – THAT would have been a WTF moment. And it’s hardly “obligatory” to include a book that was not a popular frontrunner.

    Are you saying that DARK EMPEROR or CLAUDETTE COLVIN were WTF books? Because I was under the impression that, with so many starred reviews, they were, in their own ways, frontrunners for award recognition as well. Certainly no one was shocked and appalled by their inclusion.

  14. Jonathan Hunt says:

    1. Eric, do you think THE INVENTION OF HUGO CABRET was the most distinguished picture book of that year? Did the committee radically redefine what a picture book is? Or did they simply come to the criteria and their field of books with a fresh set of eyes without some kind of internalized precendent about what they should pick?

    2. Alys, I didn’t intend a negative connotation for WTF at all, but rather a very *strong* reaction of surprise and puzzlement. So it was a poor choice of words on my part that I miscommunicated. As I said, books seem to surprise for one of two reasons–obscurity and unconventionality–but rarely, if ever, for both. Why does poetry and nonfiction need five or six stars, but novels only need one or two? I’m not begruding the obscure books, and I do applaud the committee for looking futher than the same two dozen books we seem to obsess over every year, but I just wish that privilege also extended to unconventional genres, too. TEMPLE GRANDIN is a perfect example of a one star nonfiction book that would fit as nicely in the Newbery canon as any one star novel.

    3. Monica, you are the one who brazenly said the dialogue in the prose novels was superior–”I can find mediocre dialogue in the O’Connor and fabulous dialogue in both the Turnage and the Schlitz”–so if you don’t want to back your claim up, then I can only assume that I have correctly noted that the dialogue alone is roughly comparable even if the the holistic assessment of the prose novels may be superior. I never made the comparison to tear down the prose novels, but only to build up the graphic novel (if possible).

    Remember that I said I’m only willing to judge a graphic novel text on the qualities pertinent to it, but that those qualities must match or exceed the qualities found in a prose novel. In the scenes, the dialogue is the only quality pertinent to the text so that is why I also isolated the dialogue in the prose novel. On doing so, I found the graphic novel was better than I expected and the prose novels worse. While I might say that this graphic novel is distinguished in spite of its dialogue, that is probably also true of most prose novels.

    Another line of comparison is to compare the dialogue in HADES with the dialogue in DRAMA, LITTLE WHITE DUCK, and GIANTS BEWARE! LITTLE WHITE DUCK has a similar mix of dialogue and exposition (and we’ll discuss that next), but the other two are told largely through dialogue, and I think the textual evidence for excellence is even slighter in those books.

    4. Aside from how HADES stacks up against the criteria, it is an unlikely Newbery choice because it suffers a triple bias: the bias against traditional literature, the bias against graphic novels, and the bias agains brief texts. We’ll discuss LITTLE WHITE DUCK next week and see if we like its chances any better. It’s a memoir instead of mythology, but those don’t get recognized with greater frequency either.

  15. Wendy says:

    “While I might say that this graphic novel is distinguished in spite of its dialogue, that is probably also true of most prose novels.”

    I just don’t understand where you’re getting this from. When a standard novel has poor dialogue, or rather when I think it does, I call it out–that novel isn’t going to get Newbery championing from me. I would think the same is true of pretty much everyone. I don’t not notice poorly written dialogue just because it’s in a standard novel format.

    I don’t think you’ve succeeded in making your case that the dialogue in THREE TIMES LUCKY or SPLENDORS AND GLOOMS is on a par with that in HADES. You’ve simply stated that you think it is. You asked Monica to back up the claim, but you haven’t really given any of us anything to argue against. Part of the trouble, I think, is that the dialogue in HADES is so clearly not as good that I don’t even know what to say. (And that is why it seems, at least to me, like a “tearing down of the prose novel”.) I can try, but I feel like I already know the points I’ll get back.

    You say that the comic-book cliches aren’t any worse than the Southern cliches or the Victorian cliches. But what many people have found particularly notable about THREE TIMES LUCKY is that while it has Southern motifs and conventions, it is, specifically, not cliched. We find it has an authentic voice that means what could have been dull and tired reads, instead, fresh and new. Cliche implies a flattening and a lack of depth, and that’s just what I see in the above-quoted passage from HADES (and the rest of the dialogue in HADES)–and not in the other two books. I thought SPLENDORS AND GLOOMS had some cliche about the plot-points–ugly evil people, mysterious estates–but the writing is good enough that Schlitz made it work. (And as with HADES, some of that was probably intentional.)

    The dialogue from HADES above is flat and reads like something I’ve read many times before; it reveals only the baldest things about the characters; does not hint at any further depth. On the other hand, the dialogue from THREE TIMES LUCKY introduces aspects of the characters that will be revealed later, gives us a sense of setting, introduces but does not establish a relationship. I could probably say the same about the excerpt from SPLENDORS AND GLOOMS. And I do think it means something that I want to read further into those novels and not into HADES, based on the excerpts. AND they sound like things people would actually say, unlike the HADES excerpt–that’s usually considered the hallmark of well-written dialogue.

    When I read bits of dialogue in LITTLE WHITE DUCK, I wouldn’t say it excels (though the book is great, it’s because of the whole package), but I do think it’s more engagingly written. I don’t think it’s fair to put a “bias” against graphic novels in the same category as a bias against traditional literature or brief texts, since, as we’ve discussed, graphic novels don’t fit the criteria very well. On the other hand, if there’s a lot of distinguished traditional literature and brief-text books around and they aren’t getting recognized, that would be because of bias.

  16. Jonathan, you randomly selected three instances of dialogue from three books to prove that O’Connor writes pedestrian dialogue. So fine, you’ve acknowledged that his dialogue is this so why do you need to go on the attack now with the Turnage and the Schlitz? Why do I need to spend time defending them this way? I thought this post was about the O’Connor and considering a graphic novel. I question your methodology, but I don’t see why I then have to keep going with this. If you were slamming the other two books in a focused look at them and others were piling on, then perhaps I’d delve into them, but as is….no.

  17. Jonathan Hunt says:

    First of all, I think there is a little bit of a misconception that I am putting this forward as a Newbery contender at this point. What I am saying is that this text has some elements that are really compelling, really distinguished. But this is a text that also has some big questions marks, too. It’s a book that I think warrants discussion in order to explore the book. I’ve never thought that it would rank in that top group of contenders of the top dozen books, but I don’t see why it can’t aspire to darkhorse status along with the next dozen books, and as Mark said, I think I can find books in the canon that are less distinguished.

    Wendy, I completely understand that you didn’t find the dialogue in those prose novels problematic and neither did I when I was reading them, but that is because I read them in the context of the rest of the narrative. In the context of the narrative, they *don’t* read as bad dialogue at all. It’s only when I artificially parse them out that they seem just as flat and uninspired as HADES. At least, to me. I know they still retain their sparkle and sizzle for you in that form, and I guess we’ll just have to disagree about our respective assessments of the dialogue above because they all seem cliched to me. The dialogue in HADES reads better in the context of the illustrations (although we can’t consider those illustrations), and even then I’m not sure if the dialogue rises to the heights that we need it to. I’m not sure that we disagree that the dialogue is the weakest link of the O’Connor, the question is how weak is it, and do the other distinguished elements compensate for it enough to justify a nomination for the book? Can’t it be one of the 45-60 books that we carry into the January meetings? I think I know your answer and probably Monica’s, too. Others?

  18. Jonathan Hunt says:

    Monica, I’m sorry if you felt like I was attacking the Turnage or the Schlitz. As I mentioned in my original post, I just pulled two random novels from the pile. I could have chosen Stead or Pennypacker or any number of novels. I also could have chosen any number of graphic novels. The point that I was trying to make–I guess, unsuccessfully–is that graphic novel dialgoue stripped of its contextualizing illustrations isn’t necessarily any worse, generally speaking, then prose dialogue stripped of its contextualizing narrative, and I think this runs counter to our intuition. Of course, this is not a problem for prose novels, whatsoever, because we don’t have to divide the contributions of the dialogue and the exposition.

    As I mentioned in my previous comment, I think HADES is worth exploring, but I don’t think it’s the strongest Newbery graphic novel candidate. I actually think it’s LITTLE WHITE DUCK which I wanted to discuss next, but the contentious tone of this thread is rapidly making me lose my appetite for doing so. :-(

  19. Jonathan, I wish you would consider Little White Duck as I like it a lot, but am dubious about how well it works without the art. But how about avoiding certain .. er … argumentative methods :)

  20. Jonathan Hunt says:

    I’ve been thinking about the dialogue some more, and Mark’s comments made me go to my own bookshelf and pull out HOW PLAYS ARE MADE by Stuart Griffiths which says that dramatic dialogue is tricky because it’s real speech that is selected, shaped, and edited for dramatic purposes, on the one hand, but it should not be so crafted that it seems too literary, on the other hand. A tricky balancing act. In other words, it needs to have the illusion of being natural.

    I’ve already mentioned that I find the prose style of second person introduction to the Underworld to be written in a very distinguished style. But once we segue into the scenes with dialogue we shift from a more formal storytelling voice to a very colloquial one, a shift which at first struck me as jarring, but which on further consideration I find entirely appropriate. There is a measure of surprise and irony in this choice because we expect the gods and goddesses to speak in a more formal dialect, especially given the preceding tone. I quoted the lead in to the confrontation between Persephone and Demeter above, but here’s the rest of it . . .

    PERSEPHONE: Mother.

    DEMETER: Hmmm? What is it, my darling?

    PERSEPHONE: I can’t believe you embarrassed me like that, Mother!

    DEMETER: Embarrassed? I was only trying to protect you! You know how boys are.

    PERSEPHONE: No I don’t, Mother! Because every time one of them tries to talk to me, you come and chase them away!

    DEMETER: I’m only doing what’s best for you, Kore!

    PERSEPHONE: *I! Don’t! Need you looking out for me! I’m not a little girl anymore!*

    DEMETER: As long as your my daughter, I’ll–

    PERSEPHONE: Maybe I don’t want to be your daughter anymore, huh, Mom?

    DEMEMTER: You ungrateful *brat.*

    PERSEPHONE: Just leave me alone and butt out of my life.

    DEMETER: You just got your wish.

    Demeter storms off and we have another mini-scene that leads into the abduction scene.

    These words sound like real speech, selected, shaped and edited for dramatic purposes. They sound natural without sounding literary. Moreover, I think the choice to switch to this more colloquial voice for the scenes is a distinguished one because while this is Demeter and Persephone, some some version of these words has been spoken between many a mother and daughter, so much that these characters almost become archetypes or symbols in this story, lending the conflict a greater sense of immediacy and resonance. So, in this brief exchange of dialogue which flows back and forth quite naturally–point and counterpoint–we see the driving conflict of the plot laid out beautifuly, not to mention one of the central themes of the story, and both characters are delineated quite distinctly in the process. So I have to agree with Mark that we need to look and see not only what the words are, but how they are used in the story.

    I’ve been reflecting on the use of dialogue in prose novels. I rarely hear dialogue being praised in a prose novel–and when it is praised, I don’t notice a consistent theme. But when people complain about dialogue they generally see it as an extension of character. If the dialogue sounds credible, the characterization is strong. If the dialogue doesn’t sound credible, then the characterization suffers. I think prose dialogue can serve many of the functions that dramatic dialogue does, but not necessarily and not to the same degree. It was probably a mistake to sample SPLENDORS AND GLOOMS and THREE TIMES LUCKY because I think some people perceive me as being negative about these books and perceived my use of them as attacks on them rather than a genuine comparison and contrast. I could have picked my favorite novels to date in NO CRYSTAL STAIR and LIAR & SPY, but they would have fared less well in the comparison because both books realy so heavily on an internal first person narration that the context of the quoted lines of dialogue would be completely lost. So I’m going to reiterate my general thesis: Dialogue in a dramatic context and dialgoue in a narrative context, stripped of their context, do not necessarily look much different in terms of quality, but they function very differently within their respective stories.

  21. Wendy says:

    Well, to be honest–I can see we’re at an impasse on this point and must agree to disagree about the quality of dialogue in HADES, and about how people review the dialogue in standard novels–I don’t really perceive you as being negative about those two books in particular. I know THREE TIMES LUCKY is one you don’t see the appeal of, and that you admire SPLENDORS AND GLOOMS almost in spite of itself, but I don’t think you reflexively dislike them. No, I would have thought you were being negative about ANY novel if you said its dialogue was on par with what I still consider the poorly-written dialogue of HADES. (I disagree strongly that the above sounds like normal speech–but as I say, I think we’re at an agree-to-disagree point.)

  22. Billy says:

    Okay, this is not totally pertinent to the book at hand, but I just had a fascinating thought and it definitely ties in to a portion of the discussion, so…

    When Jonathan mentioned the seemingly mandatory “WTF” choice, I just assumed he meant what he says he meant: that one book that really does seem to pop up every year that nobody saw coming. In more *ahem* less colorful terms…the really really big surprise. Actually, whether or not I fully embrace the selection, I always appreciate the surprise picks because it shows the committee thinking outside of what may be many people’s horizon line or comfort zone. I think that many times though, people tend to have a muted or begrudging response to many of these books. My theory is that everyone gets all psyched up for what they think the frontrunners are every year and then when the committee does what it is supposed to do and comes to its own rigorously tested decision and it is completely different…people get let down. “I read all year and I didn’t read the winner?” Or their expectations get set subconsciously high because while all the other books were just being compared to “the other books that I am reading this year” the surprise pick is getting compared to “The Newbery Medal”, i.e. “this is now part of the gold standard and since it beat out my favorites to get there, it must be – had better be – amazing”. And I think that this goes for any type of book that comes under such an occurrence.

    However, the committee was not seeing it that way. For them, it was also one of “the books that came out this year”. It clearly was not a dark horse to the committee, because it must have had a wide swath of support at some stage, or more likely most stages, of the game to be able to get a sizeable number of these well-read individuals to rank it as their favorite of the year, or at least top three. Among the books Jonathan mentioned was “The Higher Power of Lucky”, a left-field pick to beat all left-field picks for pretty much anyone who was not on the actual secret committee. Now, I was already psyched up about some candidates that year; I was fully behind our Mock’s top selections of “A Drowned Maiden’s Hair” and “A True and Faithful Narrative”, as well as my beloved Boston Globe-Horn Book winning “The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane” (I still adore that book and have been so pleased to see it get more of an audience in the intervening years). However, I know some people do not agree, but I read “Lucky” after the announcement and found it unquestionably the most distinguished book that year. And I can defend that, though I have not actually read it since so details may be fuzzy. But another left-field puck that year – “Hattie Big Sky” – I honestly just have no clue what they were thinking. It had some strengths but also many obvious flaws (I wasn’t so high on “Rules” either, but really liked “Penny from Heaven”, so the choices overall could definitely have been better but also worse). But I do not need to know what they were thinking, apparently enough of them thought it to get the votes necessary. So I suppose much of the surprise factor can also be colored by our opinion as well as any measurable variable.

    I think people can get a similar confused reaction when an unusual or more risky choice, the kind that Jonathan – and I also somewhat – likes to advocate, becomes the designated choice. Remember when “Good Masters! Sweet Ladies!” won and everyone was all in a hubbub? While that was not a left-field choice as buzz and reviews and been almost universally positive prior to the announcement, a lot of people were still surprised and there was a bit of backlash to that one as well. There shouldn’t have been either surprise or backlash as it was also, for me at least, definitely of the year’s most distinguished titles, so I wonder how much of that was because of people just getting sore that they had not given it due consideration prior, or if there was a good bit of not knowing how to deal with something more risky and unique involved, as Jonathan always implies.

    Ultimately, shouldn’t we be rewarding originality and out-of-the-box-choices? Making everything a little more “individually distinct”, so to speak? Just musing here.

    Although, one last thing. Although the crowning of “Hugo Cabret” was a shock at the time, in hindsight it really was not as big a stretch as people still believe. The committee was most probably using the same standard definition of a picture book that they always did – a book essentially composed half of visuals that play an integral role in defining, advancing, and deepening the story – which applies easily to “Hugo Cabret”. “Hugo Cabret” was just that basic definition at ten times the normal length. But yes, still a good example of an out-of-the-box choice that turned out oh so well.

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