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Heavy Medal: A Mock Newbery Blog
Inside Heavy Medal

Transitional Chapter Books

Since traditional chapter books have spot illustrations, and since some people might consider them picture books instead of illustrated books, I’m going to quote from some of the reviews and read your comments below about their literary merit.


Kirkus;  Often just on the edge of out of control, this inventive child is irresistible and her voice, convincing. Childlike drawings, often embellished with hand-lettered narrative or speech bubbles, of round-headed humans, Sendak-ian monsters and a snaggle-toothed witch add to the humor. Charming, funny and true to life.

Publishers Weekly: Reality and fantasy combine hilariously in a story that, at heart, is about a girl who wants little more than to spend time with her brother and sister. Hanlon’s (Ralph Tells a Story) loosely scrawled illustrations, speech balloons, and hand-lettering are an enormous part of the story’s humor, channeling Dory’s energy and emotions as emphatically as the narration. Time spent with Dory is time well spent.

School Library Journal: Hanlon effectively uses many childlike pencil drawings and word balloons interspersed with a good mix of short and long sentences in brief, episodic chapters full of Dory’s hilarious adventures. New vocabulary words are used in context within familiar settings and situations for the audience, creating a successful transitional book for new readers ready for longer stories. Dory ultimately finds a way to prove her bravery to her brother and sister, and readers will laugh at her entertaining antics.

THE PRINCESS IN BLACK by Shannon and Dean Hale

Booklist: The authors of Rapunzel’s Revenge (2008) and Calamity Jack (2010), writing here for a slightly younger audience, successfully turn the treacly princess genre on its ear, offering beginning readers a clever, adventurous, and self-reliant heroine who is equally at home in black or pink.

Kirkus:  The gently ironic text will amuse readers (including adults reading the book aloud). The large print and illustrations expand the book to a longish-yet-manageable length, giving newly independent readers a sense of accomplishment. The ending hints at another hero, the Goat Avenger. Action, clever humor, delightful illustrations and expectation-defying secret identities–when does the next one come out?

We’ve always tried to find some lesser known gems among this genre.  Do either of these rise to the level of Newbery distinction for you?

Jonathan Hunt About Jonathan Hunt

Jonathan Hunt is the Coordinator of Library Media Services at the San Diego County Office of Education. He served on the 2006 Newbery committee, and has also judged the Caldecott Medal, the Printz Award, the Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards, and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. You can reach him at


  1. I LOVE The Princess in Black! Newbery quality? I’m not so sure. Though it definitely does what it sets out to do with distinction. I wonder if it’s eligible for a Geisel… There are just so few words — but I guess my prejudices against super short books for the Newbery are showing. Character and setting and plot are definitely handled well, appropriately for the child audience. It’s just that there’s not very much of it. We definitely aren’t in depth with characterization — but we certainly have enough for the intended audience.

    Though I’ll be consoled if it doesn’t win an award that it has been on the NY Times best-seller list. I’m glad parents and kids are finding it.

  2. Leonard Kim says:

    The practice of writing a novel in short chapters that end on cliffhangers is sometimes disparaged. I think it really works in THE PRINCESS IN BLACK. Maybe the transitional chapter book is a more natural fit for this kind of architecture? And the writing is almost pitch-perfect. I really respect books that don’t seem to show the strain of limited vocabulary, shorter sentences, etc.: books that read well by any standard that just happen to also be readable by the very young. Top three book for me.

    I read DORY FANTASMAGORY about a month ago on the basis of some glowing reviews. It didn’t make much of an impression, I’m afraid, and I’m hard put to remember much about it. I do remember feeling it shows the aforementioned strain of writing to age level.

    • DORY FANTASMAGORY I think this book will make a lot of children giggle. Dory has an imaginary friend and her imagination takes over. There is a lot of kid-appeal here. I see this book being checked out of my library quite often! Grown-ups however might not like the role of Dory’s brother and sister who do not pay attention to her. Her sister whines to mom that Dory is being bothersome. Dory is often ignored and picked on by her siblings for her imaginative ways. Even her mother is not supportive of her little girl…often scolding Dory for just being a kid.

  3. Thanks for calling attention to younger chapter books. I’m always looking for ones that will stand the test of time.

    I’ve been wondering if there are any small press books that have come to your attention as a Newbery contender in the last few years, not self published or indy published but just coming from small or regional presses.

  4. Jonathan Hunt Jonathan Hunt says:

    I haven’t seen this one, but it just got a starred review from Horn Book, and Betsy Bird, Travis Jonker, and John Schumacher all put it on their best of the year lists: TALES OF BUNJITSU BUNNY.

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