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Heavy Medal: A Mock Newbery Blog
Inside Heavy Medal

When the Sea Turned to Silver


First, a confession.  I haven’t read the previous Grace Lin books in this series!  Unforgivable, maybe, but I think that makes it easier for me to try to read and evaluate her new novel without letting my feelings about her other work get in the way.  I don’t have to worry about it standing alone, about previous knowledge, about my feelings about characters.  This book, for me, is fresh and new.

The truth is, these books didn’t hold great appeal to me just in terms of genre.  I’m not a great fan of fantasy or adventure.  Folklore is sometimes interesting to me, but definitely not my specialty.  So, my reading tends to focus elsewhere, on books that are easier for me to see will appeal.  Here I am, though, back at Heavy Medal and back in action with flexing my read-what-you-aren’t-instinctively-drawn-to muscles and remembering how important it is to break down those walls.   When the walls came down, WHEN THE SEA TURNED TO SILVER was just sitting there waiting for me.

National Book Award finalist, multiple starred reviews and a past honor winning author… none of this matters in terms of this year’s Newbery, but it certainly helped me decide to pick the book up.

So, this is storytelling at a masterful level.  The weaving of stories within the greater narrative, the turtle’s first person (first turtle?) perspective throughout and the adventure of the main plot all coming together in the end was an epic feat of writing .  We have a very relatable coming-of-age of a shy young girl realizing that she not only could mimic her grandmother’s storytelling, but that she herself could be a master of the craft and that she had the power to save the world.  There’s a great mix of fantasy, folklore, and real world concerns.  The plot moves quickly, the conflict is engaging and the characters vivid.

My one concern, and it really may be just me, is that as everything came together in the end, I felt a little bit lost.  I was excited to see all the stories tied together in this way, but I felt like I didn’t remember enough details of everything that led to the ending to be as wowed as I should have been.  I would be quite curious to know if others felt that way, or if everyone else was maybe a closer reader.  I admit to doing a fast-paced read, partially because I was so driven to get to what was going to happen next.  How satisfying was the ending for you?

There are things I would do to prepare for discussing this book at the Newbery table (or Mock Newbery table).  This is a book that, for me, calls for re-reading and pouring over details to see if the story really fits together or if there are pieces that are confusing.   In addition to that kind of re-read, I’d want to do some research into Chinese folklore and storytelling traditions.  Any experts in our midst who can weigh in?


Sharon McKellar About Sharon McKellar

Sharon McKellar is the Supervising Librarian for Teen Services at the Oakland Public Library in California. She has served on the Rainbow List Committee, the Notable Children’s Recordings Committee, The Arbuthnot Honor Lecture Committee, and the 2015 Caldecott Committee. You can reach her at


  1. I stopped reading this one because it is worthy of more concentration than I was able to give at the time. I realized I was missing connections between the action and the stories. I am looking forward to starting over with more focus.

  2. Jonathan Hunt Jonathan Hunt says:

    I enjoyed this one as much as the others in the series. I think this is the other most likely Newbery fantasy book. I recognized one of the folktales as being THE EMPTY POT by Demi, and since there are some differences between her retelling and Grace LIn’s, I’d be very curious to learn how faithful each is to existing versions.

  3. Safranit Molly says:

    I am in the delightful process of reading this one aloud with my son. We have loved the previous books but it has been so long I am grasping to remember the details of the other stories, not because they are essential to understanding this story (I am glad to hear that Sharon thinks this book stands alone), but because the threads of connection between the stories are a joy to realize. Like Sharon I am thinking and searching through every page, trying to understand the complex web of stories. We are taking our time, enjoying the story and musing about it as we read. I will check back with this Heavy Medal community after we finish reading When the Sea Turned to Silver. I am especially interested to hear from any readers with a greater knowledge of the Chinese folklore about the interwoven threads. It seems sheer brilliance to me.

  4. Slightly off-topic, but Jonathan’s comment about THE EMPTY POT made me wonder if anyone who has read the book knows off hand other book versions of the stories that are retold in WHEN THE SEA TURNED TO SILVER. I am about to start reading it with my kindergartner, who loved the first two books. He was particularly tickled with the first book because we’d previously read a version of the Dragon Painter story about the eyes bringing Dragon to life, and he was excited to recognize that story element. I’d like to recreate that for him this time around, but I’ve been saving it to read with him, and haven’t read it myself yet, so I’m not sure what books to sneakily introduce into bedtime for later surprise recognition.

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