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Heavy Medal: A Mock Newbery Blog
Inside Heavy Medal

Juana & Lucas



JUANA & LUCAS is pure delight.  I’m really excited to be able to discuss a heavily illustrated early chapter book that has lovely art, but certainly also has text worth consideration.  We didn’t find a graphic novel this year that we felt belonged on our shortlist, so for me this is the closest we get to being able to have that sort of title to talk about.  While it certainly isn’t a graphic novel, it does have page spreads where the illustration really works in conjunction with the text, as in a graphic novel.


In addition, the text design itself helps tell the story.

juana-2   juana-3   juana-4

Separating all of those elements out and focusing on Newbery criteria is an exciting prospect.  We get to talk about how those things can or cannot factor into the discussion, which is a whole conversation outside of discussing the merits of the writing.  I would argue that these merits of the book do not detract in any way from the fabulous writing, and thus can be considered as features of a wonderful novel that doesn’t need those features to thrive.  The writing sets the book apart.  The design and illustration put it over the top.

One of the more exciting things about this book, to me, is that Juana, learning to speak English, is enduring some of the same very complicated features of the language that the very readers of this book will be experiencing.  She is frustrated in the same ways and doesn’t understand why she has to do this hard hard thing.  Who can’t relate to this?  Medina has the personal experience of learning a new language, and she has chosen the precise right aged audience to share it with.

I think this title really shines in interpretation of theme or concept as well as in delineation of characters when talking about Juana herself.  Other characters were a bit flatter, but I found this story to be all about Juana, as the title implies.  As an adult, I adored her giant personality, and I think children will relate to her even more strongly.   The setting of Bogotá definitely provides a vivid backdrop and the Spanish words interspersed make that setting stronger.

So, can this lovely little title compete?  What do you think?



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. Jonathan Hunt Jonathan Hunt says:

    I’ve left this book in my office over the holidays, so I’ll have more comments about why I liked it when I return at the end of next week, but off the top of my head I will say that I love the design of the book: the use of white space, various spot illustrations, various fonts sizes, and line spacing (all of which you can see in the pages Sharon included). Those which I have mentioned that are textual elements can be introduced into the conversation in relation to how they serve the intended audience of newly independent readers, but it won’t be the strongest argument, to be sure. No, the strongest elements are the storytelling: plot, setting, and character. I particularly love the exuberance of Juana, and like Sharon I appreciated a new context for “learning English.”

    This one is pitched even younger than FULL OF BEANS, and it’s hard to get excited about this one in the same way as SAMURAI RISING, WOLF HOLLOW, or GHOST which can make more demands of its readers. This is the key: can we look at this text with second grade eyes? I think it’s awfully hard to do so, and but it’s necessary to engage with the intended audience to have an intimate knowledge of how it serves the audience.

    This one could be a longshot for the Newbery, but I assume this will take the Pura Belpre (assuming that BURN BABY BURN will be seen by the committee as too old).

    • “assuming that BURN BABY BURN will be seen by the committee as too old” => I know this was a parenthetical, but I’m so curious about it! Do you think BBB pitches older than (Meg) Medina’s Belpre-winning YAQUI DELGADO, or than ARISTOTLE & DANTE? Those both suggest a pretty accurate 13-14 to me, and I wouldn’t hesitate to give BBB to a young teen who liked either of those medal winners. (The Newbery picks often seem to imply a younger 14, if any 14 at all–I can’t imagine ARI & DANTE being a Newbery medalist–but an actual 14-year-old seems well within the range of BURN BABY BURN.)

      • Jonathan Hunt Jonathan Hunt says:

        No, I don’t think it’s older than YAQUI DELGADO or ARISTOTLE AND DANTE and If JUANA & LUCAS didn’t exist for a younger audience, I think they would flirt with this one more. But who knows! Maybe it will win. It was long listed for the NBA and shortlisted for the Kirkus Prize.

  2. With my younger Newbery readers in mind, I am rooting for Juana and Lucas to at least receive an honor. I found it to be so enjoyable.

    • Jonathan Hunt Jonathan Hunt says:

      Sue, I’m glad to see your response here. We published this post during the week between Christmas and New Years, but now that we’ve all returned I’m hoping people will revisit this post to let us know their thoughts on the book.

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