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.
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?