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Heavy Medal: A Mock Newbery Blog
Inside Heavy Medal

Heavy Medal Finalist – All’s Faire in Middle School

allsfaireLong List Title:  ALL’S FAIRE IN MIDDLE SCHOOL
(Titles on our long list will be included in our online conversation and balloting, alongside the short list titles.)

I’ve been a strong supporter of ALL’S FAIRE IN MIDDLE SCHOOL from the start. I found the plot more compelling, emotionally, than that of REAL FRIENDS, our other graphic novel on the list, although I think that I may be in the minority there.

Among the things I found especially strong about this title is the relationship between Imogene and her brother.  When he stops speaking to her, she is forced to face the consequences of taking out her pain on someone even more vulnerable than she is, and I appreciated that this wasn’t resolved easily or immediately.

The setting is fun, unique, delightful, and perfectly suited to tell this character’s story.

I would argue that when, as the Newbery Manaul dictactes, we are making our decision primarily based on text, this is a text worth consideration.  Even moreso, if we are going to consider this title as potentially doing the best at what it sets out to do, I think it does.  This is the absolute right format for this story, and how we consider the format is a complicated and exciting (and obviously ongoing – year after year) discussion.  I still struggle with the best way to talk about graphic novels against Newbery criteria, and yet I feel strongly that we should and that they deserve fair due.

When there was talk about creating a separate medal for graphic novels, I was amongst those who felt that was unecessary because we already have such an award.  We have the Caldecott to award illustration and we have the Newbery to honor literature.  And the last years have shown that Newbery Committees have found ways to do just this.




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’m with you on this one, especially in terms of the plotline involving the brother. It was so painful and real and not easily resolved. I felt the characters were wonderfully established in terms of what they say and so don’t see the art as critical to that. I have such a strong memory of them even though I read the book months ago. And I feel the setting was established as much through text as through imagery — the homeschooling, the faire, etc through various scenes and comments.

    I too personally liked it more than REAL FRIENDS, but I think that is just because I can identify more with this situation than that one not because one is better than the other.

  2. What I liked about ALL’S FAIRE was how the main character was naive about her actions but also took responsibility for her cruel drawings and words (and the relationship with the brother). In REAL FRIENDS I felt that the message was that Shannon was powerless and innocent. Being a kid does often feel that way but in reality no one goes through school without being both hurt by those dynamics and also hurting others. I would have liked for REAL FRIENDS to explore the theme a little more deeply and realistically, which I felt that ALL’S FAIRE did. For that reason, I thought it was a superior title.

    • I want to add that I could be persuaded that REAL FRIENDS handled the theme that way because it is aimed at a slightly younger audience. But even with that in mind I think ALL’S FAIRE is stronger because of the more full and realistic treatment of navigating the social dynamics.

  3. I absolutely agree.

    Even if we’re deciding based on text alone, the text is funny, tight, disciplined and sophisticated. The use of courtly language for comic effect, and the hints of backstory for Violet (the girlfriend of Impy’s crush object) that save her from being a simp of a perfect paragon of virtue both back up the book’s theme of goodness being a constant choice.

  4. I’m not going to do a good job of expressing what I like about ALL’S FAIRE here so I hope someone is able to grab onto a few crumbs of what I’m saying and help me put this more eloquently. One thing about graphic novels is that often times, the story is confined to the panels on the page. Text can be sparse and even events tend to move quickly because we as a reader can see the events happening in the panels and since the panels are limited, sometimes stories tend to feel like they go by really quickly. (Does any of that make sense?) I feel like REAL FRIENDS and Holm’s SUNNY stories are examples of this. I love them, personally, but the stories move so quickly and the text is real sparse. Sometimes I feel like either there’s story that is missing, or not explored as deeply as it could, or that the plot is limited to the panels.

    What I love about ALL’S FAIRE is that the story is so full for a graphic novel. I think you could pull the text out of this story, minus the illustrations, and it would still be distinguished. (I’ll dig for some examples) The setting is unique and fully realized, so many of the supporting characters are given rich depth (Marjorie’s example of Violet is perfect), and the plot unfolds in a realistic way. I thought Impy’s struggle to fit in at school and stay true to herself was awesome. I liked how things that seemed simple and rationalized in the moment (drawing the pictures, tossing the squirrel in the lake) led to natual, yet massive consequences for Impy in the end.

    She was hands down, my favorite character of the bunch this year, from the longlist of titles. I’m pulling for this one, I just don’t know where it would fit a Medal on it’s cover.

    • Leonard Kim says:

      On the shield?

      I am thinking about your first paragraph. What’s interesting to me is that Impy and Shannon of REAL FRIENDS undergo some similar developments: falling in and out of a clique, the eventual explicit adoption of a “be nice to everyone” philosophy (which is portrayed very similarly in the two books), and reconciliation with a hostile sibling. But all this happens in a few months in ALL’S FAIRE (one fair season) as opposed to several years in REAL FRIENDS. ALL’S FAIRE feels full to Jordan and Kari, and I know it’s perfectly standard in children’s books for all sorts of Big Changes to happen in a single school year or summer or something, but I think I’m one of those readers who tends to think that Too Much Going On in a lot of books I read feels a little artificial. (This may explain my HELLO UNIVERSE reaction, where the time frame is even more compressed so I had trouble with Virgil’s character arc.) I re-read ALL’S FAIRE and REAL FRIENDS, together, alternating chapters (i.e., chapter 1 of one, then chapter 1 of the other, and so on) and it really struck me how similar things happened, but time was flowing at a very different rate, and REAL FRIENDS is significantly shorter. So REAL FRIENDS felt more disciplined to me and ALL’S FAIRE felt a little saggy to me rather than full. This is even hinted at in the little chapter headers of ALL’S FAIRE that basically say, you think Impy’s hit bottom? No here’s another chapter where more gets piled on her. Now that I think of it, ALL’S FAIRE is a bit similar to THUG—the different school/home worlds, the memorable secondary characters, but also a tendency to discursiveness which some like and others maybe not so much – it’s fine, I liked both books, but it’s a slight hurdle to get to “most distinguished” for me.

  5. I just read this yesterday and kept comparing it mentally to Real Friends as I went–and noticed many of the things everyone did–but they were specifically things I thought Real Friends had done better! So I may be in the minority here.

    I thought All’s Faire was fairly wordy, which surprised me since it’s an author-illustrator. I thought Hale did a much better job of telling the story visually and being restrained enough to keep excess words off the page. Sort of a “it’s the notes you don’t play” thing. And I thought the text was a bit awkward sometimes.

    I did find my own example of illustrations/book design making a book less effective: There wasn’t enough visual distinction for me between the narration boxes and the dialogue boxes so I got confused several times and had to figure out which I was reading. And there were a couple times (which I can’t find now of course!) where there were two strands of dialogue continuing across a page turn that really confused me. (That’s pretty nitpicky, obviously, and also I’m not very well-read in graphic novels, so it could just be my own incompetence!)

    I thought the Ren Faire was fun, but I wanted to see more of it (like I now know there are Water Wenches and Mud Pit Players, but I still don’t really know what they do). And I surprisingly got less sense of action from the swordfighting scenes than the pretending scenes in Real Friends. Although that gets into the what is art and what is text discussion.

    I may be way overthinking this, but I felt like there were some world-building holes. She makes it sound like she only does homeschool at the Faire, but then it turns out the Fair is only two months long. It does establish that the Dad has a day-job, but what are the kids doing the rest of the year? She doesn’t appear to have any friends. Are there no kids in her apartment building? Doesn’t she do any after-school activities to meet people her age? (The parents seem to be failing the socialization aspect of homeschooling!) And given that she appears to not know any kids, she has more knowledge of kid culture than you would think. Some school things are new to her (waiting for lunch, classrooms being cold). But she somehow knows to sit in the middle of the class to avoid looking like a teacher’s pet or a bad kid. And that the Ren Faire is kind of geeky and she probably shouldn’t open with that. So I felt like her world knowledge was uneven. (But this didn’t bother me as much as it sounds from me writing it all out!)

    I particularly felt like All’s Faire didn’t have the emotional depth and complexity of characters and social interactions as Real Friends. Mika seemed like more of a generic mean girl to me. Whereas in Real Friends you have more rounded characters, with Adrienne being her best friend but then becoming popular. And the Queen Bee (why can’t I remember characters’ names?) having her own arc and turning out not to like being the leader. And the visceral hate of the sidekick. And then you still have the abusive sister and the anxiety and everything else. And although not as central as the brother in All’s Faire, there is still stuff about how Shannon’s actions affect other people, particularly when she’s not a good friend to the foster kid.

    I felt the emotions in Real Friends much more strongly. I recognized many of the situations in All’s Faire (I have my own junior high knock-off sneaker story), but I didn’t feel the trauma along with Impy the way I did with Shannon or flashback to the emotion of my own memory.

    All’s Faire does have more of an overall narrative arc since Real Friends is more episodic. But it was more of a standard start a new school, fall in with the popular crowd, discover they’re not nice and become friends with the right people story than I was expecting.

  6. Oh yeah, one of the specific things I found awkward in the text was that it kept changing between past tense and present tense for no apparent reason. Maybe there are reasons that I wasn’t picking up on, but it kept tripping me up. As far as I can tell, usually real time in a scene is past tense but sometimes it’s present tense. And sometimes ongoing conditions or thoughts are present tense and sometimes they’re past tense. (And, yes, I realize I just changed from past tense to present tense myself! 🙂

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