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Heavy Medal: A Mock Newbery Blog
Inside Heavy Medal

Heavy Medal Finalist – Beyond the Bright Sea

beyondthebrightseaLong List Title:  BEYOND THE BRIGHT SEA
(Titles on our long list will be included in our online conversation and balloting, alongside the short list titles.)

Lauren Wolk’s BEYOND THE BRIGHT SEA seems to be one title that pops up almost every time I see or hear a list of likely Newbery contenders.  Not necessarily on the top of those lists, but always in there.  It received 6 nominations on this blog and received 5 stars from journals.  In an earlier Heavy Medal post, the most positive comments were related to style and voice, and that’s still what stands out to me. Crow’s first person narration brings her world to life.  She moves effortlessly from rich imagery to plain old description, and the combination is a pleasure to experience.  An early passage from page 4 works as an example:

The dream that woke me, wondering anew about my name, was full of stars and whales blowing and the lyrics of the sea.  When I opened my eyes, I lay for a minute, watching Osh as he stood at the stove, cooking porridge in a scabby pot.

I sat up and rubbed the sleep from my eyes.  “Why is my name Crow?” I asked.

When Osh stirred the porridge, the spoon made a sound like a boat being dragged across the beach.  “I’ve told you,” he said.  “You were hoarse with crying when you washed up here.  You cawed over and over.  So I called you Crow.”

That answer had always been enough before.  But it didn’t explain everything.  And everything was what I had begun to want.

That passage includes several examples of the effectiveness of the author’s style:

  • The shift from the imagery of “stars” and “whales” and “lyrics” to the tangible, earthbound “scabby pot.”
  • The ocean references which recur throughout the book; of course these would be Crow’s reference points since that’s been her world, and they help us get to know her and her environment.
  • The sound of the spoon, which helps us feel like we’re right there in the kitchen with them, listening to their dialogue.  People never seem to just talk in this book, they’re always doing something while they talk, which makes the scenes feel real and grounded.
  • The contrast between the language of the dialogue and of the narration.  Osh is terse and plain spoken, but so is Crow through most of the book.  Her internal reflections contain the lyricism.  Which, to me at least, clearly indicates this is an older Crow’s voice, trying to capture her younger self.
  • The “everything” that comes in at the end, pointing towards the self-discovery that Crow is ready for.

I’m not saying this section stands on its own as a marvel of distinguished writing, but it’s a strong early example of a  voice that accomplishes a lot.  And it’s maintained and developed consistently, contributing to engaging characters and a vivid sense of place.

The passage also contains a bit of one element that worked less well for me:  the regular hints that something momentous is about to happen, or will happen soon.  “Everything was what I had begun to want” works at this early point in the novel, but similar bits of foreshadowing seemed overused the first time I read it…and even a bit more so the second time through.  As I mentioned in an earlier comment, though, we don’t need to find a perfect book, just the most distinguished one of the year.  Is BEYOND THE BRIGHT SEA in the running?





Steven Engelfried About Steven Engelfried

Steven Engelfried is the Library Services Manager at the Wilsonville Public Library in Oregon. He served on the 2010 Newbery committee, chaired the 2013 Newbery Committee, and also served on the 2002 Caldecott committee. You can reach him at


  1. Strong characters and a setting that sang. I have grown tired of the orphan who is abandoned looking for roots plot, but it seemed to me that Wolk made this new and exciting. Pirates! Treasure! I think this is one of the strongest titles that fits solidly in the main age range for which the Newbery is renowned. IT doesn’t make it a sure winner, but it gives it an edge.

  2. The prose is lovely and I agree the setting is the star. It’s so well realized. And the characters are well developed. The foreshadowing was way overdone (and didn’t even pay off since her life is basically the same at the end. I thought she was going to wind up moving off the island or having some other big life change.) It’s not an action-packed book, which is weird to say given the pirate treasure and shipwrecks. I think the leisurely pace fit the setting and characters, but the middle was a little slow. I liked all the little mysteries to solve, but they were soo obvious. I know some readers like to solve the mystery, but I hate solving it before the character because it makes me feel like they’re not very bright. Especially since the adults were involved in some of it. I found it really hard to believe that Miss Maggie didn’t even consider that Crow could be the “dead” baby. And why did it take Crow so long to tell them about the thud in the caretaker’s house when she made it so clear that the only thing it could be was a person?

  3. I agree that this book seems like a Newbery given. It was an honor at our Mock over the weekend. Wolk puts words next to each other like no other author on our list. They are almost self-consciously beautiful. A student claimed that the sea in this book was her favorite character. A member of our committee compared the narrative to the ebb and flow of waves, moving from calm to swells. There isn’t a lot to complain about, but somehow it doesn’t excite. Perhaps just me, but with the thrilling plot points, I just didn’t find it a thrilling book. It was however my favorite of the two books with babies in boats floating to shore.

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