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Heavy Medal: A Mock Newbery Blog
Inside Heavy Medal

Heavy Medal Finalist – Tumble & Blue

tumbleandblueLong List Title:  TUMBLE & BLUE
(Titles on our long list will be included in our online conversation and balloting, alongside the short list titles.)

This is the last book we’ll be looking closely at before getting to our short list and long list balloting.  More about those processes is coming soon.

TUMBLE & BLUE received five starred journal reviews (only four titles received six) as well as four nominations here on Heavy Medal.   The title characters are distinct and interesting protagonists, and we can see why they’re drawn to each other….and why their friendship isn’t always smooth.  Both learn and develop during the course of their adventures, and we get to know them so well that by the time they make their final choices in the swamp, it really matters to the readers.  Munch himself is a nice counterpoint, adding an ominous tone to the proceedings.  The premise of gifts and curses is intriguing and somehow manages to be very important (especially as it relates to the main characters) and comical (with some of the relatives) at the same time.  The Okefenokee Swamp makes for a dynamic setting:  we learn about the swamp in bits and pieces, most effectively in the Munch interludes, and when Tumble and Blue finally enter it towards the end, it’s vivid, scary, and magical.

We we learns a lot about the protagonists, both from the incidents within the plot and from their alternating point of view narratives, and that contributes to the strong finish.  It took a while to get there, though, and some parts were less engaging than others.  For example, Tumble’s obsession with Maximal Star made some sense because of her brother’s death, but seemed overdone to me.  Her disillusionment after meeting the guy is pretty predictable.  At the same time, though, it does further the exploration of what it means to be a hero, a central theme that’s key to the development of both Tumble and Blue.  This is one I’ll recommend to kids, I’m sure.  The premise is a good hook and there’s a nice blend of action, magic, and humor.  It falls short of distinguished for me, though, so I’d love to here more about its strengths.



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. Leonard Kim says:

    Steven, you called the finish “strong” but the lack of resolution in some respects is as striking as the end of ORPHAN ISLAND. I’d be curious to hear from Roxanne and Sam, who both nominated TUMBLE AND BLUE, how they felt about this. It’s funny that among the Heavy Medal mock committee members, I think ORPHAN ISLAND is the only title nobody nominated (though of course other Heavy Medal readers did.)

  2. steven engelfried says:

    I was thinking more of the chapters in the swamp with Munch as the “strong finish,” rather than the actual closing chapters. It’s true that we don’t learn what Blue’s gift is in the end, but other things were resolved pretty satisfactorily. The friendship between Blue and Tumble is deepened. Howard won’t get eaten yet. Blue comes to terms with his father’s shortcomings. Tumble faces her brother’s death and talks about it with her parents. And most importantly in terms of theme, Tumble and Blue emerge with a completely different sense of the value of a magical gift. Not all of those were completely convincing to me, but they did feel resolved.

    The open-ended part reminded me more of PATINA, where we don’t know if she wins the race, but realize that it’s less important than she thought it was. Similar to the way Tumble and Blue changed their thinking about gifts/curses, so in the end they mattered less. That’s how I read it, anyway…

    • I agree with Steven that the open ended ending in Tumble and Blue is handled well, leaving on a hopeful, upswinging note and allowing the readers to build the future without being told exactly what will happen to his and others’ lives. It feels naturalistic, instead of manipulative. Leonard, does that answer your query? I will comment more on Tumble & Blue since I did nominate it and still believe it a strong contender.

    • Mary Lou White says:

      Maybe the lack of resolution strengthens one of the themes it explores: is our life determined by fate or are we free to determine our life with our choices? Tumble and Blue are freed from their fate, and live their lives without predetermination. Their futures are now wide open.

      • But we don’t know if they are freed from their fates (curses) or not—that’s what’s left open.

  3. sam leopold says:

    Many issues were resolved in Tumble and Blue and in a way that did not feel forced as in some novels I have read. It did not bother me that we did not learn Blue’s gift in the end. I like having some questions unanswered……that resembles real life where we always have issues that seem to be looking for unknown answers. Hard for me not to keep this title on my final ballot.

  4. When I began listening to this book, I was utterly captivated. I felt I’d returned to a long ago favorite THE UNDERNEATH. (Kirby Heyborne is the perfect narrator for this deep woods, slightly spooky story.) Along the way however, I lost interest. Although the book is not over long, non-essential elements of the story began to drag. I did enjoy the encounter with Munch, but the sacrifices made there lost their value with the vague ending.

  5. Cory Eckert says:

    My Mock Newbery kids felt like the voice sounded like an adult trying to sound like a kid. They loved it, but had trouble believing the voice.

  6. The writing is solid except for some POV problems, particularly early on (I got really confused when we briefly dipped into Granny’s POV and it referred to her by her full name). Once it settled in, it was better, but I still had trouble remembering whose POV I was in because they didn’t have distinctive voices (or names–I kept thinking Blue was the girl for some reason) and the transitions even between chapters were messy.

    It seemed kind of bait and switch because it sounded like it was going to be an adventure fantasy, but then is mainly a realistic contemporary. I liked the characters, especially Tumble, although I don’t think the backstory with the brother made that much sense (and we didn’t even get to see the scene when she finally talks it out with her parents). The world-building was lacking. There’s a whole house full of people with various curses and gifts, but we don’t see that much of them or get details on how their curses and gifts work. And then trying to break the curses by pairing them with gifts is a great idea, but they only try it on the one pair, even though animals can also just do things because they want to, so that’s hardly a forced choice. There must have been other pairs they could have tried it with. And Blue and his Dad have never played charades or anything together and accidentally tested this?

    And there were a lot of things that seemed like they were going to go somewhere but didn’t, like the carvings they found in the house. I thought they were going to find a secret passageway or solve the clues in some way. The little bit of use they get in the end isn’t enough. And I thought we would eventually find out that Tumble’s parents knew about the curses/gifts too. It didn’t make sense that Blue’s family was obsessed with it and Tumble’s family didn’t know anything about it. Didn’t they have any family members who were constantly setting things on fire or any of the other dramatic curses in Blue’s family?

    But my main objection was the ending. I really hated the ending. We finally got some action (although it made them pretty passive since the moon just kind of choose them or whatever. Does it ever explain why? And I don’t know why Blue didn’t wake up his grandma since he wanted her to get the fate.) And having them break it by giving it to each other is good, but you have to commit and have that actually happen. You can’t just default to “we all control our own destinies.” That makes no sense whatsoever in the story world. The entire premise of the book is that they don’t have control over their fates!

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