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Heavy Medal: A Mock Newbery Blog
Inside Heavy Medal

Cardboard Castles and Three-Headed Cats: more graphic novels

cardboardkingdomThe Heavy Medal 16 books are selected and 21 people so far have committed to taking part in the Heavy Medal Committee.  The actual book discussion, though, won’t start until January 2nd.  Between now and then, we’ll catch up with some titles that didn’t make the HM16, but are still well worth discussing:

THE CARDBOARD KINGDOM is a unique book in many ways. Chad Sell illustrated the whole thing, but also worked with nine different writers  to create the cast of characters and their individual, but inter-related stories. Molly Muldoon is a librarian here in Oregon, and I talked with her briefly about how the collaboration worked. She created her character (“The Animal Queen”) and wrote that chapter, but also worked with Chad and the other authors in subsequent chapters where her character appeared. So it seems like the other nine writers had input at various times throughout the book, but that Chad had a guiding hand throughout.

I’m actually not sure how this fits in with the Terms and Criteria, which state that: “Author may include co-authors.” Does that mean all nine would receive an award, or would it go to Chad Sell for overseeing the development? Either way, the Committee would need to look at the book as a whole and evaluate whether or not it stands out as the most distinguished book for children of the year, without bringing the authorship details into that discussion.

The creativity of the plot and the presentations of themes seem very strong to me. There’s a rough pattern, where we meet a new kid each time and learn about their regular lives (to varying degrees) and their roles in the imaginative neighborhood games. But it’s never predictable and the different perspectives we get about the kids is often pretty powerful. When Seth meets the Animal Queen, for instance, he affably breaks through her bossiness: she won’t quite make him “animal king,” but she dubs him “captain of the guard” instead of just “peasant.” In Seth’s own chapter, “The Gargoyle,” though, we get a look at his troubled home life. And in both instances, the freeing power of imagination and pretending plays a role, though not in quite the same ways.

There’s a lot more to this book, and certainly any Newbery discussion would need to involve a hard look at what constitutes of “the text of the book” as directed by the Terms and Criteria. THE CARDBOARD KINGDOM received five nominations from Heavy Medal readers and made at least three “Best of the Year” lists.

sanitySANITY & TALLULAH by Molly Brooks came out in October, received one nomination, and made PW’s best or the year list. Typically I’m not the ideal reader for science fiction graphic novels, but this one worked for me and I think it was more through the words than the illustrations. The title characters are best friends who live on a space station. One is super-smart (Sanity) and both easily disregard rules. When they’re in a tunnel they shouldn’t be in, trying to track down their missing three-headed kitten, they rationalize about why they shouldn’t go home like they’re supposed to:

[Tallulah]:  And look at it this way: we’re not gonna be in trouble until we get out of the tunnels, so we might as well do everything we can now while we’re in here, so we don’t waste any mischief!

[Sanity]:  That’s not how it works. But, okay.

The dialogue is crisp, funny, and really helps establish characters. Personalities are interesting and distinct; supporting characters too, not just the two girls. There’s humor throughout, and also a pretty engaging plot. The search for the cat turns into a space situation survival mystery/adventure, and the girls are involved throughout. There’s plenty of science jargon enmeshed in the plot, but I like the way the technical talk is often balanced by humor and the human-ness of the characters:

Sanity’s Father:  You want to string a bunch of decommissioned taffimatter equipment together into a temporary generator while you shut Wilnick’s engine off?

Tallulah’s Mother: Well, I don’t want to.

I think this is a well-written graphic novel, with stronger development of characters and themes than we typically see in this genre.

Graphic novels have been featured in previous posts, including HEY, KIDDO, THE PRINCE AND THE DRESSMAKER, and BE PREPARED; the first two are on the HM16 list.    Do either or both of these rank with those? And are there other graphic novels from 2018 that warrant Newbery consideration?

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:

    I’d nominated PHOTOGRAPHIC, though I guess that’s not technically a graphic “novel” and its intended audience seems too old. I liked SHEETS by Thummler, but I sense I liked it more than most and that it isn’t a serious contender. PETER & ERNESTO of course. SANITY felt a little too long to me, akin to a Star Trek movie that tries to sustain a plot that really should have been a single TV episode. I really really want CARDBOARD KINGDOM to get the recognition it deserves. On first read, I thought it was great but agreed with those who found the large cast of characters confusing to keep track of and thought it a bit didactic. On second read, all those concerns were swept away, and I really think it is one of the very best books of the year. I hope, in keeping with the book’s own generous spirit, if it does win any awards, its entire community of authors gets recognized.

    • I think THE PRINCE AND THE DRESSMAKER was the graphic novel that was most satisfying on first read but I think you are right that CARDBOARD KINGDOM rewards the extra effort of rereading.

  2. I was the one who nominated Sanity and Tallulah, so obviously I’m a big fan. I really appreciated all the little details that made the setting sing: the way the personal quarters were meticulously laid out to conserve space, the diversity of the inhabitants, the feeling that even though I don’t know the map to the place, the author certainly seems to, and so forth. The dialogue, too, had me laughing out loud. The casual banter was on point and interjections of minor characters in crowd scenes just made me giggle because it felt so authentic (and, I feel, those kinds of comments are far easier to carry off in a graphic novel than a traditional picture-less novel. The author used the format to their advantage). The whole package seemed real to me: a real place settled by real people just trying to make it through the day…in SPACE! I’m hooked.

    Cardboard Kingdom was also fantastic, and I would be thrilled if it won something.

  3. I loved Cardboard Kingdom and would also be happy for it to win lots of stuff, but it’s so image-driven (I mean, there are several wordless chapters!) that I don’t see it for Newbery. I was all-in last year on graphic novels and images as text, but I think the manual pretty clearly means text in a literal way, so I’ve swung the other direction on the issue.

    • And with the Newbery awarded to the “authors,” how would that work when some of the contributing authors were responsible for nearly wordless chapters or sections?

      I liked the book A LOT, but think it makes for a rather confusing Newbery discussion.

      • Agreed!

      • Totally agree. Love the book — such amazing depictions of inner (and outer) lives and community of imaginative play(ers). I also find that the cohesive look of Cardboard Kingdom a real strength – given that there are so many different contributors, nothing feels jarring or out of place.

      • I agree with you entirely, Jordan. CARDBOARD KINGDOM spoke to me on a very personal level, and I loved much of it (the didactic parts kinda knocked a star off). However, I don’t know that its narrative structure really fits into the Newbery criteria – and the multiple authors very much muddy the waters of evaluation.

        I hope it wins an Eisner. I’d be keen on it winning a Caldecott, too. And I sure hope the ALA “finding committee” creates an award specifically for graphic novels.

        What do I know, though. This could very well nab a Newbery. I’d be ok with it, too.

  4. Cardboard Kingdom gets the Calling Caldecott look today:

  5. Leonard Kim says:

    Question for our hosts and former Committee members:

    I actually think CARDBOARD KINGDOM has a legitimate Newbery argument, but the multiple comments about the wordless sections had me wondering, what do you imagine would be the consequences or fallout if a committee really seemed to flout the Terms and Criteria, say, by selecting a wordless book? Would it be just a lot of outrage, which happens a little every year anyway it seems, or does anyone at ALA or elsewhere have the authority for more substantial action?

    • by “more substantial action” you mean to rescind the award? I don’t know the answer. I would hope that if the Committee could justify their choice with strong argument (think The Arrival by Shaun Tan) that the author/artist (I’d say it’s more likely to award singular creator than a collaborator in this case) has provided “text” in its new and expanded sense, ALSC would let the choice stand.

  6. samuel leopolkd says:


  7. samuel leopold says:

    Wonderful book…..

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