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Heavy Medal: A Mock Newbery Blog
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A Graphic Novel Repeat? Could SNAPDRAGON become the second consecutive Newbery winner in this popular format?

Jerry Craft’s NEW KID became the first graphic novel to win the Newbery Medal just nine months ago. Guest blogger Aud Hogan introduces one of this years finest books in that format with some compelling reasons why it might be a strong contender. Aud writes:

I found so many strengths with this book that it was a little hard to pick one to start with, but ultimately, I had to go with setting. I grew up, and now work, in SE Ohio, and the rural setting in SNAPDRAGON felt incredibly authentic to Appalachia. I don’t know for a fact that that is where Leyh meant to set this book, but that’s where it felt to me. The way that Snapdragon takes roadkill and death as just a fact of life, as rural kids often do, felt real. The way that she and Lulu just live in a trailer park and it’s not a part of the plot, it’s just fact, is a reality not often seen in children’s literature, and fit the setting. Not to mention the way the characters talk: the first time I read through the book, I was delighted by the cadences in the dialogue, because the speech patterns were so well done, I could hear them in my head and they sounded like people I knew. These aspects and more contribute to a very authentic piece of worldbuilding.

Likewise, the characters are individual and distinct. Snapdragon herself is smart, strong, brash, independent, and aware of her outsider status: it gets to her, but she refuses to be someone she’s not, and that takes guts. She is lucky to have her mother as a role model. The library scene is one of my favorites: the librarian tries to talk Snapdragon out of getting a book on comparative anatomy, and her mother, Vi, says heatedly, “Actually, she’ll take this one. Thank you.” That one interaction tells you so many things about Vi, as a person and as a parent, and is a brilliant piece of writing. Vi’s first interaction with Lulu, when she sees Lulu wearing her skirt, is another standout, full of support. Watching Lulu develop into herself was also gradual and nuanced and never felt forced. As for Jacks, a person could write an entire blog post about Jacks, she’s such a detailed character, with a tremendous amount of depth, but none of it out of reach for a young reader.

All of this information and more is presented in an engaging format, within a well-paced plot, complete with flashbacks and inset stories about “One-Eyed Tom.” As Snapdragon learns more about her world and her family and, eventually, magic, so does the reader, and the pieces come together to form a whole. While that’s going on, in the background, we learn that her mother went through a messy breakup with a bad guy – details left unspecific – which ultimately culminates in the climax scene of the book, where Snap comes into her own power. This, to me, also felt like real life with a magical twist. Kids sometimes get caught up in the grownups’ business, even when said grownups try to protect them from it, and sometimes they have to deal with it, though often with fewer weapons at their disposal than Snap.

Altogether, this book has a lot going for it. It’s well written, well presented, and very well illustrated. It’s also clever, funny, and has diversity out its ears that never feels forced. Not to mention, those baby possums are really, really cute.

Aud Hogan (she/her) has been a Youth Services librarian in Ohio for nearly 8 years, and currently works as the Assistant Coordinator of Youth Services in her library system. Her favorite books are graphic novels, and, in addition to reading, she loves eating, hiking, horseback riding, singing, and martial arts.

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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 sengelfried@yahoo.com.

Comments

  1. Good write up—I definitely agree! One of the things I really like pd about Snapdragon was how much plot she packed in there. It seems like not that much happens in a lot of graphic novels, but here is a fully developed plot, with multiple plot twists! Plus great characters and so funny.

    • Alissa R Tudor says:

      Yes, it was packed with plot. For a graphic novel, this book was certainly not short of substance. I didn’t read any plot summaries before picking this up, so I went into this one not knowing what to expect. I did not expect it to turn into a fantasy half way through. The first half of the book didn’t seem like it was leading in that direction, and I expected more of a realistic tale of the friendship between Snap and Louis and also Snap and Jacks. I was anticipating some sad, tragic event. I was pleasantly surprised.
      The dialogue was witty and humourous.
      The characters were charming and likeable.
      And Leyh’s artwork added depth to an already great story (and I thought the coloring was really nice. Especially the use of color for the cover. Even though not technically an aspect we are looking at. Just something I found oddly aesthetically pleasing).

  2. Aud, you’ve certainly made a convincing case for this book. It’s interesting that, with a graphic novel, you focus on the cadence of the language. Since this question has been raised before, I wonder what you think about the nature of awarding a Newbery to a book of this genre. I’m not sure that it is any different from a picture book winning; in both cases it seems impossible to separate the text from the images.

    • Aud Hogan says:

      Hi! Thanks! I personally fall into the camp that doesn’t think you need to separate the text from the images. I think the text does the job that it’s meant to do, and does it admirably. The fact that it’s augmented by the art, and interplays with the art, and that they work together, doesn’t detract from the text at all, and therefore isn’t a problem. Especially given how much “writing” goes into plotting out graphic novel panels even before the art itself is made, in the planning portions of the process (someone in an earlier post this season had a link where Shannon Hale, I believe, wrote about this in detail. Sadly, my brain is mush, and I can’t remember which post it was), I don’t think the inclusion of art detracts from the distinguished qualities of the writing at all. I think graphic novels as a whole can be appreciated as literature, art, text, and all, and therefore deserve to be considered for the Newbery just as much as any other kind of book for young people. Other people, far more eloquent than I, have made this argument in the past, too, so at least I know I’m in good company!

      In SNAPDRAGON in particular, not only do you have the dialogue that I raved about, you also have the flashbacks and the stories about “One-Eyed Tom,” which are sort of like family folktales. The art in these stories-inside-of-stories illustrate the words, but the words do most of the heavy lifting, I would say. And the text in those places is strong (especially when Jacks is talking about her history with Snap’s grandmother). So if you felt you needed places where you could look at just the text, they do exist.

      Also, and this is probably splitting hairs, but I don’t think graphic novels are a genre, because there are many genres of graphic novels. They come as fantasy, mystery, sci-fi, etc.. It is probably more appropriate to call graphic novels a format.

  3. Yes, I see your point about genre vs. format. It boils down to whether you see a graphic novel as one format for presenting fiction, history, or any other genre, or whether it is new enough to constitute an entirely different form. Until very recently, graphic novels were not included as serious literature at all, unless you consider comic books to be, in effect, the same form (many people do.) One example of the ambiguity around graphic novels is the standard use of the term to describe books that are not actually novels at all, like biographies or history. I balk at calling these “graphic novels,” because novels are works of fiction.

    • Yeah, I have trouble figuring out what to call the non-fiction ones, too. “Graphic non-fiction” seems like the best fit, but I feel like the connotation is off. I’ve also said “graphic novel-style non-fiction,” but that’s just clumsy.

  4. ESE Librarian Bob says:

    Fantastic blog, Aug Hogan! This one’s a little mature for my daughter (not me restricting her reading; she was intrigued but didn’t take to it), but I’m saving it for her. Appreciate all your points. Great to hear you feel the setting is authentic. I agree with your reply about not separating text from image. A concept like ‘the novel’ is always evolving. I have no problem using the term with accomplished works like El Deafo, New Kid and Snapdragon. Have a good weekend, y’all!

  5. Steven Engelfried Steven Engelfried says:

    I like the points you made about language and character, Aub. There was a depth and complexity in these that you don’t always see in this format. Sometimes illustrations can convey the emotions, and even the thinking, of a character, and the writer can step back from developing those with words. The artwork certainly does bring Snap and Jacks and the others to life, but I think it’s that dialog that brings us further into their selves and their relationships. Like the conversation between Louis and Snap while they watch a scary movie: they jump from the movie, to Snap’s not-so-good-family, to the scariness of the movie again, and into the story o f One-Eyed Tom. It’s engaging, informative, and completely natural. And most all of the text is dialogue or brief first person narration, so the conversation really have to carry the story (along with the pictures).

  6. Kate Mccue-Day says:

    I loved Snapdragon and I’m surprised it didn’t get more votes!! I definitely think it could win.

  7. Yep, this is a very good argument. Thanks, Aud! I, too, feel like this one has a chance. I think it will be on the table and likely to be “on the podium,” but I do wonder if it is distinguished *enough* to get past the two graphic formats in a row issue. As with so many things, it shouldn’t be an obstacle, but it is likely. That said, my argument for it would be as an Honor designation as there were some elements that felt they needed more development, while still being an overall impressive piece of work.

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