Follow This Blog: RSS feed
Heavy Medal: A Mock Newbery Blog
Inside Heavy Medal

Graphic Novels

Nina opened our running annual text vs. images conversation with THE MARVELS.  Last year, EL DEAFO made history by being the first graphic novel recognized by the Newbery committee.  Nina discussed it here and here, but my voice was noticeably absent as I was on the Caldecott committee; thus, we didn’t put it on our shortlist.  Of course, I argued the merits of graphic novels several years ago both here and here so it probably wasn’t too hard to infer how I might have responded to EL DEAFO as a Newbery contender.  Here is another strong pair for your consideration this year.

9780803740167_p0_v2_s118x184ROLLER GIRL by Victoria Jamieson

If you really want to know, it all began back in fifth grade, back when Nicole and I were still best friends.

“Okay, you two, in the car.”

“C’mon, mom can’t you tell us where we’re going?”

“Nope, it’s a surprise.”

Then mom uttered the words that never failed to strike fear and dread into my heart . . .

” . . . Tonight, we are having an evening of cultural enlightenment!

This did not bode well for our Friday night.  We experienced one or two of Mom’s ECE’s before.

Poetry readings . . .

The opera . . .

And the modern art gallery to name a few.  And those were the *good* trips.

9780544157774_p0_v2_s118x184DROWNED CITY by Don Brown

A swirl of unremarkable wind leaves Africa and breezes toward the Americas.  It draws energy from warm Atlantic water and grows in size.

From a smudge of foul weather it becomes a nasty tropical storm, and then erupts into a vicious hurricane with howling winds, pinwheeling counterclockwise.  As it does with all big storms, the National Hurricane Center in Miami, Florida assigns it a name: Katrina.

Hurricane Katrina slices across Florida.  Although it is only a Category 1 hurricane–the least strong–Katrina kills six people, leaves a half million without power, and drenches its path with a foot and a half of water.

Katrina careens into the Gulf of Mexico, drawing up eighty-five-degree water that multiplies its strength.  By August 26, it is the most catastrophic of hurricanes, a Category 5, with roaring 155-mph winds.  And it is swirling directly at New Orleans, Louisiana.

Along with a major earthquake in San Francisco and a terrorist attack on New York City, disaster experts most fear a devastating hurricane striking the low-lying Louisiana city.  It depends on levees and pumps to keep it dry even in the driest of times.

On the morning of August 28, the National Weather Service announces that Katrina will hit New Orleans in twenty-four hours.

Both of these books are visually striking, but their texts while perhaps not as flashy are no less distinguished for their part in the overall narrative.  While I like ROLLER GIRL, I wonder if it doesn’t subconsciously suffer in comparison to all the Raina Telgemeier readalikes (including EL DEAFO) which of course is not a topic that is fair game for discussion around the Newbery table.  Moreover, I suspect committee members will be able to parse out the contribution of Don Brown’s text a bit more easily.  

Jonathan Hunt About Jonathan Hunt

Jonathan Hunt is the Coordinator of Library Media Services at the San Diego County Office of Education. He served on the 2006 Newbery committee, and has also judged the Caldecott Medal, the Printz Award, the Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards, and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. You can reach him at


  1. I am not a proponent of graphic novels. I do see their value as gateway books for struggling readers. The think same can be said about novels in verse like Love That Dog by Sharon Creech or The Crossover by Kwame Alexander. They can be great confidence boosters. But , at the end of the day, I’d prefer that children read actual books. With all of that being said, though, I must confess that I loved Rollergirl! Coming of age stories area a dime a dozen, but this one truly stood out. It wasn’t the roller derby, the nods to punk/alternative fashion, the non-traditional families, or any of the other modern touches that made this book so unique, rather it was the way the author so perfectly drew and wrote the mean girl character (whose name currently escapes me). Victoria Jamieson managed to perfectly craft a character who represented every nasty girl I knew when I was in 5th grade both in word and in drawn expression. I couldn’t get enough of the conversation panels in this book. It’s one thing to write a conversation between two girls full of snotty and sarcastic comments, but it’s quite another to be able to see the expressions on the girls’ faces. It added a noticeable, dare I say distinguished, layer of realism to the story.

    With books like Rollergirl and El Deafo hitting the shelves, the ALA is eventually going to need to create a new award. Something that falls between Caldecott and Newbery in terms of textual requirements and artistic, thereby making it the perfect fit for graphic novels.

    • It never fails, I always manage to miss a typo when I check over these posts. “terms of textual requirements and artistic” should read “terms of textual and artistic requirements.”

    • Nina Lindsay Nina Lindsay says

      Emily, I’m appreciating your thoughts about Roller Girl, but I can’t seem to reconcile them with your statement that this is not “an actual book.”

      • Let me try and flesh that out a bit more. Graphic novels, right now, reside in a sort of no-man’s land. They are more than picture books but less than novels. For me, an “actual book” is a novel. So, yes, I would argue that Rollergirl is not an actual book. It is, instead, something entirely unique and unto itself. A new medium that the ALA needs to formally recognize. That’s why I said that a new award really needs to be created for graphic novels. Because they don’t fit the Caldecott or the Newbery (or the Printz for that matter). So, while I thoroughly enjoyed Rollergirl, I don’t think it’s Newbery material. It’s (insert name of new award here) material.

      • Actual Book?


        DROWNED CITY in particular, is a powerful and uncompromising look at climatic overload mixed with tragic governmental inaction. Brown’s illustrations lend substance and emotion to his equally literary text. As with EL DEAFO last year, sometime literary content can be found in the deft hands of an emotionally transparent artist.

  2. Eric Carpenter says

    I thought Brown’s text in Drowned City features the best ‘voice/tone’ I’ve read this year in any work. Really distinguished stuff. I don’t have a copy in hand but their were plenty of moments while ready Drowned City that really stood out as examples of narration as brilliantly authoritative and informative.

  3. Brenda Martin says

    The issue I had with the text of Drowned City (which may be a personal one rather than anything to do with Newbery rules) is that it felt overly journalistic. It was powerful, but not exactly in a narrative sense. Narrative nonfiction hasn’t had any luck making its way into the Newbery field; I can’t really see a graphic reportage-style being the one that breaks through.

    • Nina Lindsay Nina Lindsay says

      Brenda, nonfiction in general doesn’t seem to get it’s due in the Newbery field, but pretty much ALL of the nonfiction titles that have gotten honors are narrative nonfiction, aren’t they?

      • Brenda Martin says

        Some Siberts/honors have been a little more informational than narrative. But yes, agree that this only emphasizes the likelihood that Drowned City has no chance.

  4. Jonathan Hunt Jonathan Hunt says

    Like Eric, I think the voice/tone of the book is so strong. It strikes all the right notes: somber, reflective, reverent, yet authoritative as well. I don’t know that I would describe it as journalistic necessarily, but something akin, perhaps more like a great documentary voiceover narration. I can almost hear Morgan Freeman or Oprah Winfrey reading the text while the pictures play in my mind. I think the complete lack of dialogue (which is something we would never, ever see in a piece of fiction) does distinguish the book.

Speak Your Mind