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Heavy Medal: A Mock Newbery Blog
Inside Heavy Medal



Let’s dig into GHOSTS a bit, as promised in my last post.  There is a lot to discuss here.

First, let’s start with the easy stuff.  Did I like the book?  Yes.  I really liked the book.  Raina Telgemeier writes relatable, lovable characters.  The relationship between sisters Catrina and Maya feels so genuine that it is almost painful to read at times.  Her audience is loyal and for good reason.  Characters and plot are strong and are, I think, carried by the text as opposed to the images.

As an aside, I have a child with Cystic Fibrosis and read this book carefully for accuracy around that storyline.  I have some minor quibbles with the CF plotline, but ultimately found it to be handled with care and authenticity.

Does it have what it takes, in text, to be considered a contender for the Newbery?  That’s a difficult question.  If we think about the phrase Jonathan mentioned in his last post, coined by Nina, “We consider only the text, but the text need not stand alone,” I think it could.  I’m not convinced it would stand up against this year’s strong competition, but I wouldn’t throw it off the table.

HOWEVER,  we have the issue of cultural appropriation and historical inaccuracies.  This is, to me, what does throw it off the table.

There was a lot of discussion on this blog last year around THE HIRED GIRL, and in that case the focus was on a single line in the novel and whether that line was, indeed, a fatal flaw in an otherwise beloved book.  Some didn’t see the line as a flaw at all, but instead saw it as appropriate in relation to the character. Some saw the flaw, but felt the merits of the book outweighed the offense. With GHOSTS we have a different issue all together.  Our issue here is that the entire premise of the book is perhaps flawed, in terms of the depiction of Day of the Dead as well as in the presence and description of the ghosts haunting the mission.

When I first read this book, and you can see this in my review on Goodreads, I was waiting to hear from voices that represented the culture depicted in the novel before I made any judgement call on accuracy.  I was concerned by the image of Telgemeier, a white woman, in Day of the Dead makeup in the notes section of the book, but was willing to reserve judgement.

The first thing I discovered was that some, with more knowledge than I have on the topic, did not feel that this depiction of Day of the Dead was respectful or accurate.  While some of these arguments didn’t feel strong to me, I did find them concerning.

Debbie Reese at American Indians in Children’s Literature brought my attention to another issue: the happy ghosts in the Mission and who those ghosts would really have been, given the devastating history of the missions and native people.  Beverly Slapin at De Colores has a very thorough post describing her concerns with both the depiction of Day of the Dead and the erasure of native history.

I do believe that Raina Telgemeier wrote the book with the intention of respecting the culture and traditions she wrote about.  I just don’t think she succeeded.

This is not a conversation I expect to go away anytime soon.  The controversy around Lionel Shriver’s speech at the Brisbane Writer’s Festival has a much broader community of people talking and debating about this than I am used to seeing.

So, how does this fit in with the Newbery?  I think the real committee, and we here, are tasked with reading all we can read concerning these topics and concerns, researching all we can research, and deciding how this all fits in, if we find the book rising to the top in other ways.  What about this book is distinguished?  Do these problems outweigh those positive qualities?  How do these concerns mar the book’s ability to be seen as “marked by excellence in quality” and do they take away from how well the author manages “presentation of information including accuracy, clarity, and organization.”

Most importantly, for me, how do these flaws affect GHOSTS’ “excellence of presentation for a child audience?”

I’m not sure this book would rise to the top for me regardless, but these issues knock it off the table without question.

What do you think?

Sharon McKellar About Sharon McKellar

Sharon McKellar is the Supervising Librarian for Teen Services at the Oakland Public Library in California. She has served on the Rainbow List Committee, the Notable Children’s Recordings Committee, The Arbuthnot Honor Lecture Committee, and the 2015 Caldecott Committee. You can reach her at


  1. Jonathan Hunt Jonathan Hunt says:

    I, too, enjoyed this book. To me, it’s a top ten middle grade book, so I’d feel comfortable lumping it in with the pack of contenders we’ve discussed so far–RAYMIE, PAX, BOOKED, and WILD ROBOT–along with another half dozen we’ve yet to cover. But as you know, I don’t think the Newbery should exclusively go to middle grade novels so by the time you consider the entire field it gets knocked a bit farther down the ladder. Like Sharon, I’m not sure this one rises to the top for me (with or without problems). I could suggest the book to the committee, but have reservations about whether I could nominate it, let alone vote for it. But I probably would have said similar things about EL DEAFO and ROLLER GIRL, too.

    I’ve read the book twice now, and have read and reread much of the critical discussion of the book that has been collected at both Reading While White and American Indians in Children’s Literature. I also managed to catch some, but not all of the Twitter discussion. The voice that resonates most strongly with me is, unsurprisingly, that of Yuyi Morales. While I do think there is something that is off about this book’s treatment of Dia de los Muertos (and I’m having a hard time articulating it myself, although I’m hoping this discussion will bring clarity to that), I’m not sure that “disrespectful” is the word that I would use. Morales initially used the word “permissive,” which seems like a better fit to me (although that was before Debbie brought up the whole mission angle). I hope to unpack this more in future comments, but I’ll move on to an issue that Sharon mentioned (Cystic Fibrosis) and then put on my Spanish Police hat.

    I have a niece and nephew with CF. He has more problems with his lungs; she has more problems with her intestines. They both spend lots of time at the hospital when things get bad. Since they live in a different state, I cannot comment on how physical activity, dust, or air quality affects them. The vest treatment and the meds rang true for me.

    My impression is that CF can range in terms of severity, but agree with Sharon that medical progress guarantees that most people, if not all, will survive childhood and adolescence. Medical advances keep extending the life expectancy of people with CF. It’s clear from the author’s note that Maya’s story was grounded in that of her cousin who had cancer. I can appreciate having a CF book instead of another cancer book, and I can also appreciate that CF seemed more appropriate for the story that she wanted to tell. She fudged some things to make it fit. Not a perfect representation of CF, but not necessarily an unwelcome one either. Like Sharon, this remains a peccadillo for me rather than a fatal flaw.

    Telgemeier acquits herself nicely for the most part with her Spanish, but my wife read it yesterday for me and noted a couple of things. I only have ARCs, however, so these could have been corrected in the final version. On page 92, “Estos son Catrina y Maya” is a literal translation for, “This is Catrina and Maya,” (and even then it should be “Estas” because you’re introducing two females). But what you would really say in Spanish is, “They are Catrina and Maya,” so it should be “Ellas son Catrina y Maya.” On page 64, Carlos says, “I’ll bring you guys more of my mother’s concha . . .” Concha here refers to the pan dulce that they had had earlier, but it should be rendered as plural “conchas” in order to avoid confusing it with the South American slang for vagina. Cat’s wide-eyed look in that panel doesn’t help matters either. Perhaps a couple more peccadillos.

    I’m kind of busy over the next several days, but I’ll chime in with more thoughts later . . .

  2. As a fan of this author, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on “Ghosts.” So when it was finally delivered to my hands, I devoured it in one sitting. And I loved it! Unlike a lot of people, I didn’t read it with a mindset to over-analyze or pick apart every aspect, cultural or otherwise. I read it for pure and simple enjoyment. And doing so gave me a 10 stars out of 10 stars experience.

    My persoective on this whole matter:
    The critics are being far too sensitive. This is just a tween fiction book that’s very heavy on the element of magical realism. It’s not supposed to be a documentary or fact-filled tome that will gather dust on the non-fiction shelves. It’s a sweet story about family, frindship, and acceptance. Sure it deals with some heavier topics (death, illness), but introduces those topics gently and in an age-appropriate way. And lets get to that: The book’s target audience is tween-age girls (and some boys), not the adults who have been nit-picking their way through it. And if the target audience loves it (and at my library they most absolutely do!), than the book is a success. That’s all that matters.

    p.s. If this book gets kids more curious about the Day of the Dead (all inaccuracies aside) and inspires them to read more about the holiday, than huzzah! Even bigger success!

    • That’s all that matters for putting it on library shelves. But not all that matters when considering whether it should win the Newbery Medal.

      • Sharon McKellar Sharon McKellar says:

        Thanks, Sondy (Sorry I just realised my phone autocorrected your name! Fixed!). I’m not sure I agree that that’s all that matters for putting it on library shelves, but that is another conversation. I certainly agree that when considering a title for the Newbery the “success” of a book based on enjoyment of a specific audience is certainly not all that matters. This is why we have criteria.

      • Yeah, I did have second thoughts after I said it. I sure do think it’s worth discussing how what we put on our shelves may affect each child who encounters it. But certainly in this context we want to go over the text of each book with a fine-tooth comb.

      • Sharon McKellar Sharon McKellar says:


    • Sam Bloom says:

      There’s a section in the Newbery Manual entitled “Diversity and ALSC Media Award Evaluation.” (It’s on page 23 of the manual, you can download the whole thing by looking up the Newbery criteria and then choosing the subpage “Newbery Committee members.”) The last paragraph of that section reads:

      “As individuals serving on committees evaluate materials according to the criteria outlined for their specific charge, they should strive to be aware of how their own perspectives and experiences shape their responses to materials. Every committee member brings unique strengths to the table, but every committee member also brings gaps in knowledge and understanding, and biases. Committee members are strongly encouraged to be open to listening and learning as well as sharing as they consider materials representing diverse experiences both familiar and unfamiliar to them.”

      So often when people in our field opine that a book has problematic content, we get these responses: “The critics are being far too sensitive.” Too P.C. It’s fiction, what’s the problem?! My students love it, that’s all that matters!

      I’m going to repeat something from the manual: “Committee members are strongly encouraged to be open to listening and learning as well as sharing as they consider materials representing diverse experiences both familiar and unfamiliar to them.” I don’t see a willingness/openness to listen and learn in your comments above, Alissa. I’d love to be proven wrong, though!

      • Anonymouse says:

        Frank and Lucky and Alissa Get Schooled! Shorter @Sam Bloom: you are invited to “listen” again – and again – however many times it takes – until you arrive at the correct opinion. Only at that point may you regurgitate – er, “share.”

      • Here’s your “proof”, Sam:

        It DOES matter if the children you serve love a book. It DOES matter. I have Mexican-American students who LOVE this book. What do I say to them? “You can’t check this out because it’s supposed to offend you?”

        My opinion of a book is overridden when a child I serve loves a book. I’m not sorry for that at all. It is a professional obligation. (And I did find GHOSTS culturally insensitive, but I CANNOT allow that to affect my collection development.)

      • Sharon McKellar Sharon McKellar says:

        Remember, Joe, we aren’t talking about collection development on this blog. We are talking about potential to win the Newbery Medal. These two things have very different criteria.

    • Brenda Martin says:

      The same could be said for not conflating the potential to win the Newbery Medal with the tenets of the Reading While White blog. Those, too, are two different things. Some overlap, to be sure, but not equivalences.

      • Sharon McKellar Sharon McKellar says:

        That’s true, but I would argue, as I mention at the end of this post, that the problems with this book do affect its success in terms of Newbery criteria particularly in regards to accuracy as well as presentation for a child audience. In fact, most of the issues brought up in Reading While White can, and should, be considered against Newbery (or other award) criteria if the book is being discussed in context of those awards

      • Jonathan Hunt Jonathan Hunt says:

        While I think most Reading While White issues can be introduced into a Newbery conversation I think it has to be done so in the context of the terms, definitions, criteria (and additional information from the manual like Sam cited above). Terms like “White fragility” (which Laura uses below) aren’t going to fly.

      • Sharon McKellar Sharon McKellar says:

        Agreed, and you can introduce ideas like the concept of White Fragility in the context of terms, definitions and criteria. Spell it out. What does it mean and how does it impact the book’s success under those criteria?

  3. Gwen Tarbox says:

    What might “pure and simple enjoyment” mean to a Latina tween or an American Indian tween? Alissa, Are you suggesting that the misrepresentation or erasure of these children’s cultures is an okay price to pay if *you* can enjoy yourself, especially when that enjoyment appears to arise out of a lack of knowledge about the complex and diverse cultures that are referenced in the comic (or, in the case of the Missions, erased)?

    “Nitpicking” is a pejorative term, wielded by individuals who believe that substantive issues such as the depiction of cultural practices are insignificant. Keep in mind that an effective reader takes into account a variety of subject positions beyond their own. That is also a good practice for authors, illustrators, teachers, librarians, and publishers.

    I agree that there are many enjoyable aspects to the comic, but couldn’t Telgemeier have made her point about a comforting vision of the after life without adding a cultural context that, as it turns out, she may have distorted or disrespected?

  4. I take books seriously. Telgemeier didn’t throw this together. She worked on it. For a long time. She took it seriously, too. I respect the work that goes into writing, reading, and critiquing a book. I believe authors appreciate the work that scholars do, too.

    It can be uncomfortable to writers, but it is also helpful to those who don’t know a content area or points of view from people whose histories are not taught well–if at all–in schools.

    My guess is that a lot of writers are reading the concerns with the content of GHOSTS.

    Teachers are definitely hearing the concerns, from their professors in schools of Education or Library Science. Listen to the Comics Alternative podcast:

    You (Alissa) may call all of us nit-picking, but the fact is that Telgemeier did some nit-picking as she researched the book. Her sources were clearly flawed.

    As adults who hand books to children, we need not call out a huzzah when we like a book but want to disregard its flaws. We can make different choices. I think Telgemeier would make different choices if she had it to do over.

  5. There are many people who are pushing back on critics like myself (, Dr Reese and the people at Reading White White. The pushback falls into a few catagories- includes White fragility and book fragility. The idea that Whiteness is neutral and should be treated as normal is a bias readers need to be warey of. In addition, the idea that books should not be critically read is selling children short. Young readers deserve rich, complex and authentic representations of themselves and of others. To deminish this is to say what we have done in the past is god enough. And, it isn’t. It isn’t good enough for kids of color, Native American/First Nations kids, LGBTQ kids, non-neuro-typical kids. In addition, mis-representions hurt the majority White, middle class, straight and able kids as well because they deserve a fuller and more complex view of the world.

  6. I love Catrina and Maya, but this book is too flawed, to me, to be considered for the Newbery. I was bothered by the mission presentation and by the Day of the Dead “hijacking”.

  7. Has Telgemeier ever spoke about these criticisms? I know there is writing in the notes and on her blog that has been referenced in articles, but since the release and criticism, has she ever addressed it? Anyone have a link?

    • Sharon McKellar Sharon McKellar says:

      I don’t believe she has spoken publicly about these issues.

      • Sharon,

        Here’s an excerpt from the Winnipeg interview that was mentioned in the Comics Alternative podcast I linked to earlier:

        WFP: Were you at all worried about accusations of cultural appropriation?

        RT: That’s a subject I’ve spent a great deal of time thinking about. San Francisco is an amazing melting pot, and my childhood was spent amongst a rainbow of friends from every background and culture and where I was the minority among them. I try to reflect that experience in my stories, whether it’s as a major part of the plot or within the background, and that is going to be different in every story I tell. I consider my own background and cultural identity to be “San Franciscan.” How artists represent their culture and other cultures in their work is an interesting discussion, and I’m open to the conversation.

      • Here’s the link to the Winnipeg news interview:

        It was published on September 17, which is after several of the reviews.

      • Sharon McKellar Sharon McKellar says:

        Thank you, Debbie. I listened to the podcast last night and was going to search out that interview today. Interesting that she expressed an openness to the discussion but I don’t think she has chimed in since…

      • Jonathan Hunt Jonathan Hunt says:

        I have a Mexican-American colleague at work who told me she feels like her culture is San Diegan. Not that being Mexican-American isn’t also a huge part of who she is, but I think there can be regional cultures, too.

  8. Jonathan Hunt Jonathan Hunt says:

    This book may drive new visitors to our blog who may not realize that “nitpicking” and “pushback” are part and parcel of our discussions here. You can generally find a way to make your argument, but will be more successful framing your points around the specific Newbery terms, definitions, and criteria. If you haven’t seen these before, take a quick look.

    Anyway, I want to pick up on something Alissa said. I would balk at calling this magical realism. While that genre has spread to other cultures, it originated in Latin America and has a certain tone and style that I find lacking in this book. I believe that to label it as magical realism may only serve to further entrench the idea of cultural appropriation rather than ameliorate it.

    Moreover, I think that what Telgemeier has written here is actually closer to fantasy, but there isn’t sufficient attention to the world-building, specifically the link between the supernatural spookiness of the ghosts haunting the town year round (which are spooky and scary because they are undefined) and the “ghosts” that visit on Dia de los Muertos (which are not really ghosts at all, but the souls or spirits of the departed loved ones). Time to go home. To be continued . . .

    • Brenda Martin says:

      Thanks for pointing this out, Jonathan, as my head was about to explode. There have been a lot of discussions for decades among literary theorists about the origins of and what constitutes appropriation of magic/al realism, but there has hardly been a consensus that non-Latin Americans who have utilized this in their writing, art, film making, etc. are culturally appropriating magic realism from Latinos. In many ways it has morphed into a truly international literary and art form. There are those who want to claim it solely as that of a Latin American (Spanish) trope, but this is becoming harder to defend as the 21st century unfolds and the global society expands. (That said, it does have Latin American origins – few disagree on that point.)

      This is a discussion worth having for sure, so I’m glad you point out that perhaps magical realism isn’t the best term to describe the events that occur in GHOSTS.

      • Jonathan Hunt Jonathan Hunt says:

        Not to downplay the arguments of cultural appropriation, but there is also something known as cultural diffusion at work here, too. Dia de Los Muertos is a syncretization of indigenous and Catholic beliefs and practices. The original celebration took place in August and lasted for a month. The Spanish moved the holiday to All Hallow’s Eve, All Saints’ Day, and All Souls’ Day, but it was largely practiced in central and southern Mexico until it was made a national holiday several dozen years ago. Yuyi Morales discussed differences between rural and urban celebrations and as the holiday grows in popularity and is celebrated in other countries by non-Mexican peoples it stands to reason that there will be modifications made. I’m going to link to a calendar of Dia de Los Muertos events and you’ll notice that one modification is that none of them are held from October 31-November 2, although several of them encompass that time frame.

        Another thing that happens is commercialization. We’ve seen this happen with Christmas which likewise originally coincided with the pagan holiday of Saturnalia, but morphed and grew and changed over the centuries as various traditions were developed in different countries. There are many different ways to celebrate Christmas and many different people, Christians and non-Christians alike, celebrate it each in their own unique way, and nobody thinks twice about it. Is it possible that at some point in the future–100 years, maybe?–we’ll see similar diversity in the way that Dia de Los Muertos is celebrated, and the people who celebrate it?

        I’ve heard some people say that Halloween and Dia de Los Muertos get confused in this book, and I didn’t get sense at all on my second reading, or in the author’s note. It could have been made even clearer, but then it’s not a nonfiction book, and I don’t think it was ever intended to be the only book a child ever reads featuring Dia de Los Muertos. It’s very clear that the midnight party is for Dia de Los Muertos. As for the the interchangeability of the costumes (Cat never actually goes trick-or-treating and only a few of her peers are in Halloween costume at the party afterwards), I think some of this can be explained as convenience in plotting but I also think some of it can be explained as cultural diffusion, and yet again as cultural appropriation. My Mexican-American colleagues have attended Halloween parties on both sides of the border where people dressed as calaveras. It’s not common, but it’s not necessarily rare either.

  9. MIchael Scott says:

    This is all very interesting. I’ll admit that I first read the book like Alyssa, I’ve grown to trust Raina over the years, and I simply enjoyed the book, and didn’t notice any problems. Then, when the pub date arrived and people started speaking out, I read it again, and paid closer attention. I do understand the concerns, but I have some questions.

    This book is a fantasy story, right? The town is sitting right on top of a gateway to the spirit world. In other places, of course, they don’t actually believe physical ghosts you can see come to visit and dance, but in this particular town, they do because of their unique situation. Wouldn’t everyone else celebrate DOTD that way if they could actually see and touch their relatives who returned?

    I agree with Debbie’s post that selecting the Mission as a place for the gate could have been better thought out, but not necessarily about her language objection. Since the Mission is a gate, ghosts from all over the underworld are coming though, not just those who lived at the Mission. Ghosts that died recently, as well as centuries ago are taking part in the festivities and those in that area have spoken Spanish for many years, so it makes sense that the ghosts have adopted Spanish as their language just as the living people in the area have.

    One more question, I seem to remember a scene in The Graveyard Book where there is dancing with ghosts for one night of the year. Is that based on Day of the Dead, does anyone know? Or is Gaiman pulling something from mythology?

    • Sharon McKellar Sharon McKellar says:

      I do agree that it is a fantasy story, but when you base a fantasy story around another culture’s history and traditions I would argue you still have an obligation to get it right. Having grown up Jewish in the Bible belt I can always think about things a little bit from that perspective. If someone had, for example, turned Passover into a more magical holiday in a novel, but gotten fundamental tenants of the religion and holiday wrong that would not feel OK.

      • I haven’t read GHOSTS yet but will this weekend and want to make sure this is in my head accurately while I read…

        I’m having a difficult time grasping what the complaint is exactly. Is the complaint that Telgemeier actually depicted something inaccurately in her book, or is the complaint that some readers wish she would have shared more factual information about the Missions, or presented the information in a different way?

      • Sharon McKellar Sharon McKellar says:

        Mr. H – I think the best way to really understand the concerns is to read some of the links I included in this post to bloggers who expressed their concerns. I would say, if I’m going to put it into a quick summary, some of the concerns are:

        * an erasure of the native story surrounding the depiction the Mission and its ghosts
        * an inaccurate depiction of Mexican culture and Day of the Dead imagery in a way that mimics more how a white American might view things instead of how someone from that culture would actually celebrate and honor it, although the characters in the book are meant to be from that culture.

        (edited for grammatical clarity)

    • Dance Macabre, which indeed does show up in The Graveyard Book, comes from a different tradition (

    • Jonathan Hunt Jonathan Hunt says:

      Michael, I think the “gate” explanation is an interesting one, but I wish Telgemeier had explored that more. It seems like the ghosts are largely used for scary/funny purposes throughout with a couple of poignant conversations between ghosts and humans late in the book. Why is the Mission a gate? Why do ghosts have a hard time breathing? Why do they visually look like wispy blobs and skeletons? Rather than leaving it to the imagination or representing them as they might have looked in life? Are all ghosts the souls/spirits of dead people? What is the view of the afterlife? There’s just a lot of world-building stuff that’s really fuzzy, and the absence of any sort of genuine nod to spirituality or theology makes this presentation feel off. I mean there are some beautiful, quiet moments that I believe are deeply respectful but they are juxtaposed with madcap slapstick moments of comedy. Kind of jarring.

  10. sam leopold says:

    For me, though kids may love this book, in light of the Newbery criteria, there are flaws which would prevent it from winning this award.

  11. Tenisha McCloud says:

    The controversial aspects aside, is this book really worth much Newbery consideration? I personally don’t think so. It’s got a fairly solid story, told in a mostly straightforward manner, but the sentence-level writing is hardly notable. The theme is clear, though nothing new. Structurally it’s ok, but some readers have noted that it becomes confusing in places. On the plus side, Telgemeier’s illustrations are always appealing (though not part of Newbery criteria). It’s got strong appeal factors, and kids are reading it, which again, are not Newbery criteria.

    So when you hold it up against many of the top titles this year, I don’t see it approaching silver or gold.

  12. I’m listening, I’m learning, and I believe that anyone who follows this blog and comments on it takes books seriously.

    I took the advice and read some of the critiques, particularly those by Slapin and at BookToss. Both these writers criticize Telgemeier hard for naming one of her characters “Carlos Calaveras,” saying that no one in the real world (or her made-up one) would ever have such an offensive name.

    Google that name and check it out at Facebook. There are real people with that precise name. There are also other real people with the last name Calaveras. It may not be common, but it is plausible.

    This discovery stopped me in my tracks. Those critics would prefer that there not be a character named Calaveras, but we would all prefer a lot of things. Having listened, learned, and thought about what I’ve learned, I can say the author made a plausible choice. For fiction, plausibility within the world created by the author should be the standard, not some politically driven standard of authenticity or acceptability. Nonfiction is a different story, so to speak But Telgemeier wrote a novel, not a treatise. Is it plausible that ghosts would come up through a Mission? Sure, in her world. That’s good enough for me, and good enough for the vast majority of readers who see fiction as different from nonfiction.

    Whether this book should get one of the ALA’s highest award for children in such a strong year is another matter entirely.

  13. Sharon McKellar Sharon McKellar says:

    A good question has been raised, and I raised it in the original post as well. Outside of this conversation and these problems, is there anyone who would argue this book is a real newbery contender? Is the world building strong enough? Is the text powerful enough?

    • Like a couple of other folks who mentioned this earlier here and elsewhere, I found the worldbuilding to be really weak. As was noted earlier, it’s not magical realism, and I was left with SO many questions about the ghosts/spirits (many of them the same as Jonathan’s). To me, the gaps in the worldbuilding don’t feel intentionally crafted–they don’t feel like purposeful gaps to give us space to imagine for ourselves; instead, it feels like it’s just not where time and energy were spent in the crafting of the story (which, for fantasy, is pretty vital).

    • Finally read GHOSTS this weekend so I feel like I can contribute to this discussion. To answer Sharon from earlier, no, I do not think the world building in GHOSTS is strong enough for Newbery consideration, nor are there enough distinguished elements within the text. When seeking out the most distinguished contribution to children’s literature and focusing primarily on the text, graphic novels have an uphill battle in my opinion.

      As far as some of the criticisms, and I read ALL OF THEM so it was fresh in my mind while reading, I’m giving Raina a pass being as she is creating a work of fiction. I’ve thought long and hard about this. I’m not trying to be insensitive so I would appreciate my opinion not being attacked. I think most of the criticisms however, stem from what people wish she would have done with the text and story instead of any factual inaccuracies in the text.

      The ghosts in the story were a vehicle for Cat and Maya to ponder the afterlife. Carlos makes it clear that the Mission is a gateway and that the ghosts that visit are NOT necessarily former inhabitants of the Mission. Sure, Telgemeier avoids the true history of the Missions this way, but that’s her choice. In fact, no character in the story, at any time, discusses what the Mission is.

      And what about the Dia de los Muertos celebration was inaccurate? The complaint seems to be that the book depicts how two mixed race girls would view or celebrate or approach the event (through the eyes of the white author), yet the mother in the book admits early on that she hasn’t celebrated Dia in many years (pg. 44). This is a fiction story. Again, it seems that the criticism lies more within what some readers wished Telgemeier had done with the text vs what she actually did. As far as the Newbery is concerned, we’re not supposed to hypothetically discuss choices we wish the author had made, are we?

      I think this was Raina’s attempt at magical realism, but I don’t think it was done very well (not enough world building, as Jonathan mentioned). Being as it is though, I’m not going to personally hold these criticism against her. The story is touching and I believe she has included enough accurate factual information about this culture to show she has respect for it AND pique the interest of child readers and open the door for more learning and conversation. (Is any of the detailed information about Dia de los Muertos she included at the end of the book, inaccurate, btw?)

      I will say, I would not call these criticisms “nitpicking,” as Alissa did earlier in this thread. That’s not a knock at Alissa either. I think these concerns are interesting and valuable for writers. I’m glad we have careful readers bringing different perspectives to books. That’s how we all grow. I have learned a lot reading through the different blogs and comments. Telgemeier and other authors better be paying attention too.

  14. Comte writes in support of fiction as if it is not driven by politics. Comte is wrong. Most who make accusations of politics raise that accusation when their own point of view is being challenged. They think their own point of view is apolitical. It isn’t.

  15. Sara Ralph says:

    The theme here seems to be: white people should stick to writing about white people. I can’t seem to find it, but Grace Lin wrote recently about how she gets it wrong when it comes to writing about diversity, and she is Asian American. Are we nitpicking: does the book identify the ghosts as Native Americans? Or is this book going to harm readers? Regarding the grammatical error, since this is likely to be a bestseller (based on the success of her other graphic novels) and reprinted, at least that could be fixed. This keeps happening over and over again. Why aren’t editors and publishers fact checking more behind authors? Shouldn’t objections be anticipated?

    • I saw Grace Lin speak last year at a diversity conference, and I believe she brought that up briefly, as well. (Or I may be blending that with an article I read.)

      Anyway, Vaunda Michaeux Nelson has also spoken about this as well, and there’s a lovely article called Mind the Gaps ( that I heartily recommend. Carve out a few minutes and read it.

      This quote, in particular, resonates with me: “One way authors and publishers might begin to overcome this artificially constructed racial barrier is to put more characters of color in picture books not necessarily written by authors of color.”

      As someone from a minority group, I have found books written by people outside my minority group to be just as lovely and heartfelt as those from within my group. (Conversely, there have been books written by people in my minority group that I have found distasteful and offensive.)

  16. Sara Ralph, I really think that’s a bit of an oversimplification of an extremely nuanced discussion. Rather than saying white authors should stick to writing about white characters/white culture, I would say that white authors (just like authors of color or First/Native Nations authors) can and do write about whatever they want to write about. But if a white author is going to write outside his or her culture, that white author better do some homework so they can get it right. And I think that’s what you’re getting at with your comment about editors and publishers fact-checking; I agree, that should be happening. But ultimately I think the author needs to get it right. Period.

    I don’t understand why you feel the need to write at length about how you think Raina deserves “a pass being as she is creating a work of fiction,” Mr. H. How does that work? Just because something is a work of magical realism doesn’t mean the author can get “a pass” because they weren’t entirely sensitive culturally. And using Grace Lin as an example because she admits she doesn’t always get her own culture right is a straw man… it does NOT give white authors “a pass.” (Also, “I would appreciate my opinion not being attacked” – is that what other people who defend this book are seeing? That those who are bringing forth valid criticisms about the book’s lack of cultural sensitivity are somehow attackers? I really don’t get that at all.)

    • Justeen Schottland says:

      Do you really not understand, Sam? The two options that you have laid out both here and on Reading While White are condemn or approve. When you don’t approve of something, you condemn it. You ask everyone else to condemn it as well. Those who may feel differently have their views attacked. Yes, you can bring forth valid criticisms. But then you can also listen to other opinions about the same book. You don’t always need to put in the last word.

      I’m dubious about your supposed lack of understanding; both you and your readers know exactly how you feel on this subject, so there’s no need to be coy.

    • 1. I felt the need to write at length about my opinion because that’s what people do on a blog, right? Share their thoughts and opinions? Also, I felt like my opinion was not in the majority, so I wanted to explain.

      2. I did not use Grace Lin as an example. Sara and Joe did. You are lumping their comment in with my comment. I’m not sure why.

      3. The “valid” criticisms of GHOSTS seem to involve Raina’s handling of the Mission and her handling of Dia de los Muetos. The Mission serves as a backdrop to her story. She doesn’t give any real factual information about the Mission and she doesn’t give any false information about the Mission. It’s a set piece, nothing more. I don’t understand how she has misrepresented Missions or falsely represented them. Someone please explain! It would appear that the critics wanted Raina to delve into the true history of the Mission and are holding it against her that she didn’t. That’s part of what I meant by giving her “a pass.”

      As for Dia de los Muetos, while I see more validity in this criticism, the characters themselves, even the mother, admit they haven’t celebrated in years. The girls never. Do people not dress up like some of the characters in the book for Dia de los Muetos? Do they not celebrate on November 1? Do they not design ofrendas to honor lost family members and loved ones? Again, I’m not seeing what Raina did to so deeply offend people.

      • Leonard Kim says:

        We might try a thought experiment here. There are some books this year after all that try to take on 9/11. The World Trade Center, Nagasaki, Auschwitz, places like these have taken on a sort of inviolable sacred character in my mind and others, because of the murder of civilians that took place there. If a children’s book were set at one of these places, as a location for a “secularized” contemplation of the dead, without any reference or information about what happened there, even seemingly ignorant of what happened there, would that be OK?

        Actually, my way is not Debbie’s or Sam’s. It would be OK with me. I would give the author a pass. And in a Newbery discussion, I would personally consider this a minor factor in what is being presented and the excellence thereof. But I understand why people would be distressed in my hypothetical scenario as well as about GHOSTS.

        I think Jonathan’s comparison to Christmas is useful and don’t have anything to add to that.

      • Leonard,

        I get what you are saying in referencing 9/11, Auschwitz, etc, but I think that hypothetical is too vague a question. Because to really determine if it is “OK” or not, you would need the context of the story.

        As for Jonathan’s comparison to Christmas, I think it is useful too, but in a different way. Should we toss Newbery eligible books off the table for depicting Christmas in any way other than a traditional Christian celebration? Think of WHEN YOU REACH ME. The story approaches its climax around Christmas time. The characters all get presents for Christmas, some of those presents become significant elements in the story, and yet there is no word mentioned about Christmas being a Christian holiday. In fact, I’m not sure I get the feeling that Miranda’s family is even Christian (Miranda’s “Christmas Vacation” chapter pretty much cements this theory). So should we have tossed WHEN YOU REACH ME off the table? Why is this type of cultural appropriation acceptable? Is it because, as Jonathan brings up, Christmas has become commercialized? Wouldn’t the same apply to Dia de los Muetos? Why is one considered the erasure of a culture but the other not?

        Furthermore, it’s kind of beside the point, because I still cannot find any examples within GHOSTS where Raina presented the criticized information inaccurately.

        I agree with you Sam. I too, see where the distress is coming from and I acknowledged the value of this conversation in another comment. I just see the conversation becoming less and less about what GHOSTS is, and more and more, what people wanted it to be.

  17. Sara Ralph says:

    Sam: I asked questions to further a conversation. Responding with a judgmental attitude and making wrong inferences does nothing to add to the conversation. It also disrespectful to me as both a person and a reader. However, as I have aged, my skin grows thicker. It would be nice if everyone could talk about their opinions without being purposefully offensive, but that rarely happens.

    Joe: I did appreciate the post by Ms. Nelson; thank you for sharing.

    No one should receive a pass if they are culturally insensitive. Raina will though, in terms of selling copies, if not in the hands of the award committee.

  18. Jonathan Hunt Jonathan Hunt says:
  19. Sir. Baxweln W. Henford says:

    The book “Ghosts” was a fun book to read, but some major flaws put it off the table for the Newberry award.

    The book “Ghosts” has a smooth plot line but there is minimal conflict or drama. Throughout the entire book, there is no major conflict. The only conflict throughout the whole story is Maya’s breathing issues. In most good books, if you say a spoiler about what happens, the whole book is ruined. Well in “Ghosts”, there aren’t even any spoilers to give! When I started reading this book, I was expecting there to be major conflict with the ghosts, but i was extremely disappointed to find out they were only a tiny part of the plot line, which barely even exists. Overall, the existing plot is smooth and flowing, but it is just missing conflict.

    • Rostem Rillef says:

      I agree with Sir. Baxweln W. Henford comment.The plot line was smooth but there was almost no conflict.

    • I agree when I red Ghosts I expected the book to have a big part of the plot line to have a big part dedicated to the thing the book is named after.Also I agree about how there are no spoilers to give

  20. Rostem Rillef says:

    I agree I liked this book.But there were many flaws for me.The first flaw is that I don’t think the characters developed well.Also I don’t feel like I know the characters like they were real people.I also don’t feel that there was much or any conflict at all.There were some things that I liked.An example is that because it was a graphic novel the setting was excellent.

    • Sir. Baxweln W. Henford says:

      I disagree. The characters are very clear defined and you get too know them very well by the end of the book. Most of the characters grow and change throughout the story, and they all have unique traits and characteristics.

    • Clayton James Cotton says:

      Even though I haven’t really read the book, your exclamation is very well described. The only flaw is that you do not have enough backup information or description, as well as not enough info in total.


  1. […] Another concern regarding the California mission setting was then raised by Debbie Reese. Now the Mock Newbery blog, Heavy Medal, is grappling with the book.  Mulling over the discussion I’m reminded of the essays in the recent Guardian […]

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