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Heavy Medal: A Mock Newbery Blog
Inside Heavy Medal

Two Orphans, Two Islands: Which Is More Distinguished?

beyondthebrightseaCertain recurring narrative devices have long been universally employed by authors of children’s books: a boarding school setting, moving (away) as the main conflict, meeting a wise mentor, etc.  One often-seen element is an orphan protagonist: From Huck Finn and Mary Lennox to Harry Potter and the Beaudelaires, children’s books do seem to feature parentless protagonists disproportionally.  Perhaps it allows the author to easily externalize the internal existential worries and wonders of every child reader: even those from intact families.  It might also provide a handy explanation of such protagonist’s precocious independence and maturity that enable certain actions and plot development.

Other often found themes in children’s books are a sense of  isolation, being misunderstood, and powerlessness when facing the unknown world that is “growing up.”  An island is then a perfect setting to represent such feelings.

This year, we have at least two much lauded books that combine orphan characters with an island setting: Beyond the Bright Sea by Lauren Wolk and Orphan Island by Laurel Snyder.

orphanislandBoth authors are limber with words and turning organically descriptive phrases page after page — but always serving the characters and not just for pretty-prose sake.  Wolk uses sea, nature and daily life inspired phrases that befit Crow’s experiences and her observant nature (“questions that rose and ebbed,” “a tide of curiosity,” and “so my wet clothes didn’t weep onto hers”) and Snyder sprinkles in subtle idiosyncratic word usages to indicate the unsettlingly distorted world in her book: a “sleep” is one day; “wishing” means going to the bathroom; and “moon balls” are pearls.

Both authors create distinctive characters who inspire strong feelings in readers.  I adore and cheer for Crow and am annoyed by and yet completely empathetic toward Jinny.   Both young girls make bold and independent choices that result in life-changing consequences.

Both authors are masterful with dialog and succinct descriptors to construct vivid supporting characters.  In Beyond the Bright Sea, Osh’s obstinance and quiet love and Miss Maggie’s fierce support for social outcasts make them complex and admirable individuals.  In Orphan Island, readers can almost hear and see Ess’s exasperating innocence and Eevie’s mean spiritedness.

Both islands feel real and lived-in. And both stories maintain suspense and tension throughout.  In Beyond the Bright Sea, the buried treasure, the grave robber, Crow’s search of a long lost sibling, and her learning of her parents’ tragic past will no doubt propel young readers to eagerly turn those pages. Likewise, the mystery of where everyone comes and goes, of how the Island gets its magic, and why there are hidden notes and strict rules, along with wondering how Jinny’s rebellion will turn out, will all engage young readers all the way to the final pages of Orphan Island. 

As to which author does a better job in the “[i]nterpretation of the theme” department, again both are equally effective.  It might be quite shocking to know that I will be greatly pleased if one of them receives the Newbery medal and quite unhappy if the other turns out to be a winner.

Why so?

Although every literary aspect of the two titles is equally outstanding, these two books have diametrically divergent themes.  One is life-affirming and positive, while the other is foreboding and pessimistic.  If I were allowed to “judge a book by its theme,” there would have been no contest at all.  However, a Newbery member should not and cannot use the “I’m completely distressed and dismayed by the theme of Orphan Island” as a reason to not support it.  During a real committee discussion, I will probably never mention how after loving the uncertainty and the ambiguity of Jinny’s ups and downs and her choices-making, the very last moment made a great chill coursing through my body because I was so distraught and scared by the “if you follow your heart and desires and break rules, the Island will punish everyone and people will die” proposition.

I would definitely turn to my fellow members who have nominated this book (Eric, looking at you now) and seek their to better understand why it is on the long list of the National Book Award and why so many mock-Newbery lists feature it? Am I misreading it?  Am I wrong in reacting so strongly? If it wins the 2018 Newbery, how would I recommend this book to my young students?



Roxanne Hsu Feldman About Roxanne Hsu Feldman

Roxanne Hsu Feldman is the Middle School (4th to 8th grade) Librarian at the Dalton School in New York City. She served on the 2002 and 2013 Newbery Committees. Roxanne was also a member of 2008-2009 Notable Books for Children, 2015 Best Fiction for Young Adults, and the 2017 Odyssey Award Committees. In 2016 Roxanne was one of the three judges for the Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards. You can reach her at at


  1. Orphan Island has been a hotly debated topic here at work for the past couple weeks. The battle lines are drawn, and it seems there’s no gray area. Those who have read it, at least in my sphere, either love it or hate it. I fall on the love side, the head librarian on the hate side. One of the Middle Grade Lit professors loves it, one of my friends hates it.

    I see this, curiously enough, as Orphan Island’s strength. It isn’t a book that bellows, ‘Here is my theme!’ – I would argue, rather, that the theme of the book is entirely open to interpretation. I read the book as an extended metaphor for puberty and the loss of innocence. To me, it was a balance between The Catcher in the Rye and The Giver. One of my colleagues, who loathed the book, thought the theme was more about the oppression of organized religion (when she laid out all the metaphors and her interpretations, this made a lot of sense to me – even though she didn’t change my mind at all). One of the English professors saw it through the lens of women’s and gender roles in shipwreck novels. Three people, three different interpretations. I love that.

    I don’t know which of us is correct, and I don’t think any of us has to be. If we look at the criteria “interpretation of theme” for the award, I’d say that Orphan Island, despite having a theme that is completely up for interpretation succeeds on that very merit alone. No matter who the reader was, their decoding of the book’s effect clearly demonstrated that the theme was successful – even if it inspired rage.

    To me, good literature inspires debate – it challenges the reader, it causes emotions to swashbuckle each other. Orphan Island certainly achieves this. I’m really eager to know what kids think of this book – how they interpret it. My guess is they get something else entirely out of the book, which makes me think the book is even more successful.

    In a year of mostly duds, I’d be super happy if this gets the gold (or a silver, for that matter). I think, though, that the division is *so* deep with this book that it will be crazy tough to build consensus around it.

    Beyond the Bright Sea – meh. It felt like a retread of Wolf Hollow but with less successful impact. It took me a solid week to get into the book, and the plot felt sluggish to me. The final forty pages felt rushed – like Wolk was coming up on a deadline and just needed to finish. The storm, the return of the bad guy, the battle of wits – none of it really worked for me. I do think the characters were richly drawn and the setting was evocative, but the whole package did not float my boat. Buh-dum-CHING.

    • Joe, that’s very much like what I have encountered. Some simply adore Orphan Island for the ingenious way that Snyder constructs the setting, the characters, and the plot progression — not to mention its solid writing. And they find the metaphor of clinging to and leaving childhood powerfully constructed. You might have a point in saying that regardless, the author manages to incite strong emotional reactions in readers. I have only one 7th grade reader so far – she read it over the summer on her own – and she said she was disturbed by it: Jinny’s seemingly reasonable desire of not leaving the Island and being forced into the total unknown is something worthy of punishment. Mind you — I didn’t let on how I felt about it when I asked her feedback. So there is ONE young reader’s report. I do think this book will be great for guided/classroom read for middle grade students.

  2. Based on the rules, we can discuss how the book interprets the theme, right? I took the theme of Orphan Island to be the loss of childhood. That theme is fine! But I was horrified by the way it played out, as if Jinny getting her period literally broke the island. I would think that would be an appropriate consideration – did the book interpret the theme in a distinguished way. I would argue that it didn’t, that it was actually regressive. Are you saying this is an inappropriate discussion? I don’t want to get in trouble again.

    FWIW, I agree with Roxane’s interpretation of the book but if we can’t discuss it further I understand. Count me as one who would be dismayed with this book for the Newbery.

    • Kari — good question. I think we cannot just say, “I think the theme is terrible and thus it’s not worthy of the medal” but it should be completely fine to discuss first, what the THEME is, and how the author presents that THEME. I am not sure that claiming it being “regressive” will get you very far. What do you mean by it being regressive? And how does that make it less distinguished?

      • When the female character is literally banished for the issue of blood and that appears to be an acceptable and unquestioned solution, I would not say that it is adding anything distinguished to our understanding of the theme of the loss of childhood. Regressive is the only word I could think of before I’d had much coffee, perhaps because it gave me such a strong feeling that the island/the book appeared to think Jinny should feel shame both for her body’s changes and for the choices she made.

      • I don’t remember Jinny being “banished.” I remember Jinny banishing herself from the rest of the group as changes started happening to her body. I remember her being confused and thinking it was because she chose not to get on the boat. But I don’t remember her being “banished.” She gets on the boat and leaves in the end because she’s decided it’s time AND because the boy is injured.

    • I . . . WHAT?

      No. It is not menstruation that disrupts the island. It’s CHOICES. We can’t stay children forever. When we attempt to infantalize ourselves or others, it both disrupts and subverts the power of childhood. It’s not the blood that causes the problems, it’s the natural consequences of Jinny’s refusal to get on the boat. We leave our childhood and chart a course into a brave new world. That’s how childhood works.

      And don’t take my word for it – just re-read the dang book. The disruptions to the island begin well before Jinny’s menarche. To assign “blame” for the island’s disruptions on Jinny’s period is a pretty unfair mis-read. In my opinion.

      • It’s not hard for me to imagine a child reading ORPHAN ISLAND and taking away the idea that puberty is frightening and destructive. All of the scary things that happen are a result of Jinny’s *choice* to stay on the island, yes. But it was *not* her choice to grow up and hit puberty. Therefore I think it’s easy (even if it’s facile) to conflate the danger on the island with the onset of sexual maturity.

        The author may be trying to say, “Danger comes from denying that you’re growing up,” but it also seems like the danger comes from growing up in and of itself. Because the reader never sees what happens when the oldest leaves the island. It’s 100% foreboding.

        Does that mean the author maybe failed a bit in her delineation of theme? Does it mean that this book is maybe not ideal for a *child* reader? But better perhaps for older readers?

      • Kimbra Power says

        It’s not the blood that causes the problems, it’s the natural consequences of Jinny’s refusal to get on the boat.-AGREED

  3. Meredith Burton says

    I know good literature stimulates debate, and thus Orphan Island’s ambiguity and raising of unanswered questions leaves ample opportunities for varying interpretations. The Giver, for instance, ended ambiguously, but there was a sense of optimism there that I felt was lacking in Orphan Island. Don’t know if the author plans a sequel or not, so that might change my opinion. I don’t know if Orphan Island should have a sequel or not.

    However, I felt more drawn to Beyond the Bright Sea. I think there should be “life-affirming” beauty in literature. That doesn’t mean sad books are disliked by me, (some of my favorite books are sad), but I just felt that the parental love and the themes of isolation and sacrifice were more vivid and beautifully explored in Wolk’s novel. Beyond the Bright Sea would get my vote.

  4. Leonard Kim says

    If there’s a question of what ORPHAN ISLAND is “about” (i.e., what is the theme), one could probably make a case against it on the basis of clarity of presentation of information. I’m actually neither in the love it / hate it camp. I liked some things about it and thought other things could have been better handled. Yes, one of those things was the book sending mixed messages about its identity. It didn’t seem the book was intentionally supposed to be open to interpretation regarding whether it’s an allegory or a dystopia or what and is muddied by teasing answers that don’t materialize.

    In contrast, BEYOND THE BRIGHT SEA was one reveal after another. Unfortunately I anticipated almost all of these reveals, so the book didn’t work so well for me from that standpoint. And I don’t think Wolk’s writing style, heavy in foreshadowing (e.g.,”I didn’t question it much until I was older and began to pull on the loose threads of my life. When I did that and everything began to unravel…”) is completely harmonious with this kind of narrative. It’s one thing to foreshadow when there are genuine surprises and horrors and looking back at coming-of-age (as in WOLF HOLLOW). But I felt Wolk didn’t really adapt her writing style to the demands of a narrative that is set up as a series of explicit mysteries and revelations.

    • Jenny Staller says

      Leonard, I completely agree with you about the foreshadowing in BEYOND THE BRIGHT SEA–it’s the first book I’ve read in a while in which I was actually distracted by how frequently it was employed. I otherwise love Wolk’s writing style (WOLF HOLLOW was definitely in my top three last year), but I’m not sure I could champion this book for that reason alone.

      I also feel like ORPHAN ISLAND had a bit of an identity crisis. I fall into the Hate It camp, and I think a large reason for that is it seemed a little like a bait and switch to me. I feel like it started as a traditional fantasy novel and included all of these great world-building details that I thought would get explained or clarified later in the novel, and then it switched to more of an allegorical story (I’m not sure I’m articulating myself very clearly, so I hope this makes sense). I was just truly dismayed when I had about 50 pages left and it dawned on me that many of the mysteries of the island wouldn’t be resolved, and I think if I had gone in with the mindset that the novel was intended as an allegory I might have been less disappointed.

  5. Leonard Kim says

    Roxanne, in regard to your reading of ORPHAN ISLAND, I do think the book’s own confused identity doesn’t help. If it were clearly allegorical/metaphorical, a modern Garden of Eden story, I think it would be less problematic. The questions and dilemmas posed by the story would be clear even if there are no answers (because that’s just the human condition.)

    But Snyder engages in actual world-building here that makes it feel like an actual fantasy setting with an origin story and “real” kids and the promise of explanation. The level of specificity does, I agree, make the whole thing seem more malevolent and fascist then if the book had stuck rigorously and clearly to being a metaphor for free will as loss of innocence.

  6. While the lack of closure in ORPHAN ISLAND drove me a bit crazy, the real problem was the contrived nature of the island and its inhabitants.

    I struggled with the characters’ comfort on the island, and lack of real struggle. We’ve watched adults tear each other’s throats out on reality television shows when they are dumped on an island. These kids can start fires, fish, and prepare food with ease! And I know it’s a fiction story, but it doesn’t make sense within the world Snyder has created. As readers, we witness two arrivals (Ess and the boy in the end) and BOTH are very raw. They can’t read. They can’t speak. They are covered in tears and snot. Yet, within on year, thanks to Annabelle’s books, they can hunt and fish with the best of them. It takes Jinny an entire year to get Ess to learn the alphabet. Who taught Jinny how to read? Who taught Jinny to read sufficiently enough to comprehend anything in the books in that library? We see how long it takes Ess and the other boy isn’t interested at all.

    This is not picky, but highly significant because the information in those books is what prompts most of Jinny’s thoughts. It’s too contrived to me. When the author needed the characters to NOT know something, they didn’t know. When the author needed the characters to know something, they just knew it. Why? Oh, because they’ve been shown how on the island or they read it in books.

    Snyder even breaks the rules of the island in the end when the boat carries Jinny and the boy away. The boat magically appears and only leaves when one child gets in. Yet in the end, two children get in. So, could they all just have piled in at any time and leave? None of it makes sense.

    The lack of closure presents a serious problem when discussing any distinguished elements of the plot. The characters really lack depth, outside of Jinny and even Jinny is literally too smart for her own good. The other characters merely serve as set pieces for Jinny to come to conclusions about things.

    I think it’s a fun story to debate with people, but if we start stacking the writing up against the Newbery criteria, I think we’re going to find where it really lacks.

    As for BEYOND THE BRIGHT SEA, I’m really having difficulty NOT comparing it to WOLF HOLLOW since the voice is so similar. But in a Newbery discussion, that is not allowed. Wolk is such a good writer though, so I’m curious to see others’ reactions to the text.

    • Leonard Kim says

      I’ve struggled with whether Crow and Annabelle (from Wolf Hollow) could be expected to sound so similar despite their different situations and time periods. I think one could possibly pose this reservation without reference to Wolf Hollow by questioning whether Crow’s first person narration is credible, but then maybe one could find excuses that it is (it could be adult Crow narrating in past tense, or Crow’s expression is a result of Maggie’s teaching, or something.)

      But it really is just more direct to suggest that Wolk writes in a distinctive style that seems to carry over from book to book regardless of the books’ individual differences. Sort of like DiCamillo.

    • Ack! I meant to say “Abigail” not “Annabelle.” I’m getting lots of books mixed up here…

      • As long as CROW herself is convincing, I don’t see anything’s the matter with Wolk having a distinctive VOICE. I do think the past tense allows for a more mature voice without my questioning it every step of the way. I actually have similar reservation reading Patina, comparing her with Ghost and finding them similar and thinking perhaps they shouldn’t be. However, I’d think a Newbery Chair would say that we have to examine the books as they ARE and only compare them against the other titles from the same year. If the author publishes two books (like Jason Reynolds did — 3 books at least) and all the narrative voices are exactly the same, then I can see it being valid to discuss.

      • Leonard Kim says

        Roxanne, at first I felt there was no way a person of Crow’s isolated upbringing and education would express herself this way. She doesn’t even sound much like Maggie, from whom she acquired her schooling. Like you, I allow for the possibility that somehow an adult Crow could end up sounding like this, but I still think it’s a reach.

        I had less a problem with this than the telegraphing and the occasionally heavy-handed reiteration of the novel’s themes.

  7. I’m loving all of your comments! I do think Orphan Island works as a religious metaphor – we’re the orphans who cannot fathom GOD’s plans/designs; we are provided for, sheltered, and educated, as long as we follow a set of (pretty simple) rules; the members of our community have to work together and the ultimate arbiter is that same set of RULES/COMMANDMENTS. But beware: you will bring disasters and condemnation upon yourself and your fellow humans, IF you dare challenge and break the rules. Repent: and you shall be forgiven(?) Who knows, there might be about 1 million of these islands on the vast ocean, and some thrive and produce the FAITHFULS and other break down and perish and the ALMIGHTY won’t even care.

  8. Not that any Newbery member would take reviewers’ evaluation into serious account, but Beyond the Bright Sea received FIVE starred reviews while Orphan Island got ONE. Both were published in May (same week.)

  9. I didn’t manage to finish Beyond the Bright Sea (it wasn’t grabbing me; I did love Wolf Hollow), but I did read Orphan Island and I’m in the “hate it” camp. I thought the writing was exquisite. However, echoing others’ comments, the unresolved world-building made the book seem unfinished to me, I was disturbed and nonplussed by the harm that came of Jinny’s refusal to leave the island (good gravy, if everyone was to be punished for her actions, I hope that’s not lasting), and most of the characters didn’t ring true to me. Jinny’s behavior seemed appropriate to her apparent age, but most of the other characters, particularly the girls aged 6-ish and up, seemed all to be of a similar stage in development — specifically, wise far beyond their years. Even Eevie, who stood out because of her attitude, seemed wiser than Jinny, even though there were four years between them, if I’m doing my math right.

  10. Safranit Molly says

    I appreciate everyone’s input on these two books. They are similar in ways I hadn’t even considered until you posted them together. I loved Beyond the Bright Sea very much. I am not prepared to articulate why this afternoon, but I will line up my arguments at some point because this is far and away my top book at this point in the season. And I’m afraid I strongly disliked Orphan Island for many of the reasons that I have already been discussed. Mostly I think the ambiguity just left me frustrated, not pondering. That’s my two cents worth in a hurry. Thanks for the interesting discussion.

  11. steven engelfried says

    I appreciated the plotting and the themes of ORPHAN ISLAND…but in a way they didn’t both work together for me. I enjoyed Snyder’s restraint as she introduced the elements of the island,. She sticks to Ginny’s point of view, so since she doesn’t see anything unusual about things like the protective wind on the cliffs, it’s left to the reader to put the odd pieces together. So we’re trying to figure out how things work and what will happen next at the same time. Strong plotting.

    Using the island and the kids on it to explore themes of leaving childhood was clever, original and pretty well executed. I think the uncertainty of the ending was a strength. “She was a girl in a boat, moving forward. Either way, there were waves all around her….Out there were answers. She hoped she was ready for them.” That sounds like adolescence to me.

    My problem was that as it became clearer that the island was a metaphor of protected, but temporary childhood, I became less involved in the characters as people. I started to see Ginny as not so much as an individual person and more as a symbolic character, and felt the author’s hand a little more heavily. I still rate this book very highly, though.

    Others have mentioned the seemingly constant foreshadowing in BEYOND THE BRIGHT SEA and that became tiresome to me also to some degree. By the time the most dramatic events finally happened, they seemed a little anti-climactic because there had been so many instances of: “everything [would] unravel” and “the world shifted again”…. It’s too bad because I think just a little bit less of this would have made a big difference. The imagery of the language, sense of place, andthe characterizations are all very strong.

    I see multiple strengths in both books, and it’s a reminder to me that we’re not looking for perfection, that a book can be flawed, and still “most distinguished.” I’m not sure I’d go that far myself in either case, but if they wound up being honored I would be okay with that based on their best qualities.

  12. Eric Carpenter says

    I think the fact that the members of the newbery committee will be rereading nominated books potentially multiple times can only help ORPHAN ISLAND’s chances. In some of the comments above we seem to be mis-remembering the events of the story. Snyder’s (that seems weird to type) plotting is so carefully done that many of the rewards of this novel come when rereading. I loved the act of piecing this book together in my mind, trying to figure out how long the island has existed, how long ago Annabell lived there, how many times the boat has appeared, (i choice to believe that this place was an old sleep away camp before whatever happened in the outside world caused the boats to come and the magics to emerge). I love the idea of rules and traditions slowly forming and being passed down generationaly. There is so much to love in this book, but it does require us to acknowledge that everything doesn’t need a tidy answer and that young readers don’t always want tidy answers.

    • Eric Carpenter says

      Abigail not annabelle. sorry

      • Haha, now who is mis-remembering? But you did bring up a good point, Eric. Newbery members who feel strongly (for or against) any particular title would definitely need to carefully re-read and take notes on specifics (names, events, page numbers, etc.) when they cite examples from the books to support their views. So, a mis-remembered name or event would potentially weaken the speaker’s credibility and the argument’s validity. That is part of the process that, I imagine, many people who have not served on these major award committees might not realize — how detailed, carefully prepared, on-target arguments at the WEE hours of the evening (or morning) carries a lot of weight.

        A wise mentor once told me that “Silence is Powerful” because she knows how I cannot keep myself from speaking my mind constantly and from responding to others’ comments (as evident here). She also pointed out that saving some strong points after everyone’s already gone over the same titles 3 times due to unable to reach consensus while balloting is wise: one can go in, throw down one or two sentences and examples, and VOILA, the Tide Has Shifted in your favor.

        As to Orphan Island, I would definitely have to re-read and re-think about the whole book, given the many different opinions expressed here. Thanks, you Orphan Island Lovers 🙂

  13. I would probably challenge the idea that the changes on the island due to Jinny’s refusal to completely follow the rules are “natural consequences.” (Actually nothing on this social experiment Island is natural.)

    I could accept that the island phenomena and creatures change behaviors as direct responses to a more mature being staying on the island as a metaphor of the potential consequences of one’s refusal to leave childhood behind. What I find harsh and disturbing is how it seems to result in potential fatality of the new Care. Is the lesson supposed to be that once our biological clock advances to the next hour, we cannot hold on to certain innocence or naivete and if we defy that biological signal, we will cause actual harm to others? Instead of the island dwellers adjusting to perhaps a less paradise like environment (which in itself is an odd metaphor for childhood since a rosey childhood is definitely not the reality for most children) and figuring out how they might establish new rules and routines and governing structures, we are rushed to solve the problem by banishing Jinny from the island.

  14. Maybe because i read Orphan Island at a time when there’s a new grandbaby and also my father is 95 and in a Memory Care Unit, but I read this a more about life and death. I saw Jinny fighting death much as my father is. Yet the island is a microcosm of our earth, and there are not only rules or natural laws about how it works, but also limitations that ought not to be crossed. There’s an extremely memorable moment for me when Jinny has not left in the boat and the new care has arrived. The children sit down to eat and there are not enough bowls to go around. What a metaphor for the limitations of our planet. I saw the books and the diary of the founder (Abby? I don’t have a copy right now as I’ve shared it) as a kind of scripture or the way the arts help us cope with the many unknowns.
    I think Snyder could not explain the world without wrecking her theme. We cannot know where our souls come from, nor can we know where we go when we die. It is the unknown of our world and yet we must have care. Care for the future inhabitants. Teach them all we know. Follow the rules or suffer the consequences.
    I found this book had a profound effect on me. Did I love it or hate it? Immaterial, as it made me think, as all the best in literature does. I would be delighted if it were recognized by the Newbery committee. Whether that happens or not, it;s a book I will remember and reread for a long time.

    • Carol — I totally can see how this book could be interpreted this way. Earth as the Island and the mysterious universe as beyond. (It could also be very biblical or simply spiritual.) Thanks for this perspective.

  15. Was anyone else bothered by the plotting of BEYOND THE BRIGHT SEA? I thought it was a little too heavy on coincidence. Yes, she saved it from having one big coincidence (Crow’s brother) – but I thought it was a little convenient for the plot that this crazy, evil man was on the island right when she was interested in it – and conveniently escaped confinement just as a storm was coming through. I have trouble in believing in purely evil people. I know they exist – but we never really found out motivation for him to so fiercely decide that treasure belonged to him. And him popping up just when Crow was digging into her heritage – didn’t quite ring true for me.

  16. I finished reading BEYOND THE BRIGHT SEA last night. Until the very end I loved the book. The place itself was a character – living on a tiny island that you only get to or from by wading through the ocean – and I loved Osh and Miss Maggie and Crow herself. I especially loved the depiction of their relationship with each other – the honesty that was most often there between them all. I did feel frustrated at the end, as Sondy mentioned above, because it felt like there was no real resolution about “the big bad guy.”

    As I was reading the book and especially when I read the last line on page 130, “He wasn’t smiling anymore when he said, ‘I wonder what he’ll do when he finds out he has a sister.'” It crossed my mind that maybe the “big bad guy” was her long lost brother Jason. But by the end I was in doubt about my conclusion. Although if he is not Crow’s brother how does he even know about the treasure and why does he repeatedly say it is his… he seems to think it is his – on page 242 he yells, “Where is the rest of it? he screamed when they took him away in handcuffs. “Its mine, and I’ll have it! I’ll have what’s mine!” I was confused and frustrated at the end because I felt like it wasn’t quite clear enough. If he really was Crow’s brother what was the message of the story… that sometimes we really don’t want to know who are family is? Would any of my students catch this or was it too subtle? If he is not Crow’s brother then I have the same problem as Sondy… what was his motivation? Why was he so bad?

    So, I’m wondering if anyone else had the same thoughts and if you came to a better conclusion than I did.

  17. Sheila Welch says

    I’ve gone through the comments and can see how ORPHAN ISLAND could frustrate many readers. I assumed I’d love it, and I do appreciate much about the intriguing island and its young inhabitants. Jinny doesn’t bother me because she seems authentic. For her age, her curiosity and determination to have her own way are appropriate. With the exception of Ess, the other kids aren’t as well defined and therefore seem less real. Ess is an endearing little kid with many character traits that’ll remind young readers of their own siblings. When she arrives, she’s probably only about three or four and not developmentally ready to decode words, and while Loo also is too young to be learning to read, he seems a bit “off” in many ways, which brings up more questions than answers.

    Despite many positives concerning its setting and several of the characters, I believe the difficulty readers have in deciding the theme weakens ORPHAN ISLAND’s chances for the Newbery. Too many contradictory hints are given. On the one hand, the island seems real, yet it has enchanted areas and amazing morning skies. Are the Abigail books meant to provide answers for the children as well as the readers? I keep wondering what other books are in that collection. Any Judy Blume? The idea that the books help the children to grow up is lovely– children’s literature replacing religious doctrine– but isn’t really developed well enough to convince readers. What about the letter Jinny finds? The mix of enchantment and reality feels awkward with the introduction of the letter, which opens up many options.

    Another observation: although the island seems broken well before Jinny realizes that she’s bleeding, I can’t help thinking her reaction will cause some teachers, librarians, and parents to shy away from recommending this book to its most appropriate audience.

  18. Intriguing comments by Laurel Snyder at (possible pre-quel, her reasons why she deliberately left first “unfinished”).

    Kid Castaways is category I use for many of my favorite books usually “classified for children”. Related to Orphan Fiction, stories enjoyed because focus is on age-old survival tale. Parents are traditionally supposed to protect their children, taking care of every need. If adult caregivers are out of the picture, kids can take center stage.

    Reading tiles by other noted authors provides perspective for ORPHAN ISLAND. For example: TREASURE ISLAND was written–by request of young reader–with “no women” (or any that really shape story much) who might slow down action for young Jim. Childhood favorite of Donna Tartt, read to her by her Scottish grandmother, TREASURE ISLAND inspired her novel LITTLE FRIEND, only with small girl protagonist against modern day dangerous male criminals.

    ORPHAN ISLAND reminds me a bit of another recent title, WILD ROBOT. I noticed ecology theme in former, perhaps because of latter. Recall how example of (I think) curly ferns extinction is used as warning not to use up all of island resources? Balance is stressed on island; more than nine orphans may strain supplies in this closed ecosystem (contained inside a force-field-bubble?)

    Flying in cliff winds–caused by air pressure against some kind of protective shield?–seems nod to Peter Pan’s Neverland (and icon Michael Jackson). What does Snyder’s book do differently than other island stories? I just read 1930’s BABY ISLAND & FLOATING ISLAND and want to read PAUL ET VIRGINIE, influential novel Wikipedia says inspired BLUE LAGOON, story about child castaways who fall in love. French novel was mentioned in EIGHT COUSINS by Louisa May Alcott, which is also about different approaches to child rearing for healthy lives.

    Tho set on one of most populated islands in the world (Manhattan), I count as island orphans FROM THE MIXED UP FILES OF MRS. BASIL E. FRANKWEILER and TOMAS TAKES CHARGE (aka CHILDREN IN HIDING), 1966 children’s book club selection by Charlene Joy Talbot which I read countless times as a child & still love. J.K. Rowling’s CASUAL VACANCY is opposite of cosy kid escapism, but also has girl trying to parent a sibling (Spoiler: both die).

    I could list many notable titles “for kids” about child trying to fill vacancy left by absent or ill parent, a big trend in 1970’s and 80’s children’s fiction combining gritty realism with orphans.

    P.S. When reading about Crow’s search for orphanage to discover her origins, I kept thinking of Harry’s pensieve vision of Dumbledore meeting Tom Riddle for the first time (unconsciously expecting a cupboard to catch fire?) Perhaps I should re-read BEYOND THE BRIGHT SEA trying to get into book’s slower pace. SILAS MARNER & STORIED LIFE OF A.J. FIKRY also popped into my head distracting me from BRIGHT SEA, plus Shakespeare’s TEMPEST, FOG BOAT, etcetera.. What might author be alluding to–and what comes from a life-time of reading?

    Reverberating with ORPHAN ISLAND–but could just be pure coincidence–Agatha Christie novel AND THEN THERE WERE NONE (one of PBS Great American Reads, which include “kid lit” titles): countdown of shrinking island population includes nanny who neglects charge she dislikes, so little boy drowns. And did someone mention Garden of Eden/snake story?

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