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Heavy Medal: A Mock Newbery Blog
Inside Heavy Medal

Heavy Medal Finalist – THE PRINCE AND THE DRESSMAKER by Jen Wang

princeandthedressmakerIn what feels like a quick read, Jen Wang is able to give us a fully realized story with characters that are both complex and likable in THE PRINCE AND THE DRESSMAKER. During moments of tension and conflict, the reader is still cheering for circumstances to work out for all the characters involved. Even minor characters, like Lady Sophia Rohan from the beginning of the story, invite curiosity. (On a personal note, I would absolutely read a book entirely about Lady Sophia.)

One of the great strengths of this graphic novel is the overall feeling of hope that runs through the entire story. Every character deals with issues of self-expression and identity, but the sense of hope is never lost. Seeing as this is a graphic novel, a lot of those feelings are presented through the illustrations that accompany the text. This book, especially, will be hardest to separate text from pictures, though the language itself is hopeful on its own.

From pp. 44-47, we can see both Sebastian and Frances realizing that their dreams could be coming true. They are exposing their truth to each other and are both met with nothing but support and understanding.

On that same note, the strength of our two protagonists cannot be understated. Frances is determined in her goals of becoming a respected designer and does not let anyone stand in her way. Even in moments where she loses her confidence, she is quick to come back and remain steadfast in her vision of what her garments should look like. She remains loyal to her friendship with Sebastian until it is harmful enough to her that she walks away, which is an incredibly beneficial message. Loyalty and support are important, but not at the expense of our own well-being. Sebastian is arguably going through a harder time in his life, but he also remains true to himself as much as he can. In the main moment of tension, when Sebastian tells Frances she cannot go with to the fashion show for fear of exposing him, we see both of their deepest fears realized.

The emotion and strength of that moment can be felt throughout the spread of pp. 172 and 173:

“Wow, we’re so excited the new king looks so good in a dress. Let’s celebrate.”

“I don’t know, Sebastian, but I can’t help you anymore. I’d rather take my chances starting over than languish in your closet forever.”

When Sebastian comes back to support Frances in her fashion show, they are both able to become their true selves again. Sebastian is able to become Lady Crystallia (with the wonderful support of the King) and Frances is able to debut her fashion line that she always dreamed about.

This story feels appropriate for all ages. It is a story of conflict and hope, self-expression and following your dreams. There may be bumps along the way, but remaining true to yourself and those closest to you is the most important thing.

I look forward to hearing comments and criticisms about THE PRINCE AND THE DRESSMAKER from the Heavy Medal committee. I am curious about how we will be able to separate the illustrations and the text from this graphic novel that is so full of heart.

Introduction by Maura

Please chime in with opinions and insights about THE PRINCE AND THE DRESSMAKER below. We’ll begin by focusing on the strengths of this books as a potential Newbery contender. After 12:00 noon (EST) the discussion will open up to all opinions, including possible weaknesses.

Steven Engelfried About Steven Engelfried

Steven Engelfried is the Library Services Manager at the Wilsonville Public Library in Oregon. He served on the 2010 Newbery committee, chaired the 2013 Newbery Committee, and also served on the 2002 Caldecott committee. You can reach him at


  1. Mary Zdrojewski says:

    One of my favorite parts of this magnificent book is the conversation near the end between Frances and the king. (I can’t give direct quotes because I reluctantly return my ILL copy and my own library’s copy is always out.) The king asks what’s wrong with his son and Frances answers that nothing is wrong. The king continues and asks “Why is he confused?” and Frances very clearly says that he isn’t confused, he knows exactly who he is.
    This exchange is handled very well. Frances understands that the king is confused, sad, and afraid, and she addresses his fears matter-of-factly without getting upset with him. Both times I read the book I was impressed with this section. It was an important conversation for the plot, but it is also an important conversation for the readers who might be asking the same questions. And it’s handled in a way that respects that readers might have these questions and doesn’t shame them for asking.

  2. Mary Zdrojewski says:

    Can the moderators remind me if we are allowed to consider the back matter and author’s notes? I really appreciated the notes about how the author decided whether to make the story about younger or older characters. I thought that added to my appreciation of the book.

  3. Steven Engelfried Steven Engelfried says:

    Yes, back matter and author’s notes can be considered. In my mind (but this isn’t spelled out in the manual), we’d have to be cautious not to give those too much weight. And to consider how they impact the essential reading experience. I tend to dislike it when authors add three pages of thank you’s at the end…but that’s really outside the reader experience, so I wouldn’t count it as a negative. In the case of THE PRINCE AND THE DRESSMAKER, we couldn’t say: these characters are excellent because she decided to make them teenagers, instead of adults, what a great decision. We have to evaluate the characters as they’re developed within the novel. But if the notes add (or significantly detract) from the experience of the book, I believe they can be discussed….

  4. Mary, I found that exchange and the exchange in THE PARKER INHERITANCE (between Candice and brandon’s Grandpa) to be similar and both were very powerful.

  5. I’ve said it before and will keep saying it…..A graphic novel is going to take home Newbery gold someday. And when it does, I will have a literary celebration! As a teacher, I have seen Graphic novels from early moments when they were first considered an effective way to hook reluctant readers. I am glad to say that I have witnessed a revolution of thinking concerning graphic novels. They are more than just something for reluctant readers….they have something to offer for students and adults of all interests and abilities. And The Prince And The Dressmaker has so much to offer all of us. The story plot flows smoothly.The character development is simple, yet complex. And the themes are effectively developed.

    The themes are beautifully woven into the colorful fabric of the lives of Sebastian and Frances.
    The themes of hope, staying true to who you are and accepting others for who they choose to be are some of the most important life themes for our young readers to apply to their lives. The author does a remarkable job of tangling these themes up gracefully with each other in her flawless, relevant story.
    This is currently not one of my three favorites, but if it gets a medal I would not be surprised or disappointed at all.

    • Deciding which one I love more feels really difficult.
      Maybe I love Prince more and find Kiddo more distinguished?

  6. Though I am totally loving this title…….Hey Kiddo is still the graphic novel that, for me, has set the bar highest this year.

    • I agree with you about HEY KIDDO but this book was pure pleasure to read.

      • sarahbtlibrarian says:

        I think you all are right. Both graphic novels are wonderful, but as far as distinguished package overall, I would have to say Hey Kiddo is my choice. However, Prince is delightful and fun and I love the way the art compliments the story and shows so much emotion on the characters faces. It is such a beautiful and fun book, but I feel like Hey Kiddo packs more punch in the words and art together.

      • samuel leopold says:

        Yes , Kari, it was pure pleasure!! I used it for several writing lessons concerning the themes of acceptance of others and acceptance of yourself. It is a fantastic book. I could see both titles receiving medals.

  7. I think it’s interesting that my first thought was essentially the exchange some other members have had as well: “Let’s compare this directly with Hey, Kiddo” despite the fact that the books are nothing alike other than sharing a similar format. It’s not as if there’s a rule that there can’t be more than one graphic novel winner, so whichever is “better” has a chance, and the other one is out of the running, and yet that’s exactly what my subconscious was trying to tell me.

    • Courtney Hague says:

      I’m having the same thoughts, Alys. HEY, KIDDO and PRINCE AND THE DRESSMAKER are such different books that I find it hard to compare them but because they’re both graphic novels I feel inclined to do just that.

    • samuel leopold says:

      Alys, I love that!!! I hope they both win!! Hey Kiddo could also find itself standing proudly on the Printz Podium on January 28. And I have even seen The Prince and The Dressmaker discussed as a Caldecott contender. So, it is possible that both books win medals….and that would be cause for a literary celebration!

  8. I’m crazy about this story. It is so lush, a visual feast. My enjoyment, however, is tied to the art. Without it it may merely be an interesting bildungroman‎. With HEY, KIDDO the medium was secondary to the content. Krososcka’s story would be compelling regardless of it’s delivery,

    • Courtney Hague says:

      Yeah, I agree with you, DaNae. I’m not sure I can adequately separate the art from the story in this one to really think about just the text. I loved The Prince and the Dressmaker and will (and have already) recommend it to many people, but I think that the story as it is without the illustrations would lose at least some of the appeal.

    • There is a lot of narration mixed with dialogue in HEY, KIDDO that boosts its writing in a Newbery-sense, whereas THE PRINCE AND THE DRESSMAKER is told in almost all dialogue. In fact, is there any text in the story that isn’t dialogue? This forces the illustrations to play way too key a role in the delivery of the story, which I think hurts its Newbery chances.

      But I did LOVE this story. The relationship between Sebastian and Frances fantastic!

  9. The art was great, but I found the story kind of underwhelming. There are a few great moments (the king in the dress at the end), but there wasn’t really all that much to the story. I thought the dialogue was kind of clunky and on the nose.

    • The King in the dress was hands down, the best moment of the book.

    • I so loved the moment the prince first comes out in the marmalade dress. The illustration tells us everything about self acceptance and beautiful design (The skilled dress-maker’s work) bringing out a person’s inherent fabulousness.

  10. This book hit super-close to home, so it’s hard for to view it with clear, unbiased eyes.

    Wang’s characters are beautifully drawn, and the relationship between Lady Cristalia and Frances is nuanced and loving. That it blossoms romantically was not surprising to me, and it’s here that theme really calcifies: know who you are and love who you are, and look past any of the boxes society tries to put you in. To quote RuPaul (though this is the second time I’ve referenced Ru in our deliberations, I promise I don’t pull allll my inspirational quotes from her… just a lot): “if you can’t love yourself, how in the hell are you gonna love somebody else” – which is *precisely* what The Princess and the Dressmaker aims to (and succeeds) in illustrating. This is a message we cannot stop sending the children of the world.

    I think the concerns about this book being a bit “Disney” are warranted, but it never felt anything less than full of heart and authentic. I think, too, as much as I love this book (and I Capital L Love it), the writing in HEY KIDDO is crisper and more fully realized.

    • If Disney embraces a non-gender conforming character I’ll feel like I’ll need to eat my hat. I think Sweep is more likely to show up as a Disney movie.

      • Hahahah. Agreed.

        I meant the “fairytale ending” was Disneyish. Which, I’d argue, is lovely for a non-gender conforming character.

        And if any Disney execs are reading this (ha): Lady Cristalia should be your next Disney Princess. 🙂

      • I have also seen people describe the art as “Disney-ish” which I think is great because it is, as you say, Susan, a story they wouldn’t likely take on.

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