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Heavy Medal: A Mock Newbery Blog
Inside Heavy Medal

Graphic Novels are here to stay.



Graphic Novels have become an integral part of children’s literature.
2015, the Newbery Honor Book was awarded to  El Deafo by Cece Bell, and the following year, the Honor Book went to, Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson. After these books received the accolades merited, graphic novels, for teens and middle-grade readers, have been embraced as a true mark of distinguished work of writing for children. Graphic novels are not a substitute or will take over Newbery completely; what we see occurring is another medium in how stories for children are brought to life.

What an excellent time this is for graphic novels, there are three that are getting high praise they deserve. The following titles are varied group from modern to historical stories.
 New Kid by Jerry Craft
 Queen of the Sea by Meconis
 White Bird by R.J. Palacio
These books are influential and captivating storytelling beautiful illustrations with strong lead characters.  
White Bird is the newest title of all three, and it is without a doubt worth reading. Let’s talk about these three titles or other graphic novels I may have omitted.

Annisha Jeffries About Annisha Jeffries

Annisha Jeffries is the head of the youth services department at Cleveland Public Library. She was a member of the 2007 ALSC Board and served on several selection committees, including the 2018 Caldecott Committee. A 2000-2001 Spectrum Scholarship recipient, Jeffries is currently the Chair of the Norman A, Sugarman Children's Biography Award.
She can be reached at


  1. I haven’t read BEST FRIENDS yet but I have heard good things about it! Seems likely it will be part of these conversations.

  2. Kate Todd says:

    NEW KID is one of my favorites this year. I worked as a librarian in the neighborhoods of the narrative: Washington Heights, Inwood, Riverdale. These settings were presented realistically.
    I liked the character development. Jordan made friends, expanded his understanding of art, was willing to reach out to kids who were not always welcomed by others. However, he was still not sure of his place within the prestigious school as well as his home neighborhood.
    I have recently been introduced to articles that explore the grammar of how to read visual images. Reading as we know it is evolving so I feel incorporating illustrations in the evaluation of a Newbery winner can be legitimate.

  3. Brenda Martin says:

    I’m incredibly torn about what to think about NEW KID’s chances at Newbery. The text is very strong, befitting the award’s criteria in so many ways. And yet the illustrations, as interesting and competent as they are on many pages, are not nearly as polished. Some of the depicted facial expressions are simply inconsistent with the text, and some of the ballooning is very scattered (mostly this may be a subjective stylistic concern, but in a couple cases it goes beyond that). On these pages I was desperately searching for an editor who should have caught these issues and resolved them. So, based solely on the text, yes NEW KID is a strong contender. But because of the illustration issues, and how they sometimes do not properly interplay with that amazing text, I don’t think it is quite there.

    • Brenda, thank you for bringing up the inconsistencies you spotted. Could you give us specific page/panel so we can examine them more closely? At a Newbery discussion, those examples are extremely helpful (and expected) so the committee could come to better understanding of the quality of the book as a team.

      • Brenda Martin says:

        Roxanne, unfortunately I “suffer” from the same problem as outlined below… it’s been checked out constantly, so I can’t come up with particular pages and panels! I will echo the others who have said that the kids have all loved the story. A couple have mentioned that they were occasionally confused by what was happening in the illustrations, and their comments sounded similar to the same few moments that puzzled me. But again, overall, a big thumbs up from the intended audience!

  4. Leonard Kim says:

    I haven’t read WHITE BIRD. Thanks for the recommendation!

    I think QUEEN OF THE SEA is the queen of this year’s graphic novels. I know NEW KID got the most Suggestions, but someone would have to convince me how it is more distinguished than, say, MEG, JO, BETH, and AMY, which shares some of the same themes, or STARGAZING.

    I liked BEST FRIENDS but wonder whether inclusion of so much of Hale’s actual 6th-grade writing should hurt its chances.

  5. I have a question for our readers re text vs pictures: In my recent faculty book club about New Kid, one of my colleagues had some difficulty with fully embracing the book due to stylistic/aesthetic taste. Is this just the equivelance of a reader’s preference of a specific genre or an aversion of another genre? Some people don’t like animal talking stories while others can’t stand high fantasy: but at the Newbery conference table, one kind of has to check some of those personal preferences and evaluate the books by the terms and criteria. Would she be able to “judge” a graphic novel by her taste in artistic style?

    • Steven Engelfried Steven Engelfried says:

      With the question of artistic taste and Newbery Criteria, I think you would have to focus not so much on whether you like the art, but on how it works. The Criteria say: “Other components of a book, such as illustrations, overall design of the book, etc., may be considered when they make the book less effective.” Here’s a possible example from NEW KID: On page 13, there’s a series of three horizontal panels where Jordan is riding to school with Liam for the first time. The drawings feature Liam sleeping with his mouth open…not a pretty picture, and seeing it three times could be seen as too much visually. But the scene is effective in terms of plot and character. Jordan ducks and hides in the top panel because he feels out of place in the fancy car in his neighborhood; then cautiously peeks out the window in the middle panel; and says “whew!” and relaxes in the bottom panel. Jordan’s posture in that last panel matches Liam’s pretty closely because he can relax for a bit (as Liam can relax easily in his own car). It moves the plot a bit and reveals a bit of Jordan as a character. It might not be beautiful artwork, but I don’t think it makes the book “less effective.” Maybe not a great example, but I do think it helps to look at what the illustrations “do” rather than how they look, especially if you’re working with an artistic style that you typically don’t care for.

  6. Kate McCue-Day says:

    I can tell you that from a kid’s perspective I have not had one single student read New Kid and not absolutely love it. I know that doesn’t make it a Newbery winner but sometimes I really wish there was a bit more focus on what kids love. Too bad there wasn’t a kid voted Newbery. With that said I really liked Queen of the Sea but can’t get a single student in my Literature Cafe classroom to try it. Again I know that’s not what the Newbery is about but I’ve been dying to bring it up for years!! Not looking for an argument, just stating an observation.

    • NEW KID has been checked out since day one. I never see it. QUEEN OF THE SEA is starting to find an audience at my school, though. I talked it up to some likely readers and the ones who have read it have given it high praise.

      But I do agree with you – I love it when a book that is loved by kids is awarded. It is such a special joy.

    • Steven Engelfried Steven Engelfried says:

      Katie, the Newbery popularity question is always an interesting one. When I’ve been a Committee member we all to focus on other qualities, not popularity. But I’m also a librarian, and it can be pretty exciting when a book that kids already know gets selected. I also like it, though, when a book that might have been overlooked, like THE HIGHER POWER OF LUCKY, gains readers by winning the award. Most states do have a Children’s Choice award of some kind, and nationally the Children’s Book Council has run the Children’s & Teen Choice Book Awards for just over a decade. It’s interesting to look at the books that have been chosen. LONG WAY DOWN was a Teen Honor choice and Newbery Honor book, but that’s the only title that appears on both lists since the Children’s Choice Award started in 2008.

    • I think the perspectives of child readers should always be on the minds of the committee members. Not the *number* of kids who love the book per se, but feedback from child readers for sure. It’s necessary to address whether a book “displays respect for children’s understandings, abilities, and appreciations.” If you can’t find a kid who appreciated the book, that’s a bad sign. No matter how much you may love it as a grown-up.

  7. I am delighted that graphic novels are given more attention, although it saddens me a bit as well. So many graphic novels are not accessible to the blind. However, more audio versions of graphic novels are appearing, which is wonderful. I loved New Kid, and the full-cast audio edition brought the story to life. The themes of the book come through excellently, and it’s a book with which many can relate. I do hope to one day read Queen of the Sea and The White Bird. The White Bird is available in audio.

    I always think prejudice against graphic novels will exist simply because it’s hard for certain people to accept different forms of literature. I am glad to see that ideas are broadening. Perhaps the criteria for the award will broaden as the years progress.

  8. Steven Engelfried Steven Engelfried says:

    QUEEN OF THE SEA has more words than most graphic novels, and in a way that makes it easier for me to see it in Newbery terms. But also: the words are so well-chosen. Margaret’s narrative voice is distinct, and effective in many ways. Her descriptions of the island and its people, and of historical events are slightly eloquent, but clear and easy to follow. But always with a playful tone that’s enjoyable and establishes her character. Like when she says: “I was envious of the children I knew who did have parents. There two children like that on the Island, and I saw them every day. They just weren’t real children.” She then describes the two statues, finishing with: “They live in the church. They are made of wood.” It’s amusing and informative, and it’s a creative introduction to the key theme of Margaret’s loneliness. And leads neatly into William’s arrival. The language and structure are so strong throughout. Dialogue is also done well: the characters of Margaret, Mother Mary Clemence, Sister Agnes and the other central figures emerge in part through the words they use and how they talk. The illustrations also do a lot to establish character, and certainly help to pace and provide visual details, but it’s the verbal storytelling that really impressed me the most.

    • Julie Corsaro says:

      “Each book is to be considered as a contribution to American literature. The committee is to make its decision primarily on the text. Other components of a book, such as illustrations, overall design of the book, etc., may be considered when they make the book less effective.” Perhaps, “primarily” gives award committees some wiggle room, but it does seem clear that what the illustrations and design add can’t be considered. This is the rub for me with graphic novels and the Newbery because the artwork and design tend to add a lot. Specifically, I found Queen of the Sea to be an absolute delight largely due to Margaret’s engaging voice (Steven has already aptly analyzed it), as well as the historical details, even if its a faux sixteenth-century setting. I read an ARC of the book early in the year. It only had color on the cover and frontispiece. I really didn’t mind that, but the last 100 pages or so had only sketchy outlines of the artwork. I found it wasn’t nearly as rich an experience without the more complete pictures.

  9. Kate McCue-Day says:

    Finished White Bird this morning after seeing Palacio last night. It is a brutally honest beautiful book I think has a real chance and kids are going to love it. The fact that she illustrated it too is amazing. I can’t wait to see other’s feelings of it.

    • Annisha Jeffries Annisha Jeffries says:

      Kate, White Bird by far, is my favorite book by Palacio. It was beautifully written and heartbreaking. I’m so glad to know that you loved it.

  10. Cory Eckert says:

    My opinion: Queen of the Sea and New Kid are both phenomenal books, with Queen of the Sea being more traditional Newbery material, but New Kid being the book taking big chances.

    My Mock Newbery kids opinion: They don’t really ‘get’ New Kid and they universally hate Best Friends so much they’ve kicked it off consideration.

    • Annisha Jeffries Annisha Jeffries says:

      Hi Cory, I’m curious as to why Best Friends was kicked off for consideration? Not that all young people have to embrace what is critically acclaimed. New Kid wasn’t what I was expecting before reading it and I really appreciated the chances it takes to qualify as Newbery material. Jerry Craft’s illustrations may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but I think that will draw a reluctant reader to this graphic novel.

    • Mason Buckman says:

      That’s a good reminder for me to report on about the reception here for NEW KID. Most of the readers have been on the upper end of my middle school and they heartily enjoy it. The younger ones who have tried it have returned it and said that some of the themes went over their head (or, those themes clearly did when I asked about them).

      It occurred to me that there is some content that will most strongly resonate with adult readers, too, but that doesn’t mean that the targeted audience won’t get the points that Craft is making.

    • Cory, if you don’t mind, would you share with us the demographics of your mock Newbery kids? How many are there, how old, and what are their heritages and backgrounds. Only if you feel comfortable to share.

      I teach in a school very much like that depicted in New Kid and have not heard any young readers not “getting” the book and the scenario.

      I am so very curious about why the students reject Best Friends. It has been the most asked for new titles in my library because all the students are recommending it to each other.

  11. WHITE BIRD is a great book, but I question if it is Newbery eligible. A shorter version of this story was included in “The Julian Chapter” of the book AUGGIE & ME. Doesn’t that make it ineligible for the Newbery?

    • Steven Engelfried Steven Engelfried says:

      Good question, Sue. In the Criteria, “original work” is defined as text that “is presented here for the first time and has not been previously published elsewhere in this or any other form.” We get some elaboration in the Newbery Manual, which notes that “this does not mean that some minor portion of the work cannot have appeared elsewhere.” (p 67) Also: “Not all cases are clear-cut, and each committee must make its own judgments about originality.” So the Committee, possibly with input from the Priority Chair and others, would need to decide if the shorter version can be seen as a “minor portion” or something more than that.

      I assume this came into play with THE GRAVEYARD BOOK (2009 Medal), where one chapter had been previously published as a short story, and the Committee must have decided that this was a “minor portion.” This year’s Committee could use that to help inform the eligibility question of WHITE BIRD, but ultimately has to “make its own judgment.”

      • Steven Engelfried Steven Engelfried says:

        A LONG WAY FROM CHICAGO (1999 Newbery Honor) was similar to THE GRAVEYARD BOOK: One chapter was previously published.

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