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

Heavy Medal Finalist #9: Queen of the Sea

Introduced by Heavy Medal Committee Member Earl Dizon

“A queen does not abandon her people. If that pathetic shrew wants the crown, our father denied her; she’ll have to take it by force.”

“What if she takes your head along with it?”

“My people won’t allow that to happen!”

“The people aren’t here, Your Majesty.”

“We’re five days away from the palace, and your sister’s army will take the gates before dark.”

“That isn’t certain.”

“A boat is waiting by the cliffs. It will row us out to a ship in the bay. From there, we can sail to the Continent.”

“To exile. I would rather die than be exiled from my own kingdom!”

This dialogue between Queen Eleanor and her loyal servant, Francis Paget, the Earl of Kense, sets the stage for an epic retelling of Queen Elizabeth I’s fight for the throne with her sister, Queen Mary.

One can almost imagine the cramped space this heated argument is taking place in, the marching of an angry mob towards a castle waiting, and the swaying of a boat in the dock ready for its passengers. But one doesn’t have to imagine these scenes since Dylan Meconis brings them to life with her illustrations in this stand out graphic novel.

Following the Queen’s escape, we are whisked away to an island where a young orphan girl, Margaret, takes over the narration of the story.

“I wasn’t born on the Island. If you’re reading this to find out what happened to the true Queen of Albion, that’s the first thing you should know. Trust me.”

In this case, Albion is a fictionalized version of the British Isles. Truth is often blurred in Meconis’s storytelling style as well as in Margaret’s world, especially with the arrival of new guests to the Island- from Lady Cameron and her son William to Mother Mary Clemence and the exiled Queen herself, Eleanor. Each one manages to open up Margaret’s scope of life beyond the Island a little bit more in ways that conflict with one another. And, she grows with each revelation to the point where who she is is not someone she could have ever imagined being.

Her circumstances, too, become much more significant than she can handle, a lesson similar to the story she was told about of the selkie, the Queen of the Sea: “You may swim as fast you like, but even then you may be swept out to sea, to join her kingdom- though you may be drowned by the journey.”

Meconis provides interesting snapshots of island life, whether it’s a lesson in embroidery, a refresher on the rules of chess, or a guide on table gestures during a silent mealtime with the Elysian sisters.

With these pages, the texts stands on its own, which is surprising in a graphic novel where sometimes a lot of the story lies more in the artwork. Here, though, the illustrations are almost ornamental if they didn’t add a different layer to the story. But when the pictures alone have to do the heavy lifting, it still definitely manages to speak volumes.

With a tale so grand involving exiled royalty and nuns with secrets, it seems only fitting that when you think the story has ended, it promises to be only the beginning.

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. Rachel Wadham says

    This book really stands out to me with a style that captures the setting perfectly. But the stylistic approach to the illustrations as well as the language use in the text sets you firmly in the context of the middle ages and convent life of that time. Overlaying the political intrigue on top of this shows just how much the setting supports and extends the plot. Margaret is a character full of spunk and she also progresses the plot as she navigates all that is going on around her. I love how all the elements are tightly woven together and you really can’t see the book without any one of them being present they are so integrated. As a holistic story this comes out on top as a great example of integrated storytelling.

  2. Alissa Tudor says

    The first thing that stood out to me about this graphic novel was the amount of historical and educational non-fiction-like aspects embedded within a fictional tale. I enjoyed all of the informational elements about convents and the lives of nuns during the Middle Ages and even the description of how to play chess (which doubled as a fantastic metaphor). The illustrations add emotion and personality and add to the plot in ways that additional text may not have been able to accomplish, such as the added diagrams and illustrations of maps.
    I thought the characterization was well-done. Margaret is a naive and curious protagonist who adapts, grows, and changes throughout the whole of the story.
    And, with the last name of Tudor, naturally, I have a fondness for Tudor-England. I enjoyed this reimagination of Mary and Elizabeth I and found the parallels to be near enough for recognition and with many creative elements added or embellished to make an entertaining read.

  3. Mary Zdrojewski says

    With the large cast of characters in this book, it wasn’t possible to make them all fully developed, but the many characters were distinct enough that I was able to keep track of the different sisters. Each had their own personality and backstory, which I thought was impressive.

  4. Molly Sloan says

    I found Queen of the Sea to be an exciting and surprising story. I couldn’t put it down and finished it quickly. I think the plot was a very distinguished aspect of this graphic novel. I felt it was familiar in some ways because it echoed the story of Henry VIII. I was never quite sure if it was an actual recounting of that story or if it was a fictionalized story inspired by historical events. Though I do love all things English, my knowledge of Tudor England isn’t great so I was never quite sure if I was reading history or historical fiction. That line is not made completely clear in the text so I decided to interpret it as fiction (especially because of the Selkie fantasy element). Did other readers do the same or is there enough detail to ground the story in fact? . As historical fiction, it is a gripping story with unexpected twists. Though the story comes to a satisfying conclusion, the door is left open for more to come. As Earl said in his lovely introduction, “With a tale so grand involving exiled royalty and nuns with secrets, it seems only fitting that when you think the story has ended, it promises to be only the beginning.”

  5. samuel leopold says

    Excellent intro. Earl!
    I agree with all the positive remarks.
    I make it no secret that one of these days I am convinced a graphic novel will wear a bright gold medal on its cover!
    And this year there are two such worthy contenders in our list of books on this blog. We already talked about NEW KID. This one is just as distinguished.
    I tried something with this one. My wife read it aloud to me without me looking at the pictures and I found , in my listening, many distinguished aspects of plot, theme and character development.
    Then I read it myself while looking at the pictures and found that , while some pictures added a bit of humor { see pages 21, 23, 61} or suspense { p.243}, they were not so essential to understand the story that the text could not stand on its own. And the text does stand wonderfully on its own!
    The ending where Margaret finds her courage to ask certain promises from her sister { on behalf of others} or else she would not help them, is one reason Margaret is one of my favorite characters in any novel this year. And the Queen of the Sea is worth all the praise it has/will get.

  6. Rachel Wadham says

    As Earl notes “truth is often blurred” here and as Alissa notes there are educational “nonfiction like aspects” and I really struggle with why the author did this. Why not write an entirely historical account that was more nonfiction or even historical fiction? Why fictionalize so much? Personally, I think this choice becomes both a positive and negative for this book. As a positive I really think this blurring of truth brings the setting even more to life and gives a sense of historical or medieval fantasy that gives this book a strong place in that particular genre. I also think this also allows the setting to become more of an integral part because the story can focus on the convent and their life and times without having to be burdened by sticking to real history. So, I really think that this was a strategic choice that in the end made the books setting stronger. However, on the flyleaf of the book it indicates that this book is “alternative history” which I think misrepresents it. While it has some inspiration from history it is not historical in any way as the authors note indicates. I think marking this as alternative history is misleading as for me this is pure fantasy (although with historical inspiration). That is where the negative comes in for me in that I think this book has been misrepresented as far as genre goes and by doing so they have mixed up the realities of fact and fiction. There is a fine line for me when it comes to these genre boundaries and I don’t like that this has been misrepresented especially for kids who might read “alternative history” and think that more of this book is true than it really is. I think for it to be historical it has to be more grounded in the real facts than this really was, so for me this “blurring” of truth becomes really problematic especially as I think about sharing this book with kids. So I also think this was a poor choice and wish it had been more fantastical to make that clearer or abandon the fantasy all together and make it real historical fiction, we really could use more graphic novels that are historical fiction.

    • Alissa Tudor says

      I completely agree with you, Rachel. There are only “loose parallels” to the history. I do think it would have been nice if the story had been more historically accurate. Right now it reads as pure fiction. I think it was a missed opportunity to provide a much-needed histoical fiction graphic novel.

    • Courtney Hague says

      While I see where you’re coming from, I actually really liked the choice to make this only loosely based in history. I think by not tying the story to actual history the author is more able to freely explore the themes of the stories we tell ourselves and finding our true selves. This way Margaret can be her own person without having to be tied to a specific historical figure and the convent on the sea-swept island can be this magical setting without having to find an actual convent on an island where political prisoners were sent. There is plenty of historical fiction out there and just not enough of this kind of quasi-fairy tale with its whimsical tenuous grasp on history.

      • Rachel Wadham says

        Great point Courtney, and I will agree with you I did like this approach, but I wonder if that makes it more of an adult novel than a children’s one. For me when “playing around” with history we have to be especially understanding of the development level of children in their historical understanding, and here I’m uncertain if a line was crossed that makes this book not the best fit for a child audience. I’ve done a lot of research on the historical understanding of kids when reading historical fiction and I know that it can be hard for them to tease fact from fiction so it’s up to the author to really make that clear, and sadly I think calling this “alternative history” or even connecting it to the real historical figures when we talk about it is makes this book a really tricky sell for this audience who may not be sophisticated enough to tease out the differences.

  7. Loved this! Exciting, great characters and setting, and so many interesting details about daily life.

  8. Amanda Bishop says

    Queen of the Sea felt like a completely new kind of graphic novel to me. I agree with others that the illustrations almost seemed ornamental to the overall story. Not entirely necessary, but much appreciated. I found myself doing internet research about the historical accuracy because it seemed to mirror history so well. I did enjoy that it was loosely based on events so that the author was allowed more creativity in terms of plot and characters.

    Despite my enjoyment and fascination with this book and all of its beauty, I’m not sure if it’s Newbery worthy.

  9. Melisa Bailey says

    I thought this was an excellent written historic graphic novel. The character development was very well done with Margaret and I agree, the amount and presentation of historical information was well written and interesting. For me, this is a top contender.

  10. Steven Engelfried Steven Engelfried says

    We’re now closing comments on our HM discussions, as balloting by the HM Committee is underway. Look for new discussions in the January 23rd post as members re-discuss contending titles.