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Heavy Medal: A Mock Newbery Blog
Inside Heavy Medal

Heavy Medal Mock Newbery Finalist: SNAPDRAGON by Kat Leyh

Introduced by Heavy Medal Award Committee member Amanda Bishop

What makes SNAPDRAGON stand out as distinguished is in terms of Newbery criteria is delineation of character. Leyh writes characters who are real, passionate, and multifaceted. While the setting is detailed with vibrant colors and illustrations, it is the moments and conversations that the characters have with each other that truly bring this story to life.

Snapdragon is, perhaps, one of the most self-assured characters I have ever read. She is confident in who she is and what she believes in. She stands up for the people she cares about and is fierce in her convictions. 

When Snap first encounters Jack, “The Witch”, their relationship is cemented in a shared love and passion for animals. Snap and Jack’s conversations are light and playful, but also respectful and compassionate. 

“I know you’re not a witch.”

“Oh?”

“Yeah. Ain’t no such thing. But…” (15)

and later

“When are you going to tell me what you do with these?! Do 

you eat ‘em?! Use ‘em for spells?! WHAT?!”

“ ‘Spells?’ I thought I wasn’t a witch?” (38)

As their friendship begins to deepen, we begin to see how Jack has hardened herself against a world that is distrustful and cruel towards those who are different. But it is Jack who opens herself up to the most vulnerable in the world.

“Lotsa folks don’t even notice when they hit somethin’. So I 

notice em’.” (61)

and later

“Lotta folks saw us two together as all kinds of wrong… so we 

had to make the most of it.” (97)

Snap is drawn to empathetic and caring people in the world around her. Not just with Jack but also with Lula. When the two first meet Snap is defensive and makes assumptions about them. But they soon bond over the shared love of the same movie. They become fast friends and we learn that while they might be opposites in some respects, both have a profound respect for one another while still being playful as any child would be:

“You’re so weird.”

“Psh. Says you.” (65)

and later when Snap is feeling frustrated:

“… there would have been a reason!”

“A reason for what?”

“For why I feel so different! Why I don’t fit in! And it’d be an 

awesome reason! I’d be a witch!”

“You need a reason? How about this: it’s the reason we’re 

friends! I hang out with you ‘cause- witch or not- you’re still the biggest weirdo I know!” (161)

The conversations seem so authentic and exactly how two kids would support one another – teasingly, but also lovingly. 

In addition to having great conversations between the characters, SNAPDRAGON also discusses gender fluidity and gender identity in a very supportive way. Snap doesn’t even think twice about accepting Lula for who they are and Snap’s mother is open about discussing gender with her. When Snap says that:

“I feel like a girl… I just don’t act right.” (110)

Her mother responds:

“I’m proud of who you are, baby- and I don’t want you actin’ 

any other way. Got it?” (111)

This book continually drives home that there’s no right or wrong way to express gender, it matters who you are as a person. 

Overall, SNAPDRAGON is a beautifully illustrated story of friendship that includes a diverse cast of characters that sets out to upset the culture of assumptions and to challenge rigid societal norms. 

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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 sengelfried@yahoo.com.

Comments

  1. I love this book. I read it months ago, but each time I reconsider it, my appreciation deepens. One of the most important aspects of the book comes in the way Lulu’s transition is so seamless. Not only does Snap support and accept her friend, but the scene with the brothers demonstrates the different ways acceptance can show up. On p. 127, Snap comes over and finds Lu in her room with her older brothers. They tease,’Yeah! Take your weirdo squirrel girlfriend and stay out there, Lulu!”
    They are not being kind, as siblings sometimes aren’t, but they do NOT hesitate to call her Lulu. That strikes me as exactly the right response.

  2. Charlie Longbow says:

    Thank you Amanda Bishop for the excellent intro (including a bunch of text to show it stands up without the illustrations) and Sarah Beth West for expressing a lot of ways I feel. I liked Leyh’s work ever since I read Lumberjanes and especially Supercakes. I was def drawn in by this unusual cover and I read it in one sitting. I was a little skeptical of the portrayal of Lulu because it’s not OV (I’m Afro-Indigenous Two-Spirit/Indiqequeer) but it won me over and I enjoyed it. Snap is a strong character. It would be excellent to see the Newbery Committee choose a distinguished graphic novel + queer rep.

    Two other 2020 graphic novels I really liked are Ha’s Almost American Girl (Mr. Leonard gave that thumbs up) and Nguyen’s The Magic Fish. They are shelved in YA at our library but the MCs are 13-14. I hope they get love and don’t get lost in the cracks.

    Our group is leaving HM now, but will be posting on our platforms. Thx.

  3. I loved the humor and dialogue and characters. And especially how much plot is packed in there! There are real twists and turns, which a lot of graphic novels don’t find/make space for.

  4. Tamara DePasquale says:

    For me, Snapdragon did not hit the mark of excellence in character, setting or plot. The potential was there and I was hopeful. Reading this title was like panning for gold, knowing it’s there and consistently coming up empty.

    I will begin with the plot. So much of what is here feels underdeveloped. There is nothing new or fresh about the young outsider protagonist who makes friends with the misunderstood, witchy older outsider…except their shared magical powers. Yet, I never felt invested in that storyline or bought into the possibility of the fantasy. What am I missing? Their familial connection, another “surprise,” never gets enough attention to actually feel authentic either. It felt deliberately inserted rather than a lovely happenstance. I also struggled with the transitions from scene to scene. In spite of color changes, the abruptness often took me out of the story to reread and make sense of the change of place, time or character.

    The characters never take off. Snapdragon is perpetually angry and self-serving. We assume these traits are there to protect her from her past and present circumstances. I don’t see her as particularly likable. She makes friends with both Jacks and Louis because it serves her own needs at the time. Jacks can help her foster the orphaned possums and teach her magic, and Louis is able to allay her mother’s concerns about her becoming a loner. Her mother says, “I want you to invite a friend over…I’m not raisin’ an antisocial…I betchu can think of someone.” Enter Louis, and Louis steals the show!

    It’s Lou who reaches out to Snapdragon after the first bullying sequence to see if she’s okay. It’s Lou who continues to extend the invitation to friendship by saying, “I like your dog” from the rooftop perch. It’s Lou who calls the bullying brothers “idiots.” Snapdragon enjoys seeing Lou frightened during the scary movie: “Sure, watching you get scared has actually been pretty fun!” She even continues the notion by yelling from the door as he leaves in darkness, “Don’t run into any monsterrrs!” It appears that Snapdragon is accepting of Lulu by raiding her mother’s closet, but honestly, Snapdragon wants the “handed-down, hand-me down” dragon shirt. It’s a trade, not a kindness. On page 155, Snapdragon throws pumpkin guts at Lulu and laughs. That never felt playful in light of all the other examples in the text and ones I have laid out here. When Snapdragon tells Lulu that she is going to Jacks rather than trick-or-treating, its Lulu who says, “I’ll share my candy with you.” When is Snapdragon ever kind to Lulu except for when she allows her toes to be painted? It’s all about Snapdragon! That is not the friend I would like to see for my own children. I will go further and ask, is that the best friend that Lulu deserves?

    Lulu and Violet are the true heroes of the story – my favorites. Violet encourages the friendship with Lulu. She stands up for Snapdragon at the bookstore. She supports Lulu when she says, “That my shirt? Snap give it to you?…Your parents mind you havin’ it, though? Well, if they do you can tell ‘em I let you have it.” Violet is the one who tells Snapdragon to invite Jacks to their family Thanksgiving – not Snapdragon. The other secondary characters really add nothing significant enough to the development of the story or the characters. Chuck? Hersch? Jessamine/Granny? The schoolyard and sibling bullies? And as for Jacks, I felt Jacks was more a humorous caricature, and it really bothered me.

    The magic could have been left completely out of the story. It was more of a distraction for me. Jacks and Snapdragon share their love of animals, loneliness, and a budding friendship. I wanted so much more from Louis/Lulu and Snapdragon’s friendship, too. It was there and ready for nurturing. At first I asked myself if the graphic novel format hindered the untapped potential, and then I thought of all the graphic titles that invited me to escape into a well-built world – magical or real – to spend time with their complex characters.

    Thank you, Sara Beth, for your thoughtful insights. I wish I could get there! I didn’t notice a change in the brothers’ behavior and attitude. I felt they were mean and mocking on page 127, “Oh you two are here…heh heh…” To avoid further insult, Lulu then suggests a move to the rooftop followed by more taunts, “Yeah! And take your weirdo squirrel girlfriend and stay out there, Lulu!” This treatment continues according to Lulu on page 162, “My brothers are the same as always…”
    Amanda, I also saw the conversation on page 161 between Snapdragon and Lulu again as hurtful. Maybe oblivious to Lulu’s perspective. Snapdragon says, “…There would have been a reason…for why I feel so different! Why I don’t fit in! And it’d be an awesome reason! I’d be a witch!” Does that lesson Lulu’s feelings of different? Perhaps Snapdragon is indeed ignorant of how her words and actions may impact a “friend,” and I’m even willing to excuse it based on immaturity or lack of experience in the landscape of friendship. That said, how has she changed or grown?

    I’m so frustrated with this one! It had everything laid out and ready to go, and I was so excited for the ride. In my opinion, Snapdragon falls far short of Newbery territory. I’m hoping other eyes and hearts can help me better understand why this one is on our list of contenders, or how I completely missed its strengths.

  5. I think anyone who read our previous discussion of the book won’t be surprised to hear that it was one of my favorites this year. It’s definitely my favorite on this discussion list, though I’ll agree that that is partly for purely subjective reasons: this is just my favorite kind of thing to read.

    I agree that Lulu and Violet were two of the strongest characters in the book. I would absolutely love for Leyh to return to this world and do a book about Lulu, maybe see her develop her affinity for plants. One of the things I love in SNAPDRAGON, though, is that you can see that Lulu is growing and transitioning and doing her own thing, even when Snap isn’t around. It would have been nice to see more of her transition – I can see that argument – but I appreciate that her transition isn’t dependent on Snap, it’s her own journey and she’s taking it even when she’s off screen. I think that’s great. I feel like it makes her seem more like a real person.

    While Violet might push Snap into pursuing the relationship with Lulu, I feel like the friendship grows organically. Lu insists that she likes horror movies, for instance, that she wants to watch them, and that she’s enjoying them. Snap gives her the freedom to make her own choices, even if that enjoyment doesn’t look like Snap’s. And yes, Snap teases her, but for me, the tone read as good-natured and friendly. It never looked like Lu minded at all, and many of the interactions are two sided (Snap throws pumpkin guts because Lulu’s teasing her, and Lulu is grinning throughout). Many of their conversations had that kind of teasing banter back and forth, and I felt like friendships I had as a kid. We cared about each other, but we also teased in a friendly way, all the time. When bullies at school start in on Lulu in a very unfriendly way, Snap snaps and attacks them, which is why Violet has to pick her up from school, leading to the quote Amanda includes above from page 111. Snap knows where the lines are, and she doesn’t cross them. When they trade clothes, she gives Lulu something she actually wants, and talks her into accepting it, because she wants Lulu to be as happy in the trade as she is. She compliments Lulu on her new earrings and helps her grow out her hair (which, yes, she’s experimenting with trying magic at the same time, but still, she can see how much it matters to Lou). They’re not the kind of friends who need to live in each others’ pockets all the time, but they support each other, and I thought it was great to read.

    I mostly saw acceptance from Lulu’s brothers at the very end of the book, when they swing through the house to pick her up so she can participate in the turkey fry. It’s a brief couple panels, but I love them.

    I love Jacks. I love Jacks’ backstory. I love her Meowdy shirt, and how she comes riding to Snap’s rescue on a motorcycle. Violet might remind Snap to invite Jacks to Thanksgiving, but it looks an awful lot like a joint scheme, and it was Snap’s idea to tell Jacks where Violet’s name came from, which is part of what convinces her to accept.

    I can see how people would find Snap really abrasive. But if Snap didn’t care, she wouldn’t try to so hard to rescue her dog, or baby opossums. What I really like about this book (one of the things), is that I think it shows that people and relationships have layers. And I love the idea of magic being an everyday sort of thing you find down the road and that you can find it living in a trailer park in the woods in the middle of an otherwise normal life. It doesn’t have to be a Hogwarts castle, it can be roadkill and animal rescue and growing plants. I liked that accessibility a lot.

    • Yep to all of this, Aud. I don’t take lightly that other readers can (and SHOULD) have vastly different feelings about a book or a character than my own, but in this case, my feelings match yours. And your description of Lulu’s transition not being dependent on Snap, well, that is a step further than I had gotten and way better!

      I’ll ask this about the self-centered quality of Snap’s character: could it be an intentional framing on Leyh’s part to put us inside the head of an adolescent, most of whom feel like the center of their own universe a whole lot of the time? They don’t even necessarily want to feel this way, but they do, so maybe Leyh was tapping in to that?

      One more thing: that line where Snap wishes she could be a witch because then, at least, she would have a reason for why she feels so different . . . I think it is the most perceptive, most insightful, most spot-on reflection of how many kids (maybe more today than in the past?) feel. At the risk of making this personal, that is EXACTLY a feeling we’ve talked about, right down to the witchcraft.

      • Aud Hogan says:

        Sara Beth West: I think you might be on to something, about Snap being self-centered due to her stage of development. She definitely feels completely accurate to her age, and this might be part of it. I think another facet might be that, because she has to be rather independent due to her mom’s schedule, she’s used to looking after herself, but that means she’s used to ONLY looking after herself? Also, until her friendship with Lulu takes off, one gets the impression that the other local kids have not been kind to Snap. So it might also be a sub-conscious method of self protection, mixed with the fact that she isn’t so well socialized, because she didn’t have much of anyone to socialize with (as a kid homeschooled in the middle of nowhere for a while in elementary school, I also rather identify with this possibility. I wasn’t very well socialized when I started attending school with other kids again).

    • Amanda Bishop says:

      Completely agree Aud. I love that each character has their own thing going on and we don’t necessarily need to see it to understand that it’s taking place. It feels organic when done in this way.

      I also agree with you about Snap’s personality. Characters should have flaws, they aren’t perfect beings, because people aren’t perfect. Snap is totally her own person and while she is looking for some form of acceptance, she won’t just take it from anyone. She sees people for who they are and only opens up to those who will respect her.

  6. Tamara DePasquale says:

    Aud and Sara, thank you so much for the exchange of ideas on this one. Often, when I see something so differently, I revisit the book. I have done this with Snapdragon. I can see where you both are coming from, and I guess it can be read multiple ways. I’m just not there.

    My concern remains, we are all loving Lulu, and Lu is not the main character, here. We all agree that this is such a great character, and one we are so invested in. Shouldn’t I feel that same way about Snapdragon? I just don’t. I do not see her growth. I do see potential for it, but for me, it doesn’t happen within this story.

    That said, thank you for your willingness to continue the discussion. I really appreciate your thoughtful responses and will continue to wrestle with this one.

    • Aud Hogan says:

      Thank you, Tamara, for continuing the discussion! I could talk about this book all day long, I love it so much.

      I framed my initial response mostly around Lulu, because of the understandable concerns you had about her treatment in the book, but the character I personally identified with the most is Snapdragon. I was a rural tomboy who was a bit on the brash side as a kid, and I so, so, so love and appreciate that there was no “makeover” scene in this book where she was expected by her nearest and dearest to change herself to become more feminine, which is what I feel happens to so many girls like us. Her conversation with her mother in the car was a wonderful scene for me. I appreciate that this is a subjective response, because it’s so personal, but Snapdragon is one of my “mirror” books in this particular regard, and I deeply appreciate it. I feel like Snap did grow into her friendships with Lulu and Jacks, as she learned how to trust those two characters and let them in a bit more, but again, different people do read things differently.

      • Tamara DePasquale says:

        Aud, thank you, thank you for this perspective. Your point of the “makeover” is making me think more deeply about my own measures for character growth and development. Maybe I’m expecting things from Snapdragon that fit that criteria…and maybe it’s flawed. I’m still thinking on this!

  7. I really enjoyed reading this Graphic Novel. I was hooked from the strong opening line – “Our town has a witch. She fed her eye to the devil. She eats roadkill and casts spells with the bones…” Like SKUNK and BADGER, it was a bit of a break from the heavy subject matters of the other contenders on the Heavy Medal List. I appreciated its matter of fact approach to giving us a glimpse into Snapdragon’s life at home, at school, and on her own adventures. While I didn’t really connect with this book as much as I had anticipated, I felt it did a great job of showing/normalizing different family dynamics – single parent homes and LGBTQ families. I thought is was great to show Lulu discovering their sexuality/gender identity and not having shame attached to it. LOVED how the author showed Vi creating a safe space for Snap and Lu. Other themes included sibling rivalry, bullying, friendship, and a bit of magic. The latter is something I felt was tacked on and didn’t really feel genuine to me. Even though there’s a witch in the book, I felt the magic wasn’t really necessary. But kids love magic. It’s a relatable hook. I think the writing is age appropriate. I really enjoyed the art/illustrations. And I think the characters were mostly well developed. I didn’t really get a feel for the location as much as I did in some of the other books I’ve read so far. It wasn’t as immersive an experience, but it is still a book that I feel would benefit any child reading it. It opens a window for some readers and offers a mirror for others.

  8. Emily Mroczek says:

    I understand Tamara’s concerns with plot and setting and think Aud and Sarah Beth give a big case for character. I’m also here to say that as shown in Amanda’s examples, the dialouge is phenomenal– each word packs a punch and the characters personalities shine thru. That speaks for style and presentation.

    I also think it’s important to say that a book doesn’t necessarily need to excel in all the criteria– if some pieces of the criteria elevate the book to distinguished status.

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