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Heavy Medal: A Mock Newbery Blog
Inside Heavy Medal

Realistic Historical Fiction, or Just Another Made Up Genre

In today’s edition of Heavy Medal I present the newest Emily made up genre: realistic historical fiction! (Otherwise known as books I read and assumed they were set in present day and then realize WAIT Emily the Port Chicago disaster was in the 40’s and that the 80’s are you know… the 80’s.

Without further ado let’s get to two fabulous titles- one leading the nominations tally with twelve nods and the other on the lower end with two nods… RED, WHITE, AND WHOLE AND FINDING CLEM.

Both of these titles I struggled with on first read, but upon the second I really appreciated their quality.

Let’s start with RED, WHITE, AND WHOLE by Rajani Larocca– who I just checked and she had FIVE books published in 2021 (two chapter books and three picture books). It’s interesting because a big rule of Newbery discussion is to not talk about yourself, but only the quality of the book. However sometimes individual experiences help a critic truly determine the authenticity of the story. I found that in RWW and am able to say that the realistic descriptions of leukemia, chemotherapy and white blood counts and how Reha separates life “before and after” her mother’s illness is spot on. Pair that with the strong cadence and metaphor-rich poems and I may start crying again if this doesn’t get a shiny sticker!

And then we’ll move on to a title I go back and forth on- BEING CLEM by Lesa Cline-Ransome. There is no question that this book is phenomenal. The main and supporting characters shine so well with multiple scenes leading to a re-read so I could just picture it again. Clem’s mother after his dad passed away, Clem unable to put his head in the water at swim lessons and Clarisse opening up about her fears.

My problem with this title? It’s advertised as a companion but also the third in the series with FINDING LANGSTON AND LEAVING LYMON and even though it’s a stand-alone title I think it depends too much on the others. My previous friendships with Langston and Lymon, knowledge of their stories, and perspectives of the same situation from made it impossible to separate this book from the others and thus not a “self contained entity.”

But that’s just my opinion, now I want to hear yours!

About Emily Mroczek-Bayci

Emily Mroczek (Bayci) is a freelance children’s librarian in the Chicago suburbs. She served on the 2019 Newbery committee. You can reach her at


  1. Meredith BUrton says

    Red, WHite and WHole had such evocative imagery. I loved the authenticity of the characters, descriptions of the foods and Indian culture, and the way Rhea described herself as feeling like two separate people. It’s a wonderful book of growth and familial love. I did feel that Rhea’s mother’s final message, while beautiful and perfect for the story, was just a bit too preachy. HOwever, that’s just knit-picking, I think. It boggles my mind that this book didn’t receive any starred reviews. DOn’t know how much that aspect factors into the committee’s selection of books to read, but I found that rather odd as the writing was excellent.

  2. Being Clem was one of the books for which I voted. I have never read the other two books in the series although now I want to pick them up. I found the character’s depiction of having lost a father at a young age realistic and the fear of water and swimming. I was familiar with both from my childhood. I find the story of the Port Chicago disaster to be fascinating in other things I have read and felt that having a story that showed the aftermath and how it affected families to be a gap I thought the author did a good job filling.

  3. I just discovered that LaRocca has a book out this year that’s loosely based on SHakespeare’s Much Ado about Nothing. LaRocca’s book, Much Ado about Baseball, sounds so intriguing.

    • Meredith, Much Ado About Baseball is fun and smart (there are math puzzles!) and definitely intriguing with regard to its fantasy element! It’s a companion to her first novel, Midsummer’s Mayhem, which also has a fantasy element. Both books also have lots of great food moments, which I enjoyed just as much as I did those milkshakes in Debbi Michiko Florence’s Just Be Cool, Jenna Sakai.

  4. Steven Engelfried Steven Engelfried says

    I was a little surprised to see RED, WHITE, AND WHOLE leading our first round of nominations. It was very effective at evoking Reha’s sense of her conflicting identities. Some of the verse captured her confusion and grief so effectively. Like the ways she describes her anger at losing her mother and all the things her mother won’t get to see and do, ending with: “I’m jealous of the time when I believed / all these things / were in my future.” (194).
    I like the structure of the narrative, where she intersperses poems telling the central, current story with memory poems (“I am ten years old…” (23); “I am seven years old…”) and with the stories about Savitri.
    At the same time, for the first 100 pages it felt mostly like a character study. We get to know who she is and what she thinks, but not a lot happens. We get the importance of developments like getting permission to go to the dance and her relationship with Pete, but they’re not exactly compelling. Things change with her mother’s illness, and then the stuff she described about her life take on a different weight. Which is well done, but I still felt like I was observing, rather than involved.
    I’d love to hear more about why this one sits at the top of our nomination list to this point….

  5. THank you so much, Ms. Lisa. I look forward to reading the book.

    Mr. Stephen: I had some of the same reservations as you, which is why I didn’t nominate the book during the first round of nominations. I loved the story and have reread it twice. I do think it deserved some starred reviews. However, I don’t know about the Newbery. I did wish that there had been more scenes with Reha and her mother near the beginning of the book. It seems as if the illness came out of nowhere. I loved the second half of the book more than the first half.
    As far as verse novels go, I think Starfish is a bit more effective, although I have expressed reservations about that one in earlier posts. It will be interesting to see how nominations progress in NOvember and December.

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