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Heavy Medal: A Mock Newbery Blog
Inside Heavy Medal

Heavy Medal Mock Newbery Finalist: MILO IMAGINES THE WORLD by Matt de la Peña

Introduction by Heavy Medal Award Committee member Megan Howes.

Newbery winner Matt de la Peña is back with the stunning picture book, MILO IMAGINES THE WORLD, with illustrations by Christian Robinson. Readers follow Milo as he goes on the city subway with his sister for a day out. While Milo rides the subway, he observes the strangers around him and draws what he thinks their lives are like. The strangers on the subway cars are depicted with having a large variety of skin tones, ages, and backgrounds. Along the way, Milo discovers that everything is not what it seems and that he should be careful to judge what another person’s life is like.

As the book concludes, Milo is surrounded by his family in a touching reunion with an incarcerated parent. The illustrations by Christian Robinson are beautiful in this book, and Milo’s drawings are detailed and vivid. The writing also excels with beautiful imagery, metaphors, and alliteration that make the text flow. I loved that Milo is described as a “shook-up soda” (p. 5), which highlights the mix of emotions he is feeling, and I loved the descriptions of the people around him, such as the lady who “has a face made out of light” (p. 4).

There is also only a very small amount of children’s literature that depicts a child’s parent in jail, and this book will reach young children who have an incarcerated parent. Peña and Robinson show that relationships with parents who are in jail can still be loving, fulfilling, and full of hope.  Young readers will love Milo’s playful and colorful illustrations, and older readers will resonate with the concept of being nonjudgmental to the people around you. This picture book is a great contender for the Newbery because it reaches across many different age groups and walks of life to deliver a message we all need hear.

Heavy Medal Award Committee members and others are now invited to discuss this book further in the Comments section below. Please start with positive observations first; stick to positives until at least three comments have been posted or we reach 1:00 pm EST. Let the Mock Newbery discussion begin!

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. Stephanie Saggione says

    This is my top contender for the award! It’s a wonderful read aloud for all ages because of the multiple layers in the text and pictures, It will provoke conversations about race, class, bias, and empathy. Aside from those important themes, the plot is also interesting and unpredictable. The ending invites readers to give it a second or third perusal so they can spot clues along the way. Robinson’s artwork always pops but this book in particular has so many kid-friendly details. Milo’s drawings look like real kid drawings and the colors catch your eye immediately. I can’t decide if I want this one to win the Caldecott or the Newbery… both author and illustrator deserve recognition for this amazing book.

  2. Perhaps even more than LAST STOP ON MARKET STREET (which I loved!), this book is a remarkable example of how distinguished the text of a picture book can be. Fewer words and a younger audience DO NOT automatically result in a simple or less impressive piece of writing, and I do hope this one gets serious discussion by the committee. Both the unexpected descriptions (like the examples provided above) and the unique structure speak to is distinguished nature. And though I know the committee cannot and should not consider the history of the author/illustrator and the medal, I worry that some aspect of that repetition will nag at people.

    • Louie Lauer says

      I completely agree with you here, Sara. I think that the use of language is even stronger in this one than Market Street. The precise word choice, the economy of language and the over all rhythm of the language put this book high on my list as well.

  3. Lisa Levin says

    This is a beautiful book and I love when picture books can reach across the different ages of readers. There certainly aren’t enough books out there for this tough topic and the author does a beautiful job addressing an incarcerated parent. The illustrated depictions on the subway are wonderful and authentic. I love Milo’s character, how he looks, and what he draws and imagines. A definite contender indeed.

  4. Amanda Bishop says

    Mat de La Peña is a master of crafting a story with the use of few words. I love the creative language play and how through his writing you can feel yourself in the subway as the young Milo. Peña and Robinson do a wonderful job of presenting information and telling the story through both the writing and illustrations. It really challenges readers to view the world differently and to question their assumptions. This is a book that should be read and reread. Every time I do, I know I gain an even deeper understanding. This is a beautiful book.

  5. Emily Smith says

    Among other deserving candidates, I’m hopeful that this one will win the Newbery because of the attention it would bring. Children of incarcerated parents are vastly underrepresented in our nation of staggering incarceration rates, so I look forward to how the sales, reporting, and interviews would shed light on this topic. MILO IMAGINES THE WORLD excels in several ways, perhaps most especially, “excellence of presentation for a child audience.”

    Fellow teachers, beware: It should be noted that I read this one aloud to my Mock Newbery students after only skimming it myself, and I teared up. If you’re not prepared to cry in front of your students, you’ll need to do a rehearsal of this one.

  6. Tamara DePasquale says

    Let me begin by stating firmly that I think this is an award-winning title. It is truly distinguished. I hope it gets the Caldecott attention that it deserves.

    I do not, however, feel that it merits Newbery consideration. The text does not stand on its own if we are holding the incarcerated parent or prison setting as “distinguishing” features. The Newbery criteria states “other aspects” of the book may be considered “only if they distract from the text.” I would argue that the illustrations enhance the text. The text is truly exemplary, but it becomes picture book magic when it is paired with Christian Robinson’s illustrations.

    I agree with you all regarding the importance of this topic in children’s literature. All children need to see themselves in their books. That said, without the illustrations the prison setting is lost to the reader. The only clue is passing through the metal detectors, which can be found in many buildings from a school to a library. We truly rely on the illustrations for deeper meaning.

    • Courtney Hague says

      While I agree that the incarcerated parent aspect is so important and well-done in this book, I do think that the theme of not judging people without knowing them is still an excellent and well-executed theme. Even without the illustrations, I do think you can still understand that Milo has been looking at the people around him and imagining their lives but then realizes that perhaps he can’t actually know what people are going through when the little boy whom he thought was so fancy gets off at the same stop as he does.

    • I completely agree with you, Tamara. The text is great, but without the illustrations, I just do not think would have the same impact. It is a beautifully written book, but the illustrations are what make it an award-winning book for me.

      • Yes Tamara, also the pages where:
        “Milo tries to reimagine all the pictures he made on the train. Maybe he could have done it like this instead. Or this. Or this”

        ….pretty meaningless without the pictures, no? In fact, the book’s entire point gets obliterated if you leave the pictures out.

  7. Aryssa Damron says

    I agree with Tamara that while I really enjoyed this title and love to share it, it’s not particularly Newbery-heavy for me. Part of that is the connected-nature inrication of the drawings with the story here, but also that Robinson’s illustration style is so enjoyable that I often distract myself with it!

  8. Steven Engelfried Steven Engelfried says

    Evaluating picture book text using the Newbery Criteria is always tricky. The criteria state that the award is for the “text of a book.” And as Tamara points out, elements like illustration and design do not earn Newbery points (though they may jeopardize chances if they “detract”). The Criteria don’t say that the text needs to stand alone, though.
    I think it’s helpful to look at the literary qualities that are named in the Criteria: theme/concept, information, plot, characters, setting, and style. And try to identify in which of these, if any, the text is at a distinguished level. A skilled picture book writer usually lets the illustrations convey parts of some or all of those qualities. In the case of MILO, for example, the pictures certainly bring the setting to life, including the specifics about Milo’s ultimate destination.
    If you look at the role of the author’s words in terms of “development of a plot,” “delineation of characters,” “interpretation of the theme or concept,” and “appropriateness of style,” though, and find these distinguished, you could make a strong Newbery case for this book. Even though the words may work hand-in-hand with the illustrations to achieve that excellence.

  9. Rox Anne Close says

    This is a powerful story about the judgement we make about others, and it made me gasp when Milo reached his final destination. It’s a book that I continued to think about long after I read it, and that to me, is a sign of an award winning book. De la Pena’s writing is simply beautiful I loved the sentence about Milo’s monthly Sunday subway ride, ” Excitement stacked on top of worry, on top of confusion, on top of love”, and it really made me curious about where Milo was going. I think the writing can stand alone, without the pictures, except perhaps on two pages, where Milo is trying to reimagine his pictures, (a two page spread), and the final double page with the picture he shows his mom. But what I think really makes this book stand out is that Milo’s mom is not the focus of the book but is merely there to support the message.

  10. Julie Williams says

    I do think the implication is that the text needs to stand alone without the pictures. From my understanding from people who have been on the committee (and correct me if I am wrong)… in discussions about a book like this – picture book, graphic novel – someone actually types out only the text for discussion. This was why I was a bit surprised by Market Street to be honest because there was a section referring to the headphones that I didn’t feel stood alone without the illustration. This book is even more dependent on the illustrations as noted above. Truly deserving of an award – just don’t think Newbery is the right one.

  11. But, the text here is different from someone writing a piece and someone else interpreting the text with pictures. The text (the literal manuscript) includes the pictures. It writes them in. IN part because Milo is drawing and in part because of the incredibly unique structure employed. The example of “like this … or this … or this… ” indicates just how much the pictures are a part of the writing process. Just like a graphic novel has helped us to understand how image and word can both be “read” as a single text (thank you to all those graphic novelists who pushed the form forward before Jerry Craft finally broke through to win!), this picture book is a unique example of the the ways text is the words AND is more than the words. If NEW KID had to stand alone without the images, it would not have won because it wouldn’t have been the particular (and particularly distinguished) book it is. I do not think the committee should be required to remove the pictures, but even if they do, Matt de la Peña has done remarkable things with the words alone here, and I don’t think his work should be disqualified just because he writes for our youngest readers.

  12. To quote the OG Nina Lindsey: “Nothing says the text has to stand alone, only that you evaluate the role and contribution of the text only.”

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