Sequels, Prequels, and Companions
There’s plenty of precedent for sequels getting Newbery recognition. A YEAR DOWN YONDER won the medal in this century; earlier Dicey Tillerman, Will Stanton, and Taran the Assistant Pig-Keeper, among others, all debuted in earlier books before winning the gold.
The Terms and Criteria state that “The committee’s decision is to be made following deliberation about the books of the specified calendar year.” That’s preceded by a warning “not to consider the entire body of the work by an author.” That has a few implications, but in regards to series I take it to mean that we can’t rate a book higher or lower based on our knowledge, or lack of knowledge, of related books from previous years. And we can’t decided to give (or not give) an award because an author has won (or not won) previously. We have a handful of excellent books from series this year, and most that I’ve read work just fine with or without exposure to their related titles.
THE PEARL THIEF is a prequel to Elizabeth Wein’s CODE NAME VERITY. Readers of the earlier book (one of my all-time favorites) will experience it a little differently, especially since we know Julie’s eventual fate. But characters, themes, and plot all come through fine without prior knowledge. I appreciated the strong characterizations and the sense of time and place, but the mystery plot didn’t stand out for me. I likely wouldn’t nominate this one, but not just because it’s not as great as VERITY.
PATINA by Jason Reynolds is a companion to GHOST, featuring a different member of Ghost’s track team. I really enjoyed Patina’s voice and the insights she had about others and sometimes herself. The track action was involving, though the wisdom lessons from Coach and his assistant seemed a little overdone…I liked the lessons fine, but was more interested in Patty’s relationships with her family and friends.
THICK AS THIEVES continues Megan Whalen Turner’s “Queen’s Thief” series. I would need to reread this one for Newbery consideration, because I admit the series factor does confuse me in this case. I have a feeling I might have been impatient with the pace of the book if I hadn’t known that there were going to be intriguing revelations later, based on the previous books’ patterns…but I’m not sure. And just like when I read books 3 and 4 from this series, I struggled with the “but-it’s-not-as-great-as-the-first-two” problem. But that initial sentimental attachment to earlier books usually drops off with a reread.
For younger readers, THE PRINCESS IN BLACK AND THE MYSTERIOUS PLAYDATE by Shannon and Dean Hale is the fifth book in the series, but truly stands out for its plot, humor, characters, and for its introduction of the concept of “waging playdate.” This one will get a separate post soon…
Of the series books for older readers, Kimberly Brubaker Bradley’s THE WAR I FINALLY WON tops my list so far. The other books I mentioned stand alone from related titles pretty easily, because they focus on different characters. This, one, however, features the same protagonist and takes place almost immediately after the earlier book ends. The author takes care of that quickly and directly, bringing all readers, new or returning, up to date with the events that led to Ada’s operation. She doesn’t just rehash the details of Mam’s actions, but focuses on Ada’s emotional responses, so we actually get to know Ada as we learn the back-story about her foot. I’d be interested to hear if others who didn’t read THE WAR THAT SAVED MY LIFE felt confused with the opening of this book.
Ada is a strong and distinct character. Her unique situation and the way she looks at the world and at others made all the elements of her story engaging to me. She’s blunt and straightforward and initially takes things at face value, but also has the ability see deeper. Her lack of world knowledge is amusing (“we should send dragons after Hitler” (p 36)), but also provides a neat way for the author to provide details about the times. I also like the author’s restraint through some of the more dramatic moments. When Ada realizes that “Ma had always been angry” (251), for example, it’s a big revelation…but it doesn’t solve everything and she still has to grapple with her past even once she understands it better.
I believe that WAR (1), PLAYDATE (1) and PATINA (2) are the only sequels that received reader nominations on this blog in October. I wonder if the Terms and Criteria make it harder for us to appreciate books in series in Newbery conversations….or is it just that we haven’t had more standouts this year?
Filed under: Book Discussion
About Steven Engelfried
Steven Engelfried was the Library Services Manager at the Wilsonville Public Library in Oregon until he retired in 2022 after 35 years as a full-time librarian. 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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