Heavy Medal Finalist – Refugee
Long List Title: REFUGEE
(Titles on our long list will be included in our online conversation and balloting, alongside the short list titles.)
Alan Gratz’s novel received six nominations on this blog, which puts in up near the leaders. I find it especially strong in “presentation of themes.” The three separate, but related stories all throw readers right into the heart of suspenseful and thought-provoking situations with families fleeing their homes and facing all kinds of danger and uncertainty. Plot development is tricky, with abrupt shifts from one story to the next, and I think he does a good job of pacing. Something important happens in each chapter and all three stories keep moving forward. He weaves the historical background of each setting into the narratives fairly smoothly, although since each story is from a single point of view, that context is occasionally a little forced. The main characters are not truly distinct or memorable, but I’m not sure that’s needed for this book. The circumstances and events are so central, you could argue that more restrained character development is appropriate given the plot and themes.
I also respect the ways that “the book displays respect for children’s understandings, abilities, and appreciations.” [Newbery Terms and Criteria] There are complex issues, three points of view, three separate (but connected) time periods, and a mix of fictional characters with historical events. That’s a lot for a fifth grade reader to keep track of, and I think the author does a good job of carefully conveying narrative and themes in ways that are accessible to upper elementary and middle school age readers.
I didn’t nominate this book, but I see enough strengths that I could be convinced to reassess, so I’m very interested in hearing more about it…
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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