Cardboard Castles and Three-Headed Cats: more graphic novels
The Heavy Medal 16 books are selected and 21 people so far have committed to taking part in the Heavy Medal Committee. The actual book discussion, though, won’t start until January 2nd. Between now and then, we’ll catch up with some titles that didn’t make the HM16, but are still well worth discussing:
THE CARDBOARD KINGDOM is a unique book in many ways. Chad Sell illustrated the whole thing, but also worked with nine different writers to create the cast of characters and their individual, but inter-related stories. Molly Muldoon is a librarian here in Oregon, and I talked with her briefly about how the collaboration worked. She created her character (“The Animal Queen”) and wrote that chapter, but also worked with Chad and the other authors in subsequent chapters where her character appeared. So it seems like the other nine writers had input at various times throughout the book, but that Chad had a guiding hand throughout.
I’m actually not sure how this fits in with the Terms and Criteria, which state that: “Author may include co-authors.” Does that mean all nine would receive an award, or would it go to Chad Sell for overseeing the development? Either way, the Committee would need to look at the book as a whole and evaluate whether or not it stands out as the most distinguished book for children of the year, without bringing the authorship details into that discussion.
The creativity of the plot and the presentations of themes seem very strong to me. There’s a rough pattern, where we meet a new kid each time and learn about their regular lives (to varying degrees) and their roles in the imaginative neighborhood games. But it’s never predictable and the different perspectives we get about the kids is often pretty powerful. When Seth meets the Animal Queen, for instance, he affably breaks through her bossiness: she won’t quite make him “animal king,” but she dubs him “captain of the guard” instead of just “peasant.” In Seth’s own chapter, “The Gargoyle,” though, we get a look at his troubled home life. And in both instances, the freeing power of imagination and pretending plays a role, though not in quite the same ways.
There’s a lot more to this book, and certainly any Newbery discussion would need to involve a hard look at what constitutes of “the text of the book” as directed by the Terms and Criteria. THE CARDBOARD KINGDOM received five nominations from Heavy Medal readers and made at least three “Best of the Year” lists.
SANITY & TALLULAH by Molly Brooks came out in October, received one nomination, and made PW’s best or the year list. Typically I’m not the ideal reader for science fiction graphic novels, but this one worked for me and I think it was more through the words than the illustrations. The title characters are best friends who live on a space station. One is super-smart (Sanity) and both easily disregard rules. When they’re in a tunnel they shouldn’t be in, trying to track down their missing three-headed kitten, they rationalize about why they shouldn’t go home like they’re supposed to:
[Tallulah]: And look at it this way: we’re not gonna be in trouble until we get out of the tunnels, so we might as well do everything we can now while we’re in here, so we don’t waste any mischief!
[Sanity]: That’s not how it works. But, okay.
The dialogue is crisp, funny, and really helps establish characters. Personalities are interesting and distinct; supporting characters too, not just the two girls. There’s humor throughout, and also a pretty engaging plot. The search for the cat turns into a space situation survival mystery/adventure, and the girls are involved throughout. There’s plenty of science jargon enmeshed in the plot, but I like the way the technical talk is often balanced by humor and the human-ness of the characters:
Sanity’s Father: You want to string a bunch of decommissioned taffimatter equipment together into a temporary generator while you shut Wilnick’s engine off?
Tallulah’s Mother: Well, I don’t want to.
I think this is a well-written graphic novel, with stronger development of characters and themes than we typically see in this genre.
Graphic novels have been featured in previous posts, including HEY, KIDDO, THE PRINCE AND THE DRESSMAKER, and BE PREPARED; the first two are on the HM16 list. Do either or both of these rank with those? And are there other graphic novels from 2018 that warrant Newbery consideration?
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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