Heavy Medal Finalist: THE ASSASSINATION OF BRANGWAIN SPURGE by M. T. Anderson & Eugene Yelchin
“How can we ever tell what the world really looks like?” This quote appears before the book even begins and sets us up for a story about perception.
THE ASSASSINATION OF BRANGWAIN SPURGE is a story told in a very unique way. Only a few stories that I read this year were different and this story stood out for the way in which the authors chose to tell it. The story was told using three different methods and often gave three different pictures of a person or an event.
The first method chosen was to show wordless illustrations from the point of view of the title character Brangwain Spurge. These were colored by his thoughts and feelings. When he was frightened or happy the pictures might not match what the goblins who told the story later thought had happened. Pages 246-7 shows pictures that demonstrate this well with angels with trumpets around Brangwain.
Some other books were well illustrated this year, but this is the only one that used the illustrations to show the emotions of someone in this way.
The second method chosen was in letters to convince someone that the plan is going in a way that will lead to success. These were letters from one bully to another and did not go quite the way the letter writer thought they would from his point of view. Again there were only a few stories told using letters. These letters were a significant part of the story because of the information about the actual assassination that was disseminated this way.
The third method was more traditional. The third person prose told the story from the point of view of Werfel the Goblin. This point of view was important because it also allowed some narration in contrast to the illustrations.
The setting was not a place that we will recognize since it comes straight from the imagination of the authors. They do go out of their way to describe places and items with some excellent descriptions. One of my favorites was a slightly different mode of travel used by the goblins:
“….reached a landing where there was a giant metal orb covered in spikes next to a huge crank. An open hatch led into the orb…inside there were velvet padded benches bolted to the walls….giant spiked sphere was released and dropped down a chute….the orb skipped and rolled with a sound like thunder. Everyone was thrown around in their seats….The transport sphere plowed along the trench, past all the fortified city’s defenses: walls, moats, machicolations, crossbow cannons, drawbridges, bristling spear pits, bladed gates, and giant mechanical grinders. The sphere came to rest in a sand trap near the outer wall.” p. 77
The authors used technical terms like “machicolations,” talked us through enough that we could at least picture the orb, and yet the picture of a sand trap to me might not be quite the same as it is for you, leaving some room for interpretation. There are also illustrations that do some of the work for us in showing the setting.
All of this leads me back to theme. I thought the differences in how we perceive the world was very well done. The three different methods of telling the story gave you differing perceptions of the same events in different ways. I must also mention the ending. Throughout the story the Goblin tells stories of outgrowing and peeling out of his skin at different times in his life. At the end of the story the elf is the one who peels out of his skin that he has finally outgrown, thus showing how although we are different we are also the same. This is a great message for kids and shone throughout the story.
I think THE ASSASSINATION OF BRANGWAIN SPURGE offers a unique style of storytelling with excellent descriptions of setting, clearly portrayed characters, and a consistent and important theme. These are the reasons that I nominated it.
Introduction by Cherylynn
We now invite Committee members and spectators to comment on this title and share their positive observations first. (Following the discussion guidelines of the Newbery committee work.) There will come time for concerns later today.
Filed under: Book Discussion
About Roxanne Hsu Feldman
Roxanne Hsu Feldman is the Middle School (4th to 8th grade) Librarian at the Dalton School in New York City. She served on the 2002 and 2013 Newbery Committees. Roxanne was also a member of 2008-2009 Notable Books for Children, 2015 Best Fiction for Young Adults, and the 2017 Odyssey Award Committees. In 2016 Roxanne was one of the three judges for the Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards. You can reach her at at email@example.com.
SLJ Blog Network