Summer Camp, Sharks, and a School Bus Road Trip
Today we’ll look at three books that are among the top 10 leaders in Suggestions from Heavy Medal readers. I see strengths in all and agree that Committee members should read and consider them. Would they hold up through re-reading and rigorous discussion based on Newbery Criteria?
THE REMARKABLE JOURNEY OF COYOTE SUNRISE by Dan Gemeinhart
There’s a lot packed into this novel, and a lot of it works. Coyote is an instantly engaging character, with a narrative voices that’s distinct and likable. Her language isn’t fancy, but it’s evocative and insightful:
There was quiet then. Between Salvador and the road and Ivan and the night and me.
Salvador broke the quiet, but broke it gently, with a voice that was low, like a warm mug in cold hands. (120)
The plot moves quickly with one adventure after another, while Coyote’s secret quest and the deep emotion behind it always present in the reader’s mind. Some of the big scenes felt overly contrived to me. Shouting secrets from the bus (166) provides a emotional, cinematic kind of moment, but seemed a little forced. And there was never any doubt in my mind that at some point, Coyote would be driving this bus…and doing it while being chased by police made it just that more over-the-top. Both of those scenes, though, and several others, could be just right for the intended child audience. Filling a novel with drama, broad humor, and relatable characters that can grab readers and make them think is no small accomplishment, and I think this book achieves that.
THE LINE TENDER by Kate Allen
In a year of middle-grade fiction filled with grieving and death, this one stands out. Partly because it has both grieving, as Lucy continues to mourn her mother’s long-ago passing, and a surprising death: Fred drowns in the quarry. There’s more to Lucy’s story than death, though. She’s a fascinating character, trying to work through the sadness, but also figuring out who she is and what she’s capable of, the way twelve-year-olds do. The supporting characters, several of whom are adult, are particularly strong. They all seem to be struggling with their own stuff, and don’t exist just to impact the main characters growth (though they do). I read this book just after I read SONG FOR A WHALE by Kelly, another book that uses a big marine animal (a whale this time) as both a central plot element and a symbol, and in both cases the protagonists wind up helping scientists study them. Just a coincidence, and I liked both books, but think that LINE TENDER has a bit more depth and complexity.
TO NIGHT OWL FROM DOGFISH by Meg Wolitzer and Holly Goldberg Sloan
Here’s a more lighthearted choice, written by two authors alternating chapters in the two protagonists’ voices. Telling a story through emails and texts can be gimmicky, but here the format works well. Readers quickly get a feel for the girls’ personalities and the story elements come through in a fairly natural way. We’ve talked in broad terms about diversity on earlier posts. In this case, the relationship between two dads and the backgrounds of the girls are presented as just part of the story, rather than themes or issues to deal with. This makes perfect sense, since that’s how the girls view them. The story recalls LOTTE AND LISA and the “Parent Trap” movies that book inspired, and there’s a similarly playful tone to it all that makes the mild plot contrivances easy to enjoy; and they’re not always predictable. Serious themes around family and friendship come through clearly…sometimes maybe too clearly, as when one of the girls (I don’t have the book here to cite name or page number) writes a bullet-point list that pretty much states all of the themes directly, just in case we missed them. It can be tempting to dismiss “lighthearted” books in awards discussions, and I’m glad this one got enough Suggestions, encouraging us to take this one seriously.
Later this month we’ll move from Suggestions to Nominations, eventually asking Heavy Medal readers to choose the seven books they think are the strongest Newbery contenders. Do any of these three rise to that top seven level?
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 email@example.com.
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