“Planet Earth Is Blue” the “Wonder” of 2019? – Newbery Criteria: Vastly Good vs Individually Distinct
I picked up Planet Earth Is Blue by Nicole Panteleakos because it received four nominations in the last two months – as many as Beverly, Right Here, Sweeping Up the Heart, and A Place to Belong (all by former Newbery medalists.)
As I read, Wonder by Palacio kept popped up in my mind. It was published in 2012 and received vast readership and remains strong to this day, in libraries and classrooms. When the 2013 Newbery titles were announced, many definitely felt that Wonder was cheated out of a medal, or at least an honor. It was discussed here at Heavy Medal.
Similar to Wonder, the story of Nova features a protagonist who is different from many others due to illness/disabilities. She is autistic — and being an autistic child in the late 80s meant that no one understood that she could have a rich inner life and, with proper education and therapy, capably interact with others. Like Wonder, the author employs more than just one narrative viewpoint/style. We have a 3rd person viewpoint following Nova’s exterior life and then we have her first person narration through her letters and internal monologues.
The ending of Planet Earth is Blue is also uplifting and hopeful, where good people with kind hearts prevail and ensure that our main character’s future is brighter than before. Nova and Auggie are both memorable protagonists that with resilience and good nature. I could see this book finding its way to many readers’ heart and join the “Be Kind” movement.
Reviewers have called the book poignant, intricate, masterful, authentic, and exceptional. If I served on the real Newbery Committee this year, though, I might prepare to ask these following questions:
- As readers, we are convinced that Nova has a capable and rich inner life (also because the author’s note and her personal experiences,) but are we convinced that the long letters Nova writes to Bridget would have been so orderly organized and sequenced?
- Is the plot device of revealing Bridget’s death (with strong hints in chapter 9, but could be missed by less experienced young readers) through Nova’s final recollection effective or contrived?
- Do the Space metaphors (Nova – not Supernova, as explained toward the end of the book, the Space Shuttle Challenger launch count down, references to Space Oddity by Bowie, and many others) work naturally and well for all readers? (Consider Nova’s obsessive nature.)
- Is this title “vastly good” due to its important theme and educational potential or truly “individually distinct” due to its literary qualities as demanded by the Newbery Terms and Criteria?
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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