Heavy Medal Finalist #10: The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise
Introduced by Heavy Medal Committee Member Katie
The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise by Dan Gemeinhart is one of my top choices for this year’s Newbery Award. It became a word-of-mouth favorite among my students last spring and appeared on many of their end-of-the-year best books lists.
Coyote is a distinct character who immediately grabs you. From the opening chapter where she smuggles Ivan aboard the bus with the help of some on-the-spot new friends, Coyote is someone you want to get to know. The delineation of the ever-growing cast of characters is one of the greatest strengths of the book. Each has such a unique voice and backstory, and Gemeinhart manages to convince you to care about all of them (except maybe Gloria). The interactions between Coyote and her father are particularly strong, especially the ways that Coyote reads, analyzes, and manipulates him.
I closed my eyes, and then I gulped, and then I let the memories play behind my eyelids. I wasn’t supposed to. There ain’t no use in looking back, Coyote, Rodeo always said. He used to be able to tell when I thought about them – my mom and my sisters. I’d get quiet, I’d get sad. He’d shake his head, his eyes all watery. No, baby. Don’t go back there. Your happiness is here, now. You gotta leave all that behind. But I never could, the way that he could. I just got better at hiding it. Better at looking at those forbidden memories in secret.
The themes around grief and loss are shared in common with many of the books this year. While as adult readers, we might question Rodeo’s choice of coping strategy, the intended audience is likely to focus their energy and attention on Coyote and her grieving process. The contrasts between her sunny demeanor and her inner struggles are well-explored, and the journey of the book also mirrors much of her own inner journey through her grief and realizing what she’s missed in her five years on the road.
Gemeinhart also does a strong job of developing tension. Because of our initial investment in Coyote and the gut-punch reveal of her backstory, the reader becomes immersed in her quest, and Gemeinhart continues to ratchet up the plot as the story progresses. The book is a page turner and hard to put down, especially once the park and the box get within striking distance.
Coyote is a memorable character, who will leave her mark on readers and their hearts. I recommend a full box of Kleenex, and I believe this title as a distinguished contribution to children’s literature.
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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