A Graphic Novel Repeat? Could SNAPDRAGON become the second consecutive Newbery winner in this popular format?
Jerry Craft’s NEW KID became the first graphic novel to win the Newbery Medal just nine months ago. Guest blogger Aud Hogan introduces one of this years finest books in that format with some compelling reasons why it might be a strong contender. Aud writes:
I found so many strengths with this book that it was a little hard to pick one to start with, but ultimately, I had to go with setting. I grew up, and now work, in SE Ohio, and the rural setting in SNAPDRAGON felt incredibly authentic to Appalachia. I don’t know for a fact that that is where Leyh meant to set this book, but that’s where it felt to me. The way that Snapdragon takes roadkill and death as just a fact of life, as rural kids often do, felt real. The way that she and Lulu just live in a trailer park and it’s not a part of the plot, it’s just fact, is a reality not often seen in children’s literature, and fit the setting. Not to mention the way the characters talk: the first time I read through the book, I was delighted by the cadences in the dialogue, because the speech patterns were so well done, I could hear them in my head and they sounded like people I knew. These aspects and more contribute to a very authentic piece of worldbuilding.
Likewise, the characters are individual and distinct. Snapdragon herself is smart, strong, brash, independent, and aware of her outsider status: it gets to her, but she refuses to be someone she’s not, and that takes guts. She is lucky to have her mother as a role model. The library scene is one of my favorites: the librarian tries to talk Snapdragon out of getting a book on comparative anatomy, and her mother, Vi, says heatedly, “Actually, she’ll take this one. Thank you.” That one interaction tells you so many things about Vi, as a person and as a parent, and is a brilliant piece of writing. Vi’s first interaction with Lulu, when she sees Lulu wearing her skirt, is another standout, full of support. Watching Lulu develop into herself was also gradual and nuanced and never felt forced. As for Jacks, a person could write an entire blog post about Jacks, she’s such a detailed character, with a tremendous amount of depth, but none of it out of reach for a young reader.
All of this information and more is presented in an engaging format, within a well-paced plot, complete with flashbacks and inset stories about “One-Eyed Tom.” As Snapdragon learns more about her world and her family and, eventually, magic, so does the reader, and the pieces come together to form a whole. While that’s going on, in the background, we learn that her mother went through a messy breakup with a bad guy – details left unspecific – which ultimately culminates in the climax scene of the book, where Snap comes into her own power. This, to me, also felt like real life with a magical twist. Kids sometimes get caught up in the grownups’ business, even when said grownups try to protect them from it, and sometimes they have to deal with it, though often with fewer weapons at their disposal than Snap.
Altogether, this book has a lot going for it. It’s well written, well presented, and very well illustrated. It’s also clever, funny, and has diversity out its ears that never feels forced. Not to mention, those baby possums are really, really cute.
Aud Hogan (she/her) has been a Youth Services librarian in Ohio for nearly 8 years, and currently works as the Assistant Coordinator of Youth Services in her library system. Her favorite books are graphic novels, and, in addition to reading, she loves eating, hiking, horseback riding, singing, and martial arts.
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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