Heavy Medal Mock Newbery Finalist: SHOW ME A SIGN by Ann Clare LeZotte
Introduced by Heavy Medal Award Committee member Aud Hogan:
Due to the publishing backlog caused by COVID, my library’s copy of SHOW ME A SIGN only just arrived the other day, and I am surprised all over again by how much this amazing #OwnVoices author managed to fit into this tidy little package.
To start, LeZotte recreated Mary’s portion of Martha’s Vineyard beautifully. The setting feels authentic, right down to the societal structure and unofficial caste system, where the Irish hired hands were “above” the freedmen and Wampanoag, and the white, “English” settlers were top of the pile. LeZotte also wrote Mary’s narration beautifully. The language feels old-fashioned without being bogged down with phrases that would be incomprehensible to modern readers, and the incorporation of sign language in the dialog is faultlessly accomplished. Between that, and the details of Mary’s everyday life, the reader gets an excellent sense of what Mary’s world is, and her place inside of it. She is a loved member of her tight-knit – but certainly far from perfect – community, and, despite her grief-stricken mother’s sudden distance, a cherished child in a comfortable home.
When Andrew Noble comes, Mary distrusts him almost immediately, picking up on his rudeness to herself and the other Deaf members of the community, but she is still unprepared to be ripped away from everything she’s ever known. The portion of the book where she lives in captivity isn’t particularly graphic, but it is heart-rending. Clever Mary, who loves storytelling, suddenly can’t communicate at all with anyone. She can’t even bathe properly. People are treating her as though she’s less than human, and she can’t really comprehend why. The sudden shift from one world to the other is rather shocking, but that is likely the point. Deaf people in this era were sadly treated with a great deal of ignorance and cruelty, and, since Mary herself had been shielded from this treatment by virtue of where she grew up, she’s never had to cope with it before. It is very easy for readers to put themselves into Mary’s shoes, and to cheer her on as she plots and executes her escape.
SHOW ME A SIGN has many strengths, but LeZotte’s ability to capture a time, place, community, and individual in writing definitely make this book distinguished.
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About Steven Engelfried
Steven Engelfried was the Library Services Manager at the Wilsonville Public Library in Oregon until he retired 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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