Heavy Medal Mock Newbery Finalist: SNAPDRAGON by Kat Leyh
Introduced by Heavy Medal Award Committee member Amanda Bishop
What makes SNAPDRAGON stand out as distinguished is in terms of Newbery criteria is delineation of character. Leyh writes characters who are real, passionate, and multifaceted. While the setting is detailed with vibrant colors and illustrations, it is the moments and conversations that the characters have with each other that truly bring this story to life.
Snapdragon is, perhaps, one of the most self-assured characters I have ever read. She is confident in who she is and what she believes in. She stands up for the people she cares about and is fierce in her convictions.
When Snap first encounters Jack, “The Witch”, their relationship is cemented in a shared love and passion for animals. Snap and Jack’s conversations are light and playful, but also respectful and compassionate.
“I know you’re not a witch.”
“Yeah. Ain’t no such thing. But…” (15)
“When are you going to tell me what you do with these?! Do
you eat ‘em?! Use ‘em for spells?! WHAT?!”
“ ‘Spells?’ I thought I wasn’t a witch?” (38)
As their friendship begins to deepen, we begin to see how Jack has hardened herself against a world that is distrustful and cruel towards those who are different. But it is Jack who opens herself up to the most vulnerable in the world.
“Lotsa folks don’t even notice when they hit somethin’. So I
notice em’.” (61)
“Lotta folks saw us two together as all kinds of wrong… so we
had to make the most of it.” (97)
Snap is drawn to empathetic and caring people in the world around her. Not just with Jack but also with Lula. When the two first meet Snap is defensive and makes assumptions about them. But they soon bond over the shared love of the same movie. They become fast friends and we learn that while they might be opposites in some respects, both have a profound respect for one another while still being playful as any child would be:
“You’re so weird.”
“Psh. Says you.” (65)
and later when Snap is feeling frustrated:
“… there would have been a reason!”
“A reason for what?”
“For why I feel so different! Why I don’t fit in! And it’d be an
awesome reason! I’d be a witch!”
“You need a reason? How about this: it’s the reason we’re
friends! I hang out with you ‘cause- witch or not- you’re still the biggest weirdo I know!” (161)
The conversations seem so authentic and exactly how two kids would support one another – teasingly, but also lovingly.
In addition to having great conversations between the characters, SNAPDRAGON also discusses gender fluidity and gender identity in a very supportive way. Snap doesn’t even think twice about accepting Lula for who they are and Snap’s mother is open about discussing gender with her. When Snap says that:
“I feel like a girl… I just don’t act right.” (110)
Her mother responds:
“I’m proud of who you are, baby- and I don’t want you actin’
any other way. Got it?” (111)
This book continually drives home that there’s no right or wrong way to express gender, it matters who you are as a person.
Overall, SNAPDRAGON is a beautifully illustrated story of friendship that includes a diverse cast of characters that sets out to upset the culture of assumptions and to challenge rigid societal norms.
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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