Heavy Medal Mock Newbery Finalist: THE LEGEND OF AUNTIE PO by Shing Yin Khor
Introduction by Heavy Medal Award Committee member Courtney Hague.
Let’s talk about the one graphic novel on our Heavy Medal Mock Newbery list this year. THE LEGEND OF AUNTIE PO by Shing Yin Khor is a historical graphic novel with a bit of a reimagining of the Paul Bunyan tall tale thrown in.
Our protagonist, Mei, has grown up in a logging camp in Nevada in the 1880s. Her father is a Chinese immigrant who cooks for the loggers. While the camp’s foreman and his daughter are kind to Mei and her father, the world is not a fair place for them. Violence and racism against them is vividly depicted in this story. Throughout the book, Mei weaves stories for the children at the camp about a giant Chinese woman, Auntie Po, and her blue ox, who are loggers and their adventures helping people and logging. These stories depict Mei’s hope for the future and help her to work through her feelings about the things that are happening around her. In one really moving moment after Mei’s father has been fired and she is helpless to bring him back to the camp, Mei weaves a story about Auntie Po standing up to a corrupt and racist camp owner. Though the story helps her emotionally, it can’t bring her father back to the camp and she thinks:
“I’m angry that I have to make my own gods. I’m angry that even the gods I make can’t help my family.” (p. 125)
This book really shines in its delineation of themes and its character development.
Even with minimal text, we are still able to see all of the characters very clearly. The conversation between the foreman, Mr. Andersen, and Mei’s father, Hao between pages 153 and 163 is a great example of this. Mr. Andersen has decided that he must convince Hao to come back to the camp as their head cook despite having fired him just for being Chinese. You see Mr. Andersen’s humility and shame on the page as well as his respect for Hao, but you also see Hao’s personality on the page as he negotiates to get what he and his community deserve.
While Mei has been creating stories to help those around her process their world and bring hope to the marginalized people around her, she had thought that her story had already been written. But over the course of the novel, Mei discovers that the stories she has told aren’t perfect and maybe her story won’t be either, but she can, in fact, create her own story as well. The theme in this book of storytelling as a means to create the world around you is masterfully summed up at the end of the book in this quote:
“Sometimes my stories are imperfect, but my stories are still real. I’m going to have my very own story now” (p. 282)
Heavy Medal Award Committee members and others are now invited to discuss this book further in the Comments section below. Please start with positive observations first; stick to positives until at least three comments have been posted or we reach 1:00 pm EST. Let the Mock Newbery discussion begin!
About Emily Mroczek-Bayci
Emily Mroczek (Bayci) is a freelance children’s librarian in the Chicago suburbs. She served on the 2019 Newbery committee. You can reach her at email@example.com.
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