Newbery Criteria Deep Dive: Delineation of Characters
Let’s switch things up a bit in todays post. Steven and I are going to look at this years books under different criteria and today we start with delineation of characters.
EMILY: First I want to break down what delineation of characters means. Merriam Webster says delineation is the action of describing or portraying something precisely. And characters is one of the persons of a drama or novel. Something else I try to remember I’d that we are looking at main AND supporting characters. Any other thoughts of delineation of characters Steven? And what book (s) did the best with main characters this year?
STEVEN: I always think it’s interesting how quickly some authors can establish a character. Like Aurora in ANYBODY HERE SEEN FRENCHIE?. We get a feel for her exuberance and her strong sense of self from the start. That can be such a strength in a children’s book, where you need to engage a young reader pretty early. At the same time, I really appreciate characters who develop more slowly. Mallory in JENNIFER CHAN IS MISSING is kind of an elusive narrator, not letting us know everything about herself, and that works perfectly with the plot. The main characters in DUET FOR HOME and IN THE KEY OF US change mostly because of their interactions with each other.
EMILY: When I look at main characters, MY OWN LIGHTNING COMES to mind the most. I didn’t even read the first book with those characters but I still felt very attached to Annabelle and Andy. I really admired the recurring theme of “nobody Is perfect.”
On the opposite end, I did not “like” any of the characters in JENNIFER CHAN IS NOT ALONE and I think that in itself speaks to the realism of their characters.
Steven, what about secondary characterization. Any titles do a particularly good job for you?
STEVEN: THE LAST MAPMAKER had some interesting character dynamics. We see everything from Sai’s point of view, and she initially misjudges most of the other people she interacts with. Readers might even see them a little clearer than she does. There’s just enough there for readers to sense that Paiyoon is kinder and more aware than Sai thinks, for example, and that Miss Rian might not be trustworthy, but the way we discover the full truth about the supporting characters, along with Sai, is very effective.
EMILY: I think OGRESS AND THE ORPHANS had excellent secondary characterization especially with the rotating narratives. The ogress, the orphans (individually and as a whole), the townspeople (individually and as a whole), the “mayor”, the crows (individually and as a whole)- each grew throughout the novel. And I can’t name another book where I classify so many character groups as individually and a whole. That’s powerful!
Okay Steven, any final thoughts when looking at delineation of characters?
STEVEN: I always have to remind myself that it’s “delineation of…” and not just “characters.” It’s pretty easy, as a reader, to say: “I loved this character” or “that one didn’t ring true,” but those don’t really get you anywhere in a Newbery discussion. We have to identify the ways in which the author “described or portrayed…” Was it the narrative voice? The actions of the character? Descriptions of character traits? Harder to do, but also can be really illuminating.
EMILY: When looking at the criteria a piece my chair always reminded us of is “Because the literary qualities to be considered will vary depending on content, the committee need not expect to find excellence in each of the named elements. The book should, however, have distinguished qualities in all of the elements pertinent to it.” That’s something to remember as we continue through the other elements: Interpretation of the theme or concept, presentation of information including accuracy, clarity, and organization , development of a plot,
delineation of setting , and appropriateness of style.
Let us know your thoughts about characterization in this year’s books!
Filed under: Book Discussion
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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