Friday Mock-Newbery Exercise: Favorite characters of 2023
For today’s Friday Exercise, we’ll focus on one piece of the Newbery Terms and Criteria: These list six literary qualities that the Committee needs to consider as they try to identify “‘distinguished writing’ in a book for children.” Today, we’re all about Delineation of Characters. Characters we connect with can be one of the first and clearest signs that a book is right for us. For me, qualities like plot, setting, and theme, require some thinking about, but with characters, I know right away whether they ring true and capture my interest. Figuring out why they do, and how that affects the book’s overall excellence, is not that simple. So let’s try it with the 2023 Newbery contenders. For this exercise:
- Name a standout character from one of this year’s Newbery eligible books. You can interpret “standout” however you want.
– It could be your favorite character, the one you most enjoyed reading about.
– You might take a child reader’s perspective and select a character that will be especially memorable to kids.
– You could also take a more critical viewpoint and choose the one that you feel is an exceptionally skillful creation by the author.
Or maybe there’s one that’s fits all of these…
- Tell us why you chose this character. What made this a character you respond to so strongly?
Start with one character, but feel free to answer more than once. I say this because before I settled on my top choice, a rush of excellent characters filled my list of possibilities:
NOT AN EASY WIN: I read this quite a while ago, but still remember how invested I was in Lawrence’s persistent (though sometimes reluctant) efforts to fight past the hardships of his situation.
GOOD DIFFERENT: What an interesting approach, to have Selah describe how different she is from her peers, while we realize (and she later learns) that she may be on the Autism spectrum.
A WORK IN PROGRESS: Jared’s struggles with food and body-image are hard to read about (and see, in the illustrations), but he’s a completely memorable character.
BUFFALO FLATS: It’s a third person narrative, but we experience Rebecca’s world and her outlook so vividly through her point of view.
THE MANY ASSASSINATIONS OF SAMIR: I need to re-read this one. Monkey’s fascinating as a character and as a slightly unreliable narrator.
THE WILD ROBOT PROTECTS: Roz is a robot, but somehow she shows true character development and something like emotions.
Then there’s HERCULES BEALE and SIMON and Mila/Nadiya from THE LOST YEAR…In the end, though, I went with the dog:
Johannes from THE EYES AND THE IMPOSSIBLE by David Eggers
I really enjoyed his self-image, which is funny and kind of wonderful at the same time. He sees himself as such an amazing and unique creature…which he is in some ways. We also see his naive side, where he really doesn’t know a lot about some things (and doesn’t know that he’s wrong). This happens a lot with numbers:
This park is enormous. I am not a math expert but I believe it is ten thousand miles along its length and about three thousand along its width. (14)
As we get to know Johannes and as he has new, unexpected experiences, we learn that he really is brave and also kind and generous. His wonder at the world, including art, is especially endearing. He has a sincere sense of awe when he learns new things, but also quickly adjusts to the new and responds practically.
A lot of this is conveyed through Johannes’ distinct narrative voice. The way he looks at the world and those around him comes through in his descriptions to the reader. When he’s freed from captivity by the squirrels, for example, his narration conveys his emotions in a voice that’s poetic…but it’s also just Johannes talking the way he talks:
“Maybe you need to run,” Freya said.
Oh, Freya knows me!
She was so right.
I needed to run, so I said goodnight to the Bison and slipped through the hole in the fence and ran out into the park, luxuriating in my newfound freedom.
It was so good to run again. Oh-oh-oh! I had no idea how deeply the day of being leashed had affected me. I ran and ran but kept feeling a tightening around my neck. I feared that at any moment the leash would tighten and I would be yanked back to that life. Oh! You cannot imagine!
So I ran harder.
I smelled the night, I heard the trees, I named every gust of wind as I sped faster, hurtling through the park with joyous fury. Every breath I took was left miles behind me, hours behind me, oh I had never run so fast and so long! I ran through the night, circling the park, circling the park, never tiring. (66)
And I really like the ending of this one. When a character is well-developed, we get to the point where we can judge whether an action they take is believable or not, and Johannes’ big decision at the end is exactly right. When he says “You knew this,” he’s directly stating that we, his listeners, know him well enough to agree with his final action:
…And for a moment I wanted to leap. To jump and swim home.
But I couldn’t. I knew this. You knew this.
What kind of coyote-dog would I be if I were not out in the world running? What kind of Eyes would I be if I were not out in the world seeing?
Heroes go forth.
To be alive is to go forth.
So we went forth. (249)
Yes, I really liked Johannes. We’d love to hear the character(s) that have stuck with you in your reading so far. Let us know in the comments below:
Filed under: Book Discussion
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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