Friday Mock Newbery Exercise: Theme
In today’s Friday Mock Newbery Exercise, we take a look at one of my favorite Newbery criteria pieces: interpretation of the theme or concept.
It doesn’t matter what format the title is in (picture book, chapter book, nonfiction… theme and concept is something that NEEDS to be strongly developed if you want a title to be remembered. And I feel like themes are what actually stick with a reader for years to come (and characters too of course).
For this exercise take a look at a book that you think has very strong interpretation of a theme or concept and let us know what makes it powerful. Because I am so enthusiastic about how interpretation of theme or concept, I will take a look at books in multiple categories.
Middle grade fiction: THE LOST YEAR. Identity is what sticks out for me in every page of this book. The entire story focuses on identifying, claiming, coming to terms with and admitting identity- from the beginning when their value and importance changes, to turning down the cousin, to the very last pages. The way this theme changes so much in the main characters eyes and obviously the surprise ending– I may give this the best interpretation of theme of the year. Maybe I should just end my blog post now.
Picture Book: AN AMERICAN STORY. Reading the synopsis really says it for this title: ” From the fireside tales in an African village, through the unspeakable passage across the Atlantic, to the backbreaking work in the fields of the South, this is a story of a people’s struggle and strength, horror and hope. This is the story of American slavery, a story that needs to be told and understood by all of us. A testament to the resilience of the African American community, this book honors what has been and envisions what is to be.” This story is told on every page, through every word and illustration.
Graphic Novel: A FIRST TIME FOR EVERYTHING I’m reevaluating this book after it won the National Book Award. This title really embraces the awkward middle school years and new experiences, and the way everything is portrayed, the illustrations and dialogue makes this title stand out among the other graphic novels.
Nonfiction: CHINESE MENU. OK nonfiction could be a stretch for this one, but I have to put it SOMEWHERE. This you could call strong interpretation of theme AND concept… so boom! The way every chapter has the unique and excellently written introductions… how the stories are so separate and all over the place, but still flow together so well. This one deserves a look, but is it a hard Newbery sell?
Poetry: This is where MY HEAD HAS A BELLYACHE really sticks out to me. What hits here is how some of the poems tie together, the page footers– interpretation of concept can hopefully give this book a place on the table.
Which 2024 Newbery titles do you think have strong interpretation of theme or concept? Let us know in the comments.
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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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