Heavy Medal Mock Newbery Finalist: AN AMERICAN STORY by Kwame Alexander
Introduction by Heavy Medal Award Committee Member Gabrielle Stoller:
When I first read AN AMERICAN STORY several months ago, I realized that the book I held in my hands was a special text. Of course it was Kwame Alexander, a familiar award winner of both Newbery and Caldecott, for THE CROSSOVER and THE UNDEFEATED. Writing a book with lyricism and poignancy, brutal honesty and resounding hope, they are not unfamiliar territory for Alexander. But AN AMERICAN STORY handles a difficult topic (slavery) in a very transparent way.
You never once struggle when reading this book to know what is being addressed.
“…people shackled below, crammed in small, hot spaces, cry
And sometimes die.”
It’s the horror of our history, pure and simple. But what AN AMERICAN STORY did was juxtapose tough questions, ones without answers, with statements from the present day. From Black boys and girls of color who call out the unfairness, who remind that the truth is worth speaking even when it’s hard. A voice is (finally) given to those who lacked a voice for so long. I haven’t seen a book where dual voices, yet only one “storyline,” merge so well in quite a long time.
Newbery criteria is seen throughout the entire medium, despite being a traditional thirty-two page picture book. There is a theme. There is a setting we are taken to–even not taking Dare Coulter’s mixed media into account. I felt the heat of the fields. I felt the horror of being taken from one’s Home. As to presentation of information, well, that is evident. After all, “children” are understanding the story being shared with them. Actual readers will feel the same.
Kwame Alexander ends with hope, of inspiring change. Of once again capturing the good that is in society with these beautiful words. Words that truly belong in a Newbery award winning book.
“How do you tell a story this hard to hear, one that hurts and still loves?
You do it by being brave enough to lift your voice,
By holding history in one hand and clenching hope in the other.”
Heavy Medal Award Committee members and others are now invited to discuss this book further in the Comments section below. 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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