Heavy Medal Mock Newbery Finalist: MY HEAD HAS A BELLYACHE by Chris Harris
Introduction by Heavy Medal Award Committee Member Elaine Fultz:
When I’M JUST NO GOOD AT RHYMING appeared on the scene, there was much rejoicing (in my head), and I tried to get it into the hands of every child. Any child who accepted was changed. Is this poetry?, they asked. Yes, I told them. Yes! And now we welcome MY HEAD HAS A BELLYACHE. This book mooooves. It’s animation. It’s animation in a book for 21st century kids who relish books with action. (What a Crossover!) When will the wandering “buffalo” appear and in what clever context? In “WORLD, WATCH OUT!” the poem goes tumbling down the stairs and the last line will require reading after turning the book upside down. It’s Press Here for middle graders.
Ask kids to name a poet. They will say, “Shel Silverstein,” unless one of their parents teaches English. Then they might say, “Emily Dickinson,” or “Edgar Allan Poe.” This has always ticked me off. I LOVE poetry, and as both a librarian and former English teacher, I have read and recommended many other poets through the years. Douglas Florian! Joyce Sidman! Valerie Worth’s deceptively simple poetry of things! But poetry lovers are rare in society and in elementary education (most of my colleagues will not argue this point), so our kids get Shel Silverstein for birthday gifts and Shel Silverstein for poetry units. Many educators collect piles of poetry books to share with their students, but Shel’s “chapter book” appeal outshines the picture book poetry, no matter how exceptional. UNTIL NOW.
MY HEAD HAS A BELLYACHE is a poetry page-turner. When will that meteor arrive? Readers must turn the page to see what wondrous nonsense comes next. One page-turn takes readers from the meditative voice of a grandmother in “THIS USED TO BE A RIVER,” to a forty-seven word title which is a (mock) editorial mistake because the poem itself was switched with the title. And, there are the page numbers themselves. Many of them have a tiny corresponding fact aligned with the number. Page 21, “BLACKJACK!” Page 128, “A GALLON IN OUNCES.” Eventually the poet’s children arrive in the book to help, or add to, the chaos.
The historic awards given to graphic novels have set the precedent for acknowledging the artwork’s role in a distinguished Newbery winner or honor. We see that here, too. Andrea Tsurumi’s comical, predominantly green, illustrations are ideal companions to each poem. MY HEAD HAS A BELLYACHE is a poetry smorgasbord. It’s playful and profound by turns. Is it time for a poetry collection to win the Newbery again?
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 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 email@example.com.
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