Heavy Medal Mock Newbery Finalist: SIMON SORT OF SAYS by Erin Bow
Introduction by Heavy Medal Award Committee Member Jenny Arch
The boy who lived.
The boy who vanished.
Simon was the only member of his fifth-grade class to survive a school shooting. Two years later, he moves with his parents to Grin And Bear It, Nebraska, where he hopes to fly under the radar – literally. GNB is a National Quiet Zone, which means no Internet, which means maybe Simon can just blend in:
“I want absolutely nothing more than to be overlooked.”pg. 13
It doesn’t sound like the setup for a laugh-out-loud story, but I’ve been booktalking this since March as one of the funniest books I have ever read. Erin Bow handles Simon’s trauma with great respect and care, but she respects his desire to be a regular kid, too – even if what passes for normal in GNB includes a Jesus Squirrel, a violent peacock, escaped emus, a tornado, a beer-drinking service dog named Todd, and a new friend named Agate who has a plan to fake a message from aliens with a secret microwave.
Secondary characters – including Agate (Team Farm), Simon’s other friend Kevin (Team Science), and Simon’s parents (Dad is a Catholic deacon and sackbut player; Mom is a funeral director) – are developed with real depth and specificity. And – I think people will want to know this – nothing bad happens to the dog.
SIMON shines in all applicable Newbery criteria: “development of a plot,” “delineation of characters,” “delineation of setting,” “appropriateness of style,” and “interpretation of theme or concept.” The school shooting is in the past, and while it colors Simon’s present in many ways, it’s not the central plot point; bits of it are woven in throughout so it’s not too overwhelming. GNB is an utterly unique setting, a small town full of radio astronomers (Team Science) and farmers (Team Farm). And the humor carries the book so powerfully, from Simon’s mom’s “Got formaldehyde?” t-shirt to the name of the funeral home (“Slaughter and Sons”) to Pretty Stabby the peacock; even the chapter names are amusing (“in which there are emus”). School shootings have been a tragic and undeniable part of life in the United States for the past 20+ years; they won’t go away if we stop thinking (or reading or writing) about them. SIMON asks: are we going to hide, or take action?
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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