Mock Newbery Nominees 2019: Front Desk and The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl

In the first round of Mock Newbery comparisons, we'll take a look at the stories of two girls who learn the value of friendship and community. In "Front Desk" by Kelly Yang, Mia Tang's courage and kindness makes readers root for the immigrant girl to achieve her dreams, which include owning a motel and becoming a writer. Stacy McAnulty's book "The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl" follows the evolution of Lucy Callahan from lightning-struck, antisocial math savant to dog-saving middle school friend.

How do these two titles do when measured by the Newbery Criteria?

Interpretation of the theme or concept: In "Front Desk," the theme of hope, kindness, and hard work is exemplified by Mia's instinct to write letters to help those around her solve problems. Many of the letters do help her friends, but the practice and confidence she gains by writing these letters keeps her dream of becoming a writer alive.  "The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl" drives home the idea that friendship and communities are integral to our lives as we see the support Lucy receives in her time of crisis from both her in-person friends and her online math community. She realizes those connections are meaningful in a way that goes beyond the lonely solace she found in numbers.

Presentation of information including accuracy, clarity, and organization: Both of the titles are organized in clear chapters that include some letters and text messages shown by different fonts.

"Front Desk" included an author's note which provided information on the real-life basis for the story both personal and from a larger historical context, as well as photos from Yang's childhood. "The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl" provided back matter to explain Pi and the Fibonacci sequence as mathematical concepts.

Development of a plot: While "The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl" revolves around an unusually gifted girl, the plot line following her struggles to make friends and fit in will be familiar and believable to readers. The successful adoption of Pi, while tidy, does not feel impossible or even improbable. The steady evolution of Lucy's friendships is excellently done. The majority of the plot of "Front Desk," is solidly within the realm of believability, with the struggles of immigrants ringing true containing both hardship and hope. Unfortunately, the miraculous purchase of the motel through donations from strangers ignores completely the reality the story lives in, stretching credulity to the point of breaking and ends up feeling like wish fulfillment.

Delineation of characters: "Front Desk" and "The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl" both provide excellent physical descriptions of characters without subscribing to the white default, noting skin tones, hair color and eye color for main characters and most secondary characters. Most secondary characters are well-defined and fleshed out with distinctive personalities in both titles. In "Front Desk," Mia's mother is particularly well-rounded showing both a loving side and critical side throughout the story. Windy, Lucy's best friend in "The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl," is seen struggling with friendships like Lucy, but for very different reasons and with different results.

Delineation of a setting: "Front Desk" has an excellent sense of place, with the motel being very clearly described in way that made it almost a character on its own. "The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl" was not nearly as strong here, as the school setting was very general. There were brief moments of strength in setting when at the pet clinic, but overall the setting stayed in the background.

Appropriateness of style: Both titles were written using a first person point of view, which gives the reader great insight into the thoughts behind both Mia and Lucy's actions. McAnulty's choice to use numerals in place of words for most numbers emphasized Lucy's love for numbers in a unexpected way. The inclusion of Mia's letters and her crossed out mistakes was an excellent choice by Yang, truly showing readers how her grasp of English was improving throughout the story.

I think both of these titles are both strong contenders for ICPL's Mock Newbery Award. If you think so too, be sure to get your vote in after December 1st on our poll. Check out the full list of nominees here and add your thoughts below.

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