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Preview: The Newbery Project

The Newbery Project

The ALA awarded its first John Newbery Medal for most distinguished contribution to American children's literature in 1922. Join us in reading all the Newbery Medal winners.

Updated: 2017-11-11T20:34:06.502-05:00


2014 Newbery Goes To...


Flora & Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures, written by Kate DiCamillo.(image)

Honor Books are Doll Bones, by Holly Black; The Year of Billy Miller, by Kevin Henkes; One Came Home, by Amy Timberlake; and Paperboy, by Vince Vawter.

The One and Only Ivan - 2013 Medal


by Katherine Applegate,
read by Adam Grupper

What a fabulous book, and most deserving of the 2013 Newbery Medal!  I was both laughing and crying by its end.

"The One and Only Ivan," as the billboard on the interstate calls him, is a silverback lowland gorilla who's been living in a cage (he calls it his "domain") at the Exit 8 Big Top Mall and Video Arcade for 9,855 days (as recorded by Ivan - 27 years).  His best friends are Stella, an aging elephant, and Bob, a stray dog who shares his cage at night.   He also interacts with Mack, his (and the mall's) owner; George the janitor; and George's daughter Julia.  He is an artist, drawing with crayons and paper Julia shoves through a hole in his cage, and later with markers and fingerpaints.

One day, though, a new baby elephant, Ruby, arrives, and everything changes...

Ivan narrates this touching story in very short chapters and sentences.  The print book is easy to read as a result, and is scattered with charming black-and-white illustrations by Patricia Castelao.  Actor Adam Grupper is marvelous on the audiobook as Ivan, with his rich, deep voice, but also creates unique voices for the other characters.

Katherine Applegate, probably best-known for the Animorphs series so popular with kids when my son was young (1990s), based Ivan on a real animal - the infamous "Ivan the Shopping Mall Gorilla," who spent 27 years alone in a small cage in a shopping mall in Tacoma, Washington.  I was living in the Seattle area when Ivan was in the news, with a public outcry for a better home for him.  He eventually wound up in Zoo Atlanta and died in August 2012, just a few months after this book was published, at the age of 50 from a chest tumor.  The real Ivan did in fact fingerpaint.

This book was an excellent choice for the 2013 Newbery Medal.  The audiobook is recommended for ages 8-13, grades 3-7.  That's probably about the right age range, as some of the themes of the book might be difficult for younger children to handle.  The short chapters would make it work well for a read-aloud, and yet should not frustrate struggling readers.

© Amanda Pape - 2013

[The audiobook and a print copy were borrowed from and returned to my university library.]

The Giver - 1994 Medal


by Lois Lowry,read by Ron Rifkin This 1994 Medalist has become a classic - one of the most popular Newbery winners, and one that is frequently challenged in schools and libraries, for reasons ranging from “contains graphic themes,” and  “contains blasphemous ideas and content,” to “depicts ideas and actions that are inappropriate for young readers,” and “inappropriate for [elementary] grade level.”In a nutshell:  Main character Jonas learns his utopian world is really dystopian.In his community, everyone lives a regimented life.  Birth mothers produce children for other families, which created by matching compatible men and women.  Medication is taken to eliminate sexual desire.  Old people, babies that don't thrive, and other misfits are "released." No one - except Jonas, and he only a little - sees color.  And twelve-year-olds - which is what Jonas is about to be - are given "Assignments," matched to a career or more menial job best suited to their abilities and temperament.Jonas is selected to be his community's next Receiver of Memory.  All memories of past events and sensations have gone to one person - and he is now the Giver (who can also see color), and will pass these on to Jonas.In a 2004 interview, author Lois Lowry said she got the idea for The Giver when visiting her parents in a nursing home. Her father was still in good physical health, but his memory was failing. Her mother was physically ill, but her memory was intact."I would travel home with that in my mind, and I began to think a lot about the concept of memory. When it was time for me to begin a new book, I began to create in my mind a place and a group of people who had somehow found the capacity to control memory," Lowry said.Many other life experiences influenced the plot, and Lowry talks about them in her Newbery acceptance speech.  I found interesting that the old man on the cover of my audiobook and print copy is actually a photo Lowry took of artist Carl Nelson when she wrote an article about him in 1979.  She described him as a man whose "capacity for seeing color goes far beyond" others - and he later became blind.Some people don't like the book's ambiguous ending, but I'm fine with it.  I think it fits perfectly with the whole theme of memory.  For those who don't like it, though, Lowry has since written three companion books, the latest published just last year.Broadway, movie, and television actor Ron Rifkin was okay as the audiobook narrator, better voicing male characters than female.  The background instrumental music played to emphasize important scenes was often too loud and distracting.© Amanda Pape - 2013[The audiobook was borrowed from and returned to my university library.  A paperback copy for reference was obtained secondhand.  It is signed by the author, "with love to those who read - remember - and GIVE," and dated 1994, so I'll be hanging on to it.  This review also appears on my blog, Bookin' It.] [...]

A Single Shard - 2002 Medal


This seemingly-simple story is full of lovely imagery and characters to care about.In an interview in a teacher's edition of this book, author Linda Sue Park said "three ideas - the pottery, family, and journey - are the basic threads of the story." Research on Korea for her earlier books showed "that in the eleventh and twelfth centuries, Korea had produced the finest pottery in the world, better than even China's, and I decided to set my third novel in that time period," according to her Newbery acceptance speech.*According to the interview, "the idea of crucial to Korean society: I made Tree-ear an orphan because I wanted to explore what family means to someone who has no blood relations.... I also wanted to write an adventure story because I loved reading them when I was young, and still do! I love traveling...So I knew right at the start that I wanted Tree-ear to go on an exciting journey." (And, according to her Newbery speech, her son, an admirer of Newbery Honor Book Hatchet by Gary Paulsen, "wanted me to write an adventure story, a road book.")In her author’s note at the end of the book, Park writes, “Every piece described in the book actually exists in a museum or private collection somewhere in the world.” Her website has some photos of celadon work and other items and locations that are mentioned in the book (spoiler alert), including the Thousand Cranes vase (also pictured below left).I thought it was interesting that in her Newbery acceptance speech, Park, who is of Korean heritage but only visited the country as a child, thanks Simon Winchester, author of the bestseller The Professor and the Madman, about the making of the Oxford English Dictionary, for his descriptions in his earlier book Korea: A Walk through the Land of Miracles, as his 1987 walk went on the route from Puyo almost all the way to Songdo.She also credits 1966 Newbery Medalist I, Juan de Pareja, by Elizabeth Borton de Trevino. "In that book, the orphaned black slave Juan de Pareja becomes an assistant to the painter Velazquez and is eventually freed by his master, which enables him to pursue his own painting career. The ending speculates on how a certain Velazquez work came to be painted, just as [A Single] Shard speculates about that [Thousand Cranes] vase." This is a quiet book that might take more than one reading to be fully appreciated (it did for me).  Kids probably won't pick it up on their own (the cover pictured above or at right don't help; a newer cover pictured below right is at least more attractive).  However, it would be a good addition to a study of Korea or Asia or pottery. Graeme Malcolm is alright as the audiobook narrator, but I found his British accent - especially his pronunciation of "ate" as "et" - distracting.© Amanda Pape - 2012 [The audiobook was borrowed from and returned to my university library. I also referred to a teacher edition print copy I own. A version of this review also appears in Bookin' It.  *Park, Linda, "Newbery Medal Acceptance," Horn Book Magazine, July/August 2002, Vol. 78, Issue 4, pages 377-384.] Thousand Cranes Vase  / CC BY-SA 3.0Latest cover of A Single Shard[...]

2013 Newbery Goes To...


The One and Only Ivan, by Katherine Applegate.

Honor books are Splendors and Glooms, by Laura Amy Schlitz, Bomb, by Steve Sheinkin, and Three Times Lucky, by Sheila Turnage.

Bomb also won the YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults, and the Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Medal.

Island of the Blue Dolphins - 1961 Medal


by Scott O'Dell,read by Tantoo Cardinal In this survival and adventure story, the tribe of twelve-year-old Karana is moved off its "Island of the Blue Dolphins" (the most remote of the Channel Islands off California, San Nicolas).  Karana leaps off the ship to get her younger brother, who has been left behind.  He dies soon after, and she spends 18 years alone on the island.   Karana makes weapons and hunts, builds a shelter of whale bones and a canoe, fights wild dogs, and explores the island.  There's also a lot of information about the animals of the island and surrounding ocean, such as sea elephants and otter.Author Scott O'Dell's note at the end of the book states that Karana is based on a real person, the Lone Woman of San Nicolas Island, later baptized Juana Maria, who lived alone on the island from 1835 to 1853.   According to his website, O'Dell came across her story while researching his 1957 adult book, Country of the Sun: Southern California, An Informal Guide.   More information about the Lone Woman was uncovered in the late 1970s and early 1980s, and in 2012, a Navy archaeologist found a cave on San Nicolas that may have been hers.  O'Dell, obviously, wrote his book before much of this information became available, and it was likely based on the prevailing legends of the time.  A number of these stories were published in popular magazines in the late 1800s and early 1900s.  The Lone Woman was unable to communicate with anyone, so no one really knows how she ended up on the island alone, especially since she died of dysentery only a few weeks after her rescue.In 1976, O'Dell wrote a sequel, Zia, about Karana's 14-year-old niece by that name, who believes her aunt is still alive, and helps bring about her rescue by George Nidever.Island of the Blue Dolphins has come under some criticism over the years, for stereotyping of Native Americans.  On the other hand, it's also been praised for having a female minority protagonist (at a time, 1960, when that was not common), and for its environmentalist message.  "Island of the Blue Dolphins," O'Dell wrote, "began in anger, anger at the hunters who invade the mountains where I live and who slaughter everything that creeps or walks or flies." Native American actress Tantoo Cardinal's reading of the audiobook is lovely.  However, this is a book that might be better "read" in print, to appreciate its beautiful metaphors and imagery.© Amanda Pape - 2012[The audiobook, and a print copy for reference, were borrowed from and returned to my university library. This review also appears on Bookin' It.] [...]

The Witch of Blackbird Pond - 1959 Medal


by Elizabeth George Speare,read by Mary Beth HurtSixteen-year-old Katherine "Kit" Tyler, an orphan since age two, must leave her beloved Barbados when her grandfather dies.  She surprises her aunt (her mother's sister) and uncle and their two daughters, her only living relatives, in the town of Wethersfield in the Connecticut Colony.  The year is 1687.From the very beginning, Kit can't seem to do anything right.  She jumps in the river to save a child's doll (this comes back to haunt her later), her clothes are too flamboyant,  her spirits too high.  She doesn't fit in with the strict, dour Puritans of Wethersfeld--but manages to attract the most eligible (and wealthy) young man in town, who everyone expected her cousin to marry.  This causes strife with her family members, who are frustrated with her lack of useful skills.Kit ultimately becomes friends with another outcast, Hannah Tupper, a Quaker expelled from Massachusetts who lives near Blackbird Pond.  When an epidemic hits the town, the trouble begins.  The ending is a little predicatable, but Elizabeth George Speare makes excellent points about bigotry, tolerance, and the nature of love.In her 1959 Newbery Medal acceptance paper*, Speare said she developed the characters first, then "was compelled to find a home for them."  She goes on:I chose Wethersfield, the town in which my husband and I have lived for twenty years, because it is one of the oldest towns in New England, one of the first of the Connecticut settlements, because it was once a bustling river port with all the romance and color of the old sailing ships, and because the girl I could now see quite clearly [Kit] seemed be at home in the quiet and lovely Wethersfield meadows that still lie for undisturbed stretches along the Connecticut River.  I chose the year 1687, arbitrarily because the story of the Connecticut Charter was irresistible, a perfect little vignette, revealing in miniature all the powerful forces which, nearly one hundred years before the Revolution, were moving America irrevocably toward independence. (pages 73-74)Speare did a marvelous job incorporating details of life in this era, as well as the historical context, into her novel.  For example, there really were a Goody Johnson and Goody Harrison (page 182 in the text), both tried for witchcraft in Wethersfield.  I love the way Speare describes her historical research:  "I should hesitate to dignify by such a scholarly term the haphazard, indiscriminate, greedy forage in which I indulged.  History, geography, town records, genealogies, novels set in the same period - I gulped all these down with, at first, little thought of anything but my own enjoyment.  There were fascinating bypaths from which I had to drag myself back - Quakerism for one, and the early development of education in New England." The latter was another topic addressed in the novel, as Kit and Mercy run a school for a while.I've been trying to experience most of these Newbery Medalists as audiobooks - this one (pictured above) was released in 2002.  Actress Mary Beth Hurt does a fine job as narrator.  Unique voices are created for all the major characters.  Kit's voice is a little more British (for lack of a better term) than the others, reflecting her recent arrival from the Barbados.I can't believe I didn't read this book when I was a child.  I loved the character of Kit and really identified with her.  The book has something to say about fitting in; how one needs to adapt yet also stay true to oneself.  I think my 9-year-old self would have loved this book, especially since it has a little (but not too much) romance.  I think it would also be excellent as supplemental reading in social studies or history.  Highly recommended© Amanda Pape - 2012[*Elizabeth George Speare, "Newbery Awar[...]

Up a Road Slowly: 1967 Medal


by Irene Hunt,read by Jaselyn BlanchardThis is a coming-of-age story, narrated by the protagonist.  Julie Trelling is seven when the story begins with her mother's death.  She is sent to live with her mother's older sister, her spinster schoolteacher Aunt Cordelia, out in the country.  The story covers the next ten years in Julie's life, until her high school graduation at 17.It's hard to pinpoint the setting for this quiet tale, especially temporally.  There are references to sweeping dresses, gloves, no central heat in Cordelia's home, a one-room schoolhouse with a coal stove, the idea that girls wearing pants is less acceptable, stationery, later rural consolidation of schools, telegrams, and a time when a long-distance phone call was "still considered an extravagance" (page 174).  I was ten years old when this book won the Newbery, and I can remember most of these things. so I think the book was probably set in the 1950s or early 1960s.  It seems to be post-World War II and definitely pre-Vietnam, but could be as early as the 1920s or 1930s (author Irene Hunt was born in 1907).  In a way, the book has rather a timeless feel to it.  Ditto the physical setting - it could be most anywhere, but is probably the Midwest.There's no thrilling plot, but the book touches on a number of issues unusual for children's books of the time period.  Julie has a classmate who is mentally retarded, dirty and smelly.  Her uncle is an alcoholic liar.  A neighbor's wife is insane. Julie learns some life lessons from her encounters with these characters.  Julie also has to deal with the marriage of her beloved older sister and her father's remarriage, as well as a bad boyfriend who nearly leads her astray, and a friend's teenage pregnancy.  All of these are handled without being preachy.In her Newbery acceptance speech, entitled "Books and the Learning Process" (Horn Book, August 1967, pp. 424-429), Hunt noted (page 425),Teachers are beginning to realize that children are not created fully equipped with such values as courage, compassion, integrity, and insights into the motives and needs of themselves and of others.  These attributes...are often learned from the behavior of the characters who people the books they read.  We adults may preach the values we wish to instill, and the children will turn away from our sermons; but a book, a fine book that mirrors life accurately and honestly - there is the effective substitute for our ineffective sermons. Often children are troubled and in a state of guilt.  One can say to them, "You are not unique."...It is in books that an identification can be made...Julie, in Up a Road Slowly, is not set apart by virtue of her high-mindedness or moral values.  But for a watchful family she might well have stepped into the same trouble in which some of her young readers may find themselves.  (page 426) Some of Irene Hunt's inspiration may have come from her own life.  She was seven when her father died, and she and her mother moved to the nearby farm home of her grandparents.The book is well-written and full of wonderful vocabulary - scintillating, impeccable, pedestrian, propitiated, and hackneyed were just some of the words I wrote down.  Julie aspires to be a writer, and is telling her story looking back at her past, so this is very fitting.  Julie also quotes Shakespeare and poems by Edna St. Vincent Millay and Sara Teasdale.Actress Jaselyn Blanchard was excellent as narrator Julie.  Her youthful voice often trembles and quavers with emotion, at just the right time.I think this book would still appeal to a quiet, thoughtful young lady, and I highly recommend it.© Amanda Pape - 2012[The audiobook, and a print copy for reference, were borrowed from and returned to my university library.  This review also [...]

Strawberry Girl - 1946 Medal


by Lois Lenski,read by Natalie RossStrawberry Girl, winner of the 1946 Newbery Medal, was the second book in Lois Lenski's American Regionals series, 17 books about the lives of children in different regions of the country, published between 1943 and 1968.This story takes place in Polk County, Florida (in the center of the state, east of Tampa), in the early 1900s (according to the author in her foreword, although that could mean the first half of the century).   It centers on two Cracker neighbor families, the Slaters, squatters who raise cattle on open range, and the Boyers, newly-arrived landowners who want to raise strawberries and oranges.  The main characters, ten-year-old Berthenia Lou "Birdie" Boyer and twelve-year-old Jefferson Davis "Shoestring" Slater, epitomize the conflicts and (sometimes) cooperation between the two families.  The conflicts include killing each others' animals, and setting a fire hoping to burn the neighbor out.In her Newbery acceptance speech*, Lenski said, "Because these are true-to-life stories, I have included...certain incidents which...authors, perhaps following some unwritten taboos, have not often used in children's books...We have not often put drunken fathers or malicious neighbors into a book for children.  I have done this, and I would like to tell you why.  These incidents are...true and authentic.  They have happened not once but a hundred times in this particular locality, and have been experienced by the children as well as the adults.  To leave them out and to pretend that such things never happen would be to present a false picture" (page 284).Lenski spent two winters in Lakeland, Florida, meeting the people who would become characters in her book, and experiencing their lives.  She also did extensive research, as she did with her earlier historical fiction, including Newbery Honor Books Phebe Fairchild (1937) and Indian Captive (1942).  Much like the "lightning artist" in her story, Lenski carried her sketchbook with her in Florida.  "Always a crowd of children gathered, eager to watch a drawing grow on a sheet of paper - and eager to tell me many things I wanted to know...My drawing helped, as nothing else could, to break down the barriers of suspicion.  Drawing is a universal language which everybody understands" (page 281).Lenski used local dialects in her American Regionals books, to provide authenticity.  Some reviewers, past and present, have criticized this.  In her acceptance speech, Lenski said, "Speech is so much more than words--it is poetry, beauty, character, emotion.  To give the flavor of a region, to suggest the moods of the people, the atmosphere of the place, speech cannot be overlooked...In the simplest of words, with only a minimum of distortions in spelling, this is what I have tried to convey.  There may be some children who will find it difficult reading.  But I am willing to make that sacrifice, because of all that those who do read it will gain, in the way of understanding 'the feel' of a different people, and the 'flavor' of a life different from their own" (pages 286-287).An audiobook is an excellent way to experience this story.  Narrator Natalie Ross was outstanding with the dialect, and even did a little singing.   In the foreword of The Life I Live, Collected Poems, dated December 1964, Lenski said, "During the writing of the early Regionals, 1943-1949, I made a special study of American folksongs, in which I had long been interested, as well as a study of local dialects, and quoted some of these songs in my books."The audiobook has two other positive features. At the end, Kathleen Horning, director of the Cooperative Children’s Book Center, "talks about the context in which Strawberry Girl was written, and how the problems and[...]

Dead End in Norvelt - 2012 Medal


Dead End in Norveltwritten and read by Jack GantosThis is a semi- autobiographical historical fiction tale, with a little bit of mystery thrown in. It won the 2012 Scott O’Dell Award for Historical Fiction  as well as the 2012 Newbery Medal.  It’s set in the summer of 1962 in the real town of Norvelt, Pennsylvania. Jack is 12 and has been grounded (partly because he’s caught between the conflicting wishes of his parents), but he’s allowed to help an elderly arthritic neighbor, Miss Volker, to write her obituaries as the original settlers of Norvelt slowly die off.Sounds rather grim, doesn’t it? But Gantos combines fun fiction with (sometimes crazy) truths (according to the author),  such as spending part of his childhood in Norvelt, Miss Volker’s character (not her real name), his childhood tendency for frequent nosebleeds that “spray out of my nose holes like dragon flames" (page 8), and a dad who had Japanese souvenirs from World War II and won a Piper J-3 Cub airplane in a poker game. This creates a book where, as he explains in a video interview included on one of the audiobook’s CDs, "one of the prime motivations…is this notion that history, our history, is so vastly important."Norvelt (named for Eleanor Roosevelt) is a real town with an interesting past. According to Miss Volker (page 214-215),Jefferson believed that every American should have a house on a large enough piece of fertile property so that during hard times, when money was difficult to come by, a man and woman could always grow crops and have enough food to feed their family. Jefferson believed that the farmer was the key to America and that a well-run family farm was a model for a well-run government. Mrs. Roosevelt felt the same. And we in Norvelt keep that belief alive.In his Newbery Medal acceptance speech (Horn Book Magazine, July/August 2012, page 45), Jack Gantos noted:The "obit'" is a very tidy literary form and one that Dead End’s Miss Volker generously stretched to also include some meteoric moment in history that intersected with the life of the deceased in order to point out how, in life, we might feel like but a speck of dust on the planet but in truth we are all tied together in one massive hand-holding of humanity—for better or for worse. These obituaries, Miss Volker’s “This Day in History” feature in the local newspaper, and Jack’s fondness for Landmark history series books, combined with the comedy and humor, reinforce the message that (as Miss Volker says, page 214), “if you don't know your history you won't know the difference between the truth and wishful thinking," and (as Jack realizes near the end of the book, page 340) “the reason you remind yourself of the stupid stuff you've done in the past is so you don't do it again."Unlike Amy @ Hope Is the Word, I liked the end of this book (and I’m not sure why it changed her attitude about Jack’s dad). I do agree with her that this book was deserving of the Newbery. Aimed at students from ages 10-14, grades 5-8, I think it will especially appeal to boys. I found myself wondering as I read it how my son would have reacted, 12-16 years ago.The audiobook is fantastic! It made me laugh (and sometimes cry). Gantos is perfect as the narrator. His somewhat whiny voice fits a 12-year-old boy. In a Booklist interview, Gantos acknowledged boys’ frequent preference for male readers: “I think there is a sense that if a man is reading the book, then it is entirely cool to sit and listen to it. It’s a man-to-man relationship around a good story. Perhaps it’s like sitting around a campfire and hearing a good tale.” The audiobook makes a good alternative for younger or struggling readers who might have difficulty with its fifth-to-sixth-grade reading level. © Amanda Pa[...]

Dead End in Norvelt by Jack Gantos


Jack Gantos is an author who has been on my radar for a while, at least since 2001 when his Joey Pigza Loses Control won a Newbery honor. I was never compelled to pick up that book because honestly, a book about a boy with A.D.H.D. always seemed a little too flavor-of-the-month to me. Dead End in Norvelt, his latest novel which garnered him a 2012 Newbery Medal, might convince me to give his other books a try. Although Dead End in Norvelt isn't the sort of book that causes warm, fuzzy feelings in the heart of its reader, it is most definitely one that pulls the reader along, demanding that she get to the end of the story. Quirky, weird, and even absurd are words that come to mind when I think about the whole tale. Rather than write my own synopsis, a difficult task for a book this odd, I'll borrow from the author's website:Melding the entirely true and the wildly fictional, Dead End in Norvelt is the story of an incredible two months for a boy named Jack Gantos, whose plans for vacation adventure are suddenly ruined when he is grounded by his feuding parents for what seems like forever. But escape comes where Jack least expects it, once he begins helping an elderly neighbor with a most unusual chore—a chore involving the newly dead, molten wax, twisted promises, Girl Scout cookies, underage driving, lessons from history, obituaries, Hells Angels, and countless bloody noses. Endlessly surprising, this sly, sharp-edged narrative is the author at his very best, making readers crack up at the most shocking things in a depiction of growing up in an off-kilter world where the characters are as unpredictable and over-the-top as they come.I have such mixed feelings about this book. Parts of it actually caused me to laugh out loud. Gantos the author actually seems to be Jack the kid (which should go without saying, I guess, except when I read his biography I realize that it and this story don't exactly line up). He captures the thoughts and feelings and pure, unsuspecting innocence of a kid in a way that is both entertaining and refreshing. My favorite scene in the whole book is when Jack goes to Ms. Volkert's house (the "elderly neighbor," who happens to be the town coroner and obituary writer) to find her "cooking" her hands in a pot on the stove. Seeing the scene, which turns out to be the innocent home-remedy of an arthritic old woman, from Jack's perspective is hilarious. The villain in the story, an elderly man who attempts to woo Ms. Volkert at every turn, is creepy in an almost-funny sort of way--he rides his gigantic tricycle all over Norvelt and behaves reprehensibly to Jack, all the while trying to (apparently) win Ms. Volkert's heart. There are countless other episodes throughout the novel (many involving Jack's perpetually-bleeding nose) that are just so perfectly the picture of a bookish and eager adolescent boy.The story also reminds a bit of some of those 1990s television shows like The Wonder Years that were set in the 1960s. Although Dead End in Norvelt is not retrospective, it feels that way: Jack's dad constantly talks about the Commies and sets Jack to building a bomb shelter in the back yard. His mother is sort of hippy-ish in that she's mostly concerned with caring for her elderly neighbors and wants to barter for whatever they need because the family is broke. (This is actually a nod to Norvelt's beginnings, which you can read about in here on this bastion of reliable information, Wikipedia.) The story is sort of complicated and very clever, with Ms. Volkert writing original and entertaining (and pointed) obituaries for the original inhabitant of Norvelt who are dropping like flies. Ms. Volkert's obituaries are often as much social commentary as they are condolence. There's also a mystery in this already heavily-laden story, but the m[...]

2012 Newbery Goes To...


(image) Dead End in Norvelt by Jack Gantos.
The Honor Books are Inside Out & Back Again by Thanhha Lai, and Breaking Stalin's Nose by Eugene Yelchin.
(image) (image)

Dicey's Song


(image) Dicey's Song is a beautiful coming of age story of a 13 year old girl from a poverty-stricken background, who (along with her three younger siblings) has just come to live with her irascible grandmother in a dilapidated farmhouse on the edge of a small town on the Chesapeake Bay.

There isn't much action in the story, and there is a lot of self-reflection - so some teenagers (especially some boys) may not be very interested in it. The cover doesn't help much in this respect. I kept picking the book up and then moving on to a different book, because it just looked.....gloomy. Like a stereotypical "Newbery winner", I guess (though there really isn't any such thing), and I thought it would be full of angst, depressing events, and beautiful language

It wasn't until I had just a handful of Newbery winners left to read that I reluctantly picked Dicey's book up again.

Well, there is angst, and there is undeniably some tragedy (and beautiful language, too) in Dicey's Song, but it was really stupid of me to put off reading it, because it is also wonderful, and I loved it. The characters seem so real - so complex and interesting - that I can't wait to read more about all of them, starting with Homecoming, the book that precedes Dicey's Song in the "Tillerman cyle". The sibling relationships are fascinating, and Gram (aka Ab Tillerman) is one of my favorite characters in a kid's book since Richard Peck's Grandma Dowdel (in A Year Down Yonder). Ab isn't just eccentric and fierce, though - she has secrets, and we learn about some of the choices she made that have influenced the whole family in Dicey's Song.

Quite a few thought-provoking issues are explored in Dicey's story, which does put it squarely in "stereotypical Newbery"-winning territory. The meaning of family, sibling relationships, school and dealing with teachers, learning disabilities and differences (particularly in the ways different kids learn and different kinds of talent and intelligence), being an outsider, and finally, dealing with loss  - all are important parts of Dicey's Song. Unlike some of the other Newbery winners, though (like Summer of the Swans, which covers some of the same terrain), Dicey's Song is rather timeless, and isn't really linked to any specific happenings in the late1970's- early 80's. You can figure out when the story's set by thinking about the technology (pre-Internet but post-Vietnam, and plane travel isn't extraordinarily rare), but it could almost as easily have taken place in the 1930's or the 50's. The emotional stresses of worrying about a brother who gets into fights, wanting some time away from the rest of the family, dealing with financial problems and prickly characters and aging - into adulthood and "the golden years" - are all pretty interesting as Voigt describes them, anyway - and still relevant in 2011.

Moon Over Manifest


This book was most deserving of the 2011 Newbery Medal.  With dual narrative lines set in 1917-1918 and 1936, it's the story of a small town in Kansas called Manifest (modeled after the real town of Frontenac, where author Clare Vanderpool's grandparents grew up).In her Newbery acceptance speech, Vanderpool stated, "I knew I wanted to write a story about place and about home from the perspective of a young girl who didn’t have a home." (*42)  She later added,"I came across a quote from Moby Dick. 'It is not down in any map; true places never are.' That’s when the wheels began turning. What is a true place? What would a true place be for someone who had never lived anywhere for more than a few weeks or months at a time? What if it was a young girl during the Depression? A young girl named Abilene Tucker." (*44)Twelve-year-old Abilene is sent in late May, 1936, to the town of Manifest by her drifter father Gideon, the closest place to a home in her father's stories.  She's supposed to stay with a preacher named Shady.  She arrives just in time for the last day of school, where she meets Ruthanne and Lettie, her playmates for the summer.  She also meets Miss Sadie, a Hungarian woman who runs a "divining parlor."Throughout the book, Miss Sadie tells Abilene a story about Manifest in 1917-1918, that mysteriously ties in items from a cigar box Abilene found hidden in Shady's home.  The cigar box also contains letters from 1918 from Ned Gillen, a boy adopted by the local hardware store owner from the orphan train.  Ned wrote the letters back to a boy named Jinx, after he helped Ned join the army (underage) to fight in World War I.  Both Jinx and Ned (and Shady and a few other local people still alive in 1936, such as Hattie Mae and Sister Redempta) are in Miss Sadie's stories.On the audiobook, actress Justine Eyre voices both Abilene in the first person in 1936, and the third-person 1917-1918 stories of Miss Sadie.  Besides these alternating narratives, there are also excerpts from Ned's letters (voiced by Kirby Heyborne) and from "Hattie Mae's News Auxiliary," a column in the local newspaper in both 1917-1918 and in 1936 (read by Cassandra Campbell).  It all works together to create a novel with an intriguing plot, compelling characters, and a lot of heart and soul.  And Vanderpool does an excellent job in creating her setting, not only in time and place, but also in the details of historical events and community life.  I could feel the heat of the hot, dry summer, but I also felt the excitement of the bootlegging shenanigans, the immigrants' fear of the Klan and the mine owner, and the dread and sadness brought by Spanish influenza.According to Vanderpool,"Moon Over Manifest is about home and community, but in many ways it became a story about storytelling and the transformative power of story in our lives....Abilene would call this a universal—this need for story....And of all the places for her to end up in her drifting: Manifest, Kansas, the stopping point for immigrants and refugees from around the world. Displaced people just like her. People with stories of their own but whose stories become hers.... Through the people of Manifest, Abilene experiences the power in a story." (*44-45)So does the reader.  This book has an 800 Lexile score and measures at grade 5.3 reading level on Accelerated Reader, with an interest level of grades 4-8.  The main characters are 12 (Abilene and her girlfriends) and 13 (Jinx), at the upper end of that grade range.  With the mystery subplot and Jinx's cons, I think the story would appeal to both boys and girls.  An author's note at the end addresses wh[...]

Up A Road Slowly


(image) Up A Road Slowly by Irene Hunt was one of my favorite Newbery books. And I know why! This coming of age story was of a girl who grew up right before I did. It was a world I was familiar with and made my memories of these times just flow back!

The novel takes place in the 60s (I am guessing) perhaps and begins with Julie's mother dying when she was seven years old. Julie is the narrator and finds herself and older brother Christopher shipped off to spinster school teacher Aunt Cordelia's house. Their father just cannot take care of them. Initially horrified, Julie comes to love the life in the country where her Aunt lives. The story follow her growth and development from elementary school in a one room class to graduation from high school and heading to college. While I didn't go to a one room school house - I knew that they existed when I was growing up.

The story is also filled with wonderfully outlandish characters such as her alcoholic Uncle Haskell, the bad boyfriend, the good boyfriend, and a wide variety of girls who can be very nice or filled with pride and envy. Julie navigates her life with these people, learning lessons along the way - happy and sad lessons. In the end, Julie learns that her Aunt usually knows what is best for her and knows that it is through her guidance she is an adult.

Allison's Book Bag has a great review of the book as well - with some comparisons to Anne Of Green Gables. In some ways, it also reminded me of Little Women. Still I wonder if this book would still have appeal with young girls who might find it too simple.

TITLE: Up a Road Slowly
AUTHOR: Irene Hunt
PAGES: 197
TYPE: fiction
RECOMMEND: I loved this little book.

Moon Over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool


(image) Moon Over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool

Pages: 351
Ages: 10+
First Published: Oct. 12, 2010
Publisher: Delacorte Press
Genre: children, historical fiction
Rating: 5/5

First sentence:

The movement of the train rocked me like a lullaby.

Acquired: Borrowed a copy from my local library.

Simple perfection. When I see that Newbery sticker on a book, this is what I expect. A book that truly is a wonderful story that will appeal to kids. A story that catches your attention from the first chapter. One with characters who are interesting, unique and you either love from the start or they eventually win you over at some part. I truly enjoyed every minute of this book and was sad when it came time to close the book on Abilene, Jinx, Miss Sadie and all the rest of the characters in Manifest, Kansas.

Set in 1936, Abilene Tucker, who has grown up as a vagrant train rider with her father, is upset when he sends her to Manifest, a town he spent a spell in his youth to stay with a friend for the summer while he supposedly works a job, not appropriate for a young lady to be around, now that Abilene has turned twelve. Here Abilene makes two friends and finds a hidden cigar box with mementos and letters from 1918 under the floor boards. One is a map of Manifest, there is mention of a spy and the girls set about to find out who the spy was in their town back during WWI and if they are still here. They also come upon the legend of "The Rattler" who wanders the dark forest at night. Is the Rattler the spy, or someone/thing else?

As the girls read the letters we are transported back to 1918 on the war front in France as the letters are from a local boy to a friend named 'Jinx'. We also are taken back to 1918 on the home-front through Miss Sadie, a diviner, as she tells Abilene stories when she comes over to work her garden to repay a large pot she broke snooping about one night.

The story switches perspective between the present, 1936, through the first person narrative of Abilene and the past, 1918, through Miss Sadie's stories, a newspaper column and the letters. A rich engaging story that while not directly linked to any historical events does place one smack dab in the past and creates a good vision of living in a small town during the depression and during World War I, along with an impression of what it was like for a young soldier in the trench warfare of France. Topped off with a large cast of eccentric characters this is a gem of a story. This will be one of the rare modern Newbery's that I think will still be read decades down the road like perennial favourites "Caddie Woodlawn" and "Sounder".

Hitty: Her First Hundred Years by Rachel Field


Choosing chapter books to read aloud to my girls is not something I've ever really given much thought or planning. Instead, I just pick up whatever I see that looks interesting or that I've recently read a review of, etc. Lately, though, I've been thinking about how I should probably be a little more intentional about what I read, at least occasionally. (How's that for noncommittal? ;-) ) What I mean is this: I don't think think our read-alouds have to always be educational or challenging, but because we are home educators and because I consider reading aloud a very important part of our school day (although the girls don't even realize that we're "doing school" while we're reading), I should get in as much good literature as I possibly can. If you scroll down a bit and look over in the sidebar, you'll see a list of our read-alouds for this year. You'll note that Nim's Island was our third chapter book of 2011, but you'll also note that there's no review of it linked. I meant to review it, but I ran out of time. However, I think I can sum it up in one sentence: a fun read, but nothing that challenged us in any way. It's one of those books that I think Lulu could've read on her own, even at the tender age of six. In thinking about our read-alouds, I'm moving toward consistently choosing books that are harder than my best reader could tackle on her own. I'm sure I won't always do this, but I prefer it this way. Okay, now that all that preliminary business is out of the way, let's get on to the real matter at hand: Hitty: Her First Hundred Years by Rachel Field. Published in 1929 and awarded a Newbery Award the following year, Hitty is definitely a book that fulfills the requirement I explained above. It's not one of those books I could've continued reading after I'd come a hairsbreadth from reading myself to sleep, somehow managing to keep one eye open enough to read the text, brain on autopilot. (Please tell me you do that, too, at least sometimes!) No, Hitty requires diligence and concentration on the part of the reader. The plot is detailed and the sentence syntax is unlike that of our day. However, I never once grew tired of this story; on the contrary, I was eager each time I picked it up to find out what Hitty was going to experience next. My girls seemed to love it as much as I did. The story is rather simple, actually. It is simply the story of Hitty's hundred years of existence. Hitty is a wooden doll made of lucky mountain-ash wood, and at the story's beginning she belongs to a loving little girl named Phoebe Preble. When Phoebe's family goes aboard a whaling vessel, Hitty goes along, too. It's after this that almost all of the adventures begin. She is shipwrecked; she is taken as an idol on some uncivilized island somewhere in the middle of some ocean; she becomes the possession of a missionary child, a Quaker child, and a slave; she meets the poet John Greenleaf Whittier and sees Charles Dickens; in short, she has no end of adventures. Hitty's adventures are interesting, but what makes the story so absorbing is Hitty's voice. I just came to love her. This little wooden doll speaks with such intelligence and warmth. Although I wouldn't say that this is a funny story, there are moments when Hitty's wit shines through. I think that reading stories like this to my girls, young though they are, has immeasurable benefits. I've noted before how reading the Little House on the Prairie books has expanded my girls' vocabularies; I can't help but think that reading sentences that are more complex that we're accustomed to speaking will have a similar effect. I think it's funny that a couple of [...]

Moon over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool


Moon Over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool is the 2011 Newbery Medalist and it does not disappoint. While I'm not sure it's a book that would hold the attention of most children in its target age range, it's a book I greatly enjoyed. Here's the CIP summary from inside the book: Twelve-year-old Abilene Tucker is the daughter of a drifter who, in the summer of 1936, sends her to stay with an old friend in Manifest, Kansas, where he grew up, and where she hopes to find out some things about his past. That one sentence summary covers the plot, more or less, but it by necessity leaves out what makes this book engrossing: mysteries in spades, compelling characterization, and lots of heart. In Manifest, Abilene Tucker stays with a preacher/bartender (yeah, you read that right) named Shady, and under a floorboard in her room she finds a box. Inside it is a small collection of treasures: various trinkets, a map, and some letters. She thinks that this must surely be a link, somehow, to her father, Gideon, and what unfolds is an at times convoluted, but very compelling series of flashbacks (told by a would-be fortune-teller, Miss Sadie, who is much better at telling the past than the future) and "flashforwards" to the present. These episodes are punctuated by related editorials from the town newspaper, a device that I found somewhat annoying at times because it interrupted the flow of the story. Both the past story and the present story are set in Manifest, and they're connected, somehow. The past story is about a young man, Ned Gillen, who befriends a boy named Jinx who shows up in town, obviously running from something or somone. Ned and Jinx get into all kinds of mischief (some of it righteous mischief) and manage to become heroes. Abilene hears Miss Sadie's stories as she works off a debt she owes the "diviner" (in a sort of Jem/Miss Dubose relationship like in To Kill a Mockingbird), and as she does, she gets closer and closer to her father and his story. I'll admit I had some reservations while reading this book about some of the characters. Take Miss Sadie, for example. She's a fortune teller? A diviner? I'm not sure that's something I want my upper elementary aged student (if I had one) reading about. Then there's Shady, the bartender/preacher. Sure, he's a remarkable fellow, both kind and principled, but I can't quite figure out how to even get a handle on a bar that doubles as a church. (Yes, I know it's being done nowadays, but I don't quite know what I think about it.) Too, there's a bit more about bootlegging in the story than I feel comfortable with. By the end of the novel, though, I was mostly satisifed by Vanderpool's resolution of these various issues, to the point that I would have virtually no hesitation in giving this novel to a sixth grader. I think it would take a strong reader who really enjoys historical fiction to persevere through its 350 pages, though. I really like this book, but I'm not sure I think it's better than Turtle in Paradise (linked to my review), which won a Newbery honor for 2010. I think Moon Over Manifest is a much more complicated story, with all kinds of plot twists and many, many seemingly disparate threads to be tied up in the end, but Turtle in Paradise is much more polished. Interestingly, both are set during the Great Depression. An expanded version of this review was previously published at my blog, Hope Is the Word.[...]

Waterless Mountain


I finally decided to read Waterless Mountain, by Laura Adams Armer, on a cold March morning. Somehow reading this timeless, rather mystical coming-of-age story about young boy in the desert Southwest - with bumblebees collecting pollen and eagles soaring and the sky like a giant turquoise bowl - seemed rather appealing when it was drizzling on piles of dirty snow outside, with that pathetic grey late-winter Michigan light coming in my window.  There are some quite beautiful descriptions of the natural environment of northern Arizona in Waterless Mountain, and of the traditional Navajo way of life, complete with lambs, weaving, corn, pinon nuts, pack rats, snug hogans, ancient skeletons buried with pottery eroding out of the ground, and sacred tobacco. There's also quite a bit of the poetry of Navajo ceremonies and their unique cultural perspective.Songs like the following are scattered throughout Younger Brother's story:From the house made of dawn,On the trail of the dawn,He is coming to us;     He is coming.Now the Bearer of the Day,     Sends a beam from the blue.It is shining on us,     It is shining.To the house made of night,     On a trail made of night,He is going from us,     He is going.Now the Bearer of the Day     Sends the stars to the sky.They are watching above,     They are watching (p. 84)."House made of dawn" is such a beautiful phrase. Native American author N. Scott Momaday used it for the title of his 1969 Pulitzer prize-winning book, and it is part of a traditional Navajo ceremony that has been widely reproduced because of the beauty of the its language. I think Laura Adams Armer did a pretty good job of portraying a Navajo boy in the 1920's or 30's (for an outsider, anyway), and the details of Navajo life and culture seem authentic, but it would be interesting to see what Navajo people today think about Waterless Mountain. Armer also mentions some important Navajo history, like the genocidal Long Walk, and the destruction of the Navajo peach orchards in Canyon de Chelly (p. 195-6, popularly blamed on Kit Carson).Unfortunately, Younger Brother's narrative isn't exactly action-packed. It's mostly reflective, with calm acceptance of a few exciting events, drowsy moments thinking about legends, and then there's feelings of quiet happiness and content, followed by some zen-like attention to the moment. I found it refreshing, and liked reading about people whose religious philosophy includes the directive to "live in beauty", but I know that my son (who likes fiction like James Patterson's Maximum Ride series, for instance), would agree with the Amazon reader who said that it was "the most boring book I have ever read."A few parts were awkward, if not "painfully condescending", as Amanda quoted in her post (from a 1993 Horn Book review), like when the Big Man (a white neighbor whom Wendy accurately sums up as the "all-knowing, kind, wise, Great White Trader" in her review) took Younger Brother up in an airplane, and when Younger Brother's family went to a movie during their trip to California. Interestingly, the "water-developer" is seen as another positive character, responsible for bringing more water to the family's livestock, and not someone stealing a precious resource for far-away golf courses or cities, as many communities in the Southwest would perceive him today.A couple of random notes: Navaho is the old-fashioned spelling for this Native nation. Navajo is usually used today, and [...]

Bridge to Terabithia - 1978


by Katherine Paterson,read by Robert Sean LeonardThis classic, dealing with themes of death, friendship, and imagination, won the (well-deserved) Newbery Medal in 1978. Ten-year-old Jesse Aarons befriends the new girl at school, his next-door neighbor Leslie Burke. They deal with a school bully and their families (Jesse's family is rural, poor and rather uneducated; Leslie's parents are wealthy writers escaping the big nearby city of Washington, DC, and trying to live the simple life. Both of them desire parental and adult love and approval).  Jesse and Leslie create an imaginary world they call Terabithia* near the creek in the woods behind their homes. Then there is a tragic accident.At the end of the audiobook, Michael Conroy with HarperAudio interviews Katherine Paterson and her son David, sometime in 2006. Katherine explains that "when [David] was seven and eight years old, his best friend was a girl named Lisa Hill, and the summer they were both eight, Lisa was struck and killed by lightning." Katherine said she wrote the book "to try to make sense out of a tragedy that didn’t make sense." "I figured that David had a right to say whether or not he wanted the book published, because although he was not actually Jesse Aarons, all of his buddies at school would think he was... So I read it to him before I sent it even to my editor, and the only thing he said when I finished was...'I wanted it to be dedicated to me and Lisa,' so that’s why the book is dedicated to both of them."  In a 2007 interview, David says there are "a lot of similarities" between him and Jesse, including being "in love with his music teacher" (the guitar-playing Miss Edmunds in the book).The songs Miss Edmunds sings with the kids, and Leslie's no-TV, call-me-by-my-first-name parents are among the few clues that the book is set in the 1970s; otherwise the setting feels rather timeless.  Katherine continues in the HarperAudio interview, "There’s some quality in this particular book … that opens itself up for people to bring their own lives to it in a very powerful way so that the story becomes their story, and I have people write to me, long long long letters, explaining how this book is their book and how it is their life that I am telling about. But that’s the reader’s response, it’s not something the writer can consciously do. It’s a magical thing when it happens, but it doesn’t always happen."I think this is because nearly everyone grew up with a Terabithia, an imaginary world to play in.  David said, "One thing that I found so amazing is everyone remembered Terabithia, but they all remembered it differently. The gift that her book gives the reader is she allows them to imagine, she guides them to their own imagination. But the funny thing is, people remember this so vividly, and ... Terabithia takes place in just a very small amount of the book – I believe it’s 12 to 14 pages – and yet, that’s what people remember. They remember these wonderful, wonderful experiences that Jess and Leslie went through, whereas most of it they made up in their own minds.”  Katherine said, “Terabithia is the creation of the reader, not the writer."The book is also a classic because it's about a child dealing with the death of another child, his friend.  In the same HarperAudio interview, Katherine states, “Everyone will have to go through death, their own and the death of those they love, ... and a book in which a child dies is sort of a rehearsal for that. We hope the child w[...]

Newbery Covers


I've mentioned the covers of the Newbery winners more than a few times in my reviews here. Usually when the new covers are worse than the originals, or the covers are misleading (they made me think the book was going to be awful, and it was great, or vice versa).

Here's a blogger who is designing new covers for all the winners, starting with The Story of Mankind in 1922. He's up to 1928 now (Gay Neck), and it's pretty interesting looking at the book with a modern YA-ish style.

I can't wait until he gets to some of the more recent and/or classic ones! There are a few that I think cannot be improved upon. What do you think?

When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead


Title: When You Reach MeAuthor: Rebecca SteadPublisher: Wendy Lamb BooksLanguage: EnglishISBN - 10: 0385737424ISBN - 13: 978-0385737425Rating:  5/5It was my love of puzzles that made me pick this one up, and the blurb itself was intriguing:"By sixth grade, Miranda and her best friend, Sal, know how to navigate their New York City neighborhood. They know where it’s safe to go, like the local grocery store, and they know whom to avoid, like the crazy guy on the corner.But things start to unravel. Sal gets punched by a new kid for what seems like no reason, and he shuts Miranda out of his life. The apartment key that Miranda’s mom keeps hidden for emergencies is stolen. And then Miranda finds a mysterious note scrawled on a tiny slip of paper: I am coming to save your friend’s life, and my own.I must ask two favors. First, you must write me a letter.The notes keep coming, and Miranda slowly realizes that whoever is leaving them knows all about her, including things that haven’t even happened yet. Each message brings her closer to believing that only she can prevent a tragic death. Until the final note makes her think she’s too late."I loved everything about this book! From the amazing cover design that I talked about here, which already piqued my interest on its own, to the title, and of course, to the story it held. It was fresh, snappy and fast paced, something an impatient reader like me loves. I finished reading this three hours since I started. The author definitely knows how to capture the reader's attention. The story is not too predictable, and if you're like me who loves mysteries, you'll have an idea for an answer to the mystery, yet when the answer is revealed, it bowls you over that you were right, but not in the way you thought you would be. The book is filled with fun twists that everyone can understand, from tweens to the older readers. It just never gets boring. The story is not very heavy on drama, but the few ones are fraught with emotion, but never becoming too mushy. Even then, it never drags and the reader is treated to lots of welcome surprises. Most times, reading felt like riding in a speedy motorcycle, with all the thrill and exhilarating speed, but without the uncomfortable and bumpy path, without the threat of crashing looming constantly overhead. The description of each scene and the dialogue are economic, to the point, with no digression, hesitation, or affectation. The author definitely knows what she's writing about. The characters' personalities are well-established, no contradictions but not too dull or stereotypical, with the young characters' outlook innocent, yet clever. The relationships are realistic, there are no impregnable best-friends-forever vows, no I-totally-hate-you stuff, but the loyalty and respect for each person are present. The children act their age, as do the grown-ups. Very realistic, but never unimaginative. There are no minor characters - everyone is an essential part of the book, just as there are no minor details - everything is significant. As the story advances, the characters show growth and maturity in their roles, and every change is welcome, though some are a bit sad, they are nonetheless authentic and practical. In the story, A Wrinkle in Time by Madelaine L’Engle was Miranda's favorite book. As for me, this book, Rebecca Stead's When You Reach Me is now my very own new personal favorite. [...]

The Door in the Wall by Marguerite DeAngeli


(image) (image) Title: The Door in the Wall
Author: Marguerite DeAngeli
Pages: 128
Published: Yearling 1990 (orig. 1949)
My Rating: 3 stars

Perhaps the pickings were slim in 1950, or perhaps the Newbery's were simply in a period of highly valuing the simple, moralistic type of book, but The Door in the Wall was slightly disappointing to me.  I loved the choices from the late '40s, and again those from the late '50s, but some of these guys in between leave me frustrated.  (Ginger Pye in 1952, and The Light at Tern Rock, 1952 Honor, felt similarly moralistic and boring to me, although all the honor choices in 1953 were fabulous: Charlotte's Web, Moccasin Trail, The Bears on Hemlock Mountain, Red Sails to Capri.)

The Door in the Wall is not without value, my 11 year old son quite enjoyed the historical aspect of it, but when compared to other Newbery winners that deal with the Middle Ages (Adam of the Road, Good Masters! Sweet Ladies!) this one falls short.  The medieval dialect is surprisingly readable, (though some of the vocabulary is a bit difficult to understand,) and the way of life is vivid. Although it remains rather boring during the first half, the pace does pick up toward the end, and is overall quick to read.

If the moralistic aspect doesn't bother you, then definitely give this one a shot.  Otherwise, read Adam of the Road and Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! instead.

2011 Newbery goes to...


(image) Moon Over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool.

The Honor Books are:
Turtle in Paradise by Jennifer Holm,
(image) (image)

Heart of a Samurai by Margi Preus,

Dark Emperor and Other Poems of the Night by Joyce Sidman, and
(image) One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia, which also won the Coretta Scott King Author Award.

Kira-Kira by Cynthia Kadohata


Title: Kira-KiraAuthor: Cynthia KadohataPublisher: AtheneumLanguage: English ISBN - 10: 0689856393ISBN - 13: 978-0689856396Rating:  4/5According to the Blurb"Glittering. That's how Katie Takeshima's sister, Lynn, makes everything seem. The sky is kira-kira because its color is deep but see-through at the same time. The sea is kira-kira for the same reason. And so are people's eyes. When Katie and her family move from a Japanese community in Iowa to the Deep South of Georgia, it's Lynn who explains to her why people stop them on the street to stare. And it's Lynn who, with her special way of viewing the world, teaches Katie to look beyond tomorrow. But when Lynn becomes desperately ill, and the whole family begins to fall apart, it is up to Katie to find a way to remind them all that there is always something glittering—kira-kira —in the future."ThoughtsKatie and her family's life is anything but kira-kira — the life of Japanese Americans in the 1950s was anything but glittering due to the "Anti-Japanese sentiment" across America. Katie could see reality: no one wants to make friends with her at school, not even with her sister Lynn, despite her natural charm and brilliance at schoolwork and her father had to work back-breaking hours to provide for his family. On the other hand, Lynn, despite also seeing reality, chose to be the optimist and was the one who taught Katie to see things differently, that all things are kira-kira. The author has drawn perfectly believable characters, from the humble, hardworking father, to the sweet, adoring little brother. Their voices are clear and their words are accurate. Katie describes her world with the simplicity and practicality you would expect from her age, and a natural awe for her older sister. Added to the mix are interesting characters, Uncle Katsuhisa and his family, Amber, and Silly, who provide the necessary humor and perspective that turns the plot from an otherwise depressing narrative to a hopeful, coming of age story of a young girl and her family.Winner of the 2005 Newbery Medal, this novel, though sad, will not disappoint. It is a story of hope at its core, convincing the readers to find the kira-kira in little things, reminding everyone to keep dreaming big, and appreciating the world for all its flaws.[...]