Monday, August 29, 2011

Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis [2000]

My Rating: 7/10

Quick Summary: During the Depression, 10 year old Bud runs away from a bad foster care situation in order to try and track down the jazz musician he thinks is his father.

I know you all will simply be shocked, shocked I say, when I mention that this was a historical book.  In fact, of the twelve Newbery medal winners I've already covered, there were only 2 that were not.  The 1930s seem to be a particularly popular time- this is the third one with a Depression-era setting.

Moving on from that, though, this was a charming book with an excellent sense of humor.  Bud is a very likable protagonist with a great narrative voice.  And also, if I'm going to read a book about the 30s, it's nice to actually get a non-white perspective for once.  In the afterward, Curtis mentioned that several of the characters were actually based on some of his own relatives, so he clearly put a lot of time and love into the research, and it shows.  He managed to convey a lot of feeling for the time without a lot of unnecessary exposition, and the atmosphere was well-defined.

I suppose my only real complaint about the story itself would be the rather far-fetched happy ending.  It was all a bit too pat and vaguely unrealistic, but as I've mentioned before, I'd rather have the happy ending for a children's book.  Cynical realism can come later.  And at least the author set up the Chekov's gun in the form of the stones and the picture at the beginning of the book, and then paid them off.

It's an accessible, likable book, and one that I think could be used in the classroom setting, or read solo.  And with that, we are on to the 1990s...

Monday, August 22, 2011

A Year Down Yonder, by Richard Peck [2001]

My Rating: 7/10

Quick Summary: It's the Depression, and 15 year old Mary Alice Dowdel's parents can't afford to keep her, so she goes to live with her rather colorful grandmother in the country.  The sequel to A Long Way from Chicago.

Whoops, it's been awhile- I got a little caught up in other things.  I actually finished this one a week or two ago, but was having trouble figuring out what I wanted to say about it.

Color me shocked- as mentioned above, A Year Down Yonder is set in the 1930s.  I should really start a running tally of all the Newbery books that are period pieces (although it would be easier to count the ones that aren't).  Instant Newbery- just add history!

I actually quite liked this one, and its prequel.  Grandma Dowdel is a delightful character, especially viewed from the perspective of her grandchildren (Joey in the first book, and Mary Alice in this one).  The books are quite fun, and frequently heartwarming without being saccharine.  The stories have a sort of ageless quality about them that meant that I enjoyed reading them without feeling like they weren't meant for children.

I think my biggest critique would be the fact that the book is anecdotal rather than plot-driven- it feels more like a collection of interconnected short stories, rather than one novel.  (Though A Year Down Yonder suffers from this slightly less than A Long Way from Chicago.)  I can imagine that this would actually make it an ideal read-aloud book for a class, however.

It's funny, I didn't recognize author Richard Peck's name until I read his flap copy bio, and saw that he was the man who wrote Ghosts I Have Been, which I read during my R.L. Stine/Christpher Pike/et al supernatural kick around age 10.  I guess I shouldn't be so surprised- Ghosts I Have Been was also historical, and had a lot of the same sort of humor, but on the surface, the books seem so very disparate... ah well.  Good on Peck, anyway.

This is exactly the sort of book that tends to win the Newbery Medal without a lot of argument- it could have been a winner from 20 years ago, or 40, or 60.  The flip side of that, though, is that there isn't anything about this book that makes it particularly relevant for the present- it's a historical book about white bread characters, which means that a lot of kids would find it rather exclusionary.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

A Single Shard, by Linda Sue Park [2002]

My Rating: 7/10

Quick Summary: In 12th century Korea, an orphan named Tree-Ear develops a passion for pottery that leads to him working for the local master potter.

I readily admit that I was dragging my feet on this one, because the edition of A Single Shard that I was reading had a lousy cover (not the one pictured above, which is far more appealing) and worse flap copy, not to mention the fact that I'd just read one book about a boy in the Middle Ages (Crispin) and wasn't anxious for another.  (Seriously, what is it about the Newbery committee and historical books?)

The book was a bit slow to start, but once I got into it, it was clear how much time and effort Park had put into researching the time and place, and most especially, the techniques that went into making pottery.  I think whenever someone is truly passionate about something (in this case, both the author and the main character), it really comes across and can be quite compelling.  I've never done any pottery making myself, but I became interested in the techniques as they were discussed.

The story was rather slow paced (especially for a book with less than 200 pages), and there wasn't a whole lot of plot beyond pottery through most of the book, but there was a decent amount of action for the climax, and a creditable level of emotional development for the characters.

In the end, it was a quiet book, and surprisingly subtle without being misaimed in terms of age group.  I wouldn't call this one a universal pleaser- its slow pace would turn a good number of kids off- but there's some definite appeal to it, and I wouldn't be at all surprised to learn that this book inspired several children into taking pottery classes.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Crispin: The Cross of Lead, by Avi [2003]

My Rating: 6/10

Quick Summary: The 13-year-old formerly known only as Asta's Son becomes entangled in mysteries and troubles after the death of his mother, and has to flee across the countryside of 14th century England.

Going into this, I was sort of wondering if this book winning the Newbery was sort of similar to an Oscar that's given to actors not because they were awesome in the role they were nominated for, but because they had previously deserved the award and not received it.  Avi has been around a long while, and though he got a couple of Honors, he'd never won the big one.

Also, as I was reading through this book (set in 1377), I was reflecting on the fact that almost all of the Newbery winners I've read for this blog have been set in the past.  From the 1200s (Good Masters! Sweet Ladies!) to the 1970s (When You Reach Me & Criss Cross), historical novels seem to be the way to go in order to be Newbery bait.  I have to wonder if this is one of those "it's a period piece, so it must be highbrow!" sorts of phenomena.

Speaking of Good Masters!  Sweet Ladies!, it was sort of funny to have read both the books in reasonably short order, as this was set not much later, and they both spent a lot of time talking about the lives of English peasants in the Middle Ages.  There were a couple of bits in Crispin that made me think that the two authors were reading the same research materials.

It took me awhile to get around to reading Crispin: The Cross of Lead because on the surface, I didn't find it very appealing.  The flap copy was rather uninteresting, and frankly, I thought the title was dreadful.  (I've recently discovered that this was the first book in a series, so that helps explain it- next up we have Crispin: At the Edge of the World and Crispin: The End of Time).

Once I started it, though, it was interesting enough to keep me going.  This was Avi's fiftieth book, so clearly, the man knows something about the writing process.  But there were moments that felt rather formulaic to me (the moment when Crispin decides to go out despite being warned by his mentor to stay hidden made me roll my eyes and groan, and then put down the book for awhile).  I felt like a number of the plot points were never full developed (sequel bait, I imagine), and Avi didn't really pay off some of the emotional scenes.  Yes, there were some decent reflections on freedom and free will, but on the whole, they weren't particularly well integrated into the text.

I feel like so many of these posts are just me giving negative critiques of the books, but yet again, I honestly have to ask: why did this book win the Newbery Medal?  It was unremarkable, if well researched, and about the only child I'd ever recommend it to would be one obsessed with the Middle Ages.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Tale of Despereaux, by Kate DiCamillo [2004]

My Rating: 7.5/10

Quick Summary: A very small mouse with very large ears falls in love with a human princess.  Trouble ensues, involving rats, soup, a dungeon, and humans of all sorts.

This was a book that managed to achieve that sort of wonderful timelessness that so many children's classics have.  It could have been written 80 years ago, instead of 8.  On the top, it has that simple, fairy tale feel, while all sorts of deeper themes lurk beneath the surface.  Meditations on forgiveness, free will, human (and animal) nature, cruelty- there's a lot going on in this book.

Even so, there were times when I was slightly bothered by the anviliciousness of some of the characters (Miggery Sow troubled me the most), but that lack of subtlety is present in so many children's books- it's almost certainly something that wouldn't have bothered me when I was a kid, and only bugs me a bit now.  Often times the extremes are rather funny, in a parental bonus sort of way.  And again, there is a lot going on beneath the surface to make up for it.

However, for whatever reason, I didn't end up truly connecting with this book. I enjoyed it a lot, and appreciated many things about it.  I imagine that I would have adored it if it had been around when I was small.  But I approached it as an adult (which is sadly, a condition I cannot change), and there was something about it that said "this is not really meant for you".  That, however, is more than fine, as DiCamillo wrote it for kids.  For once, this is a Newbery winner that was not misaimed.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Kira-Kira, by by Cynthia Kadohata [2005]

My Rating: 6/10

Quick Summary: Despite the difficulties of growing up Japanese in 1950s Georgia, Katie Takeshima's big sister Lynn knows how to find the wonderful, glittering things ("kira-kira" in Japenese) in life.  But when Lynn gets cancer, Katie has to start finding her own way. has a trope called "Death by Newbery Medal," and unsurprisingly, this is one of the books that pops up on that list.  There's even a sub-quote about Kira-Kira by one of the tropers:
If a reader is Genre Savvy enough, they would notice the Newbery Medal insignia on the cover and open up to the very first page where the narrator talks about how special her sister is and how much she loves her and instantly reach a Foregone Conclusion.
As mentioned, there were enough clues that Lynn was going to die, so that when the actual event occurred, I didn't find it too upsetting (which is good, considering I was on a plane, and crying next to a random stranger while reading a children's book might have been a tad embarrassing).

The death was also handled realistically, and well, and in some ways, was the most well-fleshed out part of the book.  Outside of that storyline, there were so many tantalizing bits about culture and identity, not to mention the bonds of family.  But a lot of the book never fulfilled its promise- there were all those hints, and nothing more.

However, unlike some authors I've recently discussed, Kadohata did a good job of establishing place, time, and character.  Katie and Lynn are both fully realized, dynamic characters.  I'm a younger sister myself (though I have older brothers, not sisters), so I frequently identified with Katie's adoration of her older sibling intermixed with frustration and misunderstandings.

Kadohata also handled the way a young child would see the racial issues of Georgia in the 50s deftly.  There's a particularly well-written scene where the family is attempting to check into a hotel, and the woman at the desk keeps misidentifying their origins, only caring that they aren't white.  Katie's frustration and lack of complete understanding is letter perfect and really hits you where it hurts.

This was the author's first foray into middle grade fiction, and I think it shows.  There are moments when it feels like she was writing more for adults, and as mentioned above, some aspects of the book are never fully fleshed out.  Again, though- while it was a very human book with some excellent qualities, I have to question just what it was that caused it to be named the Newbery Medal book of the year, because honestly, I didn't find it particularly outstanding.  (Although we at least finally got some non-WASPy characters- the first so far on this list.)  Just because a children's book deals with death in an honest and human way should not mean it automatically deserves an award.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Criss Cross, by Lynne Rae Perkins [2006]

My Rating: 5/10

Quick Summary: A series of intersecting vignettes about a group of teenagers in a small town in the 70s. 

When I first started blogging as a teenager, I wasn't quite sure how to present myself online, and so I played around with several experimental and/or "edgy" possible styles and entries.  Generally, this meant a lot of silly, self-conscious ridiculousness.

This book reads a lot like that.  The author seems to have been experimenting with all sorts of "different" styles she could use, such as the chapter that has simultaneous narratives about two different characters, or the chapter written in haiku, or the one that is set up as a dialogue only to slowly become blurred as to who is speaking which part.  

I found this both fatuous and distracting.  It was almost impossible for me to connect with the characters and the story, because I was constantly being taken out of it by the "look at me!  look at how edgy and cool I am!" feeling of it all.  The author never took the time to establish the who/what/where/when/why of it all, and so I never really got sucked in.  

The lack of a true feeling of place and time was problematic, because the book is set in the 70s, but since it isn't well-established, the discussion about proper length to wear one's bellbottoms seemed to come out of nowhere, and was really jarring.  It almost would have been better to avoid those few mentions of the time period, because I think the book would have proven a little more universal without them, especially as she didn't do a good job of establishing setting.

I spent a lot of the first half of the book flipping around, because I'd have to remind myself who each character was, as she jumped between so many without really letting us get to know any of them properly.  The second half read a little bit more easily, as I no longer had to do that, and there were even a couple of scenes I started getting interested in.  The chapter in which two of the characters work together to save an elderly lady was actually quite good.  Which made it all the more disappointing when the book went back to being scattered and out of touch.  

I saw someone on Goodreads mention that this book might have made a decent Wes Anderson movie... but the techniques and styles that make a fun and quirky film do not necessarily translate to making a good book.  Again, I have to question why on earth this was chosen as a Newbery Medal book.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The Higher Power of Lucky, by Susan Patron [2007]

My Rating: 5.5/10

Quick Summary: Ten-year-old Lucky (fascinated by 12-Step Meetings and insects) worries that her guardian is going to leave her to go back to France, as she tries to figure out her own "Higher Power".

Like Moon Over Manifest, this was a mis-aimed book.  The tone and style of the book read like a picture book, but the content seems meant for an older audience.  And there was apparently a huge furor over the fact that the book has the word "scrotum" on the very first page. (Which I really don't care about one way or another, except to be appalled at all the librarians practicing censorship over a anatomical term.)

Books about orphaned children living in difficult circumstances are quite common among Newbery winners, and so Lucky's rather depressing situation (living in a trailer in a desert town [population 43], and having to eat government food, with flashbacks to the traumatic death of her mother) is not a shock.  But again, the target audience seems to be the younger crowd, considering the length of the book (just a bit over 100 pages), the fact that it is illustrated, and the overall feel of the writing... which makes the subject matter rather odd.

Because the style and subject don't mesh, the book comes off as something of a head-scratcher.  It should either be a longer book with a more sophisticated style and deeper character development, or a shorter and less glum book with more pictures.

There were definitely some redeeming features about it, though.  I liked the character of Lucky, as she was interesting and well-developed.  There were some well-written scenes- I particularly enjoyed the bit where Lincoln fixed the grammar of the "SLOW CHILDREN AT PLAY" sign, as those signs always bugged me when I was a kid.  I also was impressed at how well the author established a sense of place; the town of Hard Pan was practically a character in and of itself.

In the end, however, this was a flawed and not particularly notable book.  I'm really not sure what the committee was thinking, but perhaps there was something about The Higher Power of Lucky that spoke to them, even if it didn't really reach me.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! by Laura Amy Schlitz [2008]

My Rating: 4.5/10

Quick Summary: Twenty-three interconnected monologues and dialogues of the voices of the children from a Medieval Manor in England, in 1255.

Let me start out with the things I liked about this book, because the things I didn't like are going to take up most of this post.

The author is a children's librarian at a school, and her students were studying the Middle Ages.  She wanted for them to have something to perform, and there was nothing out there that would allow all 17 students in a class to have a good part.  So she sat down and wrote these pieces, which is pretty amazing in and of itself. They're good pieces, and interesting, and I can see where a class would have a lot of fun performing them. She knows her stuff, she doesn't sugarcoat what conditions were like, and she really manages to convey what the people were like in short strokes.  This was an excellent bit of work for a specific niche, and I can only imagine how much fun her students had with it.

That being said, this is truly a book that lacks broad appeal, and I can see exactly why it was the impetus behind the Newbery controversy.  This is not a book that practically any child would pick up on his or her own, and even the few that do are apt to drop it almost immediately.

I laughed when I read Schlitz's intro, with her complaints about having trouble finding parts for ALL SEVENTEEN people in her class.  I checked out the home page for the Park School, and it is a private school where a year's tuition costs only a little less than a year at an expensive college.  I attended a public school in the same state, but I don't believe I was ever in a classroom with less than 30 students.  The time and the money and the level of adult participation it took for Schlitz's students to put on Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! was completely beyond anything my elementary school could have managed (and we weren't even one of the worst off, by far).

Also, in terms of audience, this book is so WASPy and Euro-centric, I'm surprised my copy didn't spontaneously turn into a loaf of white bread.  There is one Jewish character, and a brief mention of the Crusades (and don't even get my started on Schlitz' rather gross oversimplification of the very, very loaded issues associated with the above), and that's it.  Speaking of loaded issues, one of the segments that I found particularly off-putting was the one about Constance, who is on a pilgrimage in the hopes of curing her crooked back.  There's a footnote about how in the middle ages, being disabled meant that God had shunned you.  Yeah, because that's not upsetting for any differently abled kids who pick up this book.  Classy.

Oh, and speaking of footnotes, this book is chock full of them.  Seriously, nearly every segment has at least a couple.  Again, in the original context of a classroom, this isn't really a problem, but for someone who just picks this up off the shelf, the fact that so much of an 85-page book requires constant explanations; that's going to be a turn-off.   (And I haven't even discussed the fact that it's mostly all poetry and blank verse...)

I'm not trying to say that there aren't kids out there who would be totally into this.  There are plenty of precocious readers with a passion for history.  But again, this is a very, very niche book, and not one for general audiences.  But I guess sometimes the Newbery Medal shines a light on this sort of obscure book, so that it is available for those who are interested.  Still, I feel like this would have been a better Newbery Honor book, rather than the Medal winner.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Bring Out Your Controversy

This seems like a good time to talk about the controversy over the Newberys that popped up in 2008, sparked by this article by Anita Silvey, seeing as how she was addressing several of the books that are next on my list.

If you don't feel like reading the whole thing (though it's interesting and not long), this in particular was one of the bits that really struck me:
Book critics and reviewers offered the harshest critiques. “Recent Newbery committees seem dismissive of popularity, a quality which should be an asset,” said one reviewer. “They appear to be hunting for a special book—one with only a few readers, rather than a universal book,” offered another. “They search for a book that makes the committee powerful, because they were the only ones to think of it,” reasoned a critic.
Unsurprisingly, Silvey's article inspired a whole flurry of debates about the status of the Newberys, including some extremists bringing the crazy.  In the Washington Post article, John Beach, a professor of literacy education in New York, was quoted as stating that,"the Newbery has probably done far more to turn kids off to reading than any other book award in children's publishing". Clearly an outrageous statement, considering just how many beloved classics have been Newbery winners, but something at the heart of the quote does speak to accessibility... because so many of the winners lack it.  The Scripps News article brought up a study by Brigham Young University, which found that,"characters in Newbery Medal-winning books are more likely to be white, male and come from two-parent households than the average U.S. child".  Ouch.

On the other hand, Erica S. Perl from Slate defends the Newberys, commenting that, "as an author myself, I find it far more inspiring when the award committee picks a relative underdog like 2006 winner Criss Cross than when it picks an already popular book... in a time of publishing industry layoffs and cutbacks, when commercial promise is king, the Newbery medal continues to offer hope for those of us who want to write and publish the odd, offbeat, and not always pretty stories that we believe in our hearts children will want to read".  As someone who often is violently disinterested in pop culture crazes, I totally grok her point.  Not to mention the fact that I've heard serious horror stories from my friends who work in publishing, to the point where I'm ready to see the Leverage episode where they take down some big publishing CEOs.

In the end,  a lot of the Newbery debate comes down to popularity versus perceived quality. I worked at a bookstore for years, and I can tell you that the most popular books we sold (to adults, that is) were the low-end romance novels.  I had customers who came in every single month to buy bags full of the new Silhouettes/Harlequin/etc titles.  I certainly don't think there is anything wrong with this.  I read tons of "low-brow" texts myself, from fanfic to pulp mysteries to Star Trek books.  But I'll admit that I'm horrified when someone states that Twilight is a better book than say, Pride and Prejudice.  There's nothing wrong with loving the former more than the latter (though I may never be able to discuss literature with you again if you feel that way), but I do find it disconcerting when people are unable to separate their fondness for something from their ability to judge its relative level of quality (though this is a whole other debate in itself).

The Newbery Medal is awarded each year to "the author of the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children" (as taken from the ALA site, bolding mine).  It is up to the members of the committee to figure out exactly what that denotes.   In the end, like many famous book awards, that is going to mean that some of the books will lack popular appeal.  As long as the committee doesn't completely lose touch with their target audience, I think that's OK.  But I believe there is definitely a conversation to be had about the lack of minority representation (both authors and characters), not to mention a reminder to the committee that obscure and/or difficult does not automatically equal quality.

So, thoughts, debates, arguments, flames?

Thursday, July 7, 2011

The Graveyard Book, by Neil Gaiman [2009]

My Rating: 8.5/10

Quick Summary: A modern day take on The Jungle Book, with a supernatural twist.  Bod Owens is taken in as a child and raised by the denizens of an English graveyard.

This is another one that I'd read before, but it was a pure joy to return to it.  I think the second read-through truly brought home just how fabulous Neil Gaiman is at world building. The man's imagination is unrivaled.

I remember when this was announced as the Medal winner for the year, it stirred up a bit of a fuss with people who thought it was too dark for children.  To be fair, I am speaking as a child of the 80s, who grew up watching things like Return to Oz and reading books by Christopher Pike, but I don't believe The Graveyard Book is in any way too dark for kids. Yes, it starts with the murder of the main character's whole family, but it isn't graphic.  And here's the thing- kids love these stories.  They like to be reassured that should the worst happen, should they lose their homes or their families, that they can still survive and thrive. Anyway, after the initial opening sequence, things are actually quite domestic and cozy for a good long while.

I've seen some criticism of the somewhat episodic nature of much of the book, and it times, it does read like a collection of linked short stories, but I think it hangs together quite well.  It's nice to get snapshots of Bod at different ages, rather than shooting straight ahead to the teenage years.  Also, it allows Gaiman to insert important backstory at a nice pace. The reader really gets a chance to know the inhabitants of the graveyard (and fascinating characters they are)... and it highlights the fact that the ghosts are all unchanging, while Bod keeps growing up.

I'll admit, on the re-read, one of the things that sort of bothered me is something that I will probably take some criticism for writing, and that is the status of female characters in The Graveyard Book.  Yes, I am a feminist, and so that lens is one that comes out just about every time I pick up a book (this is probably a cue for me to now receive some hateful flames).  And Gaiman has written some amazing, powerful female characters in the past, and of course, wrote a children's book starring an awesome girl.

I'm very aware of the fact that there is a current concern about boys not reading as much as girls, and not having as many books written for them.  Fifteen of the last twenty Newbery Medal books were by women, frequently featuring female characters.  So the fact that Neil Gaiman wrote a popular book starring a young male character is definitely a good thing.  But still, I was vaguely bothered by the way women were portrayed in the book, which solidified at the end when Scarlett's memory was erased.  I'm sorry, but the trope of the poor girl who just can't take it and so must have her memory erased (Superman II, that Angel episode, etc, I'm looking at you) has always been one that bothers me.

But now I'm going vaguely off track in a direction that is bound to be controversial, so I'll just reign that back in.

I've seen some complaints about the way The Graveyard Book ends, but I thought the finale was really what brought home the parallels to The Jungle Book.  A Bildungsroman requires growth and change, thus Bod's dissolving link to his childhood with the graveyard.  And in the end, growing up is about spreading your wings and finding your place in the world.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

When You Reach Me, by Rebecca Stead [2010]

My Rating: 7.5/10

Quick Summary: Twelve-year-old Miranda is already dealing with all the upheaval that comes with adolescence (including a best friend who no longer wants to hang out, and having to help her mother prepare for a game show appearance) when she begins receiving a series of mysterious, timey-wimey notes.

This is one of the Newbery books that I'd read before, and I enjoyed just as much the second time as I did the first.  Among other things, it is a wonderful homage to A Wrinkle in Time, which has always been a favorite of mine.  This is a book that is perfectly aimed at its age group, and yet is still a joy for an adult.  Considering my fondness for it now, I can only imagine that I would have adored it when I was ten.

The tone of the book is very well set from the beginning, with an perfectly apropos epigram by Einstein: "The most beautiful experience we can have is the mysterious".  When You Reach Me is an interesting confluence of genres: science fiction, mystery, historical, and of course, just straight up fiction.

There are really only two critiques I think I would offer up.  First of all, the timeline of the story is a bit confusing.  It begins with Miranda's mom receiving the post card inviting her to the game show, and from there, continues to jump backwards and forwards.  Additionally, despite my status as lifelong Trekkie, I do tend to get a little twisted up by the paradoxes of time travel (there's a reason why I studied Lit and History, and not physics).

Second of all, the ending is just a little bit pat.  It feels like that, at the ripe old age of twelve, Miranda has gotten her life totally together.  However, I'll admit that I do prefer a utopian ending, in which the message is that if the adolescent protagonist thinks about others and does her part, life vastly improves.  Save the discovery of the crapsack world for when readers get old enough to discover Cormac McCarthy.

But to return to the Einstein epigram to the book, When You Reach Me understands the beauty of the mysterious, especially for the young.  It's easy to talk about the outer time travel mystery, but beyond that, there's a great balance of inner mysteries.  The impossible mystery of friendship, both with Miranda's old best friend, and her new acquaintances.  The way Miranda comes face to face with race and class issues, and has to discover where she stands.  And of course, Miranda's relationship with her mother, and how that changes as she grows older.  The best books always seem to find a way to balance and entwine the inner and outer mysteries, and this is definitely one that qualifies.

Last thoughts- when I first read this book, and through up a quick review on Goodreads, I noticed several one star reviews for the book.  Almost universally, they came from people who had gone in expecting too much of this book.  I think the Newbery Medal can be something of a burden, as it sets the bar quite high.  When You Reach Me is a quiet, well-constructed, subtle book, not a splashy or arresting one.  Keep that in mind, and you're golden.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Moon Over Manifest, by Clare Vanderpool [2011]

My Rating: 5.5/10

Quick Summary: In 1936, Abilene Tucker is sent to to Manifest, Kansas to stay with an old friend of her father's, while he is away working on a railroad.  She begins investigating the past (complete with flashbacks), and getting to know the history of the town and its people, and thus, better getting to know her father and herself.

Imagine if you took To Kill a Mockingbird and Jellicoe Road, stirred them together, and set them in Depression-era Kansas.  With this recipe, you'd pretty much get Moon Over Manifest, the Newbery Medal book for 2011.

I think I put this book down at least four times before I got through the first couple chapters.  To be fair, I was rather distracted by other things, but it just didn't really reach out and grab me.  Once I got a couple chapters in, I started enjoying myself, but then I hit the halfway point, and realized just how long this book was (368 pages).  Considering the target age group, this is a bit excessive.  Part of the problem was the fact that there are two narratives, the story set in the "present" of 1936, and then that set in the past of 1918.  I think the author overreached herself in scope, and it left her with a flawed book.  This story should have either been far shorter or much longer.  As it was, I felt like we never really got to know the main character, Abilene, because there were too many other characters and too much else going on.  

It was hard to follow all of the various townspeople of both narratives, because very few of them were given fully fledged personalities (or anything to keep them memorable).  And in the end, I felt like there were a lot of questions left unanswered, and plot points left dangling.

This is not to say the book was unpleasant.  It was well researched, it had a good sense of place, and there were some sweet scenes.  But I'm not sure I would have liked it when I was young- the elements that brought me pleasure were all definitely things that appeal to my adult self.

The Complete List

Here's the list of all the Newbery Medals, 1922- present.  As I review them, I'll link them to this post.

2016: Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Peña
2015: The Crossover by Kwame Alexander
2014: Flora and Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures by Kate DiCamillo
2013: The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate
2012: Dead End in Norvelt by Jack Gantos
2011: Moon Over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool
2010: When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead
2009: The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman, illus. by Dave McKean
2008: Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! Voices from a Medieval Village by Laura Amy Schlitz
2007: The Higher Power of Lucky by Susan Patron, illus. by Matt Phelan
2006: Criss Cross by Lynne Rae Perkins
2005: Kira-Kira by Cynthia Kadohata
2004: The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo
2003: Crispin: The Cross of Lead by Avi
2002: A Single Shard by Linda Sue Park
2001: A Year Down Yonder by Richard Peck
2000: Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis
1999: Holes by Louis Sachar
1998: Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse
1997: The View from Saturday by E.L. Konigsburg
1996: The Midwife's Apprentice by Karen Cushman
1995: Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech
1994: The Giver by Lois Lowry
1993: Missing May by Cynthia Rylant
1992: Shiloh by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
1991: Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli
1990: Number the Stars by Lois Lowry
1989: Joyful Noise: Poems for Two Voices by Paul Fleischman
1988: Lincoln: A Photobiography by Russell Freedman
1987: The Whipping Boy by Sid Fleischman
1986: Sarah, Plain and Tall by Patricia MacLachlan
1985: The Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley
1984: Dear Mr. Henshaw by Beverly Cleary
1983: Dicey's Song by Cynthia Voigt
1982: A Visit to William Blake's Inn: Poems for Innocent and Experienced Travelers by Nancy Willard
1981: Jacob Have I Loved by Katherine Paterson
1980: A Gathering of Days: A New England Girl's Journal, 1830-1832 by Joan W. Blos
1979: The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin
1978: Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson
1977: Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor
1976: The Grey King by Susan Cooper
1975: M. C. Higgins, the Great by Virginia Hamilton
1974: The Slave Dancer by Paula Fox
1973: Julie of the Wolves by Jean Craighead George
1972: Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert C. O'Brien
1971: Summer of the Swans by Betsy Byars
1970: Sounder by William H. Armstrong
1969: The High King by Lloyd Alexander
1968: From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg
1967: Up a Road Slowly by Irene Hunt
1966: I, Juan de Pareja by Elizabeth Borton de Trevino
1965: Shadow of a Bull by Maia Wojciechowska
1964: It's Like This, Cat by Emily Neville
1963: A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle
1962: The Bronze Bow by Elizabeth George Speare
1961: Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O'Dell
1960: Onion John by Joseph Krumgold
1959: The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare
1958: Rifles for Watie by Harold Keith
1957: Miracles on Maple Hill by Virginia Sorensen
1956: Carry On, Mr. Bowditch by Jean Lee Latham
1955: The Wheel on the School by Meindert DeJong
1954: ...And Now Miguel by Joseph Krumgold
1953: Secret of the Andes by Ann Nolan Clark
1952: Ginger Pye by Eleanor Estes
1951: Amos Fortune, Free Man by Elizabeth Yates
1950: The Door in the Wall by Marguerite de Angeli
1949: King of the Wind by Marguerite Henry
1948: The Twenty-One Balloons by William Pène du Bois
1947: Miss Hickory by Carolyn Sherwin Bailey
1946: Strawberry Girl by Lois Lenski
1945: Rabbit Hill by Robert Lawson
1944: Johnny Tremain by Esther Forbes
1943: Adam of the Road by Elizabeth Janet Gray
1942: The Matchlock Gun by Walter Edmonds
1941: Call It Courage by Armstrong Sperry
1940: Daniel Boone by James Daugherty
1939: Thimble Summer by Elizabeth Enright
1938: The White Stag by Kate Seredy
1937: Roller Skates by Ruth Sawyer
1936: Caddie Woodlawn by Carol Ryrie Brink
1935: Dobry by Monica Shannon
1934: Invincible Louisa: The Story of the Author of Little Women by Cornelia Meigs
1933: Young Fu of the Upper Yangtze by Elizabeth Lewis
1932: Waterless Mountain by Laura Adams Armer
1931: The Cat Who Went to Heaven by Elizabeth Coatsworth
1930: Hitty, Her First Hundred Years by Rachel Field
1929: The Trumpeter of Krakow by Eric P. Kelly
1928: Gay Neck, the Story of a Pigeon by Dhan Gopal Mukerji
1927: Smoky, the Cowhorse by Will James
1926: Shen of the Sea by Arthur Bowie Chrisman
1925: Tales from Silver Lands by Charles Finger
1924: The Dark Frigate by Charles Hawes
1923: The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle by Hugh Lofting
1922: The Story of Mankind by Hendrik Willem van Loon

The Great Newbery Medal Read Through

Despite the fact that I've always been a big fan of children's and YA lit, it recently came to my attention that I've actually only read a small fraction of the Newbery Medal books over the years.  And so, in one of those moments of insanity I sometimes have, I decided I would read all of them, starting with the ones I've never read before.

And since I am very fond of sharing my opinions, it was only logical to create a blog to go along with the project.