Monday, January 27, 2014

2014 Newbery Goes To...

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

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.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

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.]

Sunday, March 10, 2013

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.]

Saturday, February 9, 2013

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 family...is 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 3.0
Latest cover of A Single Shard

Monday, January 28, 2013

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.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

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.]

Saturday, December 29, 2012

The Witch of Blackbird Pond - 1959 Medal

by Elizabeth George Speare,
read by Mary Beth Hurt

Sixteen-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 ...to 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 Award Acceptance," in Newbery and Caldecott Medal Books: 1956-1965, edited by Lee Kingman, The Horn Book, Inc, Boston, 1965, pages 72-77.   The audiobook, and a print copy for reference, were borrowed from and returned to my university library. This review also appears on Bookin' It.]