Friday, August 31, 2007

An Introduction from Juliette

Hello all! Julie from Oxfordshire, England here.
I see there is already a Julie so I will use my 'real' name Juliette on this challenge! I have just come back from my holiday in France having signed up for this challenge. Visited both library and book shop with list-looks like getting hold of some of them will be a challenge for me. Anyway I am going to begin with Holes 1999, followed by Despereaux, Midwife's Apprentice and The Grey King.

I am really pleased to be taking part in this project and will try and post some reviews as soon as possible! I am also in three challenges, The Book Awards, Book Around the World and 50 book challenge. Happy reading!

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Secret of the Andes (1953)


Cusi, a precocious child of the ancient Inca culture, had a strange upbringing. His guardian, an old man named Chuto, was a llama herder living in the Andes mountain range near Cuzco, Peru. At the beginning of the novel Cusi has no memory of ever seeing anyone except Chuto, so when an Incan family moves into the valley below, Cusi is fascinated. He spends a lot of time watching them, wishing he had a family of his own. He has no idea who his parents were, or how he came to be living with Chuto. There are too many mysteries in Cusi's life, and he's desperately in search of answers. During the course of this unusual coming-of-age novel Cusi meets many other people and makes two trips off the mountain to visit the civilization below.

From the quality of the writing it was clear to me that the author, Ann Nolan Clark, was intimately familiar with Incan and Peruvian cultures. I did some research to see if she'd been to Peru. Sure enough, she had.

Ann Nolan Clark spent twenty-five years teaching school – most of that time at the New Mexico Tesuque school for Native American children. During her teaching career she wrote fifteen children's books that were published by the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

As Longfellow wrote, “Into each life some rain must fall.”

Tragedy hit Ann Nolan Clark's life when her only child, a son, was killed during World War II. After the war the Institute for Inter-American Affairs funded this author's travels in Central and South America. For five years she journeyed through Mexico, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Peru, and Brazil. Her travels inspired more novels for children, one of which was Secret of the Andes. This novel was published in 1952 and won the Newbery Medal for 1953.

For the most part, I enjoyed reading the book. There were no glaring grammatical flaws that interfered with my reading, and the words flowed well, which is the mark of an experienced writer. However there were a few passages that went into travelogue mode, and that brought me out of the novel experience long enough to be sorry the author had not edited them out. After this happened several times, I took note of this passage to share with you:
“Chuto brought the yarn he had carried down the mountain to barter. While they ate parched corn and dried meat, Chuto bargained. The other men examined the yarn, noting its quality and the evenness of its spinning. ‘The women of your village spin good yarn,’ one man told him. Chuto did not answer. He did not say there were no women in his village. He did not say that he had spun the yarn and under his patient teaching Cusi had spun some of it. Although spinning is chiefly women’s work, men and boys know how to spin. Occasionally they can be seen spinning yarn as they walk along the highland trails.” - pg. 46
This is a great scene until the last two sentences when the author stepped out of the character's point of view and started explaining the culture.

In the second half of the book I noticed other things that bothered me even more. I don't want to write any spoilers, so I can't tell everything I had trouble believing. In her effort to teach about the mysterious Incan culture, the author gave the Incas the ability to know and do things in super-human, mysterious ways. These unrealistic plot twists didn't go over well with me, but even worse were the psychic powers given to Misti, Cusi's favorite llama. Misti gained the power to lead Cusi on incredible journeys. I would rather have seen Cusi figure out things on his own.

For me, the most annoying thing in the book had to do with a landslide. This landslide was totally unnecessary to the plot of the book. There I was, enjoying a pleasant evening with a children's novel when suddenly I'm informed of a landslide that takes a heart-rending toll in human life. My heart starts aching, but to my surprise, Cusi doesn't react much. I don't have too much tolerance for tragedy and trauma in children's literature so I found that totally unnecessary landslide to be superfluous to the plot of the novel, and therefore, annoying.

Ann Nolan Clark came through for her readers in the end. She complimented her lovely descriptions of Peruvian landscape with a final chapter that satisfied me 100%. By the time I got done reading, I was excited about knowing what the secret of the Andes was.

It seems that a lot of Newbery Medal winners are chosen because they illuminate various world or historic cultures. This book is an excellent introduction to Andean culture for young readers. I was surprised, however, at the frequent mention of Coca leaf use by Cusi and his guardian, Chuto. I always considered Coca leaves to be the natural form of cocaine. I did some research on this and discovered that Coca leaves are for sale on the internet, and it is not illegal for Americans to buy them. Coca leaf tea is said to energize, brighten moods, help digestion, regulate the metabolism of carbohydrates, and alleviate fatigue and altitude sickness. It is an important part of Incan culture that Ann Nolan Clark wanted people to know about.

There were other parts of the book I liked, for example, the relationship of the humans and llamas, a scary bridge scene, and Chuto's early morning greeting to the sun. I could go on telling you more, but perhaps I've said enough and you will soon read and enjoy this short novel for yourself.

My book review blog: Linda Jo Martin.
My children's literature blog: Literature For Kids.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Out of the Dust (1998)


Although I have access to all the Newbery winners in print form, with the new semester starting and three more interlibrary loan books (that I haven’t started) to finish in the next 5 to 15 days, I’ve been listening to Newberys on my commute. I’ve finished all audiobooks available to me that had not been reviewed to date, so for a while I'll be posting on some that others have already reviewed.

Like Flusi, I read (and loved) Timothy Egan’s The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl. The day before my book club discussed it, on February 24, 2007, I experienced my first dust storm (this photo was taken about 40 miles south of me). It gave me a taste (literally) of what it was like for those portrayed in Karen Hesse’s Out of the Dust, the 1998 winner.

There’s not a lot I can add to Flusi’s and Sandy D.’s posts. The audiobook was performed by Marika Mashburn, an Oklahoma native who was then a theater student at SMU in Dallas. She has a convincing accent, and the slight lisp she has/used added the right touch of youth to the performance of Billie Jo. When read aloud, you can’t really tell the book was written in free verse, it sounds more like journal entries, which is how Hesse framed the narrative poetry.

A few other interesting tidbits I uncovered: In her Newbery acceptance speech, Hesse said, “I based the accident on a series of articles appearing in the 1934 Boise City News,” a daily paper published in the Oklahoma Panhandle during the time that Hesse obtained on microfilm from the Oklahoma Historical Society. That paper provided the view into day-to-day life in the Dust Bowl that Hesse used in her novel.

Hesse also said, “I began my literary life as a poet.” However, she found that raising her children made writing poetry difficult, and it wasn’t until they were grown that she began Out of the Dust. “I never attempted to write this book any other way than in free verse. The frugality of the life, the hypnotically hard work of farming, the grimness of conditions during the dust bowl demanded an economy of words. Daddy and Ma and Billie Jo's rawboned life translated into poetry…”

I agree with Sandy D. that this book is more appropriate for an older reader, age 11 /6th grade, and up. The book has a message that is still important today: “It was about forgiveness. The whole book. Every relationship. Not only the relationships between people, but the relationship between the people and the land itself.”

The Cat Who Went to Heaven (1931)

The most interesting thing about this slender book might be its author. Born in 1893, Elizabeth Coatsworth's family loved to travel, so she had the opportunity to venture through Europe and Egypt extensively before the age of 18. In her early 20s, she went on an 18-month journey through Asia on her own. Her travels inspired much of her writing. Of the 90 children's books that she wrote (between her 30s and her 80s), The Cat Who Went to Heaven, which won the Newbery in 1931, is apparently one of the few that remains in print.

Written in the style of a Japanese folk tale, the only character in the book with a proper name is a cat called Good Fortune. Adopted by the housekeeper of an impoverished artist, the cat's presence in their home begins to, of course, change their fortune. As they sacrifice to feed the cat as a member of the family, the artist wins a commission to paint a group of animals receiving the Buddha's blessing for a temple. The conundrum is that house cats are considered unlucky, even malicious, creatures. So the artist must wrestle with either creating a painting of animals without a cat (when it seems to him that the cat has saved his life), or including a cat in the painting, thus risking being ostracized.

This is an interesting take on Buddhist teaching, but a very Western one, if you know anything about the religion. A quick 74 pages with several illustrations and a few poems, it's possible to read aloud and might be preferable to kids that way because some of the antiquated and high-handed language the characters use. The morals just sound too much like morals, and many contemporary writers are much better at being clever and discreet.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Walk Two Moons (1995)


I didn’t realize until I’d finished the audiobook that I was listening to an abridged edition of Sharon Creech’s Walk Two Moons. Considering that Creech interweaves three stories in one – that of Sal, of her best friend Phoebe, and of Sal’s cross-country trip with her grandparents to find Sal’s mother, the abridgement made the storylines easier to follow. However, the abridgement also left out some details that hinted at the ending, and thus heightened the suspense of the novel for me.

According to Creech’s Newbery acceptance speech, the book’s title comes from an American Indian proverb, “Don't judge a man until you've walked two moons in his moccasins,” that she received in a fortune cookie about four years before finishing the book. The proverb plays a part in the story as well.

The main character, Salamanca Tree Hiddle, or Sal, is a 13-year-old of Native American heritage (her name is the name of a tribe), as is her missing mother (and Creech). Sal and her father move from Kentucky to Ohio shortly after her mother’s disappearance, where Sal meets Phoebe, whose mother also disappears temporarily. If this isn’t enough missing mothers, Sal’s budding love interest, Ben, also has a mom who’s gone. By the end of the book, you find out why they’re gone and what happened to each of them.

Sal’s (and her mother’s) and Phoebe’s stories are told in flashback, within the framework of the trip Sal takes with her paternal grandparents from Ohio to Lewiston, Idaho, where Sal’s mother was heading. Along the way, Sal tells her grandparents Phoebe’s story, and through it, begins to understand her own.

The six-day trip traces Sal’s mother’s route and takes them many places I’ve been – Chicago and Lake Michigan, Madison and the Wisconsin Dells, Minnesota, the Badlands and Black Hills and Mount Rushmore in South Dakota, Yellowstone and Old Faithful in Wyoming, Montana, and Lewiston. According to the Newbery acceptance speech, the trip also mirrors one Creech took with her parents when she was 12.

The characters are funny and fully-realized – especially the grandparents, whose love for each other is palpable. Their dialogue in particular is down-home (Gramps calls Gram his “gooseberry” and both call Sal their “chick-a-biddy”). In narrating the audiobook, actress Mary Stuart Masterson did a marvelous job with this as well as with portraying Phoebe’s prissiness, Sal’s sometimes-typical-teen reactions, the anguish of both girls, and the eccentricities of other characters.

[edited to add an interesting tidbit - The Finney family as well as some of Phoebe and Sal's classmates come from Creech's 1990 book, Absolutely Normal Chaos, which is built around the journal assignment that also appears in Walk Two Moons.]

This book was written at a 5th-6th grade reading level and is mainly recommended for grades 6-12, although some reviewers suggest ages as young as 8. I think it is more suited for at least age 10 and up, because all of the major characters are 13 and older, and because of the complexity of the multilayered plots. There is plenty of action to hold a reader’s interest, however, and the book deals with poignant themes of loss and acceptance. I found this book to be both expressive and gripping, and I believe it is a Newbery winner that will appeal to adults and older children.

A Visit to William Blake's Inn (1982)

I love letting my visits to the library be dictated by stream of consciousness. Last weekend I took my boys to the main library branch. While they were occupied with the fish tank, checkers game, puzzle table and other distractions, I pursued my own interests.

On a recent car trip, I checked out the audio CD of "Judy Moody Declares Independence." The book is about a girl's family trip to Boston and includes a few lines from "The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere." I went to the library's poetry section to see if I could get a copy of the entire poem to read to the boys.

While in the poetry section, I browsed other titles. Because I'd recently read Sandy D.'s post about the book, "A Visit to William Blake's Inn" caught my eye. I checked it out, read it twice and have this to report:

It grew on me.

The first time through I thought the illustrations far outshone the writing. I was irritated with the author's presumption that the reader would be familiar with William Blake's poetry (I wasn't). I'm guessing the poems' various styles (?) were tribute to Blake's verses but without side to side comparisons, who's to know?

Then I read it a second time. Maybe it was being more comfortable with the rhyme schemes this time around, but I better saw how they interrelate to tell an overarching, albeit weird, story. I even liked a few of the poems (in particular, Blake Leads a Walk on the Milky Way").

I agree with Sandy that this is not a children's book. Or at least it's not a book I'd expect children to spend any time with.

As for me, especially for the low investment of time it required, I'm glad to have read it.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Criss-Cross

Here's my 12 year old daughter's opinion of Criss-Cross by Lynne Rae Perkins:

I started this book, didn't think I'd like it, and put it down. Then, in about a month, I started it again. And, of course, I liked it. Because my first impressions of books are usually completely wrong.

I suppose you might say there are two main characters in this story. First, there's Debra (Debbie), an imaginative, wishful and thoughtful girl. Some of her favorite pastimes are helping elderly Mrs. Bruning around the house (and consequently meeting and falling for Mrs. Bruning's handsome grandson, Peter Bruning, later in the book), hanging out with her neighbourhood friends, and speculating over things (usually nothing at all).

Then, there's Hector, a slightly pudgy adolescent boy who sees a guitarist and is inspired to learn how to play. Taking lessons from a Presbyterian minister with a few others is how he meets a young girl named Meadow and develops a hopeless crush on her, hopeless because the striking, football-playing Dan Persik is interested in her as well.

Debbie loses her necklace, which is found by a few different people, all of whom make an effort to get it back to her, but in the end of the story...

Well, now you'll have to read it.

I really enjoyed this because of the different perspectives of all the different characters. The author didn't just stick to following Debbie and Hector around, but decided to bring their friends more into the story. Just the way the book was written was intriguing.

I liked this book, and I hope anyone who reads this review will want to read it as well.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Number the Stars (1990)


Lois Lowry's Number the Stars is based upon the true story of the Danish resistance against the Nazi occupation in World War II. In her Newbery acceptance speech, Lowry noted that “The Danish people were the only entire nation of people in the world who … did not, in 1943 … turn away … from the disaster” of the Holocaust.

Annemarie, the 10-year-old main character, and her family bravely save her Jewish best friend and other Jews in late September and October, 1943. The title comes from Psalm 147:4a, “…he [God] determines the number of the stars…,” read in a scene in the story, and also refers to the Star of David, which is significant in the plot. An afterword tells what parts of the story are true, and that is even more fascinating – and moving.

One of Lowry’s good friends was a young girl in Copenhagen during the war. From her, from others who lived there at the time, and from the author’s own research in Denmark come a number of little details that make the book even more realistic – things like shoes made from fish skin because leather was scarce. The girls use paper dolls to pretend to be Scarlett, Melanie, and Bonnie from Gone with the Wind, then a recent and popular book (1936) and movie (1939).

Lowry also has many references to the high shiny boots of the Nazi soldiers. Again in her Newbery speech, she said, “I decided that if any reviewer should call attention to the overuse of that image -- none ever has -- I would simply tell them that those high shiny boots had trampled on several million childhoods and I was sorry I hadn't had several million more pages on which to mention that…”

The story is dramatic and suspenseful enough to hold the interest of all ages, boys and girls. The book is written at about a 4th or 5th grade reading level, but appeals to older students as well, and might be an easier novel to introduce the Holocaust than The Diary of Anne Frank, particularly for struggling readers. The book was recommended to me by a college student in the children’s literature class this past summer term.

Actress Blair Brown does a great job with the narration in the audiobook, using believable variations to distinguish between the young girls, adult women, and men, and gives an accent to the German soldiers. This is a Newbery winner that I believe will appeal to both children and adults.

Maniac Magee

Maniac Magee, by Jerry Spinelli won the Newbery award in 1991. This book is really timeless, though - it could have taken place anytime from WW II to the present. Spinelli's writing is just fantastic (in several senses of the word!); I'm so happy that this project introduced it to me.

In Maniac Magee, Spinelli writes in a "playground folklore" style that is very appealing. Even when reading about something I don't care much about (like baseball), the magical realism made the story interesting and entertaining. I think this would be true for most kids, too (and I'm thinking of the "child appeal" of the different Newbery books here).

The setting and sense of place is very important in Maniac Magee (and hasn't that been very true for many of these winners?) - urban southeastern Pennsylvania is not someplace that I know, but it (and its inhabitants) are portrayed in both a loving and rather brutal manner. It makes me want to go to Norristown (Spinelli's hometown, said to be the model for Two Mills in the story) and look for a corner store and buy Tastykake butterscotch krimpets.

There is a lot for both kids and adults to ponder in this book: the importance of family, homelessness, reading, and race, but what really kept me hooked were the characters and Spinelli's incredible gift for spinning a story and description. Take the McNab house, delightful in its disgusting-ness:
Maniac had seen some amazing things in his life-time, but nothing as amazing as that house. From the smell of it, he knew this wasn't the first time an animal had relieved itself on the rugless floor.

Cans and bottles lay all over, along with crusts, peelings, cores, scraps, rinds, wrappers - everything you would normally find in a garbage can. And everywhere there were raisins.

Nothing could be worse than the living and dining rooms, yet the kitchen was. A jar of peanut butter had crashed to the floor; someone had gotten a running start, jumped into it, and skied a brown, one-footed track to the stove. On the table were what appeared to be the remains of an autopsy performed upon a large bird, possibly a crow. The refrigerator contained two food groups: mustard and beer. The raisins here were even more abundant. He spotted several of them moving. They weren't raisins; they were roaches. (p. 131-132)*
This book was among my favorite Newbery winners so far, and one that I think would appeal to boys more than many that we've already read. Incidentally, it is also one that I didn't think I'd like in the least - so much for judging a book on its cover and dustjacket blurb.

*Suggested musical accompaniment: Warren Zevon's (2003) "Disorder in the House".

Friday, August 10, 2007

Bridge to Terabithia

Bridge to Terabithia is one of those books that gets into your soul and sticks there for a while. It's also one of those books that means different things as you grow older, and as you grow into the lessons that it has to teach.

It's about friendship, and family, and the death of loved ones, and the ongoing death of being unseen by the people that you need most to see you. Paterson manages to capture all of these things both at the depth of adult commentary and at the depth of childlike experience, resulting in a book that is wonderful no matter how old you are.

The recent movie was both wonderful and disappointing. Imagination and the escape to a fantasy place is a major part of the book, but by making it so explicit in the movie, much of the power of imagination is stolen from the viewer. If you see the movie before you read the book, you're dong yourself a great disservice. Of course, that's true of any book. :-)

As usual, I have a word of advice for parents. This book is very, very sad, but it's also all about redemption. Read it before you read it to your kids, but do read it to your kids. It's worth the effort, and it deals with the issue of death of a friend in a very redemptive way.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Sarah, Plain and Tall (1986)


I enjoyed this book and agree with everything in Joanne (the Simple Wife)'s post. I also listened to the audiobook version read by Glenn Close. I enjoyed her efforts to give every character a different voice, although the young Caleb’s was a little too screechy for my taste. The audiobook also had two of the sequels to this book, Skylark (1993) and Caleb’s Story (2001). I’m sure you’re all familiar with them, thanks to the Glenn Close TV films (although the latter was originally called Winter’s End), but did you know there are two more? More Perfect Than the Moon (2004), and Grandfather's Dance (2006) complete the series, according to MacLachlan in an August 7, 2006 interview in Publishers Weekly.

In Caleb’s Story, there are references to World War I (1914-1918) and the influenza epidemic (1918-1919), therefore it is set in 1918. His younger sister Cassie is four years old in that book, therefore Skylark (which ends with Sarah pregnant with Cassie) is set around 1913. At least a whole year has passed between Skylark and Sarah, Plain and Tall, so the latter is set sometime around 1910-1912. MacLachlan was born in 1938, so it is likely that her mother, for whom she wrote the book, and who was also born on the prairie, would have been a young girl around the same time. (MacLachlan was born in Wyoming, and her father in North Dakota in a sod house).

In her Newbery acceptance speech, MacLachlan said that at the time she wrote the book, her mother was beginning to suffer from Alzheimer’s. MacLachlan said she “wished to write my mother’s story…and hand this small piece of my mother’s past to her in a package as perfect as Anna’s sea stone, as Sarah’s sea. But books, like children, grow and change, borrowing bits and pieces of the lives of others to help make them who and what they are. And in the end we are all there, my mother, my father, my husband, my children, and me. We gave my mother better than a piece of her past. We gave her the same that Anna and Caleb and Sarah and Jacob received – a family.”

The “borrowing bits and pieces of the lives of others” may refer to the real Sarah, who, according to an interview with MacLachlan at the end of the audiobook, was MacLachlan’s step-great-grandmother, who really was a mail-order bride from Maine. This character first appeared as Aunt Mag in MacLachlan’s Arthur, For the Very First Time (1980).

As Joanne said in her post, this is a Newbery winner that is more accessible to children. It’s only 56 pages and written at a 3rd-4th grade reading level. Older children might find it too easy or lacking in action (particularly boys). As an adult, I too loved the plain language, Anna’s honest feelings about the birth of Caleb, and the comparisons, implied and stated, of the prairie to the sea.

This would be a good book for children dealing with a new stepparent, or with an impending move. My favorite line in the book is from chapter 7, page 43, when Sarah says, “There is always something to miss, no matter where you are.” As someone who spent 21 years away from my home state and missing it, and who is now back in that home state and misses aspects of my 21-year home, this, like so much of the book, rang true.

Friday, August 3, 2007

Kira-Kira, 2005 winner


I’m a new member here, so a quick introduction: Call me RioFrioTex. I'm a university librarian who manages (among other things) our Curriculum Collection, which includes children's lit to support future teachers. This past summer term, the children's lit class did a comparison project (pre-1970 vs. post-1970) with Newberys, and I decided I need to read more of them! Our library has copies of all the winners and most of the honor books as well. I have a 40-minute one-way commute, so I will do a lot of these as audiobooks. I started with a recent book that no one has reviewed yet: Kira-Kira, the 2005 winner by Cynthia Kadohata.

This story reads a bit like a memoir, narrated by Japanese-American Katie Takeshima, who tells about life in her family from the time she was about five, around 1956, to age 12. The story begins with the family moving. Her parents’ Oriental food store in Iowa has failed, and they are joining another family in Georgia where her father will work in a hatchery, and her mother in a poultry processing plant.

Katie idolizes her sister Lynn, who is four years older, and always able to see the brighter side of life. Lynn teaches Katie her first word, kira-kira, which means “glittering” in Japanese, and they use it to describe everything they find beautiful. The word is in stark contrast to the family’s hardships. It is post-World War II, and the family encounters discrimination (as I think they would have anywhere, not just small-town Georgia). A motel clerk in Nashville is rude and sends them to the crummy “Indian” part of the building – and charges $2 extra. The owner of the non-unionized hatchery and plant has questionable labor practices (Katie’s mother is forced to wear pads because she is not allowed any unscheduled breaks in her 12-hour shifts, and her father often sleeps overnight at the hatchery). And, as in so many Newbery novels, there is death: Lynn dies from lymphoma at age 15, on New Year’s Day, in about 1962. This happens on page 200 of this 244-page novel.

Much of the story deals with Katie eventually becoming the caregiver as Lynn becomes more ill and her parents work more hours to pay the medical bills and the mortgage on the house they bought with hopes that Lynn would get better. After her sister dies, Katie and her parents deal with their grief. At the end, Lynn’s kira-kira reminds them that hard work, hope, and determination make the world sparkle with promise.

The most vivid passage in the book is first referred to by Katie on page 1: “I used kira-kira to describe everything I liked: the beautiful blue sky, puppies, kittens, butterflies, colored Kleenex.” The latter is explained in a tender, heart-wrenching essay Katie writes about her sister after her death. But you’ll have to read that yourself.

Like Katie, Kadohata was born in the Midwest to Japanese-American parents. She grew up in small-town Arkansas and Georgia, where her father, like Katie's, worked long hours as a chicken "sexer," separating male and female hatchlings. In an interview (USA Today, January 18, 2005), Kadohata states, "It was a horrible, backbreaking job, and for some reason, all the chicken sexers were Japanese, and all the Japanese-Americans in town worked at the poultry plant," and she remembered "the sense of standing out." In another interview for School Library Journal (May 2005), she adds, “There are also a few details [in the book] that are true. Everybody in the hospital did come to see my [younger] brother when he was born because they had never seen a Japanese baby before.” When asked if she has an older sister, she replied, “I do, and she is still alive. She took care of us a lot, even though she is only a year and a half older than me. She had a maternal quality about her even then. So I always looked up to her.”

While the author says the book is aimed at ages 9 to 12, a number of public libraries classify this as a teen/young adult novel, as would I. I think it could appeal to younger females as well. Readers who prefer more plot will be disappointed; there’s very little that happens in the first half of the story, and little suspense overall. I think this book won the Newbery because it speaks to adults of the losses (and fear of loss) they have experienced, as well as remembrances of what it’s like to be a child. That’s why I liked the book. As mentioned in Sandy D.’s August 1 post, it is one of many winners that may not have a lot of “child appeal.”

This was a wonderful audiobook, however. Elaina Erika Davis, the reader, has a lovely, lyrical, passionate voice that made me feel Katie was actually speaking. She did an excellent job with Southern drawls (which the author says she did have, by the way) for Katie and Lynne, as well as Japanese-accented English for the adults. Relectant readers assigned this Newbery book might find it livelier and more humorous in audiobook format.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

About the Award

The other day, when it was too hot to go outside with the kids, I decided to read up a little on the Newbery Award - how exactly is it selected? The winners are so diverse. Anyway, I found this article in Open Spaces Quarterly online by Elizabeth Cosgriff, and pulled a few interesting bits out of it:
The award brings fortune (or what passes for it in the children's book world) as well as fame. Although the award itself does not include a monetary payment, it can double the sales of the book, as well as increase sales of the author's other books. It will also keep the book alive. The average shelf life (time in print) of a children's book today is eighteen months. But of the seventy-seven Newbery medal books, seventy-two are still in print today, including the second recipient, The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle, published in 1922.

The Newbery winner is selected by a committee of fifteen members of the Association for Library Service to Children. Competition to get onto the committee is fierce. Seven members and the committee chair are elected from a ballot of twice that many candidates, and the President of the Association appoints the remaining seven, with an eye to achieving ethnic, gender, professional and geographic balance. Although the ALSC is itself a division of the American Library Association, membership is not restricted to librarians. Parents, authors, booksellers and publishers are members and have participated on the awards committees, barring conflict of interest.

E.L. Konigsburg, Joseph Krumgold, Lois Lowry, Katherine Paterson, and Elizabeth George Speare have all received the medal twice.

What does it take for a book to win? The official criteria state that it must have "conspicuous excellence" and be "individually distinct." It must be age appropriate as well. A good book for a fourth grader dealing with, say, racial prejudice, will be very different in style and presentation from a book on the same subject intended for eighth graders. The majority of winners have been novels, but other genres have been represented as well.

The award criteria declare that the award "is not for didactic intent." But to receive a Newbery, it helps to have a serious theme. Death, loss, injustice, and hard decisions have figured in winners throughout the history of the awards. There have been lighter books, including a recent winner, The Whipping Boy, a romp in which an appropriately nicknamed Prince Brat, accompanied by his whipping boy, discovers what life is like outside the castle. But, although it is difficult to generalize among so many books, it seems that many of the more recent winners display a decidedly more serious tone than the majority of the earlier books.

The award criteria also state that the award is not for popularity, and Ellen Fader acknowledges that a well-written book could be a serious contender for the award even if it didn't have a lot of "child appeal."....Which raises the question of the role of children in the Newbery awards, and in the world of children's books generally. Children's books are an anomaly -- they are for children, but they are written by adults, purchased (generally) by adults, and judged by adults.
What do you think?

Between this article and Flusi's recent post, I'm picking up The Whipping Boy soon!