Sunday, September 30, 2007

The Higher Power of Lucky by Susan Patron – 2007


In my opinion this is a profound book as themes and threads are intertwined at many levels. On the surface there is adventure, detail and day to day life from a child’s point of view. Look further and we find a myriad of issues such as the loss of a parent, friendships, finding the ‘higher power’, coping with a desolate and dusty life style not to mention that the characters are each grappling with growing up. Through the story we witness the children supporting one another and we are often reminded of the challenges children face.

What is so delightful is the very way in which the author reasons like a child and gives voice to the fears and anxieties that we may well recognise from our own childhoods. For those of us who work with children it is very true to life - their fears, their sometimes simplistic views, uncluttered, reasoning that sounds quite straight forward. The characters are life like and well painted and provide humour. I especially liked Brigitte as she clearly attempts to speak English, despite her French nationality. Then there is Lincoln who ties knots incessantly. People think he is clueless but as Lucky tells him ‘..but you’re really not’. One such knot, a Ten Strand Round Knot was a gift to her. From that knot she wishes that she too could bring together all the complicated strands in her life and so weave it all into a beautiful neat ten strand knot. This is a delightful image of learning from someone whom others see as ‘clueless’. This is a very short read but it prompted many reflective moments that would be a joy to share with a young reader.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

And Another Thing About A Wrinkle in Time....

...that I had forgotten, but remembered when starting A Wind in the Door (the sequel) with my son tonight.

I don't know if it shows how long ago the book was written, or how just how very different the Murry family is - but they eat liverwurst and cream cheese sandwiches.

Liverwurst and cream cheese sandwiches?
That's almost as scary as the Black Thing.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Number the Stars (1990)


Stars: ****1/2
Review cross-posted to SMS Book Reviews
It's the story of a little girl named AnneMarie in Denmark during the war with the Nazis. Her best friend is Jewish and the Nazis are cracking down.

It's a very moving story, it does a good job of pulling me in and making me think I'm there. It's a good way to learn about history without the monotony of school work. (hint for homeschooling families) It succeeded in showing that times then were scary but is not too scary for most children 10 and over to handle.
This is the second book by Lois Lowry I've read and so far they've rated 5 and 4 1/2 stars so I look forward to reading more.

A Wrinkle in Time

I first read A Wrinkle in Time sometime around the time I was 11 or 12, and I remember loving it so much that I went on to read all of its sequels and many of L'Engle's other books, including the adult ones. I think this prompted me to read a lot of other science fiction (and The Tempest), too, which led to an interest in science and other cultures that remains with me today. There's not too many books that I read as a child that I can point to as so influential, even affecting what I do and read today - which still includes lots of science and science fiction.

Despite my love for L'Engle, however, I never went back and re-read her books after my teen years. I'm not sure why. As my kids have gotten older, however, I've picked up many of L'Engle's books when I've seen them at library book sales, anticipating the day that they'll be old enough to read them. My son is finally old enough - but perhaps because of the somewhat girly 70's cover of the copy we have (see right), he didn't ever start it, despite (or because of?) my enthusiastic recommendation. Since we still read aloud at bedtime, though, and we're taking turns picking the books, I picked A Wrinkle in Time for the most recent story. And he likes it after all. Really, how could he not like it?

And how could I have forgotten this story for so long? It's very strange, reading about the oxygenating flowers, and creepy Camazotz, and the lovely fur-covered, tentacled Aunt Beast again. It's almost like reading it for the first time, but there's a familiarity, too - and I have to say, A Wrinkle in Time (like a few other Newbery winners - especially The Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler) really stands the test of time. There's just one part in the beginning, where Calvin and Charles Wallace and Meg are talking about people assuming that Charles Wallace is a moron that strikes me as rather painfully dated.

The descriptions of Camazotz were especially chilling:
Below them the town was laid out in harsh angular patterns. The houses in the outskirts were all exactly alike, small square boxes painted gray. Each had a small, rectangular plot of lawn in front, with a straight line of dull-looking flowers edging the path to the door. Meg had a feeling that if she could count the flowers there would be exactly the same number for each house. In front of all the houses children were playing. Some were skipping rope, some were bouncing balls. Meg felt vaguely that something was wrong with their play...

Then the doors of all the houses opened simultaneously, and out came women like a row of paper dolls. The print of their dresses was different, but they all gave the appearance of being the same. Each woman stood on the steps of her house. Each clapped. Each child with the ball caught the ball. Each child with the skipping rope folded the rope. Each child turned and walked into the house. The doors clicked shut behind them (p. 103-4).

And Meg? How could I forget a character like Meg, with her stubborn anger, her loyalty, and her love?

Now I just want to go and read all the rest of L'Engle's books again. If you don't hear from me for a while, that's probably where I'll be.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Bridge to Terabithia (1978)


I read this book in almost one sitting. Snuggled up in bed it was started before I turned off the light and finished the next morning. As an adult I really related to this book. As far as our children are concerned we may need to reflect upon the purpose of education. In my view it is about forming people who, however academically and technically skilful, are not reduced to inarticulate embarrassment by the great questions of life and death, meaning and truth. This book addresses the ‘big
questions of life and death, meaning and truth’ in the context of a childhood friendship. Yes, it is soul achingly sad …. yet few of us are untouched from grief in life ... I would highly recommend this book to be read and shared by children and caring adults everywhere.


A Single Shard (2002)

This is an apparently simple story as an orphan dreams of becoming a potter one day. Tree ear grows up in a very difficult world which is carefully yet simply portrayed. The characters are life like and richly developed. Throughout Tree ear has to make choices – who knows if they are right or wrong. At the start of the book his motives are fairly self centred, he wants to become a potter. By the end he undertakes a challenge for someone else and en route – becomes lost in his work as he makes a clay monkey for his friend ‘Crane – man’.

This friend is the one who imparts the words ‘My friend, the same wind that blows one door shut often blows another open.’ These resonated with me as I remembered how often have I used this saying to children as they move on from one school to another.

In her author’s note Linda Sue Park tells us that “Every piece described in the book actually exists in a museum or private collection somewhere in the world”. To see pictures of some of the pottery, including the Thousand Cranes Vase, she tells you to go to her web site. Unfortunately I found that the picture was not in fact on her web site. Please let me know if you know differently.

Tree-ear is a fictional character, the fictional merges with fact as Park suggests that perhaps such a vase, depicting the crane as a tribute to his beloved Crane-man, might have been made by a young potter like Tree-ear. One of the points I think Park is trying to make is that Tree-ear’s art may exist over 800 years after its creation; it might be on display in a museum; it might even be the impetus for the writing of a young adult novel.

In the author’s note we find that Tree ear’s achievements have not only brought a sense of satisfaction and self-understanding to Tree-ear but that his efforts may have touched generations of people who came after him. Perhaps the same is true of our work ….

I would recommend this book at many levels and will do so to a friend of mine who loves turning!

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Crispin Presents a Peasant Boy's Grand Quest for the Truth


Set in Medieval England, Crispin: Cross of Lead tells the story of a 13-year-old peasant boy - called Asta's Son - who becomes orphaned when his mother dies. He has no kin and few friends in his village, where he and his mother were always treated as outsiders. Distraught, he hides in the woods, where he overhears a disturbing conversation between his cruel feudal master Lord Aycliffe and a stranger. Although the words exchanged make little sense to Asta's Son, he senses the men are discussing his own situation. When the feudal lord spies the boy, a chase ensues, and Asta's Son narrowly escapes. After spending a night in the forest, the boy creeps back to his hut, only to see soldiers burning it to the ground. Stunned, Asta's Boy cannot understand what is happening. At nightfall, he creeps to the town church to seek help from the only friend he has left - Father Quinlen. The priest presents Asta's Boy with a leaden cross, which belonged to his mother. On the cross is printed words the boy can't read - Father Quinlen promises to read to decipher the writing later. The priest also gives the boy another gift, the name with which he was christened - Crispin. Father Quinlen further explains to Crispin that he has been declared a "wolf's head" - a wanted criminal, who is to be shot on sight - by Lord Aycliffe. The charge is thievery, although Crispin has done nothing. Mystified, Crispin creeps back into the woods, promising to meet Father Quinlen the next night, when the priest will help him escape the village. Crispin keeps the appointment, only to find his friend dead. In abject terror, Crispin flees, heeding the priest's warnings to run for his life. Lost and hungry, the boy wanders into a deserted village where he encounters a huge, red-headed juggler named Bear. The man commands Crispin to be his servant, but the boy soon realizes that he is freer with Bear than he has ever been. Still, Lord Aycliffe pursues the boy, and Crispin cannot be wholly certain Bear will not betray him for a reward. As Bear and Crispin travel to Great Wexley for a grand festival, they attempt to make sense of Crispin's mystifying situation. The solution appears to be connected to the writing on Crispin's lead cross, writing which remains undeciphered. Once in Great Wexley, Bear and Crispin find themselves in more danger than they could have possibly imagined. As they close in on the truth, they must risk their necks to save their lives. Although I won't give away the ending, I will say that Crispin survives to continue his adventures in Crispin at The Edge of the World (which I haven't read yet).

This Newbery Award winner gives the reader a fascinating glimpse into the bleak world of 14th Century England; its old-fashioned, formal tone just adds to the period detail. I think younger readers may be put off by the tone of the novel, but they will certainly be pulled in by the non-stop action. It's truly a grand adventure with a brave and admirable hero on a quest to find the most important thing in the world - his true identity.


This post also appears on my blog, Bloggin' 'Bout Books.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Sounder 1970

Stars: ****

Here's a little synopsis:

"A landmark in children's literature, winner of the 1970 Newbery Medal, and the basis of an acclaimed film, Sounder traces the keen sorrow and the abiding faith of a poor African-American boy in the 19th-century South. The boy's father is a sharecropper, struggling to feed his family in hard times. Night after night, he and his great coon dog, Sounder, return to the cabin empty-handed. Then, one morning, almost like a miracle, a sweet-smelling ham is cooking in the family's kitchen. At last the family will have a good meal. But that night, an angry sheriff and his deputies come, and the boy's life will never be the same."


I enjoyed this book. I had a hard time getting into it at the beginning but I quickly got into it after that. My only regret is that the book is really short, only 116 small pages and I wish the story had been longer. It was really interesting to read about what life was like for African-Americans in the south at this time. It was also interesting to see how they talked. Words like follard instead of followed. The story was well written and I could see an 19th-century southern boy telling the story as it is written.

By far my favourite quote is this:

"The boy had once heard that some people had so many books they only read each
book once. But the boy was sure there were not that many books in the world."

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

The Grey King 1976

‘For a moment he seemed no more than an uncomplicated small boy, caught up in bubbling wonder by a marvellous sight’

Set in the mysterious Welsh countryside this is a story woven with myth and Arthurian legend. Will, recuperating from hepatitis and staying with his Welsh uncle and aunt overcomes the Dark evil with the help of Bran, a young boy whose origins are clouded in mystery. As we learn more of his story themes of separation, roots and belonging emerge. For Bran the boundaries surrounding ‘his story’ have been tightly controlled by his father. Finally he is able to ask and face those questions that were previously unspeakable. This was a poignant and tense part of the book for me that somehow does not often get mention – I liked the way in which Susan Cooper brings together the longing question of humanity ‘where do I come from’ to the legend aspect of her saga.
This fourth book in the Dark is Rising sequence was the first book in the series that I have read and had it not been for the Newbery Award it would not have been my choice. Having said that it was compelling, magical and certainly full of mystery!

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Adam of the Road (1943)


The 1943 winner of the Newbery Medal, Adam of the Road, a 23-chapter book by Elizabeth Janet Gray (Elizabeth Gray Vining), is a juvenile romp down primitive roads surrounding London during the Middle Age years of 1294-1295. The title character, Adam Quartermayne, is the eleven-year-old son of a minstrel. Adam starts his adventure with a harp, and ends it with a bagpipe. He also has a steady repertoire of songs, including at least one he wrote himself. And Adam has the road.

According to Adam's father, Roger, the road is home to a minstrel:
"A road is a kind of holy thing," Roger went on. "That's why it's a good work to keep a road in repair, like giving alms to the poor or tending the sick. It's open to the sun and wind and rain. It brings all kinds of people and all parts of England together. And it's home to a minstrel, even though he may happen to be sleeping in a castle."
I found this particularly interesting because my first big writing project, my seventh grade term paper, was about minstrels. I wish I'd known about this novel back then.

There's some beautiful description in this book:
"Between the high, windswept fields the road stretched muddy and rutted toward bare purple woods. Here and there a swollen brook flooding the road reflected the cold cherry-colored light of the setting sun."
The book contains plenty of action to keep a child interested as Adam leaves his school to follow his father down the road to harmonious minstrelsy. His adorable red setter, Nick, goes along.

Things happen in a fairly ordinary way until page 126 when Adam's dog, Nick, is kidnapped. I wondered if this might have been a better beginning for the story, since at this point the story grabs the heart and emotions and won't let go. As if that wasn't bad enough, Adam soon loses track of his father as well. You just have to keep reading to find out what happens next!

Adam's story is one of suffering and hardship. On the road he meets wonderful people who want to help him as well as evil people who want only to harm and destroy. The contrast of Adam's experience with the lives of children in modern times is going to be an eye-opener for every child who reads this moving novel. Despite all conflict, Adam maintains a sense of gratitude for the experiences life gives him:
"Last night at Guildford Castle, the night before at the Ferryman's house, tonight at Farnham Inn under the merchant's care! Adam thought he knew now why Roger said the road was home to the minstrel. It was because people were kind."
Some of those people were so kind they tried to convert Adam to their styles of living. He was offered opportunities in several different trades, but it was minstrelsy he had his heart set on.

I found a lot of dated expressions in this book. How quickly our language changes! I won't ruin the experience for you by pointing them all out, but expect a 1940s book, because that's what you're going to get when you read Adam of the Road. Quaint in places, but still an excellent children's primer on the life of minstrels in the Middle Ages in England.

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

1963 ~ A Wrinkle in Time ~ by Madeleine L'Engle

Title, author, date of book, and genre?
A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeleine L'Engle, 1962, YA speculative fiction

What made you want to read this book?
After posting the story of Madeleine L'Engle's death, I got A Wrinkle in Time from the library and read it that same evening. But then I couldn't write the review. I guess I'm in mourning. This morning I decided I really MUST do this so I can move on to the other books I should have already reviewed. Okay, so I've gotten started, thanks to my handy-dandy book review outline.

Did it live up to your expectations?
My first reaction: Well, of course it did, since I've read it before! On second thought: I was surprised this time by what seemed to be missing, things like cell phones and computers which, of course, were not yet the ubiquitous items they are today. But I was also overwhelmingly pleased with what WAS in the book.

Summarize the book without giving away the ending.
The article below, that I posted from AP, does that quite nicely:
Wrinkle tells the story of adolescent Meg Murry, her genius little brother Charles Wallace, and their battle against evil as they search across the universe for their missing father, a scientist. The brother and sister, helped by a young neighbor, Calvin, and some supernatural spirits, must pass through a time travel corridor (the "wrinkle in time") and overcome the ruling powers on a planet with a totalitarian government reminiscent of George Orwell's 1984.
Meg is 12, the twins Sandy and Dennys are 10, and Charles Wallace is 5. Calvin O'Keefe, 14, goes with Meg and Charles Wallace to find their father.

Which character could you relate to best, and why?
Meg and I are both the oldest of our siblings, so I relate best to her. However, I find Charles Wallace to be the most interesting, though he's so young he does things I didn't want him to do. Well, Meg didn't want him to do those things, either. On the other hand, in some ways I relate best to Calvin O'Keefe (see the quote below).

Were there any other especially interesting characters?
Oh, yeah! Three of them: Mrs. Whatsit was the comforter, an interesting allusion to the Holy Spirit, in my opinion. A Wrinkle in Time exposes readers to the words of great thinkers, as Mrs. Who quotes Pascal, Seneca, Shakespeare, the Bible, Euripides, Dante, and others. Mrs. Which is so ephemeral she shimmers ... and doesn't quite appear.

What did you like most about the book?
I like the fact that Madeleine L'Engle never, ever talks down to children. She assumes children know a lot more than most adults seem to think.

Share a quote from the book.
Calvin: "I'm not alone any more! Do you realize what that means to me?"

"But you're good at basketball and things," Meg protested. "You're good in school. Everybody likes you."

"For all the most unimportant reasons," Calvin said. "There hasn't been anybody, anybody in the world I could talk to. Sure, I can function on the same level as everybody else, I can hold myself down, but it isn't me."
No wonder I have always liked Madeleine L'Engle! She understands! See what I wrote in March.

Share a favorite scene from the book.
Meg is talking with her mother (pp. 46-47 of a paperback copy):
"I like to understand things," Meg said.

"We all do. But it isn't always possible."

"Charles Wallace understands more than the rest of us, doesn't he?

"Yes."

"Why?"

"I suppose because he's -- well, because he's different, Meg."

"Different how?"

"I'm not quite sure. You know yourself he's not like anybody else."

"No. And I wouldn't want him to be," Meg said defensively.

"Wanting doesn't have anything to do with it. Charles Wallace is what he is. Different. New."

"New?"

"Yes. That's what your father and I feel."

Meg twisted her pencil so hard that it broke. She laughed. "I'm sorry. I'm really not being destructive. I'm just trying to get things straight."

"I know."

"But Charles Wallace doesn't look different from anybody else."

"No, Meg, but people are more than just the way they look. Charles Wallace's difference isn't physical. It's in essence."

Meg sighed heavily, took off her glasses and twirled them, put them back on again. "Well, I know Charles Wallace is different, and I know he's something more. I guess I'll just have to accept it without understanding it."

Mrs. Murry smiled at her. "Maybe that's really the point I was trying to put across."

"Yah," Meg said dubiously.

Her mother smiled again. "Maybe that's why our visitor last night didn't surprise me. Maybe that's why I'm able to have a -- a willing suspension of disbelief. Because of Charles Wallace."

"Are you like Charles?" Meg asked.

"I? Heavens no. I'm blessed with more brains and opportunities than many people, but there's nothing about me that breaks out of the ordinary mold."
How would you rate the book?
Rated: 10/10, a book I couldn't put down.

Read Madeleine L'Engle's Newbery Award Acceptance Speech

and her Acceptance Speech upon receiving the Margaret Edwards Award from the ALA.

Now read what her former neighbor says about her!

This review was also posted on my book blog:
Bonnie's Books.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH- 1972

Mrs. Frisby was a mouse whose husband, Jonathan, was dead. And so, when she had a serious problem, she had no one to turn to for help. That is she had no one until a friendly crow took her to a wise old owl, a frightening creature for a mouse to visit. Then at the owl’s suggestion, she went to visit the rats who lived under the rosebush. This, too, was a daring undertaking. The rats were an odd and unknown lot. Everyone on Mr. Fitzgibbon’s farm knew the rats did strange things.

Yet nothing Mrs. Frisby had heard of the rats was as strange as the truths she discovered about them, and also about her dead husband. Neither these rats nor her husband were ordinary creatures. All had been imprisoned for several years in a laboratory known as NIMH, where various injections had made them wise, long-lived, and inventive. The rats were indeed able to help Mrs. Frisby. And she in turn rendered them a great service.

As to the end of the story: Mrs. Frisby had her problem solved. But the rats, well that’s something else again.


In 1972, a John Newbery Medal (prestigious award for children’s books) winner was chosen and it was Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH written by Robert C. O’Brien and illustrated by Zena Bernstein. I’ve never had an affinity for rats or mice (hamsters are another story) but O’Brien makes you look past the fact that you’re reading about some of the most hated and feared creatures on our planet. Maybe because they are anthropomorphized or maybe just because they are animals, either way, I still enjoyed the book and its amazing little characters.

This fabulous children’s book went on to be made into the animated feature The Secret of NIMH which; although a spectacular movie in its own right, only vaguely follows the basic storyline. For example: in the movie Jennar is an evil, conniving rat who doesn’t want to move to Thorn Valley but in the book he is Nicodemus’ childhood friend who refuses to move to Thorn Valley and sets off with his own followers. The reader never even meets him except through others memories.

~ After Mr. O’Brien died, his daughter
Jane Leslie Conly continued the Rats of NIMH series with Rasco and the Rats of NIMH & R-T, Margaret, and the Rats of NIMH.

Articles on Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH (including Robert O’ Brien’s Newbery acceptance speech)
Wikipedia Entry
See original post on my blog

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Walk Two Moons Sharon Creech 1995


A journey with your grandparents, a missing mother, a best friend Phoebe and a lunatic or two are all ingredients in this story of love, growing up separation and loss. Grandparents add a lighter streak of comedy as Salamanca Tree Hiddle journeys from Ohio to Idaho. The love of these two is deep and born of a great tenderness. The book is at times amusing, poignant and full of emotion as the young Sal strives to bring her Mum home.

As Sal learns more of herself the thought provoking nature of the tale becomes more apparent. It is a many layered story with the moral being never judge a man till you have walked two moons in his moccasins. Truly deserving of the 1995 Newbery award I would highly recommend this book.


Tuesday, September 11, 2007

1996 The Midwife’s Apprentice

The Midwife's Apprentice

This winner is set in 14th century mediaeval England. In a sense that fact is immaterial in terms of the story. What the setting does offer is a wonderful reason for using delightful, varied and unusual vocabulary. I marked many passages of beautiful writing reminiscent of the period setting yet deeply adding to the depth of the story. The Author’s note at the end was just what I wanted as I completed the book as it answered many of my puzzles as I read.


The central character Beetle is ‘needed by no one’ at one point. Gradually, glimmerings of self belief appear in response to the actions of other characters. At one point she is given a comb that she has much coveted. However it was given with a wink and a compliment and although ‘she did not know it, they were also gifts, and they nestled in Beetle’s heart and stayed there’. Wondrously, Beetle then begins to share what she learns along her journey and others begin to value her. She is painted as a kind and humble character and the fruit of those traits becomes increasingly evident. Beetle continues to learn from her experiences and in doing so is able to give increasingly of herself. Naturally she comes up against events that mean she loses faith in herself, yet even then the reader learns that the friendship and loyalty she has shown is repaid and proffers great comfort.

The main question the story poses is found towards the end when she is asked by Magister Reese ‘And what, inn girl, do you want of life?’ By the end she discovers for herself the great truth of life and through her actions she gives Edward (a small waif) the self confidence and skills he had previously lacked – and so the circle is continued.

An excellent and very satisfying read with themes ranging from success to failure, perseverance, life long learning, hope and compassion. This was well deserving of the Newbery Medal award and would be delightful to read aloud.

William Blake’s Inn 1982


This was one of the first Newbery winners I wanted to get hold of. I loved the idea of reading this book but was disappointed. It seems to me that it is a book written with a view to adults enjoying it. I wondered if there is an element of the time in which it was written. I am certain my young children would not have been at all captivated by this book in the 1980s. The illustrations were interesting but again not, in my opinion aimed at young readers. I worked hard to re read the rhymes and look more carefully at the illustrations but sadly came to the conclusion that this is not a book I would recommend.

Friday, September 7, 2007

Madeleine L'Engle (November 29, 1918 - September 6, 2007)

I'm sure you've heard the news of Madeleine L'Engle's death. I just didn't feel like we should let this moment pass without acknowledging the life of such a gifted author.

I'll end this with a couple of quotes:

"You have to write the book that wants to be written. And if the book will be too difficult for grown-ups, then you write it for children."

"In the evening of life we shall be judged on love, and not one of us is going to come off very well, and were it not for my absolute faith in the loving forgiveness of my Lord I could not call on him to come."
-Madeleine L'Engle

2007 ~ The Higher Power of Lucky ~ by Susan Patron

I frequently read YA and children's books, but I haven't reviewed any here. It changes with this one, which I discovered when I read 3M's review of this 134-page book for children 9 to 12. From the dustjacket:
Lucky, age ten, can't wait another day. The meanness gland in her heart and the crevices full of questions in her brain make running away from Hard Pan, California (population 43), the rock-bottom only choice she has.

It's all Brigitte's fault -- for wanting to go back to France. Guardians are supposed to stay put and look after girls in their care! Instead Lucky is sure that she'll be abandoned to some orphanage in Los Angeles where her beloved dog, HMS Beagle, won't be allowed. She'll have to lose her friends Miles, who lives on cookies, and Lincoln, future U.S. president (maybe) and member of the International Guild of Knot Tyers. Just as bad, she'll have to give up eavesdropping on twelve-step anonymous programs where the interesting talk is all about Higher Powers. Lucky needs her own -- and quick.

But she hadn't planned on a dust storm, Or needing to lug the world's heaviest survival-kit backpack into the desert.
How can anyone resist such a story? I didn't have any books like this to read in 1950 when I was ten! It's a great book for children, but I also recommend The Higher Power of Lucky to moms and grandmothers, too, so we can remember what it's like to be ten years old. That's old enough to know all kinds of things, but not quite mature enough to understand them. And why is Lucky wearing a flowing red dress on the book's cover and carrying an urn?

Her friend Lincoln is a nerd and a word-person, as I have been since at least the age of two. Let me give you an example: Lincoln was so annoyed by a sign that said SLOW CHILDREN AT PLAY, that he had to "fix" it. He didn't want people to think that the children around there, including Lucky and himself, were SLOW, so........
Lincoln did something brilliant. Next to SLOW, he drew two neat perfect-size dots, one like a period and the other a little above it. Lucky knew it was a colon and it made the sign mean, "You must drive slow. There are children at play" (p. 24).
For readers who are as brilliant and "presidential" as Lincoln, the author adds a page at the end of the book showing which books are mentioned in Lucky's story, how to reach the website for the International Guild of Knot Tyers, and the little prayer Lucky hears at the twelve-step meetings:
God grant us the serenity to accept the things we cannot change,
Courage to change the things we can,
And the wisdom to know the difference.
Now THIS is a real booklover's kind of book! No wonder it won the John Newbery Medal. Rated: 9/10, an excellent book.

Introduction ~ Bonnie Jacobs

I'm excited about The Newbery Project and have already written a post about it on my Bonnie's Books blog. Although I've already read 21 of the books, I plan to read them again in order to write reviews of each one, except the 2007 book which I have recently reviewed. I'll post that review here, but you can also click on the title below, in the list of books I have read before:

2007
The Higher Power of Lucky, by Susan Patron
2001 A Year Down Yonder, by Richard Peck
2000 Bud, Not Buddy, by Christopher Paul Curtis
1999 Holes, by Louis Sachar
1997 The View from Saturday, by E. L. Konigsburg
1994 The Giver, by Lois Lowry
1992 Shiloh, by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
1991 Maniac Magee, by Jerry Spinelli
1990 Number the Stars, by Lois Lowry
1986 Sarah, Plain and Tall, by Patricia MacLachlan
1983 Dicey’s Song, by Cynthia Voigt
1981 Jacob Have I Loved, by Katherine Paterson
1978 Bridge to Terabithia, by Katherine Paterson
1977 Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, by Mildred D. Taylor
1975 M. C. Higgins, the Great, by Virginia Hamilton
1970 Sounder, by William H. Armstrong
1968 From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, by E. L. Konigsburg
1964 It’s Like This, Cat, by Emily Neville
1963 A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeleine L’Engle
1944 Johnny Tremain, by Esther Forbes
1924 Invincible Louisa: The Story of the Author of Little Women, by Cornelia Meigs
1931 The Cat Who Went to Heaven, by Elizabeth Coatsworth

Holes 1999


With great care the scene is set and the characters are introduced. From the outset you are aware that all is not quite as simple as it may appear. A story, on the surface written in short economic sentences. We learn enough about our characters but, as with much else in this book – it is the bare minimum. As two of these characters launch out into an apparent barren wilderness the reader is compelled to turn the page and ‘just finish the chapter’!
I enjoyed the style of writing, the story within a story plus the message of the book ‘look carefully, things are not always what they appear to be’.

A read that would appeal to boys and well deserving of the Newbery Medal award

Monday, September 3, 2007

[long title] (1968)


I can’t believe I didn’t read From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler back when it was published and won the Newbery. I would have been 10 or 11 and I think I would have loved it, and identified with Claudia, the main character.

Once again, we have great posts on this book from Betsy, Alicia, and Sandy D., who also wrote about the varied covers in her blog. The audiobook has the illustration from the 1977 edition, but the hardcover 35th anniversary edition I just bought for my library has the illustration posted here, with full-color figures of Claudia and Jamie placed over the black-and-white original drawing by author E. L. Konigsburg.

I think this story has held up well over nearly 40 years because it does have a good plot (see my last post on Holes) and is appealing to children. Konigsburg’s Jennifer, Hecate, Macbeth, William McKinley and Me, Elizabeth was named a Newbery Honor book the same year (that feat has not been repeated).

An actress named Jan Miner narrated the audiobook. She did a great job with the voice of Mrs. Frankweiler, the narrator, but her take on Jamie was too loud and had too much of a (Jersey?) accent.

Speaking of audiobooks, I’ve exhausted those that I have easy access to. I’ve been inundated with support work for the children’s literature class at my university (now taught by the Curriculum & Instruction department rather than the English department, so the course focus has changed). This leaves me little time for lots of reading, so I may not post for a while, only comment, until I can ILL more audiobooks, buy more for my library, or find time to read one of our print Newberys!

Holes (1999)


I don’t have a lot to add to the great reviews by Bekah, Alicia, Sandy D., and Moni, of the wonderful 1999 winner, Holes.

I was particularly intrigued by the setting, being from Texas myself, and did a little research on that. In his Newbery acceptance speech, author Louis Sachar said that he moved from San Francisco to Austin, Texas, in 1991. “Anybody who ever has tried to do yard work in Texas in July can easily imagine Hell to be place where you are required to dig a hole five feet deep and five feet across day after day under the brutal Texas sun. … this story to me has always been about a place, Camp Green Lake--where there was no lake, and hardly anything was green. I thought of the place first. The characters and plot grew out of that place.”

West Texas has playa lakes, which are usually dry but can hold water after significant rainfall. One of the largest of these is Big Lake, which is a little closer to Austin (on the western edge of the Edwards Plateau, a big peach-growing area in Texas – Austin is at the eastern edge). Today Big Lake is a dry depression most of the time, but it formerly held at least some water, fed by springs that have since been pumped dry. The nearby town dates back to the 1880s. Wild onions are also pretty common in this part of Texas.

I also found an interesting article about Holes winning the Newbery by Tim Wadham (then the acting manager of the Pleasant Grove Branch of Dallas Public Library, and a member of the 1998 Newbery Committee), called “Plot Does Matter” in the July/August 1999 issue of Horn Book Magazine:

For some time, I have been bemoaning the dearth of truly imaginative realistic fiction for children. I've seen too many realistic books that masquerade as children's books but are really a type of adult fiction at heart, showing off what Philip Pullman described in his Carnegie Medal acceptance speech as the authors' “dazzling skill with wordplay" ahead of virtually everything else. They ape the tendency in adult literary fiction (as opposed to genre fiction) to place plot on the bottom rung of the ladder of importance while authors cut what Pullman describes as "artistic capers for the amusement of [their] sophisticated readers." I don't necessarily mean that these books have no plot; it's just that the plot is sidelined because other elements take precedence. On the other extreme from plotless language exercises are books with a plot, but, alas, the same plot as dozens of other books. In much recent children's fiction, plot has become a paint-by-numbers affair: boy/girl suffers abuse from/change in personality by/ loss of parent/pet/best friend/sibling/home and copes by running away/withdrawing, etc. Anyone who cares to delve a bit into realistic children's fiction published in the last three to five years will begin to see a numbing sameness to the "stories." I do not mean to dismiss the seriousness of any of the social problems portrayed in these books when experienced by a child in real life, or the positive impact such a book might make on a child. Nor do I imply that there have not been notable books, both realistic fiction and fantasy, over the past few decades where plot has been placed at the forefront. I am saying, along with Philip Pullman, that children need stories. Children need books, as he says, "where the story is at the center of the writer's attention, where the plot actually matters."


He goes on to add, “It somehow feels like Newbery winners from two or more decades ago, such as E. L. Konigsburg's From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler and Ellen Raskin's The Westing Game. These are both books in which the plot does matter.” I thought this was interesting because it seems these three books have been particularly well-liked, particularly by their target audiences.

I listened to the audiobook read by actor Kerry Beyer, who is originally from Texas. I thought he did a marvelous job giving each character a different voice – I especially loved the soft but deadly rendering of the Warden!

The Tale of Despereaux - 2004

Delightful writing from the pen of Kate Di Camillo tells an apparently simple fairy tale story of a small brave mouse who despite having the odds stacked against him enables light to triumph over darkness. The reader is challenged by the apparently simple questions posed by the author who writes in a simple but never condescending style.

In my opinion deep respect for her readers was evident. On the face of it this is a good over evil fairy story, light winning over the darkness. But behind the simplicity are laid the big questions of life. The short chapters lead from one unlikely scenario to the next but almost inevitably a puzzle or query arises from her writing. Themes of being different, standing up for what is right, forgiveness and challenging taken for granted assumptions are used to encourage thinking and reflection far from the soup, red cloth, needle and small ears that are never far from the narrative.

I would highly recommend this book, especially for reading aloud, just allow plenty of space for reflection and discussion.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

I, Juan de Pareja (1966)


I loved reading I, Juan de Pareja by Elizabeth Borton de Trevino. This novel is based on the life of Juan de Pareja, a slave that served a famous painter, Diego Rodríguez de Silva y Velázquez, in 17th century Spain. The main character is compelling and likable. We meet him as a child living in Seville. Since the book is written in first-person, from Juan de Pareja's point of view, we get to know him well; he confides his deepest secrets and feelings as he passes through a difficult childhood.

After the first few chapters, Juan is no longer a child. To me it seemed strange to read a children's book that violated a primary rule of writing for children – that the main character should be a child – and that's one reason I decided the book was more suitable for teenagers than for middle grade aged children (8 to 12). Another reason is that there are many tragic deaths of people around him, including his mother and a young girl. Through most of the book, we read about Juan de Pareja as an adult, living in Madrid, a slave to the painter. He is portrayed as a devoted servant who is happy with his slavery except for one detail: he wants to paint, which is forbidden by law to slaves.

The writing in this book flowed flawlessly so it was pleasant to read, and it took me only a few days to get through it. That's fast, as I'm normally a slow reader who gets through one chapter per night if I'm lucky. But I, Juan de Pareja fascinated me and at times I couldn't put it down despite being tired (I read right before sleeping, most nights).

One thing I liked about the book was the philosophy Velasquez expressed about painting. In one scene he compared the drawings of two apprentice artists, defacing the excellent work of one of the boys because he had embellished the truth in order to make a still-life of moldy cheese and dry bread look better. Velasquez said, "I would rather paint exactly what I see, even if it is ugly, perfectly, than indifferently paint something superficially lovely. . . . Art is Truth, and to serve Art, I will never deceive."

You can find photos of paintings by Velazquez on the internet. The painting included with this review is one Velasquez did in 1650 of his slave and friend, Juan de Pareja.

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