Friday, November 23, 2007

M.C. Higgins, the Great

Cross-posted at Alone on a Limb

At first I was irritated. Virginia Hamilton began on page two throwing in M.C.'s thoughts - first person without quotation marks, here and there, no warning. I found it confusing. And irritating.

I was irritated by the violent nighttime encounter with the girl. I had a hard time forgiving M.C. for his incredible stupidity. I am son of a mother, father of daughters, and brother of sisters.

Where did Hamilton get the crazy idea of the pole? And pulling up the grave stones. And treating a hoop snake as real.

I am also, however, a former fifteen-year-old boy.

Eventually the disjointedness began to fit with the disjointed feelings plaguing M.C. He loves his maddening father. He aches for the girl. He is mesmerized by his wise and beautiful mother. He's torn by competing emotions of loyalty and anger and despair and longing and prejudice and superstition and love and hope.

He is fifteen.

Once again I bow to the wisdom of the Newbery judges. I think I know Jones and Banina and Ben and M.C. And the girl. Yes, I know the girl. These characters will stick.

M.C. Higgins, the Great by Virginia Hamilton is unique* in having won the Newbery Award, The National Book Award, and the Boston Globe-Horn Book Award. Hamilton is the first African-American writer to have won the Newbery. It is the 52nd Newbery Award book that I have read. I recommend it.

*This book is actually not unique in that way. See the correction in the comments below.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Young Fu of the Upper Yangtze

Cross-posted at Alone on a Limb.

A glance had shown a formality of language that did not bode well. Elizabeth Foreman Lewis's Young Fu of the Upper Yangtze would be the oldest of the Newbery Award books that I have read. I wondered if it weren't very dated, a World War and a Communist revolution having intervened, not to mention Korea, the Cold War, Vietnam, and wild Chinese economic growth.

I bought this discard from the Sara Hightower Library annual used book sale. I often buy Newberry books for my classroom library when I find them at the sale. This one was in great shape. It was a part of the Bookmobile collection. The Bookmobile, which I drove as part of a summer job about 22 years ago, has been gone now for several years. There are 15 stamps on the date slip in the back of the book. They begin with FEB 5 1977 and end with APR 26 1988. So I am, at the least, the 16th person who has intended to read this particular volume. My intentions date back a year or more. Always some other book seemed more inviting.

But two days ago I picked it up again.

The formality turns out to be part of the charm of this story of a formal society at a huge crossroads of history. Nationalist and communist forces are on the move as various warlords alternately rule the Chungking area. The walled city of Chungking sees that wall breeched by a wide road and horseless busses. A blonde westerner is running a hospital outside the gates. Civil war has forced a third of the population into banditry. Old ways are giving way to new. In the midst of this chaos Young Fu and his recently widowed mother move into the big city from the farm.

The book is, on one level, an adventure that pits the young protagonist against poverty, crime, natural and man-made disaster, war, political unrest, communism, murder, drugs, and gambling. He is nearly killed by ruthless soldiers. He barely escapes a raging fire and a sudden giant flood. He foolishly falls among vicious beggars, thieves, and cheats and manages to survive all these challenges.

More importantly it is the story of Young Fu's growth, physically, intellectually, emotionally, and ethically, during the next five years. He is befriended by an old teacher in the apartment upstairs, by a fellow apprentice in the coppersmith's shop, by the blonde westerner, and, especially, by his wise and benevolent master, Tang. During his adventures and trials he is sorely tempted to capitulate to superstition, to desert his friends, to compromise his standards, and to prevaricate to his loved ones. All the same temptations that you and I face, less dramatically perhaps but just as surely, in our lives.

In the end, integrity, courage, intelligence, loyalty, and rationality win out. What could be more relevant to the current generation of late-elementary and middle schoolers. As I read I found myself regretting the times I have fallen short of those qualities and renewing my determination to do better. The tough wisdom and sacrificial loyalty of these characters sometimes even moved me to the point of a tightness in the throat or moist eyes.

I think the Newbery judges of 1933 made a good decision.

Wisdom from Young Fu of the Upper Yangtze

A scholar is a treasure under any rooftree.

One must first scale the mountain in order to view the plain.

He who rides on a tiger cannot dismount.

No task into which a man puts his heart is too bad.

The superior man finds pleasure in doing what is uncongenial.

If a man's affairs are to prosper, it is simply a matter of purpose.

It is better to remain ignorant than to know what is incorrect.

Knowest thou not that the treasure of knowledge is to be revered for itself alone? It has been given that men might learn how to live, not to win fortune. What is fortune without wisdom?

Monday, November 19, 2007

The Giver Asks: What Does It Mean to Be Human?

Imagine a world in which all of your choices were made for you, from your daily wardrobe to your family members to your career to your spouse. Think of a world in which you were entirely safe, where you were permitted to take no risks, and where physical pain could be erased with a single dose of medicine. Picture dwelling in a whitewashed world where everyone lives and thinks in exactly the same way, and questioning the rules leads to public chastisement and even "Release" from the community.

Jonas, star of Lois Lowry's The Giver, lives in just such a community. For 12 years, he has dwelt within its borders, attending school, mingling with friends and abiding by the strict rules that make his town the peaceful place it always is. Like all of his classmates, Jonas is looking forward to the December Ceremony when he will receive his "Assignment." This will be his career, which could be anything from Laborer to Doctor to Road Crew Maintainer. To his shock, Jonas learns he will be the new Receiver. The position comes with great honor, but even greater secrecy. Jonas receives a list of rules that will govern his training period, which allow him to do two things which are strictly prohibited in his community: to ask questions of anyone and to lie. Disconcerted, Jonas begins his training with The Giver, an elder who sags under the weight of his responsibilities. The Giver explains Jonas' new responsibilites: he must carry all the memories of the world - from sunshine, to sledding, to war, to starvation - so that his community will be free to live their peaceful, doubtless lives. In essence, he will feel all their emotions for them. As The Giver transfers his memories into his new apprentice's being, Jonas' dull world explodes into a dazzling array of color, sensation and emotion. Some of the memories Jonas receives are terrifying - war, loneliness, abandonment - but others are so powerful - love, family, warmth - that he realizes how empty his real life is. Now that he is able to ask questions freely, Jonas finds himself questioning the life he has been leading - why is he not allowed to have choices? Why can't families have more than the 2 children allowed by the Elders? And what does it really mean when someone is "Released" from the community?

As Jonas ingests this new knowledge, he knows that he can never again be satisfied with his dull, flavorless life. Together, he and The Giver hatch a plan to open the peoples' eyes. When their plans go horribly awry, Jonas suddenly finds himself on a terrifying journey to find "Elsewhere," a place that may or may not exist. Without the promised memories of courage to bind him up, Jonas must rely on his own wits and bravery to save himself, his future and the one person he truly loves. That's the story in a nutshell, but this book isn't really about the main story. As one reviewer put it, "The simplicity and directness of Lowry's writing force readers to grapple with their own thoughts" (Booklist, Starred Review). Lowry's story is so unadorned that it provides the perfect canvas for infinte thoughts, opinions and analyses. Lowry, herself, says,

...The Giver is many things to many different people. Peoplebring to it their
own complicated beliefs and hopes and dreams and fears and all that.
At the very least, it's a story about what it means to be human. To me, its message is that without choices, experience, risk and passion, we are not fully human.

I don't know if Lowry meant for the book to have any religious applications, but to me The Giver symbolizes Jesus Christ, at least to some degree. When he accepts memories for other people, he swallows some of their pain, leaving them comforted. Their pain still exists, but only dimly. This is what Christ does for us. Our suffering weighed on Christ (as it does on The Giver), as evidenced by his tortured cry, "O my Father...let this cup pass from me" (Matthew 26:39, KJV) in Gethsamane, but He knew His duty and thus carried our burdens for us. Like Christ, The Giver desires that all men have their agency so they can learn wisdom through their choices. And like Jesus, The Giver knows he must help his people through the pain that knowledge and agency can bring. Like Lowry said, we bring our own convictions to the book and this is the interpretation to which I kept returning. The one issue I had with this book is the very ambiguous ending. I'm a reading simpleton, who loves endings which neatly wrap up all of the story's loose ends. Paradoxically, I hate predictable endings. Anyway, The Giver ends in a way that leaves it VERY open to interpretation. Lowry calls it an "optimistic ending," but insists that the true ending exists only in the mind of the reader. As aggravating as that is for a neat-endings-junkie, it's also a sign of a truly great novel - one that makes you think long after you've closed the book.

Grade: A+

This review is also posted on my blog, Bloggin' 'Bout Books

Saturday, November 17, 2007

1950 The Door in the Wall Marguerite de Angeli

Robin, a crippled boy, son of a knight is the main character of this story set in medieval England. With a beginning in the city of London the setting is woven into the narrative as you learn little by little about what it might have meant to live at that time in that place. The story continues and en route we are acquainted with medieval Oxford and finally the Welsh borders. The illustrations are of their time and reflect the period in which the book was published

Throughout the story a picture is painted of our eventual hero learning by example from the monks of the hospice of St Mark’s. He learns from their wisdom far more deeply than he had previously . Wonderful passages cause one to pause and reflect upon the wisdom of the monks as they nurture their young charge.

Having been cared for by the monks Robin asks Brother Matthew about whether he would get well. The reply is one of my favourite passages,

‘Whether thou’lt walk soon I know not. This I know. We must teach thy hands to be skilful in many ways, and we must teach thy mind to go about whether thy legs will carry thee or no. For reading is another door in the wall, dost understand my son?’

Intertwined in the story are wonderful passages related to the meaning of learning, the ‘rewards’ of learning and the wisdom born of learning. This was a superb book and worthy of the honour it received.

Friday, November 16, 2007

A Single Shard

A Single Shard, by Linda Sue Park, won the Newbery in 2002. It's a quiet book, filled with the mechanics of pottery-making, and I'm guessing that kids that like a lot of action in their books (like my almost 11 year old son) won't find it particularly interesting.

To tell you the truth, I wasn't really that thrilled with the book, either. Park does an exquisite job of portraying a village in Korea in the 1100's and making its inhabitants seem like regular people instead of quaint archaic primitives. Tree-ear (the ten year old protagonist) and Crane-man are interesting, but their relationship doesn't really evolve. The plot that involved potter Ming, Tree-ear's apprenticeship, and Tree-ear's journey to the capital was a little too predictable for me.

I did really like the discussion of intellectual property rights. You don't find that in kid's books too often (as far as I know, anyway, I'd be happy to hear otherwise in the comments):
Tree-ear spoke slowly. "It is a question about stealing." He paused, starting to speak, stopped again. Finally, "Is it stealing to take from another something that cannot be held in your hands?"

"Ah! Not a mere question but a riddle-question, at that. What is this thing that cannot be held?"

"A - an idea. A way of doing something."

"A better way than others now use."

"Yes. A new way, one that could lead to great honor."

Crane-man lay back down again. He was silent for so long that Tree-ear thought that he had fallen asleep. Tree-ear sighed and lay down himself, thinking, thinking....

...And therein lived the question-demon: If Tree-ear were to tell Min what he had seen, would that be stealing Kang's idea?

Crane-man's voice startled Tree-ear.

"If a man is keeping an idea to himself, and that idea is taken by stealth or trickery - I say it is stealing. But once a man has revealed his idea to others, it is no longer his alone. It belongs to the world. (p. 62, 64).
Park's descriptions of artistry are beautiful, too. I guess I just wanted more. I've decided I want the Newbery winners to really grab me, or to linger in my memory. This is a beautiful little book, but the story just didn't satisfy me the way my favorite Newbery winners have. I do think that anyone interested in either ceramics or Korea (especially its history) will enjoy this a great deal.

Here are some celadon ceramics from Linda Sue Park's homepage (note that there are story spoilers in descriptions of the pieces on this page). The pictures can't be enlarged, though, so check out the Metropolitan Museum of Art's page on Koryô celadon.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Roller Skates by Ruth Sawyer

Here is a paragraph about this book that I wrote two years ago as a part of a longer post about children's books.

I am currently on a tear to finish all the Newbery Award winners. I’m into the older ones now. I just finished a wonderful old one: Roller Skates by Ruth Sawyer. Even 70 years ago kids’ authors were tackling some big issues - an unhappy marriage, a murder, bullying, the death of a child, a child’s profane outburst, poverty - all handled with grace and style.


That tear slowed a bit, but the goal is still there. I've read 50 so far. I highly recommend Roller Skates. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

The Higher Power of Lucky, by Susan Patron

This post, written back in June, is taken from my blog, Alone on a Limb.

I finally got around to reading the notorious Newbery Award winning book of the year, The Higher Power of Lucky, by Susan Patron. As the whole world now knows, that little book mentions the scrotum of a dog on its first page. SHOCK! AWE! KABOOM! A dog is bitten by a snake... there!
Lucky Trimble crouched in a wedge of shade behind the Dumpster. Her ear near a hole in the paint-chipped wall of Hard Pan's Found Object Wind Chime Museum and Visitor Center, she listened as Short Sammy told the story of how he hit rock bottom. How he quit drinking and found his Higher Power. Short Sammy's story, of all the rock-bottom stories Lucky had heard at twelve-step anonymous meetings -- alcoholics, gamblers, smokers, and overeaters -- was still her favorite.

Sammy told of the day when he had drunk half a gallon of rum listening to Johnny Cash all morning in his parked '62 Cadillac, then fallen out of the car when he saw a rattlesnake on the passenger seat biting his dog, Roy, on the scrotum.

Give me a break! Children are confronted daily with seamy sex and vicious violence in nauseating "reality" shows, movies, the news, commercials,"family" sit-coms... Our society is soaked in the unseemly of all sortssssssssssssssss.

And somebody is all in a tizzy because an author uses the correct term for a reproductive organ of a dog in a kid's book!

I teach fourth grade science. I admit that I feel more apprehension than I show when a young student asks about a linked pair of insects: "Look at those dragonflies, Mr. Shaw, what are they doing?" But I try to handle it like an adult. (And it's easier now than it was in 1969 - the year I began teaching.) I try hard to be absolutely matter-of-fact when I reply, "They are mating. That's how they reproduce. You'll see lot's of those animals mating this time of year. The females will be laying their eggs soon. Their life cycle is a little different from the monarch butterflies we studied..."

I think Patron did a beautiful job of handling the topic with Lucky. Are there still parents and teachers of nine- and ten-year-olds in this sex-soaked society who pretend reproduction - even in animals - either doesn't exist, or is unmentionable?

The Higher Power of Lucky is a good little book. It is not on my list of must-reads, but I have no problem at all recommending it to a fourth-grader.

Lordy-mercy, that poor dog!

A November note:
Several months later I have to say I may decide to move this book up a bit on my mental list of recommended books. Patron's characters have imposed themselves on my consciousness many times since June. I like Lucky, Brigette, and Lincoln and I believe many of my students will.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Bud, not Buddy - 3M's Review

budnotbuddy.JPGI listened to this Newbery winner by Christopher Paul Curtis with my son on the road trip to our new home. We both enjoyed it very much.

When we meet Bud Caldwell, he is living in an orphanage in Flint, Michigan. Soon, though, we find him "on the lam" and in search of his father whom he has never met. He always carries his few belongings in a suitcase, and in the suitcase are clues his dead mother left behind about his father. Set during the Great Depression, this book is excellent for its historical value for children. Recommended.

1999, 245 pp.


Rating: 4

The Tale of Despereaux - 3M's Review

taleofdespereaux.JPGThis is another Newbery winner that I listened to with my son on our road trip. We enjoyed this one even more than Bud, not Buddy.

Banished from his mouse community for fraternizing with humans (to borrow C.S. Lewis's phrase), Despereaux is sent to the dungeon where it is assumed he will be eaten by the rats. Of course, he isn't eaten by the rats, but while he's in prison he learns of a rat's plans to harm one of his beloved human friends, Princess Pea. His quest to save the Princess Pea forms the rest of the story, which I won't spoil for you!

This is a very charming fantasy tale that kept us truly entertained on our trip. It might be a little scary for those under 8 or so, though. I also recommend DiCamillo's The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, which I read and enjoyed earlier this year.

2003, 272 pp.

Newbery Award

Rating: 4.5

Number the Stars - 3M's Review

Number the Stars
by Lois Lowry

1989, 144 pp.

Newbery Medal

Rating: 4.5

This was an excellent children's book. I read it in a couple of hours while the rest of my family was at the movie theatre.

Annemarie Johansen and Ellen Rosen live in Copenhagen. They are neighbors and best friends. Ellen and her family are Jewish and World War II is going on; consequently they are in very real danger and Annemarie's family does everything they can to help them.

I can't really say much more without giving the whole story line away. This book fascinated me because many of the details are based on factual evidence. Books like these truly make history come alive and make the reader eager to do more research on the subject.

Highly recommended.

A Wrinkle in Time - 3M's Review

A Wrinkle in Time
by Madeleine L'Engle

1962, 224 pp.

Rating: 4

Newbery Medal

I listened to this book on CD with my sons on a short road trip. All three of us enjoyed it very much. Meg Murry is a girl whose parents are both scientists. Consequently her family is a little different than others. She and Charles Wallace, her littlest brother, get made fun of at school because everyone thinks they're either stupid or not living up to their potential. Of course, nothing could be further from the truth. Her twin brothers are more normal so they fit in.

Their father works for the government and has been missing for a few years. The search for Mr. Murry, with a little help from Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who, and Mrs. Which, takes them on a journey too incredible to imagine. Three sequels follow that each of us plan on reading this year or next.

The White Stag - 3M's Review

The White Stag
by Kate Seredy

1937, 94 pp.
Newbery Medal

Rating: 4

This Newbery winner tells the legend of how the Huns and Magyars migrated westward into Hungary. Descended from Nimrod (yes, the one from the Bible), Attila and his ancestors follow a white stag that shows them the way. If you like myths and legends as I do, you will appreciate this book.

My only caution is that Christian parents should read this first to see if it appropriate for their family. Although I love folklore, legends, and mythology, I was a little uncomfortable with the setting up of Nimrod as a hero. Usually I treat mythology solely as fiction with entertainment value. In this case, however, because this book does use passages and references in the Bible, I am a little more cautious.

The Door in the Wall - 3M's Review

The Door in the Wall
by Marguerite de Angeli

(1949, 121 pp.)

Newbery Medal

Rating: 4

My favorite passage sums up this book nicely:

"Fret not, my son. None of us is perfect. It is better to have crooked legs than a crooked spirit. We can only do the best we can with what we have. That, after all, is the measure of success: what we do with what we have."

Robin is a boy whose father expects him to be a knight. When his father goes off to war, Robin is left alone and falls ill. His legs are slightly crippled afterward. Some monks come to his aid and he learns to "do the best with what he has." Recommended.

Amos Fortune, Free Man - 3M's Review

Amos Fortune, Free Man
by Elizabeth Yates

1950, 181 pp.
1951 Newbery Award

Rating: 4

This book tells Amos' story from his capture in Africa to his years of being a slave and finally to his final years as a free black man. Amos was the prince of his tribe in Africa, and it is a shock to him when he is captured for slavery. He is very lucky, though, as his owners treat him very kindly. He serves them well, saves his money, and is able to "buy" his freedom. He also buys his wives' (he was twice a widower) freedom. Amos is a gentle and kind man who respects both God and others. I highly recommend this story to both children and adults.

The Higher Power of Lucky - 3M's Review

The Higher Power of Lucky
by Susan Patron

2006, 134 pp.

Newbery Medal

Rating: 4

This book created a little controversy when it won the Newbery Medal because it contains the word 'scrotum' in relation to a snake bite on a dog. I'm almost conservative as they come, and I don't see what the big deal is. I really liked this book and found it to be very charming.

Lucky is a girl whose mother has died and who lives with a Frenchwoman. They live in the desert of California in a very small (population 43) community. Also in her life besides her French guardian Brigitte are Miles, a cute little boy whose favorite book is Are You My Mother?, and Lincoln, a boy her age who is obsessed with knot tying.

These relationships and the longings of this little girl form the heart of the novel. I really cared about these characters and found myself rooting for all of them.

The Giver - 3M's Review

The Giver
by Lois Lowry

1993, 179pp

Newbery Medal

Rating: 4.5

I really, really liked this book. It is another "Big Brother" story similar to Fahrenheit 451 or 1984. Scary, scary.

Jonas is eleven years old. When he is twelve, he will receive his "assignment" or job from the Elders of his community. Everything is decided by the Elders. Who marries whom. Which occupation you will have. Which children you will raise. And even who has to be "released" from the community. When Jonas is selected for a special position that only one other person in the community has, it is considered a very high honor. What Jonas discovers about this "honor" changes his life completely.

I read this for the Banned Book Challenge. I'm not sure why it would be contested. Perhaps because there is some talk about the "stirrings" of beginning s* x u ality in Jonas. I didn't have a problem with this, but I'm really glad I read it before I gave it to my 13 and 12 year old sons to read. This book will make for a great discussion.

The Whipping Boy (1987)

Halfway through this book I thought I'd post a one word response: "Meh."

But when I finished it, I decided it's really quite a gem, particularly for its short length. This is exactly the kind of book I looked for a few years ago, when my older son had the desire to read something more dramatic than Junie B. Jones, but wasn't yet ready for Eragon.

Kudos to Sid Fleishman for writing a short tale full of humor, suspense and poignancy.

(p.s. I'm embarrassed to say I spend the majority of this book thinking it was written by the author of Danny and the Dinosaur. That would be Syd (with a "Y") Hoff. Who knows how my brain catalogue works.)

Monday, November 12, 2007

The Twenty-one Balloons

The Twenty-One Balloons
by William Pène du Bois

(Cross-posted at Alone on a Limb.)

This is a goofy book. A crazy schoolteacher endeavors to escape the unpleasantness of teaching mathematics to unappreciative scholars by taking a leisurely and solitary journey aboard a very unusual hot air balloon. A few weeks later he is found famished and floating in the Atlantic having - after a subsequent trainride across America - circumnavigated the earth.

The bulk of the book is the professor’s fantastic recounting of his accidental encounter and adventures with the fabulously rich and secretive colonists of the famous volcanic island, Krakatoa. Du Bois himself produced the lovely drawings that illustrate the wondrous apparatuses of this author’s imagination.

Du Bois is wonderfully inventive. His book is not the sort I would usually seek out. I want characters to love - Anne with an E; Jim sacrificing his freedom for a friend; Penny, Nick, and Ben risking life and limb for the dream of a father*; a terrific, if naive, pig’s loyalty to his brilliant spider friend. Twenty-one Balloons is not really character driven. The professor is the only character we come to know well. Krakatoa is peopled aphabetically, for heaven’s sake, and we don’t get to know any of them well. But this outlandish story is beautifully crafted and raises interesting issues, such as the meaning of wealth. It is no wonder the 1948 Newbery judges were taken by this little book. I enjoyed it.

I found my very readable paperback copy for twenty-five cents at the Friends of the Library used book sale. It is the fiftieth Newbery Award book that I have read. This is my first post for the Newbery Project.

*Penny, Nick, and Ben are from my favorite children’s book, The Lion’s Paw by Robb White, now out-of-print.

The View from Saturday

Cross-posted at my blog.

I read The View from Saturday for the Newbery Challenge. I'm enjoying reading the Newbery books for this challenge so much that I just might set myself a personal challenge to read every Newbery Medal winner.

In this novel for kids from about 8 to 12 years old, four sixth graders form a trivia team. Their coach is their social studies teacher, who has been away from teaching for ten years due to a car accident which left her confined to a wheelchair. The four sixth graders are connected in other ways, mostly through their grandparents. Their strengths complement each other, and this, combined with dedicated practice, helps them become an unbeatable team.

I found the dialogue, especially that of the kids, stilted and not a very good reflection of how kids this age actually speak. Nadia, the only girl on the team, doesn't use contractions at all. In theory, I think this sounds like a good way to portray Nadia as a serious, intelligent girl, but in practice, it makes her sound pompous. I'm pretty sure that in real life, Nadia would be mercilessly picked on by the other kids, who would imitate and mock her odd speech patterns. Instead, Julian (my favorite character) is picked on because he wears shorts with knee socks (which I do think is realistic). None of the four kids care about what their peers think of them, though; in fact, they don't seem interested in any social interaction with anyone but each other.

Other than some problems with dialogue, though, this was an enjoyable story, and I particularly liked the sections taking place in Florida, where three of the kids' grandparents live.

My favorite character, Julian, is Indian, and he has grown up on cruise ships, where his father has worked. At the time the novel takes place, though, Julian's father has bought a bed and breakfast in the town where the others live, and Julian becomes friends with them by inviting them to a tea party via coded messages.

As I suspected, Konigsburg herself was a teacher. Children's books that take place mostly in schools so often seem to be written by school librarians or teachers. And why not? Who else could even try to write realistic scenes taking place in a classroom? It's funny when Snape verbally abuses the kids at Hogwarts, but kids know that Snape couldn't get away with that in a real, non-magical school.

Konigsburg has a new book being published this year, The Mysterious Edge of the Heroic World. I can't really say yet that I'm looking forward to reading it, but I am looking forward to seeing reviews about it that will help me decide whether to read it.

The Witch of Blackbird Pond

at my blog.

Title and author of book? The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare

Fiction or non-fiction? Genre? Young adult historical fiction, Newbery winner.

What led you to pick up this book? It was one of my c for the Newbery challenge. I actually thought I had read it and this would be a re-read, but it turns out it wasn't familiar at all.

Summarize the plot, but no spoilers! It's the late 1600s, and Kit, who is a teen from Barbados, is left without any family or money after her wealthy grandfather dies. She takes a ship to Puritan New England to live with an aunt she's never met. The way of life there is very different from what she was used to. Not only does she work hard from dawn until bedtime, but even her clothes are shockingly bright and colorful compared to the dark clothes the Puritans wear. Somehow, in spite of her status as an odd outsider, a wealthy young man in the village takes an interest in her and starts to court her. Meanwhile, one of her two girl cousins is also being courted. Kit and the other cousin, Mercy, run a school for very young children. Eventually, Kit meets an older woman, a Quaker the town is suspicious of. Eventually, there are accusations of witchcraft.

What did you like most about the book? I liked the historical aspect best, but I also liked the characters, especially Kit and Hannah, the Quaker woman.

What did you like least? I found it implausible that the wealthiest bachelor in town would set his sights on Kit when she seemed so strange to the townspeople. I also found that, like in many historical novels, there were attitudes and behavior attributed to the main characters that are more in line with how people today think and act.

Share a quote from the book:This is Hannah, the Quaker woman: "'The answer is in thy heart,' she said softly. 'Thee can always hear it if thee listens for it.'" I liked that partly because it's sensible advice, partly because it seems in character for a Quaker, and partly because Kit does listen to her heart later, and finds an answer to something that is not what she and Hannah were discussing when Hannah gave her that advice.

What did you think of the ending? It ended just as I expected it to, but a younger reader may not have found it as predictable.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Island of the Blue Dolphins

Stars: *****

I first read this in grade school and loved it. When I saw I needed to read it for the Newbery Project I decided to reread it and I'm glad I did. I remembered it almost exactly and I enjoyed it very much again. I love his writing and would like to try some more of his books to see if they are as well written.

This is a great book for girls to increase girl power as the girl is alone on the island for a few years and survives all on her own. A few times I got so into the words I felt like I was there. To my knowledge this hasn't been made into a movie but I think it should, although it still wouldn't be anywhere as good as the book. Definitely deserves it's Newbery award.

Recommended for kids (especially girls) ages 10 and up