Sunday, August 21, 2011
There isn't much action in the story, and there is a lot of self-reflection - so some teenagers (especially some boys) may not be very interested in it. The cover doesn't help much in this respect. I kept picking the book up and then moving on to a different book, because it just looked.....gloomy. Like a stereotypical "Newbery winner", I guess (though there really isn't any such thing), and I thought it would be full of angst, depressing events, and beautiful language
It wasn't until I had just a handful of Newbery winners left to read that I reluctantly picked Dicey's book up again.
Well, there is angst, and there is undeniably some tragedy (and beautiful language, too) in Dicey's Song, but it was really stupid of me to put off reading it, because it is also wonderful, and I loved it. The characters seem so real - so complex and interesting - that I can't wait to read more about all of them, starting with Homecoming, the book that precedes Dicey's Song in the "Tillerman cyle". The sibling relationships are fascinating, and Gram (aka Ab Tillerman) is one of my favorite characters in a kid's book since Richard Peck's Grandma Dowdel (in A Year Down Yonder). Ab isn't just eccentric and fierce, though - she has secrets, and we learn about some of the choices she made that have influenced the whole family in Dicey's Song.
Quite a few thought-provoking issues are explored in Dicey's story, which does put it squarely in "stereotypical Newbery"-winning territory. The meaning of family, sibling relationships, school and dealing with teachers, learning disabilities and differences (particularly in the ways different kids learn and different kinds of talent and intelligence), being an outsider, and finally, dealing with loss - all are important parts of Dicey's Song. Unlike some of the other Newbery winners, though (like Summer of the Swans, which covers some of the same terrain), Dicey's Song is rather timeless, and isn't really linked to any specific happenings in the late1970's- early 80's. You can figure out when the story's set by thinking about the technology (pre-Internet but post-Vietnam, and plane travel isn't extraordinarily rare), but it could almost as easily have taken place in the 1930's or the 50's. The emotional stresses of worrying about a brother who gets into fights, wanting some time away from the rest of the family, dealing with financial problems and prickly characters and aging - into adulthood and "the golden years" - are all pretty interesting as Voigt describes them, anyway - and still relevant in 2011.
Tuesday, August 2, 2011
Up A Road Slowly
The novel takes place in the 60s (I am guessing) perhaps and begins with Julie's mother dying when she was seven years old. Julie is the narrator and finds herself and older brother Christopher shipped off to spinster school teacher Aunt Cordelia's house. Their father just cannot take care of them. Initially horrified, Julie comes to love the life in the country where her Aunt lives. The story follow her growth and development from elementary school in a one room class to graduation from high school and heading to college. While I didn't go to a one room school house - I knew that they existed when I was growing up.
The story is also filled with wonderfully outlandish characters such as her alcoholic Uncle Haskell, the bad boyfriend, the good boyfriend, and a wide variety of girls who can be very nice or filled with pride and envy. Julie navigates her life with these people, learning lessons along the way - happy and sad lessons. In the end, Julie learns that her Aunt usually knows what is best for her and knows that it is through her guidance she is an adult.
Allison's Book Bag has a great review of the book as well - with some comparisons to Anne Of Green Gables. In some ways, it also reminded me of Little Women. Still I wonder if this book would still have appeal with young girls who might find it too simple.
TITLE: Up a Road Slowly
AUTHOR: Irene Hunt
RECOMMEND: I loved this little book.
Monday, April 11, 2011
Moon Over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool
First Published: Oct. 12, 2010
Publisher: Delacorte Press
Genre: children, historical fiction
The movement of the train rocked me like a lullaby.
Acquired: Borrowed a copy from my local library.
Simple perfection. When I see that Newbery sticker on a book, this is what I expect. A book that truly is a wonderful story that will appeal to kids. A story that catches your attention from the first chapter. One with characters who are interesting, unique and you either love from the start or they eventually win you over at some part. I truly enjoyed every minute of this book and was sad when it came time to close the book on Abilene, Jinx, Miss Sadie and all the rest of the characters in Manifest, Kansas.
Set in 1936, Abilene Tucker, who has grown up as a vagrant train rider with her father, is upset when he sends her to Manifest, a town he spent a spell in his youth to stay with a friend for the summer while he supposedly works a job, not appropriate for a young lady to be around, now that Abilene has turned twelve. Here Abilene makes two friends and finds a hidden cigar box with mementos and letters from 1918 under the floor boards. One is a map of Manifest, there is mention of a spy and the girls set about to find out who the spy was in their town back during WWI and if they are still here. They also come upon the legend of "The Rattler" who wanders the dark forest at night. Is the Rattler the spy, or someone/thing else?
As the girls read the letters we are transported back to 1918 on the war front in France as the letters are from a local boy to a friend named 'Jinx'. We also are taken back to 1918 on the home-front through Miss Sadie, a diviner, as she tells Abilene stories when she comes over to work her garden to repay a large pot she broke snooping about one night.
The story switches perspective between the present, 1936, through the first person narrative of Abilene and the past, 1918, through Miss Sadie's stories, a newspaper column and the letters. A rich engaging story that while not directly linked to any historical events does place one smack dab in the past and creates a good vision of living in a small town during the depression and during World War I, along with an impression of what it was like for a young soldier in the trench warfare of France. Topped off with a large cast of eccentric characters this is a gem of a story. This will be one of the rare modern Newbery's that I think will still be read decades down the road like perennial favourites "Caddie Woodlawn" and "Sounder".
Hitty: Her First Hundred Years by Rachel Field
Choosing chapter books to read aloud to my girls is not something I've ever really given much thought or planning. Instead, I just pick up whatever I see that looks interesting or that I've recently read a review of, etc. Lately, though, I've been thinking about how I should probably be a little more intentional about what I read, at least occasionally. (How's that for noncommittal? ;-) ) What I mean is this: I don't think think our read-alouds have to always be educational or challenging, but because we are home educators and because I consider reading aloud a very important part of our school day (although the girls don't even realize that we're "doing school" while we're reading), I should get in as much good literature as I possibly can. If you scroll down a bit and look over in the sidebar, you'll see a list of our read-alouds for this year. You'll note that Nim's Island was our third chapter book of 2011, but you'll also note that there's no review of it linked. I meant to review it, but I ran out of time. However, I think I can sum it up in one sentence: a fun read, but nothing that challenged us in any way. It's one of those books that I think Lulu could've read on her own, even at the tender age of six. In thinking about our read-alouds, I'm moving toward consistently choosing books that are harder than my best reader could tackle on her own. I'm sure I won't always do this, but I prefer it this way.
Okay, now that all that preliminary business is out of the way, let's get on to the real matter at hand: Hitty: Her First Hundred Years by Rachel Field. Published in 1929 and awarded a Newbery Award the following year, Hitty is definitely a book that fulfills the requirement I explained above. It's not one of those books I could've continued reading after I'd come a hairsbreadth from reading myself to sleep, somehow managing to keep one eye open enough to read the text, brain on autopilot. (Please tell me you do that, too, at least sometimes!) No, Hitty requires diligence and concentration on the part of the reader. The plot is detailed and the sentence syntax is unlike that of our day. However, I never once grew tired of this story; on the contrary, I was eager each time I picked it up to find out what Hitty was going to experience next. My girls seemed to love it as much as I did. The story is rather simple, actually. It is simply the story of Hitty's hundred years of existence. Hitty is a wooden doll made of lucky mountain-ash wood, and at the story's beginning she belongs to a loving little girl named Phoebe Preble. When Phoebe's family goes aboard a whaling vessel, Hitty goes along, too. It's after this that almost all of the adventures begin. She is shipwrecked; she is taken as an idol on some uncivilized island somewhere in the middle of some ocean; she becomes the possession of a missionary child, a Quaker child, and a slave; she meets the poet John Greenleaf Whittier and sees Charles Dickens; in short, she has no end of adventures. Hitty's adventures are interesting, but what makes the story so absorbing is Hitty's voice. I just came to love her. This little wooden doll speaks with such intelligence and warmth. Although I wouldn't say that this is a funny story, there are moments when Hitty's wit shines through. I think that reading stories like this to my girls, young though they are, has immeasurable benefits. I've noted before how reading the Little House on the Prairie books has expanded my girls' vocabularies; I can't help but think that reading sentences that are more complex that we're accustomed to speaking will have a similar effect. I think it's funny that a couple of my blog readers and fellow bloggers commented about our reading Hitty when I mentioned it last week, and they had opposite opinions. Carrie said that she had to read it when she was twelve or thirteen and that she hated it. Catherine, on the other hand, said that she has already read it to her very young daughter twice, she loved it herself so much as a child. I wonder if this is one of those books that adults think children should love. (This is an opinion that is often bandied about when award-winning books are discussed.) I don't know. I do know that when I closed the book this little doll had come to mean so much to me that I had tears in my eyes. I also know that Lulu immediately grabbed the book and declared that she wanted to read it for herself. I know this is one story we'll be revisiting. Highly, highly recommended. (Please note that since this book was written in 1929, there are many elements in it that are non-PC today. See some of the reviews here for more about this.) Rachel Field also wrote a Caldecott Award winning book, Prayer for a Child, which is a Five in a Row book we own but that I don't think I ever read with my girls. She also wrote another juvenile chapter book that I have a copy of on our schoolroom shelf: Calico Bush. I think I need to pull both of these out and share them.
This review was also published at my blog, Hope Is the Word.
Wednesday, April 6, 2011
Moon over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool
Twelve-year-old Abilene Tucker is the daughter of a drifter who, in the summer of 1936, sends her to stay with an old friend in Manifest, Kansas, where he grew up, and where she hopes to find out some things about his past.That one sentence summary covers the plot, more or less, but it by necessity leaves out what makes this book engrossing: mysteries in spades, compelling characterization, and lots of heart. In Manifest, Abilene Tucker stays with a preacher/bartender (yeah, you read that right) named Shady, and under a floorboard in her room she finds a box. Inside it is a small collection of treasures: various trinkets, a map, and some letters. She thinks that this must surely be a link, somehow, to her father, Gideon, and what unfolds is an at times convoluted, but very compelling series of flashbacks (told by a would-be fortune-teller, Miss Sadie, who is much better at telling the past than the future) and "flashforwards" to the present. These episodes are punctuated by related editorials from the town newspaper, a device that I found somewhat annoying at times because it interrupted the flow of the story. Both the past story and the present story are set in Manifest, and they're connected, somehow. The past story is about a young man, Ned Gillen, who befriends a boy named Jinx who shows up in town, obviously running from something or somone. Ned and Jinx get into all kinds of mischief (some of it righteous mischief) and manage to become heroes. Abilene hears Miss Sadie's stories as she works off a debt she owes the "diviner" (in a sort of Jem/Miss Dubose relationship like in To Kill a Mockingbird), and as she does, she gets closer and closer to her father and his story. I'll admit I had some reservations while reading this book about some of the characters. Take Miss Sadie, for example. She's a fortune teller? A diviner? I'm not sure that's something I want my upper elementary aged student (if I had one) reading about. Then there's Shady, the bartender/preacher. Sure, he's a remarkable fellow, both kind and principled, but I can't quite figure out how to even get a handle on a bar that doubles as a church. (Yes, I know it's being done nowadays, but I don't quite know what I think about it.) Too, there's a bit more about bootlegging in the story than I feel comfortable with. By the end of the novel, though, I was mostly satisifed by Vanderpool's resolution of these various issues, to the point that I would have virtually no hesitation in giving this novel to a sixth grader. I think it would take a strong reader who really enjoys historical fiction to persevere through its 350 pages, though. I really like this book, but I'm not sure I think it's better than Turtle in Paradise (linked to my review), which won a Newbery honor for 2010. I think Moon Over Manifest is a much more complicated story, with all kinds of plot twists and many, many seemingly disparate threads to be tied up in the end, but Turtle in Paradise is much more polished. Interestingly, both are set during the Great Depression. An expanded version of this review was previously published at my blog, Hope Is the Word.
Thursday, March 10, 2011
There are some quite beautiful descriptions of the natural environment of northern Arizona in Waterless Mountain, and of the traditional Navajo way of life, complete with lambs, weaving, corn, pinon nuts, pack rats, snug hogans, ancient skeletons buried with pottery eroding out of the ground, and sacred tobacco. There's also quite a bit of the poetry of Navajo ceremonies and their unique cultural perspective.
Songs like the following are scattered throughout Younger Brother's story:
From the house made of dawn,
On the trail of the dawn,
He is coming to us;
He is coming.
Now the Bearer of the Day,
Sends a beam from the blue.
It is shining on us,
It is shining.
To the house made of night,
On a trail made of night,
He is going from us,
He is going.
Now the Bearer of the Day
Sends the stars to the sky.
They are watching above,
They are watching (p. 84).
"House made of dawn" is such a beautiful phrase. Native American author N. Scott Momaday used it for the title of his 1969 Pulitzer prize-winning book, and it is part of a traditional Navajo ceremony that has been widely reproduced because of the beauty of the its language. I think Laura Adams Armer did a pretty good job of portraying a Navajo boy in the 1920's or 30's (for an outsider, anyway), and the details of Navajo life and culture seem authentic, but it would be interesting to see what Navajo people today think about Waterless Mountain. Armer also mentions some important Navajo history, like the genocidal Long Walk, and the destruction of the Navajo peach orchards in Canyon de Chelly (p. 195-6, popularly blamed on Kit Carson).
Unfortunately, Younger Brother's narrative isn't exactly action-packed. It's mostly reflective, with calm acceptance of a few exciting events, drowsy moments thinking about legends, and then there's feelings of quiet happiness and content, followed by some zen-like attention to the moment. I found it refreshing, and liked reading about people whose religious philosophy includes the directive to "live in beauty", but I know that my son (who likes fiction like James Patterson's Maximum Ride series, for instance), would agree with the Amazon reader who said that it was "the most boring book I have ever read."
A few parts were awkward, if not "painfully condescending", as Amanda quoted in her post (from a 1993 Horn Book review), like when the Big Man (a white neighbor whom Wendy accurately sums up as the "all-knowing, kind, wise, Great White Trader" in her review) took Younger Brother up in an airplane, and when Younger Brother's family went to a movie during their trip to California. Interestingly, the "water-developer" is seen as another positive character, responsible for bringing more water to the family's livestock, and not someone stealing a precious resource for far-away golf courses or cities, as many communities in the Southwest would perceive him today.
A couple of random notes: Navaho is the old-fashioned spelling for this Native nation. Navajo is usually used today, and the people call themselves the Diné (or the Dineh).
This was one of my favorite sentences in the book, which I couldn't help reading aloud to my kids. Think no more about it, my children!
He knew that Mother was always right about everything so thought no more about it (p. 42).I was truly surprised by how much I enjoyed Waterless Mountain, since I expected to plod through another "a boy's life in another traditional culture" story like Dobry or ...And Now Miguel. Instead, Armer's book left me longing to return to the Four Corners (ne Arizona, nw New Mexico, sw Colorado and se Utah), where I'd like to eat some fry bread, smell the sagebrush after a summer rain, and listen to the silent songs that Younger Brother describes. As the Big Man notes on page 137, "It's great stuff, this tying up fiction with facts."
Monday, January 24, 2011
Here's a blogger who is designing new covers for all the winners, starting with The Story of Mankind in 1922. He's up to 1928 now (Gay Neck), and it's pretty interesting looking at the book with a modern YA-ish style.
I can't wait until he gets to some of the more recent and/or classic ones! There are a few that I think cannot be improved upon. What do you think?
Monday, January 17, 2011
When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead
Publisher: Wendy Lamb Books
ISBN - 10: 0385737424
ISBN - 13: 978-0385737425
It was my love of puzzles that made me pick this one up, and the blurb itself was intriguing:
"By sixth grade, Miranda and her best friend, Sal, know how to navigate their New York City neighborhood. They know where it’s safe to go, like the local grocery store, and they know whom to avoid, like the crazy guy on the corner.I loved everything about this book! From the amazing cover design that I talked about here, which already piqued my interest on its own, to the title, and of course, to the story it held. It was fresh, snappy and fast paced, something an impatient reader like me loves.
But things start to unravel. Sal gets punched by a new kid for what seems like no reason, and he shuts Miranda out of his life. The apartment key that Miranda’s mom keeps hidden for emergencies is stolen. And then Miranda finds a mysterious note scrawled on a tiny slip of paper:
I am coming to save your friend’s life, and my own.
I must ask two favors. First, you must write me a letter.
The notes keep coming, and Miranda slowly realizes that whoever is leaving them knows all about her, including things that haven’t even happened yet. Each message brings her closer to believing that only she can prevent a tragic death. Until the final note makes her think she’s too late."
I finished reading this three hours since I started. The author definitely knows how to capture the reader's attention. The story is not too predictable, and if you're like me who loves mysteries, you'll have an idea for an answer to the mystery, yet when the answer is revealed, it bowls you over that you were right, but not in the way you thought you would be. The book is filled with fun twists that everyone can understand, from tweens to the older readers. It just never gets boring.
The story is not very heavy on drama, but the few ones are fraught with emotion, but never becoming too mushy. Even then, it never drags and the reader is treated to lots of welcome surprises. Most times, reading felt like riding in a speedy motorcycle, with all the thrill and exhilarating speed, but without the uncomfortable and bumpy path, without the threat of crashing looming constantly overhead. The description of each scene and the dialogue are economic, to the point, with no digression, hesitation, or affectation. The author definitely knows what she's writing about.
The characters' personalities are well-established, no contradictions but not too dull or stereotypical, with the young characters' outlook innocent, yet clever. The relationships are realistic, there are no impregnable best-friends-forever vows, no I-totally-hate-you stuff, but the loyalty and respect for each person are present. The children act their age, as do the grown-ups. Very realistic, but never unimaginative. There are no minor characters - everyone is an essential part of the book, just as there are no minor details - everything is significant. As the story advances, the characters show growth and maturity in their roles, and every change is welcome, though some are a bit sad, they are nonetheless authentic and practical.
In the story, A Wrinkle in Time by Madelaine L’Engle was Miranda's favorite book. As for me, this book, Rebecca Stead's When You Reach Me is now my very own new personal favorite. I tell you, this book will never disappoint. No wonder, it's the winner of the 2010 John Newbery Medal.
Wednesday, January 12, 2011
The Door in the Wall by Marguerite DeAngeli
Author: Marguerite DeAngeli
Published: Yearling 1990 (orig. 1949)
My Rating: 3 stars
Perhaps the pickings were slim in 1950, or perhaps the Newbery's were simply in a period of highly valuing the simple, moralistic type of book, but The Door in the Wall was slightly disappointing to me. I loved the choices from the late '40s, and again those from the late '50s, but some of these guys in between leave me frustrated. (Ginger Pye in 1952, and The Light at Tern Rock, 1952 Honor, felt similarly moralistic and boring to me, although all the honor choices in 1953 were fabulous: Charlotte's Web, Moccasin Trail, The Bears on Hemlock Mountain, Red Sails to Capri.)
The Door in the Wall is not without value, my 11 year old son quite enjoyed the historical aspect of it, but when compared to other Newbery winners that deal with the Middle Ages (Adam of the Road, Good Masters! Sweet Ladies!) this one falls short. The medieval dialect is surprisingly readable, (though some of the vocabulary is a bit difficult to understand,) and the way of life is vivid. Although it remains rather boring during the first half, the pace does pick up toward the end, and is overall quick to read.
If the moralistic aspect doesn't bother you, then definitely give this one a shot. Otherwise, read Adam of the Road and Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! instead.
Wednesday, January 5, 2011
Kira-Kira by Cynthia Kadohata
Author: Cynthia Kadohata
ISBN - 10: 0689856393
ISBN - 13: 978-0689856396
According to the Blurb
"Glittering. That's how Katie Takeshima's sister, Lynn, makes everything seem. The sky is kira-kira because its color is deep but see-through at the same time. The sea is kira-kira for the same reason. And so are people's eyes. When Katie and her family move from a Japanese community in Iowa to the Deep South of Georgia, it's Lynn who explains to her why people stop them on the street to stare. And it's Lynn who, with her special way of viewing the world, teaches Katie to look beyond tomorrow. But when Lynn becomes desperately ill, and the whole family begins to fall apart, it is up to Katie to find a way to remind them all that there is always something glittering—kira-kira —in the future."
Katie and her family's life is anything but kira-kira — the life of Japanese Americans in the 1950s was anything but glittering due to the "Anti-Japanese sentiment" across America. Katie could see reality: no one wants to make friends with her at school, not even with her sister Lynn, despite her natural charm and brilliance at schoolwork and her father had to work back-breaking hours to provide for his family. On the other hand, Lynn, despite also seeing reality, chose to be the optimist and was the one who taught Katie to see things differently, that all things are kira-kira.
The author has drawn perfectly believable characters, from the humble, hardworking father, to the sweet, adoring little brother. Their voices are clear and their words are accurate. Katie describes her world with the simplicity and practicality you would expect from her age, and a natural awe for her older sister. Added to the mix are interesting characters, Uncle Katsuhisa and his family, Amber, and Silly, who provide the necessary humor and perspective that turns the plot from an otherwise depressing narrative to a hopeful, coming of age story of a young girl and her family.
Winner of the 2005 Newbery Medal, this novel, though sad, will not disappoint. It is a story of hope at its core, convincing the readers to find the kira-kira in little things, reminding everyone to keep dreaming big, and appreciating the world for all its flaws.