Josh Bell, the narrator of Kwame Alexander’s Newbery Medal recipient The Crossover, lives to play basketball. He and his twin brother Jordan are a douJosh Bell, the narrator of Kwame Alexander’s Newbery Medal recipient The Crossover, lives to play basketball. He and his twin brother Jordan are a double threat on the court: Josh slam dunks the ball, while Jordan is money from the arc when he gets an open look. They are cheered on by their father Chuck, a former player in the NBA, and their mother, the assistant principal at their school. The brothers’ goal is to lead their middle-school team to a perfect record, but midway through the season, a pretty girl in pink court-shoes arrives at school and Jordan’s attention is suddenly divided. Add a few difficulties in school and some tension between his parents, and Josh has problems with the way things are changing.
Remember the greats, my dad likes to gloat: I balled with Magic and the Goat. But tricks are for kids, I reply. Don't need your pets my game's so fly.
Mom says, Your dad's old school, like an ol' Chevette. You're fresh and new, like a red Corvette. Your game so sweet, it's a crêpes suzette. Each time you play it's ALLLLLLLLLLLLLLL net.
If anyone else called me fresh and sweet, I'd burn mad as a flame. But I know she's only talking about my game. See, when I play ball, I'm on fire. When I shoot, I inspire. The hoop's for sale, and I'm the buyer.
The Crossover is a novel written completely in verse. The author’s style moves between freeverse and freestyle, sometimes reading like E.E.. Cummings and other times like A Tribe Called Quest. It’s a good mix, and the poems are well-paced little snapshots of action and exposition, sometimes providing the play-by-play of a basketball game and then recapping or defining the action with an interpretation or explication.
Josh has a lot of things going on, and Alexander does a great job of getting into his head as he processes issues of family, brotherhood, identity, romance, competition, and ambition. I’m not a big fan of using the field of play as metaphor in serious literature, but a pass can be written for books aimed at younger readers who might not find it cliche. The author makes a questionable decision near the end that doesn’t ruin the story, but I can think of better reasons to decide the opposite, which does count (in a small way) negatively against the book.
Still, it’s certainly Newbery worthy, something not every recent winner can claim, and it’s a lot of fun to read aloud. Grown-ups should be cautioned to read the book all the way through before recommending it to younger (below fourth grade) readers. ...more
The One and Only Ivan is a gorilla, but he hasn't seen another gorilla for decades. Stolen from his home in the wild when he was young, he lives in a The One and Only Ivan is a gorilla, but he hasn't seen another gorilla for decades. Stolen from his home in the wild when he was young, he lives in a shopping mall where his owner sells his drawings for thirty dollars. His companions at the mall are an elephant, a poodle, a macaw, and a stray mutt who sleeps on Ivan's tummy at night when the mall is closed.
Ivan doesn't remember what being a real gorilla is like anymore, at least not until a new baby elephant named Ruby is introduced to the tiny mall circus (shows at 2, 4, and 7, 365 days a year) and begs Ivan for stories. As Ivan begins to see his home in the mall through Ruby's eyes, he comes up with a plan to get him and his friends out.
In very simple, sparse, double-spaced prose and very short chapters, Ivan tells us his story the way a gorilla would, I suppose, if he could type in English. Ivan is a gorilla, but he is also an artist, and although his words are few, he uses them to include the details that best convey his experience, as when he says, "Right now I would give all the yogurt raisins in the world for a heart made of ice." This is how author Katherine Applegate elevates Ivan's story above just a talking-animal story: she finds a singular, noble, elegant, artistic voice with which she shares Ivan's plight.
It's more than a nice little story, but it fails somehow to tap into a universal or personal theme, tugging at heartstrings without putting fingers on those vulnerable places inside. The One and Only Ivan is therefore merely very good, and just a few rungs shy of Newbery-worthy....more
Jack Gantos (the name of the author and his main character) has this problem. His nose bleeds whenever he's startled, afOh, this novel was sooo close.
Jack Gantos (the name of the author and his main character) has this problem. His nose bleeds whenever he's startled, afraid, or stressed-out, and in his 1962 hometown of Norvelt, Pennsylvania, there are ample causes for all three. Residents are dying. Rodents are dying. The town, one of those towns that sprang up as part of FDR's effort to pry America out from beneath the Great Depression, is dying. His father wants nothing more than to get his family out of what he calls a Communist remnant of a town. His mother clings tenaciously to the ideals and idea of what Norvelt once was. All Jack wants is to be released from his lifetime grounding for mowing down the cornfield his mother had been tending for the purpose of raising money to feed old people.
Jack is given occasional release from his grounding whenever Mrs. Volker needs help. Mrs. Volker is the town's medical examiner, a retired nurse whose self-appointed job is to write commemorative obituaries for each of the town's original residents as they become necessary. More than just a list of important dates and names, the obituaries are a commentary on the importance of history, for the dead and for the living. With a keen sense of timing and a sharp eye for critical details, Mrs. Volker, with Jack's help, writes them all with love and respect.
But the elderly, original residents of Norvelt are dying at an unusual rate, and Jack's father is behaving with increasing strangeness. Unlived-in houses are being purchased by the town's mortician, then are shipped off to another FDR-era town in another state. Other houses are being torched by an angry group of Hell's Angels. Jack's best friend Bunny is losing patience with Jack's inability to socialize. And everywhere he looks, there is death of some sort.
It isn't enough to populate a novel with quirky residents, or to use the young-person-with-old-person partnership for getting an important point across. Without a good story and something meaningful to say, and without something that rings deeply in a reader's heart for its characters or themes, a book is unworthy of the gold medallion that graces its cover when it wins the Newbery Medal. Midway through the novel, I was hit with the realization that this was a book about death. Wow. The possibilities were huge, and the thought that here was a funny book for young people that was somehow going to be a meaningful treatise on death and dying was kind of mind-blowing.
I think I projected more on this story's direction than was ever intended, because it's not a book about dying, but a book about the importance of history, of remembering the past. And not only has this been done; it was done better and with more affection just a year ago with last year's Newbery recipient, Clare Vanderpool's Moon Over Manifest. There are some genuine laugh-out-loud moments in Dead End in Norvelt, especially one chapter in which the main character dons a Grim Reaper costume and breaks into a house, and it's mostly an entertaining read. However, the resolution comes too quickly and with no reward for the reader, leaving a weird dislike for characters who should be liked and an all-around lack of redemption for those who need it and a lack of comeuppance for those who deserve it.
Not unrecommended, but not recommended much either....more
Something happened to the town of Manifest during the first World War. When Abilene Tucker is sent there by her father years later, during the heart oSomething happened to the town of Manifest during the first World War. When Abilene Tucker is sent there by her father years later, during the heart of the Great Depression, it isn't her intention to discover what it was. Yet in the search for knowledge about her father in this sad, dead-end town that's depressed in other senses of the word, she uncovers a spy mystery, a historical scavenger hunt, unexpected personal ties to its colorful residents, and a path to redemption for herself, for her father, and for Manifest.
Jumping back and forth between the later Manifest and the earlier, Clare Vanderpool arms her main character with the power of story. Abilene's first homework assignment at her new school (given on the last day of the school year) is to write a story. As penance for damaging an old diviner's property, Abilene performs menial labor and is told multiple stories about a vagrant boy named Jinx, on the run from the law and distrusted by most of Manifest. Commentary in old copies of the town newspaper and a stack of letters she finds beneath the floorboards of her new, temporary bedroom fill in some of the details the diviner's stories miss. But the gaping hole in these stories is any mention of her father, and the lack of information about him, when it is clear that everyone once knew him, widens the hole in her heart as she wonders why he would send her away to such a lonely place.
Moon over Manifest is a sweetly affecting novel. Vanderpool populates her story with many characters in need of redemption and uses her main character to bring it. There is nothing especially unconventional or creative about the way the author shapes her story, but there is something special about the way she uses her main character, in search of her own story, as a recipient of this redemption and as its vehicle for everyone else. The story has moments of heartbreaking revelation and equally heartbreaking kindness, two elements I am a sucker for, and I found it an enormously satisfying, rewarding read. Not a novel for just any young reader, it is most likely to reward more thoughtful, introspective book lovers of the sort I once was, a long time ago. A worthy inclusion for the Newbery canon....more
Miranda is twelve. Her single mom practices every evening for an upcoming appearance on The $20,000 Pyramid. Her best friend Sal doesn’t speak to herMiranda is twelve. Her single mom practices every evening for an upcoming appearance on The $20,000 Pyramid. Her best friend Sal doesn’t speak to her anymore, so she is forced to walk home alone past the group of rowdy older boys and past the homeless man who sleeps with his head beneath the mailbox. And three mysterious notes from an unknown sender plead with her to help save an unnamed friend.
Plot-wise, this is all you need to know about Rebecca Stead’s When You Reach Me, the 2010 winner of the Newbery Medal. If this plot description isn’t enough to convince you to read it, you should also know that in a loving tribute to Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time, the author develops lovable characters in a series of very short chapters with a simple, readable prose that is at times astonishingly beautiful:
Then I sat on the couch and closed my eyes. I pictured the world. I pictured the world millions of years ago, with crazy clouds of gas everywhere, and volcanoes, and the continents bumping into each other and then drifting apart. Okay. Now life begins. It starts in the water, with tiny things, microscopic, and then some get bigger. And one day something crawls out of the water onto land. There are animals, then humans, looking almost all alike. There are tiny differences in color, the shape of the face, the tone of the skin. But basically they are the same. They create shelters, grow food, experiment. They talk; they write things down.
Now fast-forward. The earth is still making loops around the sun. There are humans all over the place, driving in cars and flying in airplanes. And then one day one human tells another human that he doesn’t want to walk to school with her anymore.
“Does it really matter?” I ask myself.
The short chapters are small scenes that capture the humor, tension, and absurdity of life as a preteen, and Stead manages to weave one fantastic thread through a story that is in just about every other way a slice of believable life.
The characters act and speak the way twelve-year-olds do. Some of them panic at the thought of having to announce to the whole class the need to use the restroom. Some of them are embarrassed about having not enough money. Some of them are embarrassed about having more than enough money. Alliances are made and broken quickly and suddenly, according to the code of the sixth-grade classroom, and Miranda, even while dealing with the scary, unsigned notes from who-knows-where, seems equally challenged by the uncertainty of having a friend sleep over for the first time.
When You Reach Me is immediately a classic, undoubtedly destined to be a favorite of many readers for a long time. ...more
Bod's life is off to a rough start when, still young enough to be sleeping in a crib, his parents and sister are murdered in their sleep, stabbed andBod's life is off to a rough start when, still young enough to be sleeping in a crib, his parents and sister are murdered in their sleep, stabbed and slashed by a figure in black who wishes to finish Bod off in the same way. The oblivious toddler finds his way to a nearby graveyard whose dearly departed denizens vow to protect him, offering Bod the Protection of the Graveyard, granting him the freedom to roam the confines of the graveyard and even to learn some of the unearthly abilities its other residents possess.
I have always admired Neil Gaiman's Sandman comics for their compelling writing, and The Graveyard Book gives us episodic plot elements in his too-cool-for-school narrative style that characterize those illustrated stories. If you've ever been to a reading where an author interrupted his own narrative to inject little comments, jokes, or explanations even mid-sentence, you can imagine Gaiman's storytelling style, because he includes those within the flow of the prose. I don't think a lot of writers could pull it off, but Gaiman does, and admirably.
I was prepared for this merely to be a good story, told in the page-turning way I know Gaimin to have. I was unprepared for my heart to be squeezed and let go of only to be again squeezed and let go of by the developments of the plot. I have a bias in favor of character-driven stories, so strong in fact that I often don't really care where the stories go as long as I love the characters. Strangely, it's the plot in The Graveyard Book, and not the characters, that really does the job. The characters are likable enough, but it is difficult to connect with most of them, and there is a strange detachment between Bod and his graveyard neighbors, understandably necessitated by the fact that they are all dead while Bod is alive. Gaimin does something with the plot--two somethings, really--that turn this from just a really well-told story to the kind of story that opens up those gaping chasms in your heart left by E.B. White and Lloyd Alexander and stitched over by years of mortgage payments and shopping lists.
It is what Gaimin does with his story that makes this Newbery-worthy. How a story that begins with a bloody murder and includes a bizarre (and unexplained) scene where a town's living residents dance with its dead, former residents found its way to brandishing the gold medallion is kind of a mystery, but I don't question its inclusion in the canon. It is an outstanding novel....more
A biography about a person like Daniel Boone could try to tell you what he did or to tell you who he was. In such a short space as this, those are reaA biography about a person like Daniel Boone could try to tell you what he did or to tell you who he was. In such a short space as this, those are really the author's only two options. An especially skilled writer might be able to give you a really strong sense of who the person is by way of telling everything he did, but James Daugherty was not that writer.
This thing reads like an unending list of exploits with almost no dialog and far, far too many names and places. Cornelia Meigs does the same thing with Invincible Louisa, seeming to find it necessary to let you know every name of historical significance the biography's subject encounters. For the typical young reader, most of these names will mean nothing. Why wouldn't the writer instead focus on a few important people, and spend time turning the subject into a person, and not just some dead guy kids have to do reports on?
Daniel Boone is a man who loved his family, the writer tells us, but very little in the book backs that up. This account of Boone's life could have been so much better if it had turned the folk hero into a human being, rather than merely to define the folk hero.
Don't read it. Seriously. Unless you're a completist who's trying to read all the Newbery winners or some kind of Daniel Boone fan, don't read this book....more
I've read others' reviews and I'm so conflicted about this novel that I agree with the favorable reviews and the unfavorable reviews both. There is soI've read others' reviews and I'm so conflicted about this novel that I agree with the favorable reviews and the unfavorable reviews both. There is something to love here, in this story of a ten-year-old girl who refuses to let social boundaries interfere with her making friends with anyone she chooses. While largely annoying, her personality is also somewhat winning; despite myself, I couldn't help caring about her and her friends.
Yet so much of this story is a laborious read. Readers old enough to remember the first Benji movie will find similarities between it and the first three chapters of this book, in which we are led around New York and introduced to the many friends Lucinda has made: A police officer, a fruitcart merchant, a confectioner, a hansom cab driver. A little of that goes a long way, and if I weren't committed to finishing this novel, I don't know that I would have.
But then the flowery story takes a couple of bizarre and unexpected turns. I will not spoil it here for future readers, but there is a murder and a mortal illness, and while one is dealt with admirably by the storyteller, the other sticks out in a disturbing way I can't articulate. I hesitate to call it gratuitous, but I also struggle to understand what it contributes to the rest of the novel.
As if all that weren't enough to negate the positives I find here (and the positives are genuine, so I'm not looking to cancel them out), the author takes it upon herself a few times to explain to us what it is about Lucinda that brings people together, as if she doesn't trust the strength of her own writing and characterization. There is an I in this story who pops up a few times, including in the introduction, but who the narrator is is never explained and the infrequent intrusion of an I is distracting and sometimes maddening.
I see some good read-aloud value here, so readers sharing this novel with children might take a look at it. The author, for the most part, puts together some good sentences, and the episodic structure of the book lends itself well to bedtime or read-aloud time. I will repeat what other reviewers have cautioned, however: Read it yourself first before sharing with young children.
I cannot decide whether I like or dislike this book; I suppose that means I like AND dislike it....more
As of March 27, 2008, I have now read (and collected data from) something like seventy of the eighty-eight winners of the Newbery Medal. When I set ouAs of March 27, 2008, I have now read (and collected data from) something like seventy of the eighty-eight winners of the Newbery Medal. When I set out to read them all, I dreaded the older books, for it was my impression that the early honorees were "good for you" books, and not necessarily good literature. For the most part, this has proven true (See Ginger Pye, Smoky the Cow Horse, Miss Hickory, and Invincible Louisa.
How pleasantly surprised I was by Charles Boardman Hawes's The Dark Frigate, which combines elements of adventure, romance, rebellion, piracy on the high seas, fisticuffs, and even courtroom drama with wonderfully lyrical prose and excellent storytelling. I was most taken with the clarity and cadence of the author's writing, as in this passage:
Then, the jury, weighing all that had been said, put together its twelve heads, while such stillness prevailed in the court that a man could hear his neighbor's breathing. It seemed to those whose lives were at stake that the deliberations took as many hours as in reality they took minutes. There are times when every grain of sand in the glass seems to loiter in falling and to drift through the air like thistledown, as if unwilling to come to rest with its fellows below. Yet the sand is falling as fast as ever, though a man whose life is weighing in the balance can scarcely believe it; so at last the jury made an end of its work, which after all had taken little enough time in consideration of the matter they must decide.
There is a sorry lack of any real female presence here (it's the topic of my thesis), except as pretty girls for adventurous boys to leave behind and someday return to or as matronly innkeepers, but this qualm aside, it is a solid novel and surprisingly Newbery-worthy....more
I've become slightly worried lately that books for older elementary-schoolers don't do it for me anymore, but then here comes It's Like This, Cat, anI've become slightly worried lately that books for older elementary-schoolers don't do it for me anymore, but then here comes It's Like This, Cat, an unexpected little charmer with a lousy title. Not a novel that swings for the fences, not a novel that wriggles its way deep into your heart, Cheney's novel still manages to engage the reader with action (a fist-fight with a best friend), angst (the main character doesn't get along well with his father), and romance.
This is no Holes or Maniac Magee, yet it still endears itself, sometimes in simple moments. It is a quick read with short chapters and interesting characters, and while some of the plot is very predictable, we care enough about the characters that we happily go along anyway....more