This book definitely has a place in my top 10 favorite books that I read as a child. The book captures how children actually feel. I identified a lot...moreThis book definitely has a place in my top 10 favorite books that I read as a child. The book captures how children actually feel. I identified a lot with the narrator. She wanted to runaway, but she needed a plan and a place to run to. The adventures that the children have and the journey that leads them back home is masterful. I will read this book to my children and for myself again and again.(less)
Literary academics love to debate definitions. When did the Victorian era of literature really start? To which nation should an ex patriot’s writing b...moreLiterary academics love to debate definitions. When did the Victorian era of literature really start? To which nation should an ex patriot’s writing be accredited? What is young adult fiction? Stephenie Meyer, one of the most recently popular young adult authors, noted her opinion that young adult books merely have young adult protagonists, while adult books have adult protagonists. That may be true, but YA plots also usually involve some kind of bildungsroman.
Princess Academy is no exception. This Newberry Honor Book follows the coming-of-age of its protagonist, Miri, as well as several of her acquaintances. Motherless Miri lives on Mount Eskel in a small mining community quite separate from the rest of the kingdom of which it is a part, Danland. Though everyone in the village except the very young and the very old labor in the quarry, Miri’s father will not allow her to do so. This exclusion leaves Miri doubting her contribution and value to the small and indigent village.
One autumn day a royal messenger comes and announces that in one year, the prince of Danland would come to Mount Eskel to choose his princess from among the village girls. In the meantime, the village girls were to be sent to the Princess Academy to prepare themselves to be princesses.
The academy not only prepares the future princess for her duties, but it opens up a new world for the isolated mountain girls. Miri’s world is forever altered when she discovers words and finds her place in the village.
Miri is a lovable and believable protagonist with quirks and yearnings and intelligence. Shannon Hale’s prose does not call attention to itself. The book is quickly paced, and the resolution is somewhat surprising but foreseeable. In fact, some of the foreshadowing was, to me, a little too transparent. I knew in generalities how the book was going to end only a few chapters in, but the story was so good that I wanted to see how the characters arrived at that ending.
In the end, a reader does not need a precise category in which to place this book. A place on my bookshelf is good enough for me.(less)
I loved this book. As Aubrey mentions, I can usually tell how much I liked a book by how long I am compelled to think about it afterward. These charac...moreI loved this book. As Aubrey mentions, I can usually tell how much I liked a book by how long I am compelled to think about it afterward. These characters stayed with me for quite a while.(less)
I had to read this book once I learned that it is about little kids who lived on Alcatraz in the 1930s. Ever since I was a little girl I've wanted to...moreI had to read this book once I learned that it is about little kids who lived on Alcatraz in the 1930s. Ever since I was a little girl I've wanted to purchase Alcatraz Island and live there. (Plus, it's a Newberry Honor Book, so it sort of counts towards my goal.)
The book centers around a family: a mother, a father, a "ten" year old sister, and a twelve year old brother, our protagonist, Moose. The family has just moved to Alcatraz Island where the father works around the clock at two jobs so that the sister, Natalie, can attend a prestigious and expensive school for children with mental issues. Natalie has what would today be called autism.
Moose Flanagan's view of life perfectly depicts the struggle between loving someone and half wanting them to go away. He loves his sister, but she complicates his life in ways that most twelve year old boys don't have to deal with. Also, he illustrates the loneliness of the "okay" sibling. All of the family's resources and time seem to be poured into Natalie, leaving Moose with many responsibilities and few perks.
The feeling of this book stayed with me--mostly via the setting. The images of children on the island, taking a boat back and forth to school everyday, lingering just beyond the field where the prisoners play baseball, hoping to catch a ball, having their laundry done in the prisons.
So, the phrase is overused, but "heartwarming" definitely applies here.(less)
I've been waiting for this book to come out for months, especially since I read Neil Gaiman's blog everyday and have followed its development. I have...moreI've been waiting for this book to come out for months, especially since I read Neil Gaiman's blog everyday and have followed its development. I have to say I was a teensy bit disappointed.
Here's the gist of the plot: Nobody Owens lives in a graveyard. The inhabitants thereof took him in as a toddler on the night the rest of his family was killed by "the man Jack." "Bod," after some debate, was given the protection and Freedom of the Graveyard. The Owenses, a childless couple from the 18th Century, adopted him, and Silas, one of the undead, agreed to be his guardian. In this manner, Bod grows up among the dead and experiences life just a little differently than a normal human boy.
Let me just start out by saying that I have an active desire to like Neil Gaiman's work. Most readers that I know and trust like his work, and he seems like a really nice guy. You should also know that I've had relatively little exposure to his work. My first experience was with the audio version of Coraline (loved it) six years ago. Then I met him at the Sundance Film Festival after the premiere of his movie, MirrorMask (liked it). Later, I read most of the short stories in Smoke and Mirrors (loved some of them - "Snow, Glass, Apples" anyone?), and just this summer I read Stardust (liked it). Now, I've read The Graveyard Book (you'll see). In spite of my desire to love his work and my general satisfaction with it, I don't think Neil Gaiman is going to be ascending into the pantheon of my favorite authors.
Is it possible for a book to be too simple? I know this book is geared towards children, but still. This was a nice idea - a good story - but there didn't seem to be much beneath the surface. In fact,The Graveyard Book felt more like interrelated vignettes than a cohesive story. It was all Bod did this. The lesson Bod learned last time came in handy this time. Then Bod did that, and it didn't go so well. But the lesson he learned here will inevitably come in handy at some point . . . . Rinse and repeat. I felt this same way after reading Stardust. Our book club discussion lasted about five minutes because it was a nice, well-written story - without many layers.
Also, I had a hard time believing Bod's voice. Let me explain. His voice didn't seem to change any from the first chapter to the last, even though he went from toddler to teen. This was particularly hard to stomach in the chapter where he's supposed to be five. He's got a skewed knowledge palate from living in the graveyard, I get that, but he didn't know some random things and then did know other random things. It felt off. And, one last complaint, I thought Dave McKean's illustrations were distracting. Yeah, you can officially hate me now. I just didn't think they represented the text very well.
All of that being said, I did enjoy the experience of reading this book. The ideas! The settings! The sleer! The writing is so simple and clear I could see it (which may be why I didn't like/need the illustrations). I loved Silas, Bod's guardian. I loved five-year-old Scarlett. I loved Bod (uni-aged as he may be), and sympathized with the loneliness he felt. There are some serious parallels between Bod not being quite alive and not being quite dead and an adolescent not being quite a child and not being quite an adult. And, I was so moved by the ending - I cried. There's a lot here to love. And, so, I think you should probably read this book. If you still aren't sure, go ahead and read the other reviews listed below. Most of those reviewers liked it more than I did. And, even though this wasn't my favorite, I give credit to Mr. Gaiman for creating such an interesting world and for explaining it so clearly.(less)
So, Despereaux is a mouse. A very small mouse with large ears, who lives in a castle in a kingdom where soup and rats are outlawed. And he doesn’t lik...moreSo, Despereaux is a mouse. A very small mouse with large ears, who lives in a castle in a kingdom where soup and rats are outlawed. And he doesn’t like to do mouse things. He’d rather read fairy tales in the castle’s library than scout for crumbs. One day, he is entranced by music and finds himself in the presence of the king and Princess Pea. This one meeting sets in motion events that lead to a death sentence, encounters with rats, and the kidnapping of the princess.
I liked this book a lot. It’s short and conversational, with the narrator frequently addressing the Reader. There are adventures and morals and good examples. It’s a classic good vs. evil tale. (I’ll let you guess which wins.) And, for a kind of fairy tale, the characters are fairly well-rounded. The princess isn’t all good, and the rats aren’t all bad. The writing is simple, as is the plot. I would recommend this as a read-a-loud book for children or a quick read for adults. This is a great little book.(less)
I picked up Strawberry Girl because it won the 1946 Newbery Award.
Birdie Boyer and her family have moved down to southern Florida to start a farm. But...moreI picked up Strawberry Girl because it won the 1946 Newbery Award.
Birdie Boyer and her family have moved down to southern Florida to start a farm. But they’ve got very different ideas about things than the neighbors, the Slaters. The Boyers and the Slaters butt heads from the beginning about everything from open pastures to planting crops. This whole story is very “regional” and takes place around the beginning of the 20th century. Here’s a sample from the first chapter:
“I got me an orange tree,” said Birdie, ” ’bout so high.” She raised her hand to a height of about three feet. ”I planted a bunch of seeds from an orange once. This seedling was the strongest - it come from the king seed. We brung it along with us and I planted it where the water drips from the pump. Soon I’ll be pickin’ my own oranges!”
“Yes, soon we’ll be pickin’ oranges to sell,” added her mother.
“To sell?” asked Mrs. Slater in surprise.
“Yes, ma’am. We’re studyin’ to sell oranges and strawberries and sweet ‘taters and sich and make us a good living’.”
“Sell things? Messin’ with things to sell?” said Mrs. Slater. “Then you’ll purely starve to death. Why, nothin’ won’t grow here in Floridy. The only way we-uns can get us a livin’ is messin’ with cows and sellin’ ‘em for beef.”
I was propelled by this story to see if Birdie and her family would win out over the Slaters and nature. So there is a good amount of tension. Birdie is also a pretty believeable ten-year-0ld. However, I believe that I would have liked this book better if I had read it as a child. It’s episodic, and its about an fascinating time period and part of the country. Overall, it was interesting, but just didn’t have enough to make it really enjoyable as an adult.(less)
Our protagonist is nameless, homeless, and hungry. She finds shelter in a village, in the dung heap of the village's midwife, Jane Sharp. Jane is shar...moreOur protagonist is nameless, homeless, and hungry. She finds shelter in a village, in the dung heap of the village's midwife, Jane Sharp. Jane is sharp, greedy, and often a little cruel. But, by and by, or protagonist names herself Alyce, learns the trade of a midwife, and gains some self-esteem. However, when her first solo attempt at midwifery fails, she flees all she has come to know.
The voice and tone of this book make me understand why the ALA gave this book the Newbery Award. Here's a sample where Alyce is known as Beetle (after a dung beetle):
If Beetle had known any prayers, she might have prayed for the cat. If she had known about soft sweet songs, she might have sung to him. If she had known of gentle words and cooing, she would have spoken gently to him. But all she knew was cursing: "Damn you, cat, breathe and live, you flea-bitten sod, or I'll kill you myself."
The medieval setting is well-drawn without calling attention to itself. The characters, also, are well-drawn, and the plot moves along quickly. My only real complaint is the final act where Alyce must learn to face her fears. I wont say too much, but Alyce's epiphanies seem to come out of nowhere. The book shifts suddenly from challenging to happy ending without an accompanying battle. So, not my favorite Newbery winner. Still, like I said, the writing is superb and the story interesting. Plus, this is a short little book I managed to polish off in about an hour. I would recommend this one primarily for kids.(less)
A bizarre chain of events begins when sixteen unlikely people gather for the reading of Samuel W. Westing's will. And though no one knows why the eccentric, game-lovely millionaire has chosen a virtual stranger - and a possible murderer - to inherit his vast fortune, one thing's for sure: Sam Westing may be dead . . . but that won't stop him from playing on last game.
This is a fun mystery with a plethora of characters and suspicious events to make the guessing a little harder. I thoroughly enjoyed the book and was impressed that, though their screen time was obviously limited, each of the characters was more than a caricature. I think, had I read this book as a child, I would have loved it even more. Definitely worthy of the Newbery and my time.(less)
Bud is a ten-year old left on his own during the depression after his mother died. He’s a spunky narrator, who has developed mechanisms for dealing wi...moreBud is a ten-year old left on his own during the depression after his mother died. He’s a spunky narrator, who has developed mechanisms for dealing with life in “the home” and in various foster homes. He’s also developed Bud Caldwell’s Rules and Things for Having a Funner Life and Making a Better Liar Out of Yourself. When things at a foster home go poorly, Bud goes on the lam and sets out to find his father.
I really enjoyed Bud as a narrator. He sees things in a childlike way, but with a touch of road-weariness. It was interesting to have the story unfold during the Depression. At times it was hard to imagine a ten-year-old out on his own, but apparently it wasn’t all that uncommon during the time period. And the rest of the characters in this book are well-drawn and memorable. The audio book was really good quality. It was narrated by James Avery, who I just realized was the uncle in Fresh Prince of Bel Air. I enjoyed this one enough, I’d recommend it on audio or in print.(less)
When You Reach Me won the 2010 Newbery Medal. So, I of course had to reach for it. Pun intended.
Miranda’s life sort of takes a turn for . . . the odd...moreWhen You Reach Me won the 2010 Newbery Medal. So, I of course had to reach for it. Pun intended.
Miranda’s life sort of takes a turn for . . . the odd in sixth grade. She and her best friend Sal have inexplicably parted ways. Her mom has been accepted as a contestant on The $20,000 Pyramid. A homeless man has taken up residence by her mailbox. And, she starts receiving notes that accurately predict the future.
When You Reach Me is well constructed, well written, and well peopled. Miranda is a plucky-with-a-side-of-realism kind of narrator that you want to spend time with. The plot is a relatively predictable and time-tested one of a kid on the brink of teenagerhood and all that entails, but there’s a nice twist to it with the futuristic mystery. There’s also some lovely homage to A Wrinkle in Time.
This is one of those books that I ache for the opportunity to have read as a twelve-year-old. It got four stars from the adult me only because it didn’t fully live up to the massive – mostly deserved – hype. So read it, but also have all your middle grade acquaintances read it. It’ll be magical for them.(less)
Missing May won the Newbery Medal in 1993. So, when I saw it on audio in my library, I had to pick it up.
Summer, orphaned at a very young age, had bee...moreMissing May won the Newbery Medal in 1993. So, when I saw it on audio in my library, I had to pick it up.
Summer, orphaned at a very young age, had been bounced around from inconvenienced relative to inconvenienced relative. Until, that is, she met Aunt May and Uncle Ob. They took home six-year-old Summer and loved her as their own. They lived as a happy, if poor, little family for six years when May died suddenly. A desolate pair, Ob and Summer are left to figure out how to live life without May.
I really thoroughly enjoyed this book. It dealt with grieving and loss in a very realistic and relatable way. The tone the author struck with Summer as the somewhat sarcastic but endearing narrator was dead on. Missing May was quirky but not too quirky. And the small cast of characters is infinitely lovable. I think most everyone will enjoy this short, simple, and sweet story.
A note on the audiobook: This was charmingly narrated by Frances McDormand.(less)
So, I finished this book the other day. And I'm still recovering from the punches in the gut. And yet, I've come away with the impression, nay convict...moreSo, I finished this book the other day. And I'm still recovering from the punches in the gut. And yet, I've come away with the impression, nay conviction, that this was a beautiful book. Darn that Gary D. Schmidt. Oh yeah. This one won both a Newbery AND a Printz honor. Crazy.
So, Turner Ernest Buckminster III is a minister's son. It's the early 1900s, and he has just moved with his family to Phippsburg, Maine. Right away, things don't go so well. Turner fails to play baseball well, ends up in trouble with a local old lady, and generally disappoints his father left and right. Then he meets Lizzie Bright Griffin and the other inhabitants of Malaga Island.
"I could teach you how to do that," she said.
"How to do what? Get fit in the face with a rock? I don't need to learn how to do that."
"No you're plenty good enough at that as it is. I mean to swing a bat, if that's what you're doing. And my name, by the way, is Lizzie. Lizzie Griffin."
"Thanks, but I already know how to swing a bat. And my name, by the way, is Turner. Turner Ernest Buckminster."
"Doesn't look to me like you do. And I have a middling name, too."
"I do any place where they know how to pitch. And what is it?"
"Well, Turner Ernest Buckminster, your problem isn't the pitch, it's the swing. It's Lizzie Bright Griffin."
"Then let's see you swing, Lizzie Bright Griffin."
Like I said before, this is a beautiful story. And a gut-wrenching one. So be prepared for that. Schmidt is a gifted writer, and I loved both Turner and Lizzie so much. And that's probably all you should know before you read it. I highly recommend it.(less)
This highly honored book, including a Newbery Medal honor, by Rita Williams-Garcia kind of blew me away.
Delphine, eleven, is and has almost always bee...moreThis highly honored book, including a Newbery Medal honor, by Rita Williams-Garcia kind of blew me away.
Delphine, eleven, is and has almost always been in charge of looking after her two younger sisters, Vonetta, nine, and Fern, seven. While they live a nice life with Papa and Big Ma in Brooklyn, this summer they are being sent to Oakland to visit Cecile, the mother that abandoned them seven years ago, for twenty-eight fateful days. And, it turns out, Cecile doesn't turn out to be the mothering type.
With both feet safely on the ground, Vonetta became her old self, her face shiny and searching. "What do we call her?"
I'd gone over this with Vonetta and Fern many, many times. I told them long before Papa said we were going to meet her. I told them while we packed our suitcases. "Her name is Cecile. That's what you call her. When people ask who she is, you say, 'She is our mother.'"
Mother is a statement of fact. Cecile Johnson gave birth to us. We came out of Cecile Johnson. In the animal kingdom that makes her our mother. Every mammal on the planet has a mother, dead or alive. Ran off or stayed put. Cecile Johnson - mammal birth giver, alive, an abandoner - is our mother. A statement of fact.
Mommy gets up to give you a glass of water in the middle of the night. Mom invites your friends inside when it's raining. Mama burns your ears with the hot comb to make your hair look pretty for class picture day. Ma is sore and worn out from wringing your wet clothes and hanging them to dry; Ma needs peace and quiet at the end of the day.
We don't have one of those. We have a statement of fact. (13-14)
I ached for all of these girls, but especially for Delphine.
We all have our la-la-la song. The thing we do when the world isn't singing a nice tune to us. We sing our own nice tune to drown out the ugly. (90)
This story is delightfully told. It's sad but not too sad. Dark but not too dark. I loved these characters. And I think you will too. (less)