Newbery Books discussion

New reads

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message 1: by Lisa (new)

Lisa | 25 comments Mod
Read anything new lately? Want to discuss it?

I recently found myself wandering the library because my computer went wonky, and it was a Sunday so my computer guy wasn't in his office, and I couldn't go 48 hours without checking my e-mail and other important stuff, and there was a wait for a computer. (Decemberists: "...I figured i'd paid my debt to society/
by paying my overdue fines at the Multnomah county library"--turns out I didn't owe Multnomah county any money, even, but I think of this song every time I set foot in a Portland library.) Because of this group, I had some author names in mind, and I had no such thing for grown-up authors, so I wandered the children's room while waiting for my computer. I found a bunch of honorees whose medal-winning books were all out, so here's what I checked out:

Hoot (Hiassen): I loved it. Playful yet pointed. No complaints at all. I hope it spawns a generation of kids who might occasionally google an endangered species or two.

The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle (Avi): Grim, unrealistic, and pulpy-voyeuristic. Like reading a child-friendly Moll Flanders without the prostitution. Interestingly historical in its style (what 20th-century author writes a Moll Flanders lookalike successfully?) but nonetheless not all that fun to read.

The Black Cauldron (Alexander): I'm only a bit into it, but thus far pretty much what I expected. Well-written for kids' fantasy, but really, in that genre the standards strike me as pretty low. The characters seem unidimensional, and I'm betting after 30 pages I've figured out where things go south during the denouement (I'm hoping I'm wrong--if so, this might end up being a pretty good book, because what I want is some ambiguity in the characters, especially the creepy ones).

I also picked up a couple of Ramona Quimby books, but Ramona Quimby, Age 8 wasn't in, and the version of Ramona And Her Father they had a handful of copies of wasn't labeled as a Newbery Honor book, so I ended up with other ones. I just remember loving Beverly Cleary's stuff when I was really young, and now that I live in Portland and I know where Klikitat Street is, I want to re-read them for the local stuff. I get more enjoyment out of reading kids' books that are written for a rather older audience than these are, but I figure the local history ought to make up for that.

Please help. I'd love some differing opinions on some of these books. Oh, who am I kidding--I'd love you to agree with me, too. And please, pick up a new (to you) book or two--you know it'll be a fast read--and tell us all what you think.

message 2: by Lisa (new)

Lisa | 25 comments Mod
I'll try not to spoil it, but The Black Cauldron is turning out exactly as I expected. I'm disappointed by that. I wanted to see one character display some complexity that influenced the story, and no such luck. Pride=Ambition=Evil, end of story. It's still a fun enough read, but wasn't what I hoped it might be.

message 3: by Lisa (new)

Lisa | 25 comments Mod
I'm probably just going to read The Black Cauldron and The High King, both Newbery books, but we'll see.

The end of The Black Cauldron did allow for some change and complexity in two of the characters, it turns out--one was kind of predictable, and the other...well, you knew he'd be a problem in the end, but he was also allowed to have some noble characteristics, which was cool. Still, perhaps a bit more simplistic than I would have liked.

message 4: by Lisa (new)

Lisa | 25 comments Mod
I just finished A Year Down Yonder, by Richard Peck. A very fun story about a girl in the depression sent to live with her tough-as-nails, kind of intimidating grandmother. The ending was sappy as hell, though. It felt like a book that had been written decades earlier, both in good ways and in bad ways (like that sticky-sweet ending).

message 5: by marie (new)

marie (marieduke) | 3 comments I just finished kira-kira and caddie woodlawn. (sorry about the anti-caps) i love the name kira-kira, but found the book dull and predictable. caddie woodlawn is a good read, and would be useful in the classroom.

message 6: by Lisa (new)

Lisa | 25 comments Mod
Okay, in my last few weeks of unemployment I borrowed a ton of books from the library, including making a significant dent in the Newberies (I'm mixing award and honors, I forget which book is which).

Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry (Mildred D. Taylor): For some reason, I ended up reading a bunch of books set in the depression that focused on race relations, including highly acclaimed books written for adults. This one hit the hardest and pulled no punches. I'd read it years ago, but I'd forgotten how powerful it is. There's no sweet, hopeful ending, just adults trying to put the best face they can on a situation that's gone from bad to worse, but not deceiving their children that things are going to be even harder.

A Long Way From Chicago (Richard Peck): I didn't like it as much as A Year Down Yonder. It focused less on the storyteller and more on describing the town and grandma, and the narrator in this case was the older brother, who just never developed as a character. On top of that, it seemed pretty silly in the midst of all these other depression stories I somehow ended up reading all at once, and gave a pretty lightweight treatment (not that it didn't address it, it just did so in a way that came across as superficial and sugarcoated) to race relations at the time.

The Witches of Worm (Zilpha Keatley Snyder): I hated this book. A creepy '70s-era morality tale about a messed-up, self-absorbed girl who blames all her problems on witchcraft. Sure, in the end she 'learns her lesson' and 'comes clean', but unlike some unpleasant characters you can see potential in and can root for, she was just putrid. I'd hate to get a kid like her showing up in my office for therapy. Even the cat didn't get much of my sympathy.

Dear Mr. Henshaw (Beverly Cleary): My favorite thing about this book is that it's about a kid who is given the assignment, in first grade, to write to his favorite author. When I was in first grade (several years before this book was published), I was given the assignment to write to my favorite author. I wrote to Beverly Cleary. So I'm going to take credit for inspiring this book. You heard it first, folks. Other than that, I think it addressed some issues that had been a bit taboo for that age range in the mid-eighties (divorce, a parent who might not be all that responsible) but are well-known to kids now. As seems to happen to me a lot lately (how do I always end up reading similar books all clumped together?), I ended up reading two very similar books in a row that were epistolary in style and dealt with young boys who were dealing with recently-absent fathers.

Ramona and her Father (Beverly Cleary): I loved the Ramona books when I was a kid. I'm surprised, reading them now, how complex they are for books aimed at six-year-olds. Ramona's dealing with some pretty serious issues, including her father's unemployment and how that changes the family's financial picture. She can be kind of impulsive and even explosive, but not in a "...and then I learned my lesson and I'll never do it again" sort of way. I find it a bit hard to get completely engaged in books at this reading level, but Cleary really knows what she's doing. And I'm enjoying the Portland references, which meant nothing to me the first time around!

From The Mixed-Up Files Of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler (E.L. Konigsburg): I remembered loving this book as a kid. They ran away for at least a week, and lived pretty happily in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I desperately wanted an adventure like that when I was that age. It was nearly as much fun to read as an adult, with the added benefit of being able to enjoy the subtle and equivocal nature of the requisite lesson the kids learn from their experience.

Nothing But The Truth: A Documentary Novel (Avi): This started out engaging and interesting, but went downhill. I'll give it credit for not providing some sort of easy solution and happy ending. But the main character was not only not all that likeable, but due to the epistolary style, it was hard for him to develop much complexity, or the story to flesh out the details. You know the issue is complex, and the story gives you some hints as to why, but there ought to have been more there.

The Great Wheel (Robert Lawson): I picked this up totally on a whim because it was sitting on an endcap, and had that bright, shiny seal on the cover. It was a new version with a celebrity foreward by Richard Peck, and I didn't realize until I cracked the cover that it was actually written about 1950. I found it pleasant enough, but without much of a hook. It's the story of an Irish boy of about 18, circa 1900, who goes to America to seek his fortune, first working with his uncle laying sewers in New York, then recruited by another uncle to work for Ferris and build the first Ferris wheel for the Chicago World's Fair. There was a lot of engineering stuff, which would probably appeal to a small and specific group of kids, and a little romance, which would appeal to another group of...okay, I'll say it, girls, except that that particular set of girls wouldn't have much interest in the main part of the story, and the romance probably wouldn't interest the kids in it for the engineering. I didn't find either all that satisfying.

The View From Saturday (E.L. Konigsburg): This was a fun read, but still, it felt to me that Ms. K. has gotten a bit simplistic over time. Unlike Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, where the message seemed to be that what you set out seeking and what you find are not only two different things, but what you find will be complicated, might be a question instead of an answer, and may be difficult and even a little disappointing, and that's okay...this one seemed to just say that when fate brings people together, they can do anything. I enjoyed the characters, but the message was boooo-ring.

Rules (Cynthia Lord): A likeable book about dealing with people with disabilities. The main character can be a bit shallow, but I think her struggle, and the lack of easy answers, seems realistic for someone her age. Her vacillation between empathy/genuine friendship and insecurity seemed very real.

A Single Shard (Linda Sue Park): A cute fable, and an engaging read, though I had a hard time with how she (admittedly) distorted the cultural norms at the time to give us a sympathetic orphan character.

The Higher Power Of Lucky (Susan Patron): I loved this character. As an adult, I wanted to throttle her for all the assumptions she makes, but that's what kids are like. And as a therapist, I felt like she was so realistic in the way she struggled bravely to hide her feelings of loss, because she thought she needed to do so to recruit a substitute caregiver, yet hiding those feelings of loss prevented her from really using her new caregiver as a resource for comfort, or trusting that the caregiver would stick with her. As I start to work exclusively with foster kids, I should buy this book and shelve it next to all my books on how to approach therapy with kids who have experienced the loss of a parent.

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