Category Archives: Newbery Award

Three Times Lucky by Sheila Turnage

I had never even heard of Three Times Lucky by Sheila Turnage when it won a Newbery honor earlier this year.  I think that’s sort of odd since I even half-way followed the ALA award chatter on the mock Newbery blog, Heavy Medal.  (It turns out that it was discussed there, but it was before I had tuned in.)  However, I wanted to read it because I have this little half-formed goal of reading all the ALA notables before I die (especially the Newberys), and besides, the Amazon description sounded good:

A hilarious Southern debut with the kind of characters you meet once in a lifetime

Rising sixth grader Miss Moses LoBeau lives in the small town of Tupelo Landing, NC, where everyone’s business is fair game and no secret is sacred. She washed ashore in a hurricane eleven years ago, and she’s been making waves ever since. Although Mo hopes someday to find her “upstream mother,” she’s found a home with the Colonel–a café owner with a forgotten past of his own–and Miss Lana, the fabulous café hostess. She will protect those she loves with every bit of her strong will and tough attitude. So when a lawman comes to town asking about a murder, Mo and her best friend, Dale Earnhardt Johnson III, set out to uncover the truth in hopes of saving the only family Mo has ever known.

Full of wisdom, humor, and grit, this timeless yarn will melt the heart of even the sternest Yankee.

I mean, I’m a Southerner, so I can “get” these characters, right?  And besides, I like strong female protagonists, and this sounds like yet another story full of quirky, small-town characters, which I generally like.  Well, by the end of this story, I did like it, but it wasn’t without its problems for me.

First, sometimes quirky just seems over-the-top–like how many quirky characters can we fit into one small town?  I’m not sure that that’s an entirely accurate description for this particular novel, but somehow starting out with a protagonist named Mo (short for Moses) LeBeau who was rescued as a newborn in a hurricane set me up to expect more quirkiness, so even when the characters aren’t particularly quirky (like maybe they’re just ornery instead), I saw it as quirky.  This sometimes seems like a tired, old schtick for middle grade fiction to me by now.  Second, I’m kind of over all the middle grade novels with nontraditional families.  Now, don’t get me wrong–I know that nontraditional families exist, and in fact, I know quite a few and have quite a few in my own extended family.  Like the novels chock full of eccentrics, though, these novels with families in which the child lives with people of no blood relation to her are many and similar.   (Often, the parental figures are not even the protagonist’s adoptive parents–they’re just people who picked her up along the way, apparently.) Mo LeBeau lives with the Colonel and Miss Lana, an unmarried couple who apparently have some affection for each other, but who live rather unconventional lives in a trio of connected apartments.  The only intact family in the story is headed by an abusive, alcoholic father and husband, so it seems pretty off kilter.  Third, and this one is limited to this particular story, I don’t appreciate the inclusion of profanity in most middle grade novels.  The couple or three curse words in this story seem really out-of-place, mostly because there are so few of them (which I realize is an odd thing to say about something I’m complaining about) and even the villains in the story seem somewhat sanitized, except for this.  I don’t know.  The whole thing just seems a bit “been there, done that” to me.

This last thing is more of an observation than anything, especially considering that these are mainstream novels written by mainstream authors.  I’ve noticed this tendency in middle grade novels for a sort of nebulous spirituality to be included.  Here’s an excerpt from a letter Mo writes to her “Upstream Mother” (her birth mother):

Death makes you think.  Everybody has a way of believing.

The Colonel says God took Sunday off, so he does too.  He walks in the woods or lies on his bunk.  He says if God needs him, He knows where to find him.  Miss Lana believes in treating people right.  She mostly hits Church Festivities–Easter, when she wears a new hat, and Christmas Eve, to cry while Dale sings “Silent Night.”


Dale goes to church because Miss Rose likes him to.  I sometimes go to keep him company, and hear stories of the Original Moses[. . .]


Lavender, who I will one day marry, believes in NASCAR Zen, which I suspect he made up[. . .]


What do you believe?  Please let me know.


If you’re wondering about me, like Miss Lana I believe in treating people good.  And like the Colonel, I think God can find me.  (176)


While I’m not exactly expecting the novels to include the Gospel, I’m just sort of sick of (or maybe sad about?) the lack of real Christians in these stories.  As a Christian, this gives me pause–not from the “I’m banning these books from my reading list” way, but in a “why aren’t Christians better represented?” way.  (For another novel that’s very similar to Three Times Lucky but does include a born-again Christian, read my review of Lucky for Good by Susan Patron.  The similarities between Three Times Lucky and Lucky for Good extend beyond the similar titles.)

The saving grace in all this is the mystery in the story, although it is very slow to get off the ground.  It’s an unlikely sort of story, but then, the whole premise of the novel is rather unlikely.  Ultimately, though, the exciting ending left me with a good taste, rather than the previous indifferent and or even bad taste, in my mouth.  I still don’t think it’s necessarily a Newbery level story, but for a novel in a genre overpopulated with novels of similar construction, it’s a fun read.  (Dial, 2012)

Bomb by Steve Sheinkin

I finished Bomb by Steve Sheinkin over this past weekend, and I’ve really wondered what to say about it.  I even considered saying nothing at all, but then, how can I not at least mention a book that has been given all these awards?

That’s a lot of metal, so it’s obviously not a book to ignore.

This book is straight nonfiction that brings together several different stories into one main story which is summed up by the book’s rather lengthy subtitle:  ”The Race to Build–and Steal–the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon.”  The chapters are short and to the point, and Sheinkin did his research well:  the book is jam-packed full of quotations and excerpts from primary sources.  This time period–the ending of World War II and the beginning of the Cold War–is of great interest to me, but it’s not one I’ve read much about lately.  There are many characters in this book, from American scientists and politicians to British agents to German physicists to Russian spies.  There are even some Norwegians who do most of their “tradecraft” (a new-to-me word which basically means “the art and science of spying”) on skis.  This is the only thing that makes this book a difficult read (well, for this middle-aged pregnant woman, anyway)–trying to keep up with so many different characters and personalities.  However, given the length of the chapters (as well as the thorough index), it’s not too difficult to go back and retrace your steps to figure out the identity of a certain character.  Each section of the book opens with photographs of the main players, so it is easy to put a name and face together, which also helps.  This is an exciting story, of course, even if one knows the outcome, and I definitely learned a lot.

However, and I say this with the qualification that this might be all because I’m at the end of pregnancy when all I really want to do is nothing, this book didn’t wow me like I expected it to.  Granted, I don’t read a lot of nonfiction, and my first preference is for a character-driven novel, so perhaps the fact that I read the book fairly quickly and all the way through to the end means something.  I definitely think it’s more of a young adult read than a juvenile read (the Sibert and Newbery notwithstanding) because of the subject matter and its complexity, not to mention the fact that since Sheinkin uses lots of quotes and primary sources, the story contains a good bit of profanity.  My favorite quote from the whole book comes from the author biography on the jacket flap:

A former textbook writer, Steve Sheinkin has dedicated his life to making up for his previous crimes by crafting gripping narratives of American history.

Read his “full confession” here.  I think this one qualifies as a “living book” that we homeschoolers are so fond of.

The bottom line?  Preteens, teens, and adults who are interested in spies, espionage, World War II, the Cold War, history in general, and those who just like an exciting story will  likely enjoy this true story.  Homeschooling parents who are looking for living books to supplement their children’s history studies can add this one to the list.  I’d like to try some of Sheinkin‘s other titles when I’m not so pregnant.  ;-)  (Roaring Brook Press, 2012)

39 Books I Have Loved, in Honor of My Birthday

(This is a post I published two years ago on my birthday, and I thought I’d re-share it again this year.  I thought and thought about writing up a history of my reading life like Carrie and then Barbara did, but I haven’t had time yet, and besides, between what I’ve re-read and reviewed on my blog and this list, I’m not sure how much more there is to say.  I am adding two more books to the end of the list in honor of this year’s birthday. )

Thirty-seven Thirty-nine years ago today tomorrow I entered this world.  I’ve had a good and interesting life, and much of the goodness of it has been brought to me through reading.  I thought it would be fun to make a random-ish list of thirty-seven thirty-nine books I have loved during my lifetime so far, even if I don’t necessarily still love them today.  I have given myself the stipulation that I can’t have reviewed them on my blog, so that necessitates the leaving off of several books that I still love, even to this day.  Links on the list will be to wherever I want them to go–sometimes my blog (if, say, I’ve merely mentioned the book before or I’ve written about the author before, etc.) or elsewhere.  Most titles are links to my Amazon Associates account.

Without further ado, the list:

  1. More Spaghetti, I Say! by Rita Golden Gelman.  This is a book that I loved so much as a child that I think my mother and daddy both had it memorized from so many repeated readings.  Of course I had it memorized.  I really hadn’t thought much about it until a few years ago when Steady Eddie (to whom I had obviously mentioned it at some point) came home with it from some meeting he attended.  Steady Eddie speaks my love language!  This is a beginning reader with lots of silliness and rhyme, and it will always hold a special place in my heart.  :-)
  2. Mother Goose–but not just any old Mother Goose book.  This one had a dull red and cream cover that was sort of toile-like and was illustrated with old timey line drawings.  I really need to see if my mother still has it.  (Note to self:  ask her!)  Obviously our reading of Mother Goose took.  I was the quiz team member in high school to whom everyone looked if ever a nursery rhyme question was asked.  It was my one area of expertise.
  3. Bear Circus by William Pene Du Boise.  At least, I think this is the book I remember.  All I remember about it is an image:  koala bears in eucalyptus trees that have been stripped of their leaves by locusts.  An internet search led me to this book; I sure would like to find a copy to see if it’s the one I remember.   This is one of only a very few picture books that I do remember, so it must’ve made an impression on me.  Maybe it was because of the unfamiliar subject matter.
  4. A Horse Named Cinnamon by Jeanne Hovde.  (That’s the Amazon link over there, but you can see a copy of it here.)  I think this one started my horse-crazy stage, a stage that I believe approximately 67.998% of girls go through.  I never owned a horse, but I sure did love to read about them.
  5. Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls.   Old Dan and Little Ann.  Need I say more?  This is one that definitely falls into the “I still love it” category.  Although I don’t consider myself an animal person, really, I was surrounded by animal lovers growing up, and enough of that must’ve rubbed off on me to cause me to tear up at the end of this story every time I read it.  I don’t even think you have to like animals to get teary-eyed over this tale of devotion.  (Incidentally, I did mention this one here and here, if you’re interested.)
  6. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle.  I’m not sure I loved this when I read it, a sixth grader just beginning to grow into her intellect.  I think I love it now because it was the first book I remember being really challenged by.  Perhaps it was because it is of a genre I had probably never read before.  Whatever the reason, L’Engle is an author who is perpetually on my TBR list, at least the one I carry around in my brain.  Since I began this blog, I’ve read and reviewed a couple of books by her (The Love Letters and The Twenty-Four Days Before Christmas, which I mentioned briefly here), but I hope there are more in the future.
  7. Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm by Kate Douglas Wiggin.  I don’t really remember too much about the story, other than that I liked it.  I brought the audiobook home from the library a few months ago, and we all tried to listen to it on a trip in our van.  It’s a somewhat dense story, and the girls just didn’t take to it.  We’ll try again.
  8. From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg.  I like a good mystery, and I liked Claudia’s independence (then–now, I just think about these two children running away from home and EEEEEEEEEEK!).  This is one of those stories that never gets old to me.
  9. The Cayby Theodore Taylor.  I don’t remember the first time I read this book, but I do remember listening to an audio version of it after I was a young adult.  This is such a good story.  I can’t believe I haven’t read the sequel!
  10. Treasure on Squaw Mountain by Marjorie Zimmerman.  This is one of the first volumes of Christian fiction (for kids) that I remember reading, and while I’m sure it’s not fine literature, I still remember the exciting plot.  I think I still have a copy around somewhere, to pass on to my children in a couple of years.
  11. Once Upon a Summer by Janette Oke.  This is the first book by Janette Oke that I ever read.  I read it as a student at a small Christian school, and I remember feeling very grown up to have read such a book.  Although it doesn’t contain much romance at all that I remember, it must’ve had just a hint for me to feel this way.  I went on to read everything Janette Oke wrote for many years, as is evidenced by the next two numbers.
  12. When Calls the Heart and sequels by Janette Oke.  I think this is my favorite of Janette Oke’s old series.  I can’t offer an opinion about her newer books because I haven’t read anything she has written in the past dozen years, I guess.  I thought Elizabeth and Wynn’s love story was so. . . so. . . romantic as a young adult, and I have a secret inclination toward adventure.  The idea of moving into the Canadian wilderness with my very own Mountie?  Swoon.  (Mind you, I would have never admitted this as a young adult.  Never!)
  13. Loves Comes Softly and sequels by Janette Oke.  I imagine that this story has been co-opted by all the movies that have been based on it and its sequels, but I remember Marty when she wasn’t so beautiful.  ;-)  Somehow I never imagined her as beautiful in the stories, although Janette Oke might very well have described her as such and I just never picked up on it.  This one of Janette Oke’s prairie love stories tells the most compelling story of redemption, and I read and and very much enjoyed the original series.  This was about as sappy and romantic as anything I’ve ever read, but I still recommend it, if you haven’t read it.
  14. Archie comic books.  I remember buying these off the rack in the check-out line in the grocery store.  I don’t remember any particular episode from the serial, but I sure did enjoy them.  I still see them around and wonder if the story is still the same.  I think Veronica‘s skirt has gotten shorter, but maybe it’s just me and my Puritanical ways. ;-)
  15. White Flower by Grace Livingston Hill.  I don’t even remember much at all about this story now, but I still have an old, library-bound copy of this book on my shelf.  (Ah, yes!  I went and pulled it off the shelf, and now I remember–it’s a bonafide damsel-in-distress story!)  I want to think that this is my friend Gena’s favorite GLH story, and that perhaps that’s why I picked it up.  GLH is known for her gentle, Christian romances, and I have to say that there’s usually a good bit to them theologically, too.  If you expect the resolution  to be very complicated, you’ll be disappointed, but isn’t that the way it is in real life, too?
  16. City of Fire by Grace Livingston Hill.  This one is my favorite GLH title.  I even quoted a portion of it in an “all about me” project I did for a creative writing class in high school.  (My protoblog, maybe?)  GLH”s novels are romances in which it’s usually the girl’s goodness and faithfulness that brings the man back to God, a formula that I don’t think has been tried too much lately.  I found this website while poking around the ‘net, looking for these old GLH titles.  It looks interesting.
  17. Christy by Catherine Marshall.  I loved it before it was a television series, although I loved the series, too.  I’ve read this one many times, and it always moves me to tears.  Idealistic and romantic?  Maybe.  Beautiful, true(ish) story?  Yes!  Read it, if you haven’t.
  18. Julie by Catherine Marshall.  This is a different story entirely from Christy, but it’s just as absorbing.  I enjoy historical fiction that’s based on fact, and Julie is based on the Johnstown, Pennsylvania, flood of 1889Julie is usually overshadowed by Christy, but it’s just as good.  I think I might’ve inherited a cousin’s copies of both of these books, and they’re both in tatters now.  I tried to re-read Julie a few months ago, but I just couldn’t stick with it.  I’ll read them both again sometime, though, I’m sure.
  19. The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom.  I was pretty young when I read this the first time–maybe ten or eleven.  Knowing the subject matter, I think–Wow!  I can’t believe my mother let me read that!  It obviously didn’t scar me, though, since I’ve read it again and again and again.    I have read many of Corrie Ten Boom’s other books through the years, but none is as inspiring as this story.  I love it.
  20. The Bronze Bow by Elizabeth George Speare.  I can’t remember if I picked up this 1962 Newbery Award winner as an assignment in library school, or if I just did it of my own initiative.  Whatever the case, this is one of my favorites.  I think what surprised me most is that this is a mainstream juvenile fiction selection that reads like a Christian fiction selection, only better.  :-)  (Patricia M. St. John’s books come immediatley to mind.)  Of course, Speare wrote The Witch of Blackbird Pond, and I suppose that’s the one she’s best known for.  The Bronze Bow is an excellent story that tackles difficult problems and comes up with the only solution–that only God can work out some problems, especially the problems of the human heart.  You can read a whole slew of reviews of this book at The Newbery Project blog.
  21. The Landby Mildred D. Taylor.  I think I read this book while I was working as librarian of an elementary school.  While this prequel in the line of Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry is definitely more appropriate for young adults and adults, I have to say that if you like historical stories that deal with race, this one is absolutely a must-read.  I think I devoured it in two days, and it’s a pretty hefty story.  I want to go back and read the whole little series.  I just remember being completely blown away by it.
  22. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott.  My only regret about this story is that I share a name with the least likeable of all the sisters.  :-)  I’d love to go back and catalog all the similarities between LW and the Anne of Green Gables stories, starting with the fact that both authors are LMs. 
  23. The Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan.  I’m cheating here because I’ve actually never read the original, much to my embarrassment.  I read a children’s version some twenty-five years ago, but it really had an impression on me.  I’m not sure that this is the one I read, but it might be:  Little Pilgrim’s Progress: From John Bunyan’s Classic.  The girls and I even got to see a stage adaptation of this classic last year, and I really enjoyed it.  I really need to rectify this deficit in my reading life!  (Edited to add:  I read Little Pilgrim’s Progress aloud to my girls last year, and we really enjoyed it.)
  24. This Present Darkness by Frank Peretti.  Of course, the story is continued in Piercing the Darkness.  These were the first books of this genre I ever read.  Many authors have written stories in the same vein, but I think Peretti did it best.  (I did enjoy this book by Shaunti Feldhahn that is very similar, though.)
  25. Prophet by Frank Peretti.  As much as I enjoyed the two previous titles, Prophet is my favorite of his works.  It deals with a sensitive topic (abortion, in case you haven’t read it), but I just liked both the story and how the change in the characters took place.  I went on to read everything Peretti wrote for a while, but The Oath did me in.  I read it three times, I think, out of morbid curiosity, and then I decided that Peretti’s works had taken a decided turn for the scarier and darker, and he fell off my radar.
  26. Sarah, Plain and Tall by Patricia MacLachlan.  This sparsely and beautifully written children’s story is just about perfect, in my opinion.  I checked it out for Lulu to read a few weeks ago, but I couldn’t interest her in it yet.  As much as I’d love to read it to them (‘though I know I couldn’t do it without crying, but what’s unusual about that?), I think some stories are best experienced privately.  I think this might be one of them.  If you haven’t read it, you can read several reviews here.  Better yet, just pick up this beautiful little novel and read it.  (I can’t resist–”Read it with a box of kleenex!”–can anyone identify this movie quote?)
  27. Rocket Boys by Homer Hickam.  Steady Eddie brought this book home, signed by the author, after he heard Homer Hickam speak at Space Camp the first or second year we were married.  This is a very sad but ultimately inspring true story.  What I remember most about it is the profound disconnect between father and son.  They made a movie from the book, and I think I’ve seen it, but the book impressed me more.
  28. Holes by Louis Sachar.  I thought this Newbery Award winner was so unusual, suspenseful, witty, and entertaining.  More reviews are here.
  29. A Long Way From Chicago  by Richard Peck.  This book and its Newbery Award-winning sequel, A Year Down Yonder, are side-splittingly funny and touching by turns.  Once you read these, you’ll never forget Grandma Dowdel.  Read more reviews here
  30. Great Expectations by Charles Dickens.  Like #6, Great Expectations is a book that raised the bar of expectations for my reading and comprehending.  I read it for ninth grade English class, and I remember taking a daily reading quiz on the next five chapters.  That was reading at a nice little clip.  I don’t remember too much about the story, but it didn’t scare me off from Dickens, since I finally got around to reading A Tale of Two Cities last year.  It only took me twenty years!
  31. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë. Of all the books assigned to me as a high school student, this one was my favorite, and I still love it today.  It’s much better to me than its darker cousin.
  32. You’re Only Old Once! A Book for Obsolete Children by Dr. SeussConfession:  I am not a huge fan of Dr. Seuss, but this one holds a special place in my heart.  Steady Eddie gave me a wrapped package to take with me on a mission trip I went on the summer we started dating.  His instructions were to open it when I got to Albuquerque.  Inside it was this book.  From our first meeting in the library where I worked until today in our book-cluttered home, books have always been a part of our relationship.  :-)
  33. The Gates of Zion by Brock and Bodie Thoene.  Reading The Gates of Zion started my twenty-plus year love affair with the writing duo Brock and Bodie Thoene.  After reading the Zion Chronicles series, I backtracked and read the Zion Covenant series.  I’ve also finished the Zion Legacy series and started on the A.D. Chronicles.  I love how they bring history to life.  All of my reviews of books by the Thoenes are here.  Visit their website here.
  34. The Honorable Imposter by Gilbert Morris. I purchased the first book in the House of Winslow series as my “souvenir” on a school trip.  (I used to do that a lot, and at one point I could’ve told you where I had gone; now all I remember are the books.)  I loved the book and felt a little bit daring by reading it–after all, it contained romance (tame, yes, but real romance, between a Saint and Sinner, both of marriageable age).  I collected all the books and kept up with the series, more or less, until about eight or nine years ago.  I finally conceded that each story was the same, only the characters and settings were a little different.  I see that there are 40 books in the series now.  Wow.  It was a fun ride while it lasted, but just about all of my books have been PaperbackSwapped now.
  35. The Tiger Rising by Kate DiCamillo.  I have fond memories of this little book because I read it to my fifth graders when I was an elementary librarian.  This is the perfect read-aloud for upper elementary, especially if you want to discuss things like symbolism and theme.  Of course, I think Kate DiCamillo is a mighty fine writer.
  36. Papa’s Wife by Thyra Ferre Bjorn. I remember reading this book or one of its sequels, Papa’s Daughter and Mama’s Way, lying on my back in my parents’ car the summer after I graduated high school.  We were on our way to my senior trip, of sorts–a family vacation to Chattanooga, Tennessee.  It was an angst-y time in my life with all the change, and these stories were a good diversion.  I’d like to go back and re-read them.
  37. The Calvin and Hobbes Tenth Anniversary Book by Bill Watterson.  Does anybody else still miss them?
  38. Childcraft series of books published by World Book Encyclopedia.  We had our own set and I spent hours and hours reading these, even the purple parent guide.  Weird, I know.
  39. World Book Encyclopedia.  Please tell me I’m not the only one who read not only the children’s version of the encyclopedia, but the real deal, too.  Anybody?  I particularly remember loving the D volume because I really liked looking at all of the pictures of the different breeds of dogs.

I’m sure that the moment I hit “publish,” I’ll think of three books I should’ve included, but here it is.  And here’s to 37+ 39+ more years of reading good books!

2013 ALA Youth Media Awards (Caldecott, Newbery, etc.)

ALA Youth Media Awards, January 28, 2013, #ALAyma

A “screenshot” of my computer ;-)

We interrupted our school day this morning to watch the ALA Youth Media Awards.  (Okay, I interrupted our school day so I could watch them.  The girls were slightly interested but mostly kept to their spelling, handwriting, and their new project of teaching the DLM to read.  *Ahem*)  I tuned in a bit late due to some technical difficulties, so I missed the first awards, but I saw the ones I was most interested in:  the Coretta Scott King awards, the Batchelder, the Printz (and all the other YALSA awards), and of course, the Newbery and the Caldecott.  Many of the books were unfamiliar to me.  You can see the press release with all the details here.

These are the winners I’m most interested in reading myself:

Bomb:  The Race to Build–and Steal–the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon by Steve Sheinkin won three awards:  the YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults, Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Award, and a Newbery honor.  Wow!  Reading long(ish) nonfiction isn’t my forté, but this is an area of interest–World War II–and it must be good.  
Titanic:  Voices from the Disaster by Deborah Hopkinson won both a Sibert honor and a YALSA honor, and since I’ve never met a Hopkinson book I didn’t like, I’d like to add this one to my list.

Three Times Lucky by Sheila Turnage won a Newbery honor, and I haven’t even heard of it.  The Amazon summary sounds like it’s an interesting and entertaining story, though.  I’ll definitely seek it out.

My Family for the War by Anne C. Voorhoeve won the Batchelder Award, an award given to a translated book.  I’ve enjoyed the one Batchelder book I’ve read, and this one is a World War II survivor/Holocaust story, which is right down my alley.

Son of a Gun by Anne de Graaf won a Batchelder honor.  It’s the story of child soldiers in the Liberian civil war.  Africa is a particular interest of mine, so I think I’d find it interesting.

This Is Not My Hat by Jon Klassen won this year’s Caldecott Medal, so I guess I should finally bring it home from the library and read it.  (I didn’t fall in love with Klassen’s I Want My Hat Back last year, so I’ve been rather indifferent toward this one so far.)  I haven’t gotten my hands on Laura Vacaro Seeger‘s Green yet, and now it’s won a Caldecott honor.  This is one I am eager to see.
Last, I’d never even heard of Sleep Like a Tiger by Mary Logue, and it won a Caldecott honor, too.  Add it to my list.

As for the winners I have read, here they are, with links to my reviews:


The one I’m most tickled about it the Printz honor for Code Name Verity–it’s great to see such a fantastic story get some recognition.  Now I just hope it wins a Cybils!
Do you keep up with the winners?  What do you think about this year’s picks?


The Mighty Miss Malone by Christopher Paul Curtis

I intended to re-read Bud, Not Buddy before picking up Christopher Paul Curtis‘s newest novel, The Mighty Miss Malone, since it is considered a companion novel to the earlier, Newbery-winning novel.  However, I decided I had neither the time nor the inclination right now to re-read a story I’ve already read, so I plunged into The Mighty Miss Malone anticipating a great story but not knowing how much I’d miss since my memories of Bud, Not Buddy are pretty sketchy.  It turns out that The Mighty Miss Malone is a book that can stand on its own two legs with no problem at all, and I enjoyed it immensely.  Set in Gary, Indiana, and later, Flint, Michigan, during the height of the Great Depression, it is the story of the Malone family and their experiences during the Depression.  At the heart of the story is twelve year old Deza Malone, affectionately and appropriately nicknamed by her family as “The Mighty Miss Malone.” She is extremely smart and confident and opinionated, and things go well for her in Gary, Indiana.  After all, she’s the smartest girl in her class, and life treats her fairly gently.  Things begin to change, however, when her father goes off on a fishing trip and finally comes back home a sick and broken man, and things go downhill quickly for the Malone family after this.  Their poverty, which was always present, becomes a real issue, and the family must split up in order to survive.  The family (minus father) find themselves in a shantytown outside of Flint, Michigan, from where Deza’s older brother, Jimmie, finally takes leave of the family, too.  Jimmie is as talented at singing as Deza is at reading and writing and thinking, and he knows his only hope is to capitalize on that talent.  The family goes from one heartbreak to another, with the book finally ending with a subdued happy ending and most of the loose ends tied up. 

That is a very understated summary of a book with quite a few unexpected plot twists, but what really makes the book good is the characterization.  Anyone who’s read anything by Christopher Paul Curtis will recognize his characters’ voices as the strength of all his novels, and this one is no exception.  Since the story is told from her perspective, Deza is the one whose voice we hear the most.  Here is one of my favorite examples of Deza’s wit and intuition:

This is a bad habit Jimmie picked up from Mother.  She’s always complaining that her feet are cold and when she’s laying on the couch reading she’ll ask Jimmie or Father to sit on her feet so they’ll warm up.  She’s turned us into a bunch of brood hens.  (57) 

(This literally made me laugh out loud because I’ve been known to do the same thing.  ;-)  ) Here’s another:

If hospitals took that horrible smell they have, bottled it up and mailed it away, this poorhouse in Lansing, Michigan, must have been where the postman had been delivering the bottles.  (286)

The other strength of this story is the strong sense of place of time.  Again, Curtis excels at this.  Historical fiction is one of my favorite genres, and this one really paints a picture of life for an African American family during the Great Depression.  Curtis brings to light seemingly insignificant events–like the boxing matches between Joe Louis and Max Schmeling in 1936 and 1938–as a foil to explain the hope people, especially African Americans, held onto during this bleak time in history.  This novel really paints a memorable picture of life during the Great Depression, from Mother straining the bugs and worms out of the oatmeal to cook for her family to the smell from Deza’s rotten teeth which the family cannot afford to have fixed.  I came away from the novel having a better understanding of the desperation so many people felt during the 1930s:

Hoping is such hard work.  It tires you out and you never seem to get any kind of reward.  Hoping feels like you’re a balloon that has a pinhole that slowly leaks air.  (232)

I have to mention what I consider a serious weakness in the book.  The first half of the book I felt like I really knew Deza.  However, about half-way through the novel and about the time the famly splits up and Deza, her mom, and brother move to Michigan, I felt like Deza’s voice grew much more subdued.  This partially makes the story work–Deza is growing up, and she’s losing some of her innocence and naivete about life.  However, what I like so much about the story is Deza’s voice, and it almost felt like she was muted under water during the last half.  The last half of the novel happens quickly, too–lots of events, without a lot of day-to-day interactions between the characters. 

Still, this is a very strong work of middle grade fiction that would add much to any study of the Great Depression or race relations in the United States.  I really enjoyed it and give it a Highly Recommended.  (Random House, 2012)

Related links and reviews elsewhere:

The Mighty Miss Malone is a 2012 Cybils nominee in the middle grade fiction category, and I read it for the Armchair Cybils challenge.  I would’ve eventually read it anyway since it’s a considered a Newbery contender and by Christopher Paul Curtis.