Category Archives: Newbery Award

Read Aloud Thursday–February 2014



This has almost been a non-reading month for me personally.   That does not, of course, mean that I haven’t been reading.  Not by a long shot!  ;-)  I’ve been reading aloud to my children, as usual, and I’ve even managed to review some picture books this month.  There are a couple of chapter books, though, that we read that I haven’t gotten around to reviewing, so I’m going to share my thoughts on them here today.
I purchased the Oxford Illustrated Classics adaptation of Don Quixote because it was recommended in the activity guide to Story of the World volume 3.   I have never read Cervantes’ original work, so I suppose I should offer the disclaimer that I knew next to nothing about the story when I started reading this retelling by Michael Harrison.  Well, what a fun story this one is!  Everyone probably already knows that it’s the story of Don Quixote, who’s just maybe a little bit crazy, and his desire to go questing like a real knight.   The humor and Don Quixote’s over-the-top antics weren’t lost on my girls.   Harrison’s prose is descriptive but not oversimplified:

The rain fell steadily, and so did Sancho Panza’s spirits.  The more water there was around him, the further away the island he had been promised seemed to float.  It is difficult to believe in heroic deeds and great rewards with rain stinging your eyes and trickling down your neck.  Don Quixote was quiet, too.  If the great enchanter kept up his tricks, how was he to achieve glory?  So the bedraggled pair rode on in silence on their miserable beasts.

Towards noon, the clouds broke and the sun beamed down.  As their clothes streamed in the heat their gloom lifted.  Don Quixote raised his eyes and saw a knight wearing a golden helmet riding towards them.  Sancho Panza raised his eyes and saw a village barber riding his donkey–and this, of course, is who it was.  A few small villages provided enough work for one barber between them and so he rode from one to another, taking his tools with him.  A brass basin is essential for shaving, but it’s an awkward thing to carry, especially in the rain.  If you put it on your head, your hands are free and your head is dry. (32)

Illustrator Victor G. Ambrus’ illustrations are very comical and added much to our enjoyment of this classic.  (Even the DLM listened in, though he much prefers Eric A. Kimmel’s Don Quixote and the Windmills.  ;-)  )  I will definitely be on the look out for more books from the Oxford Illustrated Classics series.  (Oxford UP, 1995)

We also read Newbery honor-winning Because of Winn Dixie by Kate DiCamillo this month because it was the selection-of-the-month for the mother-daughter bookclub at the library.   It was a rather anticlimactic read for all of us, I think, because we had all already read it.  For some reason I thought it was necessary for us to read it together.   It’s a funny and sweet story, and it’s especially easy to read aloud (with bonus easy points if you’re  a Southerner–the Southern speech patterns and sayings just roll off the tongue).   I used to read this one to my third grade classes when I was an elementary librarian.  Now that I’m a parent instead, I noted some things that I didn’t note as a public school employee: namely, that there seems to be a bit of relativism in the story when Gloria Dump tells Opal that she did the bad things in her past (“with or without alcohol”) before she “learned what is the most important thing.”  When Opal asks what the most important thing is, Gloria responds with “It’s different for everyone.”  Hmmm.  As a Christian I reject the notion that we should just choose our own god to whom we owe allegiance, which is what this sounds a bit like to me.  (Maybe I’m reading too much into it, but it did give me an opportunity to talk with my girls about Truth.)  Anyway.  It’s a fun story, and there are certainly bits of truth in it, especially in its overall theme of sadness and joy being inextricably mixed up in this world.   If you haven’t read it, do yourself a favor and pick it up.  It has short, short chapters and large print, so it’s a very quick read.   My favorite DiCamillo story is The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, but I like this one, The Tiger Rising, and The Tale of Despereaux all equally well.  (Candlewick, 2000)

I’m still reading Thimble Summer aloud with Lulu and Caddie Woodlawn aloud with Louise.  Whew.  Our current together read-aloud is The Black Cauldron by Lloyd Alexander, and then we’re on to The Saturdays by Elizabeth Enright, which is March’s mother-daughter bookclub selection, chosen by us.  :-)

Last, I wanted to share a link to a great thread over on the Well-Trained Mind forums.  I asked forum members to share their current read-alouds, so consider this a long list of possible read-alouds for your family!  ;-)

Share links to your RAT posts below, or tell us about your read-alouds in the comments.  Don’t forget to visit other RAT participants’ posts, too, please!

Happy Read Aloud Thursday!

Wednesdays with Words–The Black Cauldron by Lloyd Alexander

Today I’m sharing some philosophizing by the bard/warrior Adaon in our current read-aloud, The Black Cauldron by Lloyd Alexander.  Pulling this out of context makes it sound a bit purplish, but in context it’s just lovely and really endears the character Adaon to the reader, or at least it had that effect on me.

“There is much to be known,” said Adaon, “and above all much to be loved, be it the turn of the seasons or the shape of a river pebble.  Indeed, the more we find to love, the more we add to the measure of our hearts.”  (28)

Adaon smiled gravely.  “Is there not glory enough in living the days given to us?  You should know there is adventure in simply being among those we love and the things we love, and beauty, too.”  (75)

Little House, big trip


Steady  Eddie and I have a grand scheme, an overarching plan to expose our children to as much of this great country of ours as we can before they leave our home.  However, it’s something of an overwhelming undertaking to me when I consider that there are almost  nine years between our youngest and our oldest child.  There will never be a perfect time to take them all to see the nation’s capital or the redwoods or New England.  The time to do it–whatever it is–is now, right?

Well, that was Steady Eddie’s thinking when he decided (and convinced me) that the time to take the girls to see Laura Ingalls Wilder’s home in Mansfield, Missouri, was his long weekend after Independence Day.  We had talked and talked about making this trip for ages, but when it came time to actually commit, all I could think about it is a rambunctious DLM and Benny, who pretty much conks out whenever he’s in the car seat (hence perhaps resulting in a sleepless night after so much napping).  This time, we didn’t tell the girls we were going.  (I was under the influence of the chapter on creative recreation in The Hidden Art of Homemaking when I decided to do this.  Edith Schaeffer discusses planning surprise trips in this chapter.  Oh, and I was also inspired by this post at Simple Homeschool.)  Everyone just got up Friday morning and we told them we were going somewhere and that we still had to pack!  (Eeep!)  Of course, things moved along rather quickly with the added motivation of a mystery trip, so we got out the door with relative ease.  We decided to give the girls a clue to our destination each time we crossed a state line, so they had something to look forward to on this seven hour journey.  We traveled through Mississippi, Tennessee, Arkansas, and finally, into Missouri.  Their clues were

  1. We are going North.
  2. We are going to the “Show Me” state.
  3. This is a literary field trip.
  4. As stubborn as a _________mule.
Since we had talked about going to Mansfield earlier in the year, I think Lulu had an inkling of an idea where we were headed, but neither girl could quite figure it out geographically.
After several stops (including a Chick-Fil-A lunch stop that turned into at least 1 1/2 hours by the time I nursed Benny and everyone ate and went to the bathroom, etc.), we finally arrived  in Mansfield just in time for me to nurse Benny and for us to purchase tickets for the play Laura’s Memories, a local production that compresses many of the events of the Ingalls and Wilder families into a two hour, song-and-dance extravaganza.  We enjoyed the production, though for me it was more about the simple fact that we were sitting in an amphitheater in Mansfield than anything else.
On Saturday we headed back to Mansfield from our hotel in Springfield.  First stop:  the cemetery where Laura, Almanzo, and Rose are buried:
I apparently have a thing for seeing where famous people (especially authors) are buried.  I’m thinking about making it a feature here on my blog.  ;-)  I thought it was interesting that the Wilders are buried in the middle of this cemetery, which is just your average, run-of-the-mill community cemetery, with nothing designating their graves are special except for a few bushes and a chain.  You can see that someone had left Laura a note on her headstone, as well as a few flowers.
From the cemetery we headed over to Rocky Ridge, the farm house that Laura and Almanzo began building after they moved from Mansfield from De Smet, South Dakota.  If my memory serves me correctly, it took them something like fourteen years (?) to finish the home.  It’s really lovely from the outside:
Of course, photography is forbidden inside the home, but if you love getting a peek into what someone’s real life was like, Rocky Ridge Farm definitely provides insight.  This house is furnished just as if the Wilders were still living there.  I loved seeing Laura’s kitchen that Almanzo furnished for her diminutive stature (4′ 11″–did you know that?–I knew she was “Half Pint,” but I didn’t realize she wasn’t a whole lot taller than Lulu is now!).  It was also neat to see all of Almanzo’s handiwork–the (short) chairs he made, the rugs he hooked, the walking sticks he carved.  He was obviously a very industrious man!  Visiting Rocky Ridge made me realize that Laura and Almanzo were just ordinary people, no different in many ways than my grandparents, separated only by a generation.  What brought this home to me were the Currier and Ives calendar prints that Laura had framed and hung over her bed.  My grandparents always had a calendar just like that, and keeping the pictures is something my granny would’ve done.
The museum at Rocky Ridge is fantastic, providing even more artifacts and memorabilia.  The most famous object in the museum is Pa’s fiddle, but my personal favorite is the collection of Garth Williams sketches from the books.  It’s so interesting and inspiring to see his rough sketches and notes, the thought processes behind his famous illustrations.  For some reason, I found the sketches even more impressive than Laura’s book drafts, written longhand on simple tablets.
From Rocky Ridge we drove the very short distance to Laura and Almanzo’s retirement home, known as the rock house.  Rose built this home for them after they quit farming (I suppose), but they lived here for less than ten years.  Rose had moved into Rocky Ridge, and as soon as she vacated it for New York, Laura and Almanzo returned home, never to leave again.

This home was very modern, with electricity, a tiled bathroom, and running (filtered!) water.  Modeled after an English cottage, it is very pretty and cozy. When the historical society finally acquired this house around 1990, its owner was storing hay in it.  Imagine that!  Storing hay in the home where Laura herself once lived!

My apologies to the family on the porch! :)

Most amazing of all is the realization that it was in this stone house that Laura began writing the Little House books.

The prospect from both homes is beautiful–hilly, lush, and green.  I can see why Laura and Almanzo called this place home for over sixty years.

After we left the rock house, we headed up to St. Louis for a bit of sightseeing, but that’s a tale for perhaps another day.

I’m glad Steady Eddie talked me into this trip, and I really look forward to exploring more with our family.

Read Aloud Thursday–Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert C. O’Brien

When I chose Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of  NIMH by Robert C. O’Brien to read aloud to my children, I had no idea that it was a children’s novel that carries some sort of message.  All I knew is that it won the 1972 Newbery Award and that I had never read it.  Since one of my lifelong goals is to read all the Newbery Medalists and honor books, I thought I’d kill two birds with one stone.  While there is nothing inappropriate in this book for my third and first grader, I do think this might be one to revisit it during my girls’ teen years.   What they did this time around was simply enjoy the story, which has a lot of heart despite any deeper messages one wrings from it.

Mrs. Frisby is a mouse with a problem:  she has a sick child, and their winter home is in imminent danger of being turned under by the farmer’s plow.  Timothy, her sickly one, is too weak to move, and the timing is tricky, too–springtime in their summer home would surely kill him.  Through an unusual turn of events, Mrs. Frisby ends up asking the rats of Mr. Fitzgibbon’s farm for help.  These are no ordinary rats, and the story within the larger story is theirs.  They are rats that escaped years before from a laboratory, and they had been injected with some sort of substance that made them grow in intelligence and also increased their longevity.  The rats have built their own society in tunnels under a rosebush at Mr. Fitzgibbon’s farm.  These highly intelligent rats help Mrs. Frisby with her problem, and in turn, Mrs. Frisby is able to help them.  The story has a bittersweet ending.  O’Brien does a fantastic job of making the animals come to life, and it’s easy to see why this one was chosen as the 1972 Newbery Medalist.

Of course, as I already mentioned, there seems to be more to this story than meets the eye.  O’Brien brings up several philosophical ideas that are (perhaps?) obvious to those over the age of fifteen.  The one that strikes me the most is the conflict between two of the rats over their own nature–should they steal from Farmer Fitzgibbon in order to survive, or should they devise their own means of survival?  The argument in favor of stealing is that rats have always stolen to survive; those against it think surely they’ve reached a higher level of development that would prevent them from stooping so low as to steal–plus, stealing, even if they looked at it more as taking Fitzgibbon’s leftovers,  would make them less than self-sufficient.  Obviously, these rats are very sophisticated, and their conversations about these weighty topics are erudite and articulate.  My take-away from their conversations has something to do with a Nanny State and the effects of living on government handouts, but I don’t know if that was necessarily O’Brien’s intention.  I was interested to learn that this novel is a high school selection in the Sonlight curriculum.  I can definitely see why, but again, my girls really enjoyed the story without knowing anything about the politics behind it. This is one of those books children can enjoy now and then enjoy later (or hate, depending on the particular child’s appreciation for literary analysis ;-) ).

What is your family enjoying these days?

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)