Monday, October 11, 2010


I'm lazy. Quite often I make goals for myself and lose focus too quickly. I think they have a name for it . . .

. . . but, I'm ready to give it another go! I've been reading books eligible for this year's Newbery Medal and I'm more prepared to debate than ever before. Last year for example, I had read WHEN YOU REACH ME and THE DUNDERHEADS but that was about it. This year, I'm ahead of the curve and have read a handful of titles that may garner some discussion time around the committee's table this year.

I've read six books that I'd like to weigh in on. I'll start with my least favorite and build the suspense to my personal 2011 Newbery choice (based on the whopping six eligible titles I've read):

6. THE NIGHT FAIRY by Laura Amy Shlitz

I loved A DROWNED MAIDEN'S HAIR! The fact that it wasn't even awarded an Honor in '07, and lost out to THE HIGHER POWER OF LUCKY (which may be the most ridiculous Medal choice EVER!) was a disgrace. In fact, I feel like people may be biased toward the author's work now because of such a glaring mistake! GOOD MASTERS! SWEET LADIES! was just flat out odd in my opinion. It had it's moments, but overall was boring and strange. THE NIGHT FAIRY, I just don't get either. It's very juvenile and it's nice to see an author of this stature drop down and write something for this age group but in the end, nothing about this book wowed me.

5. ONE CRAZY SUMMER by Rita Williams-Garcia

I read this one because many kidlit bloggers have it as the current front runner. I don't get it. To me, the Civil Rights movement has gotten plenty of attention in children's literature in recent years and this book, while good, just doesn't cover any new territory. I thought the portrayal of the Black Panthers was unique but one-sided. I hated the mother character and the overall message I took away from the book. I don't get the hype for this one and wouldn't think otherwise if it were totally left out come late-January.

4. THE BIRTHDAY BALL by Lois Lowry

When your name is attached to Newbery greats such as THE GIVER and NUMBER THE STARS, any book you release is going to get some attention. I don't foresee THE BIRTHDAY BALL getting too much serious attention, but I actually thought it was a blast. The Lemony Snickett-esque, tongue in cheek, sarcastic humor that Lowry tried with THE WILLOUGHBYS was done extremely well here. It was crude and poignant all at the same time. I enjoyed it.

3. MOCKINGBIRD by Kathryn Erskine

This story, written in first person from the point of view of a girl with Aspergers, was extremely difficult to read at times, but worth it in the end. Her random thoughts and narrative really force the reader into Caitlin's shoes. The subplot involving her dead brother is pretty moving. Very cleverly written but I'm not sure how many kids would be able to truly appreciate it.

2. KEEPER by Kathi Appelt

THE UNDERNEATH was incredible so I was excited to get into KEEPER, Kathi Appelt's follow-up novel. I didn't find this one as strong as THE UNDERNEATH but it's pretty engaging and inventive all the same. Appelt has quite the author voice and I love how it blurs the line between fantasy and fiction. The timeline of events, and stories within stories, could be somewhat confusing for kid readers, but I admire her fresh approach to storytelling. She gives the reader only enough information to wet the appetite, then moves onto other areas of the plot. All loose ends were tied up by the conclusion and I was left thoroughly satisfied.

The only quibble with this tale is the age appropriateness. KEEPER is definitely written as if it's more kid-friendly than THE UNDERNEATH, but in terms of subject matter, I'm not quite so sure. The grandfatherly Mr. Beauchamp's inferred homosexual relationship with a "mermaid", the complex, and somewhat rocky relationship between Keeper's mother and Signe and Dogie, and the explanation of Keeper's birth, are all things that received snickers from the 5th graders I shared this story with. It's definitely written at their level, but there are too many things within these pages that I don't think they are mature enough to fully grasp.

1. THE DREAMER by Pam Munoz Ryan

This is not the type of book I would typically enjoy. But I was enthralled by it. I have never heard of Pablo Neruda but if ever a book were to be written about me, I could only hope someone would put as much thought and care into crafting my story as Pam Munoz Ryan did with Neruda's. I've never read a biography written with such inventive creativity. The way young Pablo effortlessly slips in and out of reality and takes the reader along with him is awesome. Plus, unlike the other books I've read, the message for kids easily acessible. Loud and clear. Work hard. Anyone, from any walk of life, can achieve their dreams. If I were sitting around the Newbery table, there wouldn't be a book I would champion more for!

We'll see come January now, what's rewarded and what's not. I also have my hands on THE BONESHAKER, TURTLE IN PARADISE, and COUNTDOWN and I would love to find a chance to read A TALE DARK AND GRIMM and BECAUSE OF MR. TERUPT. We'll see. For now, back to some oldies . . .