Saturday, June 3, 2017

#2 - Cathrine Called Birdy

Catherine, Called Birdy

Catherine Called Birdy
Karen Cushman
1995 Newbery Honor Book
Historical Fiction

I remember reading this book in sixth grade because my teacher had a copy in the classroom.  I must have been out of books to read or needing something for Accelerated Reader because at the time, I almost exclusively read Star Trek books.  I remember having to stifle my laughs in class.

This book is told in a series of journal entries that Catherine makes as she goes her through her daily life as the daughter of a knight.  Eventually, she gets a book of saints so the saint of the day is added to the entries.  Catherine wants to do so much more than just do embroidery but she gets even more upset when she finds out that she is getting married off to Shaggy Beard, an old man. 

Unfortunately, this book gets a lot of flack because many argue that a girl in the middle ages would not be able to read and write.  While that is probably very true, I am sure that there were some exceptions to the rule.  Moreover, I tend to suspend my disbelief when reading so a lot of the inaccuracies don't always bother me.

I liked this book a lot better than The Midwife's Apprentice which actually won Cushman the Newbery medal.  They are both set in the middle ages but this book is way more detailed. 

Newbery 1971

The Summer of the Swans
Summer of the Swans
Author: Betsy Byars
Genre: Realistic Fiction
Plot: Sara and her family search for Charlie, who is lost.
Verdict: Underwhelming
My rating: 3 stars

Kneeknock Rise
Knee Knock Rise
Author: Natalie Babbitt
Genre: Fantasy
Plot: Egan travels to Instep where the people live in fear of Kneeknock Rise.
Verdict: A bit odd
My rating: 2 stars

Enchantress From the Stars
Enchantress From the Stars
Author: Sylvia Louise Engdahl
Genre: Science Fiction
Plot: A group of aliens must pretend to be mystics to help a primitive planet.
Verdict: The narrator rambles a lot
My rating: 3 stars

Sing Down the Moon
Sing Down the Moon
Author: Scott O'Dell
Genre: Historical Fiction
Plot: A Native American Girl is kidnapped and forced to walk the Navaho Long Walk.
Verdict: The history draws you in
My rating: 3 stars

This year was an odd mix of genres that starts normal and gets odder as we travel down the list.  Sadly, none of these books really caught my undivided attention.  We start with Summer of the Swans which is a realistic fiction book.  The characters are children who are living with their aunt and not enjoying their summer.  Things heat up, when one of the children wanders off and becomes lost.  This is especially worrying because he is intellectually disabled.  I originally thought that he was Autistic but it comes out in the book that he became brain-damaged as a result of a fever. 

The next book is Kneeknock Rise by Natalie Babbitt.  Babbitt is famous for her book Tuck Everlasting which everyone assumes won the Newbery honor, when in fact her book that graced the Newbery list is Kneeknock Rise.  The two books are similar in that they are almost realistic fiction but have a small element of fantasy.  This book is about a boy named Egan who travels to Instep to go to a fair.  Instep is in the shadow of Kneeknock Rise, where a monster is supposed to dwell so the whole town in afraid of it.  The book explores his interaction with this forbidden place (I won't give away any spoilers).

If that wasn't strange enough, we move onto Enchantress From the Stars.  I think I might have liked this book a little better if I hadn't listened to the audio version.  The narrator tends to go off on tangents and wander a bit and this is made very evident when you hear it read aloud.  The plot is also extremely science fiction (in fact, the author says that it's really for an older audience but keeps getting read to younger audiences because of its Newbery status).  The basic premise is that a group of aliens find themselves on a primitive world where they have to help the native primitive aliens evict another group of aliens who are trying to terraform and colonize the planet (which will kill the natives) but they can't give themselves away to either group of aliens because both of them are less advanced.  So, the aliens have to pass themselves off a wizards (or, specifically, an enchantress) and get some of the native aliens to use "magic" (advanced technology) to run off the invading aliens.  If it sounds confusing, that's because it is.  Apparently, there are even more books written in the series after this one.  It would be a good choice to snag juvenile science fiction lovers.

The last book returns to normal with Sing Down the Moon.  Scott O'Dell is no stranger to the Newbery list (with a medal for The Island of the Blue Dolphins and several honors).  This book is about a Native American girl who gets forced to join the Navaho Long Walk where the Natives were relocated against their will.  His writing is excellent and I enjoyed it.

Friday, June 2, 2017

#3 - The House of the Scorpion

The House of the Scorpion

The House of the Scorpion
Nancy Farmer
2003 Newbery Honor Book
Science Fiction

I don't remember if this was the first Nancy Farmer book I read or if it was The Ear, The Eye and The Arm (1995 Newbery Honor Book).  In any case, between those two books, Nancy Farmer quickly became one of my favorite authors.

This book is a science fiction novel that rides the line between children's lit and YA.  It is set in futuristic, post apocalyptic Mexico.  We are introduced to Matteo, a young boy living on an opium plantation.  After an accident, Matteo is sent to live at the big house where we discover that he is not a normal boy, but a clone of the drug lord, El Patron.  Matteo soon finds that there a people who see clones as fellow humans, and those who see clones as nothing but animals.

The book explores some controversial themes such as are clones actual people?  Do they have rights?  Can they be grown for replacement parts?  There is a sequel to this book (The Lord of Opium) but I did not like it as much as I did the original. 

Newbery 2017

The Girl Who Drank the Moon
The Girl Who Drank the Moon
Author: Kelly Barnhill
Genre: Fantasy
Plot: Xan rescues a girl but accidentally feeds her moonlight, causing the girl to become magical.
Verdict: Great plot twists
My rating: 4 stars

Wolf Hollow
Wolf Hollow
Author: Lauren Wolk
Genre: Historical Fiction
Plot: A girl who is bullying Annebelle makes trouble for the town, specifically for a war veteran named Toby.
Verdict: Interesting look at a bully
My rating: 3 stars

The Inquisitor's Tale: Or, The Three Magical Children and Their Holy Dog
The Inquisitor's Tale
Author: Adam Gidwitz
Genre: Fantasy
Plot: In a tavern, the tale of three magical children is pieced together.
Verdict: Odd ending
My rating: 3 stars

Freedom Over Me: Eleven Slaves, Their Lives and Dreams Brought to Life by Ashley Bryan
Freedom Over Me
Author: Ashley Bryan
Genre: Poetry
Plot: A set of poems of the profiles of slaves at a slave auction.
Verdict: Potent and thought-provoking
My rating: 4 stars

This year in Newbery was a very interesting year.  I enjoyed the winner, The Girl Who Drank the Moon.  It is a high fantasy about a girl who is fed moonlight on accident by a witch, who then is forced to raise her because of her potential magical powers.  The other fantasy offering of the year was The Inquisitor's Tale.  I read this book first because it looked the most interesting with its great illuminations.  It was a interesting because the story is pieced together by people in a tavern which gives it a unique story telling experience, however, I was not thrilled with the ending.

The other two books are more historical ficotion.  Wolf  Hollow was set during World War II.  It involves a girl named Annabelle and her family as well as a veteran named Toby, who lives alone on the outskirts of town.  Annabelle is bullied by a girl in town and Toby becomes involved as the girl tells lies about an incident that happens.  Freedom Over Me is a collection of poems but it also historical fiction.  The author takes a bill of sale for a slave auction and creates backstories for all the different slaves who are on the auction block.  The mixing of the poetry and his art creates a very powerful book which should be a part of any Civil War unit.  If you look up Ashley Bryan, you will find that he has a very long and illustrious career.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

#4 - El Deafo

El Deafo
Cece Bell
2015 Newbery Honor Book
Graphic Novel

I remember seeing this book listed as possible Newbery winners for 2015 and immediately liking the cover.  It was the first book I was eager to read when the list came out.  It is also the first ever graphic novel to be honored by the Newbery committee.  I know that a lot of people (especially educators, reading teachers in particular) often look down at graphic novels because they "lack content."  This book is definitely not lacking in content.

El Deafo is about a girl who loses her hearing at an early age.  She originally attends a program for hearing impaired students and learns to lip read but when her parents move to a smaller town, she has to attend school with all the regular kids.  She gets a giant hearing aid that she wears (called "The Phonic Ear") and the rest of the book is about her trying to make friends and be normal in a world the relies on being able to hear.

I love the tone of this book.  It is semi-autobiographical and Cece is so snarky.  Cece is very shy but she leads a rich fantasy life (in which she is a superhero, hence the cover) which shows us her true snarky side. It is a book about dealing with disability, about trying to fit in, and about friendship.  I also love how she uses rabbits and their overly large ears in a book about hearing loss (I caught the correlation right away and it was confirmed in a comment by Bell on Goodreads, so then I felt really smart).

I am hoping to see more of Cece Bell on the Newbery list.  She has already received awards for her other children's books, most notably a Theodore Seuss Geisel Honor for Rabbit and Robot: The Sleepover (my daughters love that book and we can't wait for the upcoming sequel).  She also has another children's book series, Sock Monkey (which I have only read one book because that's all my library system has).  I have interacted with her several times on social media and she seems to be a genuinely nice person too.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Newbery 1973

Julie of the Wolves (Julie of the Wolves, #1)
Julie of the Wolves
Author: Jean Craighead George
Genre: Historical Fiction
Plot: Julie is forced to live with a wolf pack for survival
Verdict: I prefer part 2
My rating: 3 stars
**Challenged Book**

Adventures of Frog & Toad (I Can Read Series)
Frog and Toad Together
Author: Arnold Lobel
Genre: Picture Book
Plot: Frog and Toad have adventures as friends
Verdict: Cute, readable characters
My rating: 4 stars

The Upstairs Room (Winner of the Newbery Honor)
The Upstairs Room
Author: Johanna Reiss
Genre: Nonfiction
Plot: Annie is a Jew who must hide in a room during World War II
Verdict: Interesting but not terribly compelling
My rating: 2 stars

The Witches of Worm
The Witches of Worm
Author: Zilpha Keatley Snyder
Genre: Fantasy
Plot: Jessica rescues a kitten that turns out to be a witch's cat.
Verdict: Creepy
My rating: 2 stars
**Challenged Book**

This year boasts two books from the banned book list.  Julie of the Wolves, the medal winner, is about a Native American girl who finds herself living in harmony with a pack of wolves when she is forced to flee her home.  The situation that she flees from is what gives the book its challenged status.  She was forced into an arranged marriage with a boy, who is intellectually disabled and he tries to rape her.  The other challenged book, The Witches of Worm, is the most disturbing of the three Zilpha Keatley Snyder books I have read.  The plot revolves around Jessica who rescues an abandoned kitten and has to feed it around the clock to keep it alive.  As it grows into a larger cat, Jessica hears the cat's voice in her head and bad things begin to happen. The fact that the cat is a "witch's cat" lands the book on the challenged list.  On an interesting note, we are never explicitly told if the cat is actually a witch's cat or if Jessica made up everything in her head.

There are two broad kinds of picture books.  The first kind contains fairly complicated text and is intended to be read aloud to pictures.  The second kind has simplified, decodable text and is intended for children to read themselves.  These books are often referred to as "easy readers" and generally are numbered 1-4 based on their level of complexity.  Picture books are rarities on the Newbery list and most often they fall into the first category of picture books.  This makes a lot of sense because Newbery books are awarded on  the basis of their text, not their pictures, and easy readers are often a bit choppy to read because of their simplified text.  Frog and Toad Together is the second book in the four book Frog and Toad series by Arnold Lobel.  Many of Lobel's books, including the Frog and Toad series, are considered easy readers, which makes Frog and Toad Together a unique addition to the Newbery list.  Frog and Toad (who are, in fact, a frog and a toad; Frog is green and Toad is brown) who are friends.  Each book contains five of their adventures together in five separate, stand-alone short stories.  My favorite in Frog and Toad Together (and probably the whole series) is "Cookies" where Frog and Toad bake cookies....and then can't stop eating them!

The Upstairs Room is one of two books on the Newbery list written by Holocaust survivors.  The other is Upon the Head of the Goat a Newbery Honor for 1982.  Both authors had very different experiences during the HolocaustIn The Upstairs Room, the author (known as Annie) is forced to flee her home in Holland with her sister.  They go into hiding in the country and most hide in an upstairs room of the farmhouse to survive.  Of the two, I actually prefer Upon the Head of the Goat which I think is more interesting since you can see the progression of the Jews losing their livelihood, possessions and houses and, at the end, getting sent off to the concentration and death camps.  Both, however, are definitely appropriate to read while studying the Jewish Holocaust.

#5 - Breaking Stalin's Nose

Breaking Stalin's Nose
Eugine Yelchin
2012 Newbery Honor Book
Historical Fiction

This was one of the first books that I read when I decided to start reading the Newbery list.  It is a quick read with short chapters and occasional black and white illustrations.  I read it shortly after reading Hitler Youth which has similar themes and complements it.

The book is told in first person by a boy named Sasha.  Sasha lives with his father in Stalin's Russia in a communal apartment.  Sasha's mother died some year prior and his father works for the State Security.  Sasha is very excited because he is going to join the Red Pioneers and he begins the book with a gushing letter to Stalin.

Things begin to go wrong when Sasha's father is arrested for being a traitor.  It is implied that the neighbor across the hall turned him in to get a larger room in the apartment.  Sasha is told he will be sent to the orphanage as he is evicted from his room when the neighbor and his family move in.  Sasha tries to find refuge with his aunt, but she turns him away in fear that their family will be punished for taking in a son of the enemy of the state.  Sasha goes to his school the next day, not telling anyone what happened. 
The rest of the book is a chilling look at Communism.  Because the book is written in first person, you can see how Sasha's thinking changes as events happen in the book.   The especially disturbing part is when the teacher asks the students to write down who they think broke the nose off the statue of Stalin.  It puts perspective on how scary it was to live under Stalin.