Category Archives: Newbery-Project

Newbery Project #19: 1995’s Walk Two Moons

walktwomoonsRoad trip, absent mom, trying-hard dad, precocious narrator with a unique name, new home, new weird friend, maybe murder-mystery…

There are a lot of very familiar themes in Walk Two Moons but none of them are tired in Sharon Creech’s hands.

Walk Two Moons flips back and forth between the story of Salamanca on a road trip with her grandparents west to see her mother, and the story Salamanca is telling them about her and her new friend Phoebe.

It’s masterful and touching and stabs you right in the heart.

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Newbery Project #18: 1996’s The Midwife’s Apprentice

midwifesAANNNDD we’re back in the Middle Ages. Our heads bobbed above the historical fiction sea for a couple books, only to be plunged back into the depths of the 13th century. (Don’t worry, we come up again on the next book.)

The Midwife’s Apprentice is a creatively-titled book about a midwife’s apprentice. In the grand tradition of books that take place in the middle ages, the character starts the book without a name. (See also: Crispin: The Cross of Lead) In the other grand tradition of books about the middle ages reminding us how ridiculously filthy the middle ages were, the main character begins the book in a pile of dung. She is found by a midwife, who agrees to let her not live in a pile of dung anymore in exchange for her help around the house and with general midwifery. The midwife is not very nice. (As far as I can tell, no one in the Middle Ages was very nice. Probably because they were all so filthy and poor all the time. You try being nice when you’re covered in poop and haven’t eaten a decent meal in ever.) Our intrepid main character (who eventually takes the name Alyce) learns a bunch ventures out on her own.

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Newbery Project #17: 1997’s The View from Saturday

View-From-a-SaturdayE.L. Konigsburg’s award-winning book-writing career is kind of strange. Her first book, Jennifer, Hecate, Macbeth, William McKinley, and Me, Elizabeth, won the honor, and then her second book was From The Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, and then she published 8 more novels and a handful of picture books and short story collections rather quietly before Newbery came knocking again for this book. And I can’t say I’m entirely sure why.

The View from Saturday is basically 5 overlapping stories from the perspective of one teacher and the four students she selects to be on her Academic Bowl team. All the students are rather thoughtful and quiet types, and three of them are connected by a weird old person wedding. The fourth is new in town and invites everyone over for tea, because that is what thoughtful, precocious children do. The book weaves their stories together slowly so we eventually see how their lives intertwine and how they’ve all made each other’s lives richer and all that.

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Newbery Project #16: 1998’s Out of the Dust

Out-of-the-DustYIPES.

No one warned me about this book. The cover made it look depressing enough (that is not a happy kid there), and I knew it was about the Dust Bowl, so I wasn’t expecting a comedy or anything, but COME ON. THIS BOOK.

Out of the Dust is short on plot, it’s mostly a slice-of-life piece about living in Oklahoma in 1934, right after everyone moved out there and started farming like mad on land that couldn’t take it, and we destroyed everything and the state turned into one giant, relentless dust storm. It is a slice of Billie Jo’s life. Billie Joe lives with her mom and dad and she likes to play piano. Oh, and it’s written as a free-verse poem. Also oh: it is punishingly depressing at times. Continue reading

Newbery Project #15: 1999’s Holes

holesWe made it to the present, guys (for a good portion of this book)! We’re not stuck in the depression anymore!

But we have also made it back to the last century of Newbery winners! Welcome back to the 20th century everybody. We’ll be here for the remainder of the project.

And it’s time for Louis Sachar’s Holes! Are you as psyched as I am? Maybe! Lots of people really love this book! They should! It’s great! ALL THE EXCLAMATION POINTS!!!!!!!!!!

So, yes, quickly, Holes is about Stanley Yelnats (same backwards as forwards!) who is accused of stealing some very valuable shoes that were to be auctioned off for charity, so he’s sent to a juvenile detention camp where everyone just digs holes all day in search of a mysterious treasure.

The premise allows for an appealingly diverse cast of characters and all kinds of inherent conflict. Stanley didn’t do it! Everyone in this camp did something wrong, they’ll probably do something wrong again! The warden is evil! Who wants to dig holes all day? Continue reading

Newbery Project #14: 2000’s Bud, Not Buddy

budnotbuddyNot getting any closer to the present, yet! Still stuck in the depression, guys. This one does take place in a city, though! Not a huge city, but a city (or two cities, really) nonetheless. None of that romantic rural farm life nonsense here.

Bud is an orphan who has knocked around a few foster homes with stays at the actual orphanage in between. It’s about as nice a life as it sounds. No one can really blame Bud when he runs off with his friend Bugs, but it turns out Bud isn’t really ready for a transient life on the rails like Bugs is, so he finally decides he’s going to go find the father he never knew. One of the only thing she has left from his mother are some flyers for a Jazz band in Grand Rapids, Michigan, so Bud sets out on foot from Flint to find his dad. Continue reading

Newbery Project #12: 2002’s A Single Shard

SingleShard

Oh, cool, another book that takes place over 800 years ago.

I kid, mostly, but have you realized that virtually NONE of these books take place in the present day? I counted FOUR in the project so far that could conceivably take place in the present day. Two of those are a stretch, and one of them is this year’s Flora & Ulysses, which I read but have not written about yet. The One and Only Ivan basically takes place in the present day, but is based on a real story from 1962. The Graveyard Book is not set in a specific time, but is so far into fantasy as to barely count as present-day. So we’re left with just The Higher Power of Lucky, which kind of feels like it takes place in the past because it takes place in a town so small, time basically doesn’t matter to it. MY KINGDOM FOR SOME CONTEMPORARY REALISTIC (or semi-realistic) FICTION.

BUT! To the task at hand: A Single Shard is the story of an orphan named Tree-Ear who lives under a bridge with his differently-abled friend Crane-Man, where they try to scrape by an existence. He lives in Ch’ulp’o, a village in Korea famous for its beautiful celadon pottery. You know, that pottery all the kids are into these days!

Tree-Ear deeply admires the potters, especially one named Min, who is clearly superior to all other potters. He manages to talk Min into allowing him to be his helper, and over the course of the book learns a lot about craft and discipline and all that good stuff.

All-in-all, it’s an interesting, well-paced, thoughtful little book! Continue reading

Newbery Project #11: 2003’s Crispin: The Cross of Lead

crispin

There was a giant gap in this blog between February and June and this book is the main culprit.

My goal was to read a Newbery a week. For a while I was ahead of schedule. Then it took me over a week to finish Moon Over Manifest, but that was okay, I was still on track. Because I was ahead of my reading schedule, I was writing posts for books I’d read a few weeks ago. I let myself get a little lazier, but I chugged along. And then we got to Crispin: The Cross of Lead.

I was actually plenty excited to read this. Before the project I never would have dreamed of picking it up, but Good Masters, Sweet Ladies! had convinced me to be interested in the Middle Ages. I was looking forward to reading another story from the time period.

Crispin is the story of a poor (in every sense of the word), nameless boy whose mother dies in the first page or so of the book, Bambi style. He understandably does not know what to do. There’s a priest that can sort of help, but not really. Dude is pretty useless. And for some reason a bunch of guys seem to want him dead, too. So, naturally, the only thing he can do is run. The boy takes off for anywhere carrying nothing but a couple of scraps of food and a lead cross from the priest, supposedly made my his mother. So here we are, in for a traveling story.

A story I found, sadly, really not-interesting. Continue reading

Newbery Project #10: 2004’s The Tale of Despereaux

despereaux

We’ve reached what I consider to be the first (in reverse chronological order, of course) of the modern classics of Newbery. There are a couple Newbery’s after this one that I dearly, dearly love (namely, When You Reach Me), but I don’t think any of them are as widely-read and referenced as Despereaux. It’s also the first of the project to be made into a movie. We all know Despereaux.

So it’s really hard to write about a book like this! I’ll keep it to my favorite thing about this book: it was clearly written to be read aloud. Continue reading

Newbery Project #9: 2005’s Kira Kira

This was not the first time I read Cynthia Kadohata’s Kira-Kira. I first read it back in 2008. I hadn’t89731 read a Newbery winner in a while. I honestly could not tell you what made me pick up a random Newbery winner from 3 years before that. I think I was trying to be a little more up-to-date on middle grade books, as I was just starting work at the bookstore. And while I certainly wasn’t that excited about Good Masters, Sweet Ladies! (but boy was I wrong about that) I don’t know what made me skip over The Higher Power of Lucky  and Criss-Cross, and, frankly, all the other middle grade novels published around that time and pick this up. It looks like a quiet little book about Japanese-American girls, which is exactly what it is. That is not usually my bag.

When I read it 5+ years ago, though, I remember really liking it. The characters and setting are unique. Katie, the narrator, is the child of Japanese immigrants who live in the midwest in the 1960s. It’s a perspective you don’t get much in children’s literature. The pacing is leisurely, but not too slow. Katie is a thoughtful and interesting narrator. She has a distinctly young voice for middle grade, and she is flawed by the usual small child flaws, such ignorant carelessness and lack of perspective, but she grows and changes a lot with respect to these flaws. The way she talks about her family is uniquely gentle and reverent and thoughtful. Her voice about these relationships is really what makes this book so special. I think I was the most affected by it when I read it the first time, though, because I (somehow) didn’t expect the ending. And so after the jump, if you’ve read the book before, or if you’re not so dense as I am and are perfectly able to anticipate, frankly, quite-predictable endings, read on. If you haven’t read it, though, stop now, because knowing the ending definitely took some of the joy out of it for me. Continue reading