Category Archives: Newbery-Project

Newbery Project #8: 2006’s Criss Cross

I think the project is starting to cloud my judgement. When you read almost nothing but Newbery winners, it makes it hard to keep things in perspective. Things that are great in the grand scheme of things are problem-ridden when you are reading them only from the viewpoint of “here are a bunch of things that won awards! Look how good they are!”

So, with that skewed perspective in mind, I am sort of ready to discuss Lynn Rae Perkins’s Criss Cross. A book that doesn’t even have an actual description on Goodreads except for the first few lines of the novel. That is how little a plot there is to this book. And when you’ve read a string of character-driven, light-on-plot children’s books, you start to wish for something to happen. Ironically, the first line of an early chapter in the book is “She wished something would happen.” And I am sure I am not the first person who make this exact comment about this book: “DON’T WE ALL, DEBBIE! DON’T WE ALL!!!!” Continue reading


Newbery Project #7: 2007’s The Higher Power of Lucky

luckyThe most a lot of people had to say about this book when it won in 2007 was “But it has the word ‘scrotum’ on the first page!”

And honestly, there might not be much more to say about this book.

Lucky lives in a very small town with her father’s ex-wife (not her mother). Lucky’s mother was killed by a fallen power line after a rainstorm. Lucky’s father is just not the fathering type. But apparently Lucky’s father’s first wife is the mothering type, despite never being a mother herself and being from France and never having lived in the United States before coming to take care of Lucky and live in a trailer. She is apparently totally fine with all of this.

Lucky spends the book coming to terms with her mother’s death and herself and her separation anxiety, and that’s pretty much the story.

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Newbery Project #6: 2008’s Good Masters! Sweet Ladies!

goodmastersWell that was a surprise!

Good Masters, Sweet Ladies!, but Laura Amy Schiltz, is a collection of 15 monologues and two 2-person plays, all set in one imaginary town in England in the Middle Ages. The author is a librarian in a lovely school that lets classes go gang-busters with interdisciplinary units, who wrote these monologues specifically for one class of kids who was studying the time period, because she is the world’s most ambitious librarian.

I never ever would have picked up this book were it not for this project. I have never given the slightest crap about the Middle Ages. And a bunch of plays about the Middle Ages? A bunch of soliloquies meant to be delivered by middle school students? Are you kidding?

But I LOVED this! Continue reading

Newbery Project #5: 2009’s The Graveyard Book

graveyardpicI wonder if the selection committee was trying to pick something more public-friendly for the award in 2009, after 2008 when they picked one of the weirder books to ever grace the list. (More on Good Masters, Sweet Ladies! next week, obviously.) Neil Gaiman is one of the most famous and beloved authors working today, and in 2009 the Newbery committee decided he should get to add their medal to his long list of accolades.

I wish I’d read The Jungle Book. Gaiman is forthcoming in explaining that this book is directly inspired by Kipling’s classic. BUT, my only knowledge of The Jungle Book is a vague memory of the Disney movie and that Ashlee Simpson and Pete Wentz gave their kid the middle name Mowgli. I would probably be better able to evaluate this book if I knew more about it’s source material. But here we are.

So, a purely stand-along run-down of the book: A boy (Nobody Owens, or Bod for short) is raised by ghosts after his family is brutally murdered and he escapes to a graveyard. The book collects a serious of episodes from Bod’s life growing up in the graveyard and periodically checks in with a more over-arching plot that follows the man who killed Bod’s family and who is still hunting him down.

It’s good!  Continue reading

Newbery Project Addition!

ImageThis morning it was announced that at some point I will have to add Flora & Ulysses to my Newbery Project reading list. (That’s exactly how they did it, the ALA called me up to tell me to rearrange my reading schedule. Then I assume they called Kate DiCamillo. Then the rest of you learned about it. It was all very official.)

I love Kate DiCamillo (except for Magician’s Elephant, I thought that was a snooze-fest) so I’m looking forward to tackling this one. It also looks like it’s definitely not one of your quiet, cry-inducing, serious-fests I always worry is going to be the front-runner. If I can fit it in soon, I will, rather than waiting until the very end.

I have to admit I’m a little bummed they didn’t pick something a little more obscure this time around, though! Kate DiCamillo is already the Ambassador for Young People’s Literature. She’s pretty much royalty of Middle Grade. She hardly needs the Newbery push. I was kind of hoping for a reason to read something I wouldn’t otherwise pick up. I definitely would have gotten around to reading Flora & Ulysses eventually no matter what. I might have to dig into the Honor books this year. I was especially surprised to see Doll Bones on so many Newbery prediction lists this year (and then on the Honor’s list) because it looks so very un-Newbery. I might have to start an off-shoot of the project where I insert Newbery Honor books here and there, because I am dying to read that one.

Newbery Project #4: 2010’s When You Reach Me

whenyoureachmeThis whole venture was in danger of becoming one big “meh” fest. I have not been super wild about any of the winners the past 4 years. 2010, though, oh man, 2010 brought it.

This is not the first time I’ve read Rebecca Stead’s When You Reach Me. It’s not even the second time. I’ve actually lost count of the number of times I’ve read this book in just the last four years.

The plot is sparse. Miranda lives on the Upper West Side of Manhattan in the late ’70s. She’s just trying to have a nice life with her friends and her single mom (who is about to be a contestant on $20,000 Pyramid) and read A Wrinkle in Time as many times as is humanly possible. The only things getting in her way are that her friends might not be her friends anymore and also she is getting some seriously creepy notes that either make no sense at all or appear to predict the future.

But that little story packs so much punch and oh my I love it so.

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Newbery Project #3: 2011’s Moon Over Manifest

a moon-over-manifestMoon Over Manifest is I think maybe the picture many people get in their heads when they hear “Newbery Winner.” It’s an historical fiction story inside an historical fiction story that follows a plucky almost-orphan through her quest to find herself.

Do I sound jaded about it?

I think I might not actually get this book. I probably should have read it twice to be able to weigh in on it fairly, but this book is super long! Super long for a middle grade novel, anyway. If I’m going to keep up with my one-a-week pace, there’s no way I had time to read this twice.

This was not the first time I picked up this book. I checked it out of the library very soon after it won the Newbery 3 years ago. I trudged through the first half and then it was due back to the library and I returned it. The first bit is just soooooooo sloooooooowwwwwwww. There is an audience for these leisurely-paced narratives that take place in a simpler place in a simpler time. I am not the audience for these stories.  Continue reading

Newbery Project #2: 2012’s Dead End in Norvelt

dead endI was excited for this one! I really like Jack Gantos. I think Joey Pigza has actually made me a better person. That character taught me how to empathize with the student who is doing something so insane it makes me want to throw them out a window. I loved that his memoir, Hole in My Life, gleefully demolishes the stereotype of the sweet-little-old-lady children’s book writer. He is funny and insightful and honest about how just about anyone is capable of making some pretty gigantic mistakes. I bought Dead End in Norvelt long before this project started, I would have eventually read it, self-imposed challenge or no.

Also, it’s a welcome counter-argument to my theory that the Newbery tends towards the sad and serious, and only on my second book!

BUT I ended with some mixed feelings!

Dead End in Norvelt is a semi-autobiographical novel that takes place over one summer in 1962. Jack gets himself grounded for the entire summer, and is allowed to leave the house only to help his elderly neighbor, Miss Volker, the town obituary-writer, historian, and medical examiner. Luckily, Miss Volker needs a lot of help and the help she needs, given her many occupations, is pretty interesting.

The book is autobiographical in that the character’s name is Jack Gantos, he’s Gantos’s age as he was in 1962, and he lives near where Jack Gantos spent a good deal of his early childhood. It’s difficult to determine how much more of this is autobiographical. If wikipedia is to be believed, the superficial details of his family are not the same in real life as in the book. Book Jack is an only child, Real Jack is not. His parents seem to have different jobs. As far as I can tell Real Jack never even lived in real Norvelt, just nearby. And as for the events in the book, well, ack!

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Newbery Project #1: 2013’s The One and Only Ivan

The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate

The One and Only Ivan is about Ivan (duh), a gorilla, and his motley crew of animal friends who are all stuck in a remarkably sad, ethically questionable mall-based mini-circus/sideshow. Told in the first person by Ivan, over the course of this relatively short story we learn about how he and all his friends happened to arrive in these pretty miserable circumstances, and about their day-to-day lives. We also get to know the few humans who interact with the animals: the owner of the side show, Mack, and the custodian and his young daughter, George and Julia. Julia is an artist who also sneaks art supplies to Ivan so he can join her in her drawing and painting, and who sympathizes with the animals and forms a bond with each of them. An afterword lets the reader know that the whole story is actually based on true events and Ivan is a real gorilla. Namely, this gorilla who lived at the Atlanta Zoo until just over a year ago.

After the break, my review, and how I think The One and Only Ivan fits into this whole Newbery thing… Continue reading