Monday, January 22, 2007

Reviews of Mock Newbery candidates

This is a bit anti-climatic in the event of the announcement of the actual awards, but I typed up most of this before the awards were announced, just hadn't posted it yet.

In a previous post, I posted results for the various mock awards. In the spirit of continuing to earn library 2.0 prizes and sharing, I am going to explain in greater detail what happened at our Mock Newbery and give (brief) reviews and thoughts on the books.

Unlike the real committee, we couldn't all read all of the books out in the year. Instead we focused on a short list chosen because of good reviews and availability. It is a sad truth that libraries don't always receive books in a timely fashion. In theory everyone there, and we had about 14 people, had read all of the books. In reality everyone read as many of them as they could. We then went around and discussed each book in turn. We then did a round of voting for which ones would stay on the table to be still considered. I have bolded and starred* those below which made it past our first cut. Here are my thoughts on them and some of our discussions. Very brief reviews because there are so many of them.

Mock Newbery Nominees:
  • The Wright 3 by Blue Balliet
    Summary in brief: Three kids solve a mystery to save a Frank Lloyd Wright house. It's a sequel to Chasing Vermeer which I haven't read.
    Review: I didn't like this book. To be fair, I don't like mysteries. However I thought this book just dragged on and on. I was listening to it on CD and it was like pulling teeth to get through it. The author could not decide if she was writing a mystery or a supernatural mystery and it was confusing as it veered between the two. The only good part about the book was the developing relationship between the three kids. At the end, all of the resolution came very quickly without warning. It was far too abrupt and jarred the reader. Of course then the book continued on for chapters with little points. Other people liked the book (a little) better than me, but not much.
  • Ask Me No Questions by Marina Budhos*
    Summary in brief: After 9/11 a Muslim family living illegally in the United States tries to go to Canada only to have the father arrested and tried.
    Review: People thought this book was fabulous. I thought it was okay. It was timely and it is nice to seek a book from the Muslim point of view. The author did a good job of showing the grey areas of the law, that the family understood that they had been breaking the law for years by staying on an expired visa. I'm not sure how readable this book will be in fifty years. While it made it past our first round, it didn't get many votes.
  • Victory by Susan Cooper*
    Summary in brief: Two stories told side by side in differing views, one of a modern girl who has moved from England to America and is having trouble adjusting and one of a boy pressed into the English Royal Navy in 1803 aboard the ship Victory.
    Review: I had not read this at the time of the discussion, but I have since finished it. I liked it very much. The naval history was amazing. I believe the book would appeal to both girls and boys. Our only male at our discussion pushed hard for this book. Flaws: the girl's story is not as fleshed out, and the supernatural vision that brings them together at the end is a little unrealistic.
  • Loud Silence of Francine Green by Karen Cushman
    Summary in brief: A girl growing up in California in the middle of the Red Scare meets a new friend, learns about thinking for yourself, standing up for what is right, and the Hollywood blacklist.
    Reviews: I thought this was a very good book. The character was an 8th grader which is exactly when children really start to question that which their parents are teaching them. The questioning of the daughter and increasing fear and confusion of everyone in her life is shown in exactly the right amount of downward sliding slope and scale. Some of the people felt that the Catholic school nuns were depicted too harshly from their experiences, however others felt it was pretty accurate from their experiences. I liked this book a great deal and felt it would appeal to girls in about the fifth or sixth grade. It bored one of my coworkers. However, it wasn't spectacular and nothing that deserved the Newbery Medal.
  • The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo*
    Summary in brief: A chnia rabbit is greatly loved by his owner and he only cares for himself. Eventually he is separated from her, goes through a great journey, and learns to love.
    Reviews: No question about it, Ms. DiCamillo can write. This book is fabulous, beautiful. It has the feel of a classic, very much as The Velveteen Rabbit is. Our male member thought that this book was too "precious" a book that appeals to middle aged women (who lets face it are the ones giving the awards for the most part) and they hope it appeals to kids. The school librarians said the kids are split on love/hate it. So are many of the adults. I loved the illustrations, except for the one illustration that looks like a crucification. While the ending seemed predictable (and trite) to me (though I loved it and cried, but I'm a sucker who cries at Hallmark commercials), others were surprised by it. I feel like this book should get some sort of award or we're ignoring something really obvious.
  • Weedflower by Cynthia Kadhata
    Summary: A Japanese girl in an internment camp during WWII.
    Review: I haven't read this one. No one liked it well enough to keep it on the table.
  • Monkey Town by Ronald Kidd
    Summary in brief: A girl comes of age while her town is in the middle of the Scopes Monkey Trial and she begins to doubt her father who organized it and everything she has been taught.
    Review: It was well written and very largely based on historical fact. The largest change was that the main character was quite younger in real life than in the book. The author's note is fantastic, possibly the best part of the book. I can't remember reading a lot of historical fiction books about this particular subject which makes it unique and valuable. However I felt that some of the author's slams against Christianity were unnecessarily harsh and unwarranted to make his point.
  • Year of the Dog by Grace Lin
    Summary in brief: A year in the life of a Taiwanese-American girl adjusting to the United States and American lifestyle.
    Review: The Newbery medal is awarded for the most distinguished piece of children's literature. Many of the books on this list are distinguished. This one is a nice book, a sweet book, and completely not distinguished. No one at our session had much of anything to say about it past that. I am not sure why it was on our list. Good points: based on the author's own experiences and the picture book the character writes in the story is an actual picture book the author has written. That's a fun tie in.
  • Rules by Cynthia Lord*
    Summary in brief: A girl tries to help her autistic brother learn to deal with the world by writing rules for him. She also tries to make a new friend, lead a normal life, and reconcile her feelings for a handicapped boy she has recently met.
    Review: I loved this book. It was my favorite on the list (before I read Victory and it is still my favorite, but it a close thing) and I fought hard for it. The rates of autistic children (or at least the rates of diagnosis) are increasing in our society. More and more of these children are being mainstreamed into classrooms. It is very possible that students will know or know of an autistic child. The book was at times funny and heartbreakingly poignant. (Now did that sound like a cliched movie review or what?) It is amazing to watch the main character deal with her feelings for brother and her attempts to be normal and have normal friends. These things aren't easy to reconcile and Catherine doesn't always do it perfectly. The ending isn't perfect, but she does grow, and it is real. I think everyone should read this book.
  • Gossamer by Lois Lowry*
    Summary in brief: Two magical creatures give dreams to an old woman and an abused boy.
    Review: Well, when I summarize it like that, it doesn't sound like much. But it is. Ms. Lowry has once again taken a slim volume and created a masterful work. As the creatures discover their existence and point of view they struggle to create nice dreams for their charges. They also go up against the creatures that give nightmares. It is a well-fleshed out book for being so short a tome and well written and distinguishe. Our only male representitive thought it was again too precious.
  • Out of Patience by Brian Meehl*
    Summary in brief: Jake lives in a dying town in Western Kansas. There is a propehcy that the town will be destroyed when the plunger of destiny returns.
    Review: I loved this book. It's fun and funny. I fought for this one too, but not as hard as for Rules.
  • Jazz by Walter Dean Myers
    Summary in brief: A collection of poems about Jazz music.
    Review: It's pretty and the poems are nice, but this book didn't quite jive for me. I'm not sure why, but it seemed like something I've before time and again.
  • Dear Miss Breed by Joanne Oppenheim
    Summary in brief: The true story of a librarian who kept in touch with many of her former students after they had been taken to internment camps for being Japanese during WWII.
    Review: I skimmed this book to be honest. It seemed pretty good.
  • Frankenstein Makes a Sandwich by Adam Rex
    Summary in brief: A series of poems about various monsters.
    Review: Cute, I especially liked the ones where the Phantom of Menace can't get various silly tunes out of his head. It's a picture book basically, and not particularly noteworthy.
  • Bella At Midnight by Diane Stanley*
    Summary in brief: A girl grows up in a kingdom during a time of war as a best friend of a prince. She discovers she is actually not a commoner and helps to overcome the war and help her friend the prince.
    Review: Loved this book. I kept trying to make it a traditional fairy tale, and that never quite worked. There were definitely elements of one fairy tale or the other, but it isn't a specific fairy tale. The magic elements worked as did the human elements. I book talked this book sucessfully to fifth and sixth grade kids.
  • Counting on Grace by Elizabeth Winthrop*
    Summary in brief: Grace is a mill worker in a cotton mill. She struggles to balance her desire to help support her family with her desire to better herself.
    Review: I love historical fiction so I am pre-disposed to like it. I loved this book, thought it was wonderful. And the author's note is amazing. The author's note is the best part of the book.
    Optional:
  • Toys Go Out by Emily Jenkins
  • The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing by M. T. Anderson

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