Friday, February 15, 2013

Newbery Wrap Up - Books I LOVED

I've been wanting to do a series of wrap up posts about my year on the Newbery commitee, but honestly I've been in recovery mode. Today I'm ready to go!

As you all know, our committee chose The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate as our Medal winner and three honor books: Splendors and Glooms by Laura Amy Schlitz (my personal favorite of the year), Three Times Lucky by Sheila Turnage, and Bomb: The Race to Build--And Steal--The World's Most Dangerous Weapon by Steve Sheinkin. Here's a press release if you missed it.

And since it is Friday and Five Things Friday, I'm going to talk about five books from 2012 that I LOVED but that didn't win the Newbery medal (even if I really wanted it). I've talked about some books that I was recommending to kids, so I won't repeat any of that here. This is a new discussion of books I loved and really thought were strong Newbery contenders, but just not quite strong enough (because I love our final list and am in no way disagreeing with any of it).

The Five Lives of Our Cat Zook by Joanne Rocklin
I got an ARC of this at Midwinter last year and it was one of the first books I read all year long. It became the standard by which I was judging every other book and it kept "winning". Oona, the narrator, has a wonderfully distinctive, child appropriate but also child respectful voice as she retells her father's stories to her younger brother. The stories within a story and overall theme of storytelling are perfectly developed and integrated throughout the book. It's charming, funny at times, heart breaking at others (I cried every time I read it) and completely relatable. This was my favorite "dark horse" for Newbery so I didn't talk about it all to avoid jinxing it. It was my second favorite book of the year (after Splendors and Glooms). This book is a tight little package, every word carefully chosen, every plot element leading somewhere, every character growing and/or contributing to the story arc. Really an extraordinary book.

Cold Cereal by Adam Rex
Full disclosure: I've had an author crush on Rex since Smekday and meeting him a couple of years ago, driving him around for author visits in Anchorage, and he's charming and delightful in person. This book is everything you would expect from him: tightly plotted, fun fantasy world, intriguing characters, charming and exciting. It's a short step left from our world into the one where cereal mascots are real, magic is exploited by corporations, and Bigfoot can be a nanny. I got an ARC for the sequel Unlucky Charms (now out) at Midwinter and it's next on my too read list. This is a "boy book" that will appeal well to girls and does not talk down to children. Fun and fantastically written.

Summer on the Moon by Adrian Fogelin
With my love of Cold Cereal, Cardboard, and this title, I'm beginning to believe there might be an 11 year-old boy buried in my 30 year-old female self. (When I was an 11 year-old girl, I read maudlin stuff, Lurlene McDaniel for example.) I'm a fan of setting and the settings in this book were perfectly drawn. First we begin in the inner city neighborhood home to Socko and Dante then move to a middle class suburb with Socko and his mom. So many details are perfect in this book, the small neighborhood that seems like a world and is a trap, the halted subdivision falling victim to the recession, it's all so real. I think kids in the middle class and kids from the lower class neighborhoods will see their homes in this book. There are so many details that are just perfect, food deserts, housing busts, that which people from lower income neighborhoods give up to "move up" and a hundred smaller details. Beyond all that, it's exciting, a mystery and an adventure, a story of friendships old and new, and a tale about family. I donated my copy to my library because I know it will be a hit. I don't know why this book didn't get more press, but it balances social interests, characters, and plot beautifully.

Seraphina by Rachel Hartman
This book gears just a bit too old for Newbery (or at the top end of the spectrum of up to age 14) and I was thrilled to see it win the Morris Award (for debut authors). It may also top my list of most anticipated sequels. When a topic is as done and over done as dragons (or vampires or zombies) it can be hard to find a new angle that doesn't have readers rolling their eyes and straining their credibility, but Rachel Hartman does it with grace. Here we have the standard quasi-medieval fantasy world without the overwhelming sense of magic/other worldliness (no elves and hobbits) but the neighboring kingdom is dragons; dragons who can shapeshift into humans. And our protagonist is a half-human half-dragon hybrid, perhaps the only of her kind. It's an incredibly intriguing concept and Hartman lives up to the early promise with an exciting plot and well-developed appealing characters. Every bit of buzz about this book is well earned. Pick it up and read it. And then wait eagerly for the sequel. Join me in considering begging the publisher for an ARC.

Cardboard by Doug TenNapel
By far and away my favorite youth graphic novel, Cardboard excels in both text and illustrations. The illustrations (which sadly don't count for Newbery) are bold. I loved the color palette and use of perspective. Even the cover with the boy against the eye of the cardboard monster is a fantastic arrangement. But the reason I wanted to push this book on my "almost wish Newbery" list is the text. The text reads like an extended prose poem, each word perfectly chosen to create characters and portray feelings. It is a story mostly of friendship and in many ways it is more Marcus (the bully/villain) and Cam's grieving widower father who grow and have self-reflective epiphanies; it is more their stories than Cam's. Cam is the sun of the story and they define themselves in relation to him, but we as readers are more interested in their journey around him than in Cam himself. (Complicated metaphor where the planetary orbits are more interesting than the sun, you with me?) The story is more philosophical and insightful then the admittedly goofy premise and jet packs would suggest. But underneath it, is an incredible heart, complex social and emotional issues (grieving father, collapsing economy) and just a few goofy but true to life moments (two boys in the middle of a fight for their lives who can't resist cracking jokes about crab shells). When you combine the illustrations and the text, they work seamlessly together for a masterpiece of a juvenile graphic novel.

I'm going to get back into the swing of things with more reviews, both catching up on the 2012 books I didn't get to read (primarily adult) and the ARCs for 2013 sitting on my shelves.  I wouldn't have traded this year at all, but it feels good to be in charge of my reading again.