Newbery Reviews: 2002

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Medal Winner: A Single Shard

Tree-ear, an orphan, lives under a bridge in Ch’ulp’o, a potters’ village famed for delicate celadon ware. He has become fascinated with the potter’s craft; he wants nothing more than to watch master potter Min at work, and he dreams of making a pot of his own someday. When Min takes Tree-ear on as his helper, Tree-ear is elated–until he finds obstacles in his path: the backbreaking labor of digging and hauling clay, Min’s irascible temper, and his own ignorance. But Tree-ear is determined to prove himself–even if it means taking a long, solitary journey on foot to present Min’s work in the hope of a royal commission . . . even if it means arriving at the royal court with nothing to show but a single celadon shard.

I found this story interesting and engaging when I read it several years ago, but I remember almost nothing of the plot. Unfortunately, that is the case with so many of these Newbery books that I read in my childhood.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

Everything on a Waffle

In the small Canadian town of Coal Harbour, in a quaint restaurant called The Girl on the Red Swing, everything comes on a waffle–lasagna, fish, you name it. Even waffles! Eleven-year-old Primrose Squarp loves this homey place, especially its owner, Kate Bowzer, who takes her under her wing, teaches her how to cook, and doesn’t patronize or chastise her, even when she puts her guinea pig too close to the oven and it catches fire. Primrose can use a little extra attention. Her parents were lost at sea, and everyone but her thinks they are dead. Her Uncle Jack, who kindly takes her in, is perfectly nice, but doesn’t have much time on his hands. Miss Perfidy, her paid babysitter-guardian, smells like mothballs and really doesn’t like children, and her school guidance counselor, Miss Honeycut, an uppity British woman of the world, is too caught up in her own long-winded stories to be any kind of confidante. Nobody knows what exactly to think of young Primrose, and Primrose doesn’t quite know what to make of her small community, either.

This book is so sweet and funny. I love stories with quirky characters, and this book is chock full of them. I would love to reread Everything on a Waffle again soon.

Rating: Reread Worthy

Carver: A Life in Poems

George Washington Carver was born a slave in Missouri about 1864 and was raised by the childless white couple who had owned his mother. In 1877 he left home in search of an education, eventually earning a master’s degree. In 1896, Booker T. Washington invited Carver to start the agricultural department at the all-black-staffed Tuskegee Institute, where he spent the rest of his life seeking solutions to the poverty among landless black farmers by developing new uses for soil-replenishing crops such as peanuts, cowpeas, and sweet potatoes. Carver’s achievements as a botanist and inventor were balanced by his gifts as a painter, musician, and teacher. This Newbery Honor Book and Coretta Scott King Author Honor Book by Marilyn Nelson provides a compelling and revealing portrait of Carver’s complex, richly interior, profoundly devout life.

I don’t typically think of biography or poetry as my favorite forms, but I greatly enjoyed this book which combines the two. I would definitely recommend it to kids who are interested in learning more about this important historical figure.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

Newbery Reviews: 2001

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[All summaries via Goodreads.com]

Medal Winner: A Year Down Yonder

Mary Alice remembers childhood summers packed with drama. At fifteen, she faces a whole long year with Grandma Dowdel, well known for shaking up her neighbors-and everyone else. All Mary Alice can know for certain is this: when trying to predict how life with Grandma might turn out . . . better not.

This is a sequel to the previous Newbery book Long Way From Chicago, and it is also wonderful. Grandma is just as crafty and larger than life, and all the other small town characters are a delight as well. The previous book consisted of self-contained stories that took place over a series of summers, whereas this book follows Mary Alice as she spends a whole year getting to know the town and its residents. Hilarious and bittersweet, A Year Down Yonder is a book I reread whenever I need a pick me up.

Rating: Re-read Worthy

Hope Was Here

When Hope and her aunt move to small-town Wisconsin to take over the local diner, Hope’s not sure what to expect. But what they find is that the owner, G.T., isn’t quite ready to give up yet – in fact, he’s decided to run for mayor against a corrupt candidate. And as Hope starts to make her place at the diner, she also finds herself caught up in G.T.’s campaign – particularly his visions for the future. After all, as G.T. points out, everyone can use a little hope to help get through the tough times… even Hope herself.

Filled with heart, charm, and good old-fashioned fun, this is Joan Bauer at her best.

Hope Was Here is another fantastic book that I have reread several times, and it still holds up. Sixteen-year-old Hope is a waitress–food is her passion–and when she and her aunt move from New York to a small town in Wisconsin, Hope isn’t sure how it’s going to work out. She makes friends with the cook, Braverman, and the owner of the restaurant, who is suffering from cancer but wants to run for mayor to destroy corruption in their small town. This book is filled with messages about family, standing up for what you believe in, and the ability of food to bring a community together. Hope Was Here is a must read.

Rating: Re-read Worthy

Because of Winn-Dixie

The summer Opal and her father, the preacher, move to Naomi, Florida, Opal goes into the Winn-Dixie supermarket—and comes out with a dog. A big, ugly, suffering dog with a sterling sense of humor. A dog she dubs Winn-Dixie. Because of Winn-Dixie, the preacher tells Opal ten things about her absent mother, one for each year Opal has been alive. Winn-Dixie is better at making friends than anyone Opal has ever known, and together they meet the local librarian, Miss Franny Block, who once fought off a bear with a copy of WAR AND PEACE. They meet Gloria Dump, who is nearly blind but sees with her heart, and Otis, an ex-con who sets the animals in his pet shop loose after hours, then lulls them with his guitar.

Opal spends all that sweet summer collecting stories about her new friends and thinking about her mother. But because of Winn-Dixie or perhaps because she has grown, Opal learns to let go, just a little, and that friendship—and forgiveness—can sneak up on you like a sudden summer storm.

This is Kate DiCamillo’s debut novel, and it is a stellar one. Quirky small town characters, a scruffy dog, and a girl trying to learn about her mother combine to make a sweet and touching story.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

Joey Pigza Loses Control

Joey Pigza really wants his six-week visit with his dad to count, to show him he’s not as wired as he used to be, to show his dad how much he loves him. But Carter Pigza’s not an easy guy to love. He’s eager to make it up to Joey for past wrongs and to show him how to be a winner, to take control of his life. With his coaching, Joey’s even learned how to pitch a baseball, and he’s good at it. The trouble is, Joey’s dad thinks taking control means giving up the things that keep Joey safe. And if he wants to please his dad, he’s going to have to play by his rules, even when the rules don’t make sense.

Okay; kind of annoying.  Joey has ADHD?  Takes some sort of meds. I don’t love Jack Gantos’s writing style, but I can see how kids who face the same struggles would enjoy relating to the characters.

Rating: Meh

The Wanderer

The sea, the sea, the sea. It rolled and rolled and called to me. Come in, it said, come in. Sophie hears the sea calling, promising adventure as she sets sail for England with her three uncles and two cousins. Sophie’s cousin Cody isn’t sure he has the strength to prove himself to the crew and to his father. Through Sophie’s and Cody’s travel logs, we hear stories of the past and the daily challenges of surviving at sea as The Wanderer sails toward its destination—and its passengers search for their places in the world.

Sharon Creech.  Oh yes.  Writing style, as always, is awesome.  The girl goes with her father, uncles, and cousin[s] on a trip across the Atlantic ocean in order to see her grandfather in England.  They get mad at each other and learn more about themselves on their long voyage.

Rating: Re-read Worthy

Newbery Reviews: 2000

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Medal Winner: Bud, Not Buddy

It’s 1936, in Flint, Michigan. Times may be hard, and ten-year-old Bud may be a motherless boy on the run, but Bud’s got a few things going for him:

He has his own suitcase full of special things.

He’s the author of Bud Caldwell’s Rules and Things for Having a Funner Life and Making a Better Liar Out of Yourself.

His momma never told him who his father was, but she left a clue: flyers advertising Herman E. Calloway and his famous band, the Dusky Devastators of the Depression!!!!!!

Bud’s got an idea that those flyers will lead him to his father. Once he decides to hit the road and find this mystery man, nothing can stop him–not hunger, not fear, not vampires, not even Herman E. Calloway himself.

This was an interesting story, and I wish I could remember more about it! Christopher Paul Curtis is the author of the truly wonderful The Watsons Go to Birmingham and the more recent Elijah of Buxton, and I think this book is definitely worth a reread as an adult.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

Getting Near to Baby

Willa Jo and Little Sister are up on the roof at Aunt Patty’s house. Willa Jo went up to watch the sunrise, and Little Sister followed, like she always does. But by mid-morning, they are still up on that roof, and soon it’s clear it wasn’t just the sunrise that brought them there. 

The trouble is, coming down would mean they’d have to explain, and they just can’t find the words. 

This is a funny, sometimes heartbreaking, story about sisters, about grief, and about healing.  Two girls must come to terms with the death of their baby sister, their mother’s unshakable depression, and the ridiculously controlling aunt who takes them in and means well but just doesn’t understand children. Willa Jo has to try and make things right in their new home, but she and Aunt Patty keep butting heads. Until the morning the two girls climb up to the roof of her house. Aunt Patty tries everything she can think of to get them down, but in the end, the solution is miraculously simple.

Getting Near to Baby is an interesting and touching book. Like the other books in this post, I don’t have a strong memory of the plot or characters, but I do remember enjoying the story.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

Our Only May Amelia

It isn′t easy being a pioneer in the state of Washington in 1899, but it′s particularly hard when you are the only girl ever born in the new settlement. With seven older brothers and a love of adventure, May Amelia Jackson just can′t seem to abide her family′s insistence that she behave like a Proper Young Lady. She′s sure she could do better if only there were at least one other girl living along the banks of the Nasel River. And now that Mama′s going to have a baby, maybe there′s hope.

I liked this story and found the setting interesting. Again, I don’t remember much about it, which I find so frustrating! This seems like the kind of story and characters I would have loved.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

26 Fairmount Avenue

Tomie’s family starts building their new house at 26 Fairmount Avenue in 1938, just as a hurricane hits town, starting off a busy, crazy year. Tomie has many adventures all his own, including eating chocolate with his Nana Upstairs, only to find out–the hard way–that they have eaten chocolate laxative. He tries to skip kindergarten when he finds out he won’t learn to read until first grade. “I’ll be back next year,” he says. When Tomie goes to see Snow White, he creates another sensation. Tomie dePaola’s childhood memories are hilarious, and his charming illustrations are sure to please.

This short and sweet picture book is based on the author’s own childhood. The art is adorable, and Tomie’s adventures are funny–definitely the kind of thing young kids would love.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

Newbery Reviews: 1999

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A Long Way from Chicago

Join Joey and his sister Mary Alice as they spend nine unforgettable summers with the worst influence imaginable–their grandmother!

I love Richard Peck’s books, and A Long Way from Chicago (along with its companion book A Year Down Yonder) is one of my all-time favorite childhood books. He writes American historical fiction with such big, almost mythical characters that you can’t help but love. Mary Alice, Joey, and their grandmother have such great adventures in the countryside, and when I read this book I can’t help but feel nostalgic.

Rating: Re-read Worthy

Newbery Reviews: 1998

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[All summaries via Goodreads.com]

Medal Winner: Out of the Dust

When Billie Jo is just fourteen she must endure heart-wrenching ordeals that no child should have to face. The quiet strength she displays while dealing with unspeakable loss is as surprising as it is inspiring.

Written in free verse, this award-winning story is set in the heart of the Great Depression. It chronicles Oklahoma’s staggering dust storms, and the environmental–and emotional–turmoil they leave in their path. An unforgettable tribute to hope and inner strength.

I hated this book when I read it as a child, because it was so depressing (I have a strong suspicion that I would enjoy it more now as an adult than I did back then). The main character is the daughter of farmers in the Dust Bowl during the Great Depression. In addition to these natural and economic disasters, horrible injury and death cause personal turmoil for our young main character. This novel in free verse is not for the faint of heart–bring some tissues to your reading session.

Rating: Good (definitely not forgettable!)

Ella Enchanted

At birth, Ella is inadvertently cursed by an imprudent young fairy named Lucinda, who bestows on her the “gift” of obedience. Anything anyone tells her to do, Ella must obey. Another girl might have been cowed by this affliction, but not feisty Ella: “Instead of making me docile, Lucinda’s curse made a rebel of me. Or perhaps I was that way naturally.” When her beloved mother dies, leaving her in the care of a mostly absent and avaricious father, and later, a loathsome stepmother and two treacherous stepsisters, Ella’s life and well-being seem to be in grave peril. But her intelligence and saucy nature keep her in good stead as she sets out on a quest for freedom and self-discovery as she tries to track down Lucinda to undo the curse, fending off ogres, befriending elves, and falling in love with a prince along the way. Yes, there is a pumpkin coach, a glass slipper, and a happily ever after, but this is the most remarkable, delightful, and profound version of Cinderella you’ll ever read.

This is one of my favorite childhood books ever. It’s a wonderful retelling of the story of Cinderella, in which the main character has a lot more spunk and agency than the original. Although Ella is cursed to obey every direct order, she nevertheless is irrepressible, and she finds ways to fight for what she believes in even when others attempt to stop her. Although I enjoyed the movie for Anne Hathaway and the endless cheesiness of their pop culture references, it can’t hold a candle to the book. This is the book that got me into Gail Carson Levine’s work–she has some more truly wonderful children’s and middle grade books to explore if you enjoy Ella Enchanted.

Rating: Re-read Worthy

Lily’s Crossing

Every summer Lily and her father go to her family’s house in Rockaway, near the Atlantic Ocean. But the summer of 1944 is different. World War II has called Lily’s father overseas, Lily’s best friend Margaret had to move with her family to a wartime factory town, and Lily is forced to live with her grandmother. But then a boy named Albert, a refugee from Hungary, comes to live in Rockaway. He has lost most of his family to the war. Soon he and Lily form a special friendship, and they have secrets to share. But they have both told lies, and Lily’s lie may cost Albert his life.

I really enjoyed this as a child. I’ve read a lot of WWII fiction, but relatively few books focusing on the refugee experience during this time period. This is another that I’d love to reread sometime.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

Wringer

Sometimes he wished it would come after him, chase him, this thing he did not want to be. But the thing never moved. It merely waited. Waited for him to come to it. In Palmer LaRue’s hometown of Waymer, turning ten is the biggest event of a boy’s life. It marks the day when a boy is ready to take his place as a wringer at the annual Family Fest. It’s an honor and a tradition.

But for Palmer, his tenth birthday is not something to look forward to, but something to dread. Because — although he can’t admit this to anyone — Palmer does not want to be a wringer. But he can’t stop himself from getting older, any more than he can stop tradition.

Then one day, a visitor appears on his windowsill, and Palmer knows that this, more than anything else, is a sign that his time is up. Somehow, he must learn how to stop being afraid and stand up for what he believes in.

I thought this was interesting when I read it many years ago, but absolutely zero things about the plot or characters have stuck with me. Unlike Lily’s Crossing, I’m not sure this one is worth a reread to refresh my memory.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

Newbery Reviews: 1997

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[All summaries via Goodreads.com]

A Girl Named Disaster

Nhamo is a virtual slave in her African village in 1981. Before her twelfth birthday, Nhamo runs away to escape marriage to a cruel husband, and spends a year going from Zimbabwe to Mozambique. Alone on the river in a stolen boat, swept into the uncharted heart of a great lake, she battles drowning, starvation, wild animals.

As a child, I thought the writing style of this novel was interesting. Despite the premise, which seems super engaging, I don’t remember much about this book. Still, I really did enjoy it when I read it many years ago.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

The Moorchild

Half moorfolk and half human, and unable to shape-shift or disappear at will, Moql threatens the safety of the Band. So the Folk banish her and send her to live among humans as a changeling. Named Saaski by the couple for whose real baby she was swapped, she grows up taunted and feared by the villagers for being different, and is comfortable only on the moor, playing strange music on her bagpipes.  

As Saaski grows up, memories from her forgotten past with the Folks slowly emerge. But so do emotions from her human side, and she begins to realize the terrible wrong the Folk have done to the humans she calls Da and Mumma. She is determined to restore their child to them, even if it means a dangerous return to the world that has already rejected her once.

The Moorchild is interesting and unusual, almost a fairy tale. I enjoyed it a lot as a kid and wouldn’t mind rereading it as an adult.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

The Thief

The king’s scholar, the magus, believes he knows the site of an ancient treasure. To attain it for his king, he needs a skillful thief, and he selects Gen from the king’s prison. The magus is interested only in the thief’s abilities.

What Gen is interested in is anyone’s guess. Their journey toward the treasure is both dangerous and difficult, lightened only imperceptibly by the tales they tell of the old gods and goddesses.

This book is funny and adventurous, with interesting and likable characters. I enjoyed it so much more than I thought I would. Although I never read the rest of the series, I wouldn’t mind digging them up now and seeing if they live up to this first installment.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

Belle Prater’s Boy

When Belle Prater disappears, Belle’s boy, Woodrow, comes to live with his grandparents in Coal Station, Virginia. Woodrow’s cousin Gypsy is the town beauty, but she has hidden sorrows and secrets of her own. She wonders how Woodrow can accept his mother’s disappearance when she’s never gotten over her father’s death. That’s when Woodrow tells Gypsy the secret about his mother.

This is another interesting, unusual book. I really liked this one as a kid, despite the kind of depressing summary Goodreads provides.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

Newbery Reviews: 1989

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Medal Winner: Joyful Noise: Poems for Two Voices

Funny, sad, loud, and quiet, each of these poems resounds with a booming, boisterous, joyful noise.

The poems resound with the pulse of the cicada and the drone of the honeybee. They can be fully appreciated by an individual reader, but they’re particularly striking when read aloud by two voices, making this an ideal pick for classroom use. Eric Beddows′s vibrant drawings send each insect soaring, spinning, or creeping off the page in its own unique way.

Goodreads.com

This collection of poems is written for two people to read aloud at the same time, like a duet. They invoke the sounds of all types of insects and are a beautiful, fun way to introduce kids to poetry. Highly recommended, even if you’re not a fan of insects or of poetry!

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

Scorpions

Lately everybody’s messing with Jamal. His teachers, the kids at school, even his dad. And now that Jamal’s brother Randy’s in the slam, Crazy Mack has a crazy idea. He wants Jamal to take control of the Scorpions and run crack.

All the gang jive–Jamal has no use for it. Unless, like some say, it’s the only way to cop the bread for Randy’s appeal…

The story of twelve-year-old Jamal, whose life changes drastically when he acquires a gun. Though he survives the experience, it’s not without sacrificing his innocence and possibly his relationship with his best friend.

Goodreads.com

This is a well-written novel tackling the issue of children getting involved in gangs. Walter Dean Myers is a stellar writer, and he has been quite prolific in writing books about the experiences of young Black people in America. This isn’t my favorite of his, but it’s worth a read.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

Newbery Reviews: 1988

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Medal Winner: Lincoln: A Photobiography

Abraham Lincoln stood out in a crowd as much for his wit and rollicking humor as for his height. This Newbery Medal-winning biography of our Civil War president is warm, appealing, and illustrated with dozens of carefully chosen photographs and prints.

Russell Freedman begins with a lively account of Abraham Lincoln’s boyhood, his career as a country lawyer, and his courtship and marriage to Mary Todd. Then the author focuses on the presidential years (1861 to 1865), skillfullly explaining the many complex issues Lincoln grappled with as he led a deeply divided nation through the Civil War. The book’s final chapter is a moving account of that tragic evening in Ford’s Theatre on April 14, 1865. Concludes with a sampling of Lincoln writings and a detailed list of Lincoln historical sites.

Goodreads.com

I found this a bit dry and boring as a child, but what stands out in my memory are the plethora of photographs. I think this book would be a great companion to any unit on Lincoln, even if the text isn’t super engaging.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

After the Rain

At fifteen, Rachel is a worrier. She worries about whether her family understands her, whether her friends like her, and whether she’ll get her first kiss before she turns sixteen. And she worries about whether she can handle having a real boyfriend if he does come along.

But it takes a dying old man — her grandfather — who has never been easy for anyone to handle, to show Rachel she has very special abilities. With love and compassion, she reaches the heart of an old tyrant who has always been unreachable. And in so doing, she comes to a better understanding of her family, her friends, and herself.

Goodreads.com

I don’t remember much about this novel, but according to my teenage notes, I really enjoyed it. It’s a tearjerker, but sweet and relatable. I’m guessing that the reason I liked this book is because many of Rachel’s dilemmas are universal to many young teens, so it must have crossed my path at just the right time.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

Hatchet

Brian is on his way to Canada to visit his estranged father when the pilot of his small prop plane suffers a heart attack. Brian is forced to crash-land the plane in a lake–and finds himself stranded in the remote Canadian wilderness with only his clothing and the hatchet his mother gave him as a present before his departure.

Slowly, Brian learns to turn adversity to his advantage–an invading porcupine unexpectedly shows him how to make fire, a devastating tornado shows him how to retrieve supplies from the submerged airplane. Most of all, Brian leaves behind the self-pity he has felt about his predicament as he summons the courage to stay alive.

Goodreads.com

Gary Paulsen is the king of survival stories. Several years ago, I read his memoir Guts, in which Paulsen describes his own childhood and how his personal experiences enabled him to write such realistic and gripping survival stories. Hatchet is, in my opinion, his finest work. It was a book I loved as a child, and I know many other kids who felt the same. Even if you don’t think you like the survival genre, I recommend giving it a try. Hatchet is the first in a series of five books about Brian’s adventures in the wilderness; I’ve only read the first two, so I can’t speak for the series as a whole, but if you love this book you’ll have several more to try out next.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

Newbery Reviews: 1987

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Medal Winner: The Whipping Boy

A shout comes echoing up the stairway. “Fetch the whipping boy!”

A young orphan named Jemmy rouses from his sleep. “Ain’t I already been whipped twice today? Gaw! What’s the prince done now?” It was forbidden to spank, thrash, or whack the heir to the throne. Jemmy had been plucked from the streets to serve as whipping boy to the arrogant and spiteful Prince Brat.

Dreaming of running away, Jemmy finds himself trapped in Prince Brat’s own dream at once brash and perilous.

In this briskly told tale of high adventure, taut with suspense and rich with colorful characters, the whipping boy and Prince Brat must at last confront each other.

Goodreads.com

This funny, engaging book was one of my favorites as a kid. Looking back on it, the basis for this book is a bit dark. It follows a spoiled prince and his whipping boy–the boy around his age who serves him and takes his punishment, yikes–as they have to escape through sewers and villages. I wonder how this book would come across if I read it as an adult; I would love to reread it sometime.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

On My Honor

Joel dares his best friend, Tony, to a swimming race in a dangerous river. Both boys jump in, but when Joel reaches the sandbar, he finds Tony has vanished. How can he face their parents and the terrible truth?

Goodreads.com

I have to say, I hated this book. I read it as a young teenager, when I really had no interest in tragedies, but I don’t think anyone of any age really enjoys reading about children dying. I’m not sure who this book was written for–even for kids who have suffered through the death of a friend, I would imagine there are other, better books for grieving children.

Rating: Skip This One

Volcano: The Eruption and Healing of Mount St. Helens

May 18, 1980, 8:32 A.M.: An earthquake suddenly triggered an avalanche on Mount St. Helens, a volcano in southern Washington State. Minutes later, Mount St. Helens blew the top off its peak and exploded into the most devastating volcanic eruption in U.S. history.

What caused the eruption? What was left when it ended? What did scientists learn in its aftermath?

In this extraordinary photographic essay, Patricia Lauber details the Mount St. Helens eruption and the years following. Through this clear accurate account, readers of all ages will share the awe of the scientists who witnessed both the power of the volcano and the resiliency of life.

Goodreads.com

If your child likes nonfiction stories filled with photos, this is a great book for them. It really is interesting to see this relatively recent natural disaster documented so clearly and powerfully.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

Newbery Reviews: 1986

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Medal Winner: Sarah, Plain and Tall

Set in the late nineteenth century and told from young Anna’s point of view, Sarah, Plain and Tall tells the story of how Sarah Elisabeth Wheaton comes from Maine to the prairie to answer Papa’s advertisement for a wife and mother. Before Sarah arrives, Anna and her younger brother Caleb wait and wonder. Will Sarah be nice? Will she sing? Will she stay?

This children’s literature classic is perfect for fans of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House on the Prairie books, historical fiction, and timeless stories using rich and beautiful language.

Goodreads.com

This is classic children’s historical fiction, placed in a frontier setting. I really did enjoy this type of historical fiction as a child, though as an adult I now see the many issues involved in glorifying this historical period. Sarah, Plain and Tall is a perfectly enjoyable book (again, if you can set aside the issues that the pioneers present), but I didn’t like it as much as the Little House books. I’m not sure if it’s worth a reread at this point.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

Commodore Perry in the Land of the Shogun

In 1853, few Japanese people knew that a country called America even existed. For centuries, Japan had isolated itself from the outside world by refusing to trade with other countries and even refusing to help shipwrecked sailors, foreign or Japanese. The country’s people still lived under a feudal system like that of Europe in the Middle Ages. But everything began to change when American Commodore Perry and his troops sailed to the Land of the Rising Sun, bringing with them new science and technology, and a new way of life.

Goodreads.com

I found this just okay when I read it many years ago, and yet even today I remember so much of its contents–which has not been the case with many of the Newbery books I’ve reviewed lately! I’m sure it’s a simplistic view of Japanese-American relations, but it was a good introduction to more modern Asian history that sparked my interest in learning more.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

Dogsong

Something is bothering Russel Susskit. He hates waking up to the sound of his father’s coughing, the smell of diesel oil, the noise of snow machines starting up.

Only Oogruk, the shaman who owns the last team of dogs in the village, understands Russel’s longing for the old ways and the songs that celebrated them. But Oogruk cannot give Russel the answers he seeks; the old man can only prepare him for what he must do alone. Driven by a strange, powerful dream of a long-ago self and by a burning desire to find his own song, Russel takes Oogruk’s dogs on an epic journey of self-discovery that will change his life forever.

Goodreads.com

If you like survival stories, Gary Paulsen is your guy. Hatchet was one of my all-time favorite books as a preteen, and I know I’m not alone in that! Dogsong is a similar type of story, this time set in the far north. I enjoyed the book, but as an adult I’m a little skeptical about Inuit characters being written by a non-Inuit person. I would definitely recommend Hatchet above this book if you or your child are interested in exploring Gary Paulsen’s works.

Rating: Good but Problematic