Newbery Roundup

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Phebe Fairchild: Her Book

Depicts family life in New England around 1830.

Goodreads.com

Truly, we are starting off this roundup (which is in no particular order other than the approximate order in which I read the books) with one of the most forgettable reads. I remember Phebe’s account of her life in New England as being somewhat enjoyable, but not at all memorable. Not worthy of a reread, in my opinion.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

Bright Island

Born and raised on Bright Island off the Maine coast, Thankful Curtis is more like her sea captain grandfather than any of her older brothers are. Nothing suits her better than sailing and helping her father with the farm. But when her dreaded sisters-in-law suggest that Thankful get some proper schooling on the mainland, the wind is knocked from her sails.

Thankful finds the uncharted waters of school difficult to navigate: there’s a rocky reception from her rich roommate, Selina; the breezy behavior of the charming Robert; and stormy Mr. Fletcher, the handsome Latin teacher whose caustic tongue masks a tender heart. And while Thankful works hard to make the best of her new life, Bright Island continues to flash in her thoughts, like the sparkle of the sun on the water.

Goodreads.com

This book is sweet and old fashioned. I was honestly surprised at how much I enjoyed it. Thankful’s life at the boarding school, as well as her adventures in Bright Island, are just fun to read about. Although I don’t remember most of the finer points of the plot, I remember the feeling of reading the book, and it was a pleasure.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

Penn

A biography for young people of the man who renounced wealth and position to become a Quaker, and who became governor and proprietor of the new colony of Pennsylvania.

Goodreads.com

This book tells the story of William Penn, the Quaker who fought for religious freedom and founded Pennsylvania. It’s a bit dry, so it won’t be a favorite among today’s children, but I have a deep interest in Quakerism, so I enjoyed it.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

Leader by Destiny

A children’s biography of the first president of the United States of America.

Goodreads.com

This is a boring and romanticized account of George Washington’s life and career. In today’s world, I think everyone (even and perhaps especially children) should be exposed to the flaws and failings of our country’s leaders and heroes, along with their great deeds. This book does not fit the bill.

Rating: Meh

Hello, the Boat!

This is the story of an everyday family who fled the depression of 1817 by moving westward. Rafts and flatboats and Conestoga wagons moved slowly into the new territory beyond the Alleghenies, but the Doak family made the journey down the Ohio river from Pittsburgh to Cincinnati on a boat fitted out as a store, peddling pots and pans, hardware, bonnets, dry goods and Yankee notions. Responding to the call of “Hello, the boat!” from settlers along the banks, Mother, Father, the children, Old Pappy and his fiddle all helped to make the trip as profitable as it was adventurous.

Goodreads.com

An interesting historical fiction novel about a family who owns a store boat and travels down the Ohio river, but full of racist and sexist comments. For that reason, I can’t recommend it.

Rating: Meh

Nino

The story of the simple pleasures and hard work of an Italian family, living around 1900 in a small village. Based upon the author’s childhood.

Goodreads.com

This book consists of tales of a young Italian boy centered around different holidays and festivals. It’s fun but nothing special.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

Nansen

A biography of the Norwegian explorer, scientist, and diplomat Fridtjof Nansen.

Goodreads.com

A fascinating biography of a Norwegian arctic explorer and statesman who fought for the rights of refugees after WWI. I don’t remember many of the details of Nansen’s life, but I really enjoyed learning about this Norwegian figure about whom I had no prior knowledge.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

Young Mac of Fort Vancouver

This is a story about the typical sons of the fur trade, whose fathers were traders and whose mothers were Indian women. It takes place across the Columbia River from Portland, Oregon in the city of Vancouver, Washington.

Goodreads.com

This book is filled with truly upsetting stereotypes and racist remarks about Native Americans. Definitely give this one a miss.

Rating: Traumatizingly Bad

Down Ryton Water

A work of historical fiction for children, telling the story of the Separatists of Scrooby and the Pilgrim Fathers, through the first-person narrative of young Matt Over.

Goodreads.com

Down Ryton Water combines fascinating details about the early Pilgrims and their lives in England and the Netherlands with truly upsetting casual racism. Because of this, although I found some parts of the book interesting, it’s not worth the read.

Rating: Meh

The Undefeated

This poem is a love letter to black life in the United States. It highlights the unspeakable trauma of slavery, the faith and fire of the civil rights movement, and the grit, passion, and perseverance of some of the world’s greatest heroes. The text is also peppered with references to the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., Langston Hughes, Gwendolyn Brooks, and others, offering deeper insights into the accomplishments of the past, while bringing attention to the endurance and spirit of those surviving and thriving in the present.

Goodreads.com

There is gorgeous art in this picture book/poem filled with some of the greatest figures and the most important events in African American history. Beautiful and inspiring.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

New Kid

Seventh grader Jordan Banks loves nothing more than drawing cartoons about his life. But instead of sending him to the art school of his dreams, his parents enroll him in a prestigious private school known for its academics, where Jordan is one of the few kids of color in his entire grade.

As he makes the daily trip from his Washington Heights apartment to the upscale Riverdale Academy Day School, Jordan soon finds himself torn between two worlds—and not really fitting into either one. Can Jordan learn to navigate his new school culture while keeping his neighborhood friends and staying true to himself?

Goodreads.com

A graphic novel that illustrates the struggles of a Black boy from Washington Heights attending a mostly white day school. It was (not surprisingly) hard to read in places but so needed. I’m sure a lot of kids will relate to Jordan’s middle school experience.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

Have You Seen Tom Thumb

A biography of the midget entertainer who was a favorite attraction of the P.T. Barnum circus.

Goodreads.com

Racial epithets mixed in with a strange history/factionalized account of P.T. Barnum and his “exhibit,” a little person named Charley make this book another one to skip.

Rating: Skip This One

Scary Stories for Young Foxes

The haunted season has arrived in the Antler Wood. No fox kit is safe.

When Mia and Uly are separated from their litters, they discover a dangerous world full of monsters. In order to find a den to call home, they must venture through field and forest, facing unspeakable things that dwell in the darkness: a zombie who hungers for their flesh, a witch who tries to steal their skins, a ghost who hunts them through the snow . . . and other things too scary to mention.

Goodreads.com

This book offers a collection of interrelated tales presented as scary stories for foxes (including topics like rabies, taxidermy, starvation, and more). I found it kind of depressing and strange. I’m sure many kids who like creepy books will enjoy it; my childhood self would have absolutely hated it.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

Other Words for Home

Jude never thought she’d be leaving her beloved older brother and father behind, all the way across the ocean in Syria. But when things in her hometown start becoming volatile, Jude and her mother are sent to live in Cincinnati with relatives.

At first, everything in America seems too fast and too loud. The American movies that Jude has always loved haven’t quite prepared her for starting school in the US—and her new label of “Middle Eastern,” an identity she’s never known before. But this life also brings unexpected surprises—there are new friends, a whole new family, and a school musical that Jude might just try out for. Maybe America, too, is a place where Jude can be seen as she really is.

Goodreads.com

Jude and her pregnant mother move from Syria to America and have many lessons to learn about home, prejudice, and family. Sweet, uplifting, and insightful. I really liked this book.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

Genesis Begins Again

This is the story of a thirteen-year-old girl who is filled with self-loathing and must overcome internalized racism and a verbally abusive family to finally learn to love herself.

There are ninety-six things Genesis hates about herself. She knows the exact number because she keeps a list. Like #95: Because her skin is so dark, people call her charcoal and eggplant—even her own family. And #61: Because her family is always being put out of their house, belongings laid out on the sidewalk for the world to see. When Genesis reaches #100 on the list of things she hates about herself, will she continue on, or can she find the strength to begin again?

Goodreads.com

Genesis hates her black skin and the way her alcoholic father and her stuck up grandmother treat her, until she enters her school’s talent show. You can probably tell from the description, but this book about racism, difficult families, and learning to love yourself is dark; I would save this for older kids who can better process the themes and appreciate Genesis’ journey.

Rating: Good but Dark

Miss Hickory

Most dolls lead a comfortable but unadventurous life. This was true of Miss Hickory until the fateful day that her owner, Ann, moves from her New Hampshire home to attend school in Boston—leaving Miss Hickory behind. For a small doll whose body is an apple-wood twig and whose head is a hickory nut, the prospect of spending a New Hampshire winter alone is frightening indeed. In this classic modern day fairy tale, what’s a doll to do?

Goodreads.com

A sweet story written from the perspective of a doll named Miss Hickory. I remember almost nothing about this book, but it was fairly enjoyable to read.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

Classics

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Tess of the d’Urbervilles

When Tess Durbeyfield is driven by family poverty to claim kinship with the wealthy D’Urbervilles and seek a portion of their family fortune, meeting her ‘cousin’ Alec proves to be her downfall. A very different man, Angel Clare, seems to offer her love and salvation, but Tess must choose whether to reveal her past or remain silent in the hope of a peaceful future.

Goodreads.com

It is so painful to read about Tess being raped, taken advantage of, abandoned, etc. as she progresses through her young, tragic life. The book offers a heart wrenching look at how sexism played such a powerful role in the lives of women during the late 1800s, and because I don’t know anything about the author, it’s difficult to know how much of the viewpoints presented are his and how much are social commentary. I’m glad I read Tess, but I don’t think I’ll want to reread it.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

Fahrenheit 451

Guy Montag is a fireman. In his world, where television rules and literature is on the brink of extinction, firemen start fires rather than put them out. His job is to destroy the most illegal of commodities, the printed book, along with the houses in which they are hidden.

Montag never questions the destruction and ruin his actions produce, returning each day to his bland life and wife, Mildred, who spends all day with her television ‘family’. But then he meets an eccentric young neighbor, Clarisse, who introduces him to a past where people did not live in fear and to a present where one sees the world through the ideas in books instead of the mindless chatter of television.

When Mildred attempts suicide and Clarisse suddenly disappears, Montag begins to question everything he has ever known.

Goodreads.com

This book is a classic for a reason—the terrifying dystopia where books are illegal still resonates today. It’s also not a book that I would love to revisit anytime soon, but I found reading it a more enjoyable experience than reading Tess.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

The Woman in White

The Woman in White famously opens with Walter Hartright’s eerie encounter on a moonlit London road. Engaged as a drawing master to the beautiful Laura Fairlie, Walter becomes embroiled in the sinister intrigues of Sir Percival Glyde and his ‘charming’ friend Count Fosco, who has a taste for white mice, vanilla bonbons, and poison. Pursuing questions of identity and insanity along the paths and corridors of English country houses and the madhouse, The Woman in White is the first and most influential of the Victorian genre that combined Gothic horror with psychological realism.

Goodreads.com

I loved the mystery—I’m a huge fan of mysteries, and this is one of the earliest examples, and a well written one at that. I enjoyed how the novel was presented as a series of accounts by multiple narrators, collected in one volume. It becomes a bit convoluted, and for that reason I have a hard time remembering the plot, even though I enjoyed the book.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

Vanity Fair

A novel that chronicles the lives of two women who could not be more different: Becky Sharp, an orphan whose only resources are her vast ambitions, her native wit, and her loose morals; and her schoolmate Amelia Sedley, a typically naive Victorian heroine, the pampered daughter of a wealthy family.

Goodreads.com

I hated the characters; all but Dobbin were bad people. I suppose that’s the point of Vanity Fair, but it made it difficult for me to enjoy. I’d rather watch the movie (and for a diehard “the book was better” kind of person, that’s really saying something!).

Rating: Meh

Les Miserables

A thrilling tale of narrow escapes, romance in the midst of a revolution, and battlefield heroism, Victor Hugo’s sprawling 1862 novel focuses on the Parisian underworld. Ex-convict Jean Valjean, who served 19 years in prison for stealing bread, attempts to redeem his life by helping the downtrodden. But his every move is dogged by the implacable policeman, Inspector Javert, whose relentless pursuit of a reformed criminal reflects a morally empty state that values retribution rather than justice.

Goodreads.com

A moving story. Hugo goes off on long tangents about the sewer system, cloistered life, Paris slang, and much more, but when he gets to the story, it is a classic—just as good as the movie and the musical, but with even more character development. This book is a commitment, but I’m so glad I finally finished it.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

The Narrative of Sojourner Truth

One of the most famous and admired African-American women in U.S. history, Sojourner Truth sang, preached, and debated at camp meetings across the country, led by her devotion to the antislavery movement and her ardent pursuit of women’s rights. Born into slavery in 1797, Truth fled from bondage some 30 years later to become a powerful figure in the progressive movements reshaping American society.

This remarkable narrative, first published in 1850, offers a rare glimpse into the little-documented world of Northern slavery. Truth recounts her life as a slave in rural New York, her separation from her family, her religious conversion, and her life as a traveling preacher during the 1840s. She also describes her work as a social reformer, counselor of former slaves, and sponsor of a black migration to the West.

A spellbinding orator and implacable prophet, Truth mesmerized audiences with her tales of life in bondage and with her moving renditions of Methodist hymns and her own songs. Frederick Douglass described her message as a “strange compound of wit and wisdom, of wild enthusiasm, and flint-like common sense.” This inspiring account of a black woman’s struggles for racial and sexual equality is essential reading for students of American history, as well as for those interested in the continuing quest for equality of opportunity.

Goodreads.com

A powerful story of a formerly enslaved person with a strong faith in God’s provision. If you, like me, really only knew Sojourner Truth’s famous speech “Ain’t I a Woman?” I highly recommend reading this book about her life as a strong advocate for racial and gender equality.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass

Born a slave circa 1818 (slaves weren’t told when they were born) on a plantation in Maryland, Douglass taught himself to read and write. In 1845, seven years after escaping to the North, he published Narrative, the first of three autobiographies. This book calmly but dramatically recounts the horrors and the accomplishments of his early years—the daily, casual brutality of the white masters; his painful efforts to educate himself; his decision to find freedom or die; and his harrowing but successful escape. An astonishing orator and a skillful writer, Douglass became a newspaper editor, a political activist, and an eloquent spokesperson for the civil rights of African Americans. He lived through the Civil War, the end of slavery, and the beginning of segregation. He was celebrated internationally as the leading black intellectual of his day, and his story still resonates in ours.

Goodreads.com

A firsthand look at slavery, written before the Civil War for abolition purposes. Again, I knew the bare bones information about Frederick Douglass, but reading him in his own words is a powerful experience. Highly recommended.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

The Leavenworth Case

The Leavenworth Case is the first novel of Anna Katharine Green, an American poet and novelist, who was one of the first writers of detective fiction in America, and distinguished herself for writing well plotted, accurate legal thrillers.

Green is credited with many firsts. With the character Ebenezer Gryce of the New York Metropolitan Police Force, Green developed the series detective. Amelia Butterworth, a nosy society spinster who assists Gryce in three novels, is the prototype for Miss Marple, Miss Silver and other similar mystery solving female characters. And with Violet Strange, a debutante with a secret life as a sleuth, she invented the ‘girl detective.’

Goodreads.com

So this is a mystery that hinges on the beauty of two women. These cousins cause all of the (male) main characters to act erratically and irrationally. As much as I typically enjoy mysteries, and as much as I wanted to like this predecessor to the queen of murder mysteries, Agatha Christie, the sexism made this impossible for me to enjoy.

Rating: Meh

A Passage to India

When Adela Quested and her elderly companion Mrs Moore arrive in the Indian town of Chandrapore, they quickly feel trapped by its insular and prejudiced ‘Anglo-Indian’ community. Determined to escape the parochial English enclave and explore the ‘real India’, they seek the guidance of the charming and mercurial Dr Aziz, a cultivated Indian Muslim. But a mysterious incident occurs while they are exploring the Marabar caves with Aziz, and the well-respected doctor soon finds himself at the centre of a scandal that rouses violent passions among both the British and their Indian subjects. A masterful portrait of a society in the grip of imperialism, A Passage to India compellingly depicts the fate of individuals caught between the great political and cultural conflicts of the modern world.

Goodreads.com

This book talks a lot about British colonialism in India, which could be interesting, but instead is boring and still uncomfortably of its time (though I’m sure at the time many people were made uncomfortable by how liberal it was). Maybe if I had a deeper grasp of what it was like to live in colonized India at the time this book was written, I would have enjoyed it. As it was, I found myself in engaged by this E. M. Forster novel.

Rating: Meh

Newbery Review: 2012

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Breaking Stalin’s Nose

Sasha Zaichik has known the laws of the Soviet Young Pioneers since the age of six:

The Young Pioneer is devoted to Comrade Stalin, the Communist Party, and Communism.

A Young Pioneer is a reliable comrade and always acts according to conscience.

A Young Pioneer has a right to criticize shortcomings.

But now that it is finally time to join the Young Pioneers, the day Sasha has awaited for so long, everything seems to go awry. He breaks a classmate’s glasses with a snowball. He accidentally damages a bust of Stalin in the school hallway. And worst of all, his father, the best Communist he knows, was arrested just last night.

This moving story of a ten-year-old boy’s world shattering is masterful in its simplicity, powerful in its message, and heartbreaking in its plausibility. [Summary via Goodreads.com]

I really enjoyed this book for younger children set in 20th century Russia. It is powerful and fascinating, and I would love to reread it sometime. My only wish, as with so many of these Newbery books, is that I remembered more of it!

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

Newbery Reviews: 2011

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[All summaries via Goodreads.com]

Medal Winner: Moon Over Manifest

Abilene Tucker feels abandoned. Her father has put her on a train, sending her off to live with an old friend for the summer while he works a railroad job. Armed only with a few possessions and her list of universals, Abilene jumps off the train in Manifest, Kansas, aiming to learn about the boy her father once was.

Having heard stories about Manifest, Abilene is disappointed to find that it’s just a dried-up, worn-out old town. But her disappointment quickly turns to excitement when she discovers a hidden cigar box full of mementos, including some old letters that mention a spy known as the Rattler. These mysterious letters send Abilene and her new friends, Lettie and Ruthanne, on an honest-to-goodness spy hunt, even though they are warned to “Leave Well Enough Alone.”

Abilene throws all caution aside when she heads down the mysterious Path to Perdition to pay a debt to the reclusive Miss Sadie, a diviner who only tells stories from the past. It seems that Manifest’s history is full of colorful and shadowy characters—and long-held secrets. The more Abilene hears, the more determined she is to learn just what role her father played in that history. And as Manifest’s secrets are laid bare one by one, Abilene begins to weave her own story into the fabric of the town.

This book reminded me of another Newbery favorite, A Year Down Yonder. It’s a wonderful story with great characters. I would love to give this a reread sometime, as I remember it being one of my favorites from more recent years.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

Newbery Reviews: 2010

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[All summaries via Goodreads.com]

Medal Winner: When You Reach Me

Miranda is an ordinary sixth grader, until she starts receiving mysterious messages from somebody who knows all about her, including things that have not even happened yet. Each message brings her closer to believing that only she can prevent a tragic death. Until the final note makes her think she’s too late.

I can’t say too much about this novel without giving away the twist–which is so fun! I love mysteries, and very few Newbery books fall into that category. This one defies categorization, but it does have a bit of a mystery. It’s fascinating and fun. Once you finish it, you’ll probably want to reread it with the ending in mind!

Rating: Reread Worthy

Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice

“When it comes to justice, there is no easy way to get it. You can’t sugarcoat it. You have to take a stand and say, ‘This is not right.’” – Claudette Colvin

On March 2, 1955, an impassioned teenager, fed up with the daily injustices of Jim Crow segregation, refused to give her seat to a white woman on a segregated bus in Montgomery, Alabama. Instead of being celebrated as Rosa Parks would be just nine months later, fifteen-year-old Claudette Colvin found herself shunned by her classmates and dismissed by community leaders. Undaunted, a year later she dared to challenge segregation again as a key plaintiff in Browder v. Gayle, the landmark case that struck down the segregation laws of Montgomery and swept away the legal underpinnings of the Jim Crow South.

Based on extensive interviews with Claudette Colvin and many others, Phillip Hoose presents the first in-depth account of an important yet largely unknown civil rights figure, skillfully weaving her dramatic story into the fabric of the historic Montgomery bus boycott and court case that would change the course of American history.

This is a really interesting account of Claudette Colvin and the beginnings of the Civil Rights movement of the mid-20th century. Colvin is a much less well known character than Rosa Parks, although her experiences were quite similar, and reading about how strategic the civil rights leaders were in presenting their cases was something I was never taught in school. This book really is a must read for kids learning about this period of history.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

Newbery Reviews: 2009

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[All summaries via Goodreads.com]

Medal Winner: The Graveyard Book

Nobody Owens, known to his friends as Bod, is a perfectly normal boy. Well, he would be perfectly normal if he didn’t live in a graveyard, being raised and educated by ghosts, with a solitary guardian who belongs to neither the world of the living nor the world of the dead.

There are dangers and adventures for Bod in the graveyard: the strange and terrible menace of the Sleer; a gravestone entrance to a desert that leads to the city of ghouls; friendship with a witch, and so much more.

But it is in the land of the living that real danger lurks, for it is there that the man Jack lives and he has already killed Bod’s family.

The first time I read this book, I actually watched Neil Gaiman read it aloud on his book tour. I’m not sure if those videos are still available, but if not I highly recommend listening to the audio book, because Gaiman is a great narrator. The book itself is really interesting and surprising. If you’ve read any of Gaiman’s books for adults, you probably have an idea of his style, and The Graveyard Book does an amazing job at taking his creepy, supernatural themes and translating them into something children can enjoy, without the story ever feeling watered down. Each chapter is a different episode in Bod’s life, so we get to see him grow from an infant to a teenager and experience a lot of unusual and macabre things. Of course, the mystery of who killed his family and why is an undercurrent in the book. Truly a unique reading experience, and a great read for older kids who love spooky books.

Rating: Re-read Worthy

The Surrender Tree: Poems of Cuba’s Struggle for Freedom

It is 1896. Cuba has fought three wars for independence and still is not free. People have been rounded up in reconcentration camps with too little food and too much illness. Rosa is a nurse, but she dares not go to the camps. So she turns hidden caves into hospitals for those who know how to find her.

Black, white, Cuban, Spanish—Rosa does her best for everyone. Yet who can heal a country so torn apart by war? Acclaimed poet Margarita Engle has created another breathtaking portrait of Cuba.

This book offers up a history of Cuba in poem form.  Before reading this book as a young adult, I knew pitifully little of Cuban history, so I really enjoyed reading and learning about this period of time. It’s worth a reread at some point.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

Savvy

For generations, the Beaumont family has harbored a magical secret. They each possess a “savvy” -a special supernatural power that strikes when they turn thirteen. Grandpa Bomba moves mountains, her older brothers create hurricanes and spark electricity . . . and now it’s the eve of Mibs’s big day.

As if waiting weren’t hard enough, the family gets scary news two days before Mibs’s birthday: Poppa has been in a terrible accident. Mibs develops the singular mission to get to the hospital and prove that her new power can save her dad. So she sneaks onto a salesman’s bus . . . only to find the bus heading in the opposite direction. Suddenly Mibs finds herself on an unforgettable odyssey that will force her to make sense of growing up-and of other people, who might also have a few secrets hidden just beneath the skin.

I loved this book! Interesting, unusual, and fun; it follows a family in which each of the members has a “savvy,” a sort of magical power that appears on their thirteenth birthdays. Mibs is about to receive hers when things go very wrong, and she, her siblings, and a couple of friends find themselves in a van, traveling far from home. The powers are creative and varied, and the way they play out and affect the characters’ lives and decisions is fascinating. The sequels to this book, although not quite as good, are still fun.

After Tupac & D Foster

D Foster showed up a few months before Tupac got shot that first time and left us the summer before he died. The day D Foster enters Neeka and her best friend’s lives, the world opens up for them. D comes from a world vastly different from their safe Queens neighborhood, and through her, the girls see another side of life that includes loss, foster families and an amount of freedom that makes the girls envious. Although all of them are crazy about Tupac Shakur’s rap music, D is the one who truly understands the place where he’s coming from, and through knowing D, Tupac’s lyrics become more personal for all of them.

The girls are thirteen when D’s mom swoops in to reclaim D—and as magically as she appeared, she now disappears from their lives. Tupac is gone, too, after another shooting; this time fatal. As the narrator looks back, she sees lives suspended in time, and realizes that even all-too-brief connections can touch deeply.

At the time I read this book, I had pretty much no knowledge about Tupac specifically or about rap in general. I loved this book for taking me into an unfamiliar world of Queens in the 90s, with characters who rely on Tupac’s music as they process their personal losses. I’d love to read this again as an adult who is much more familiar with Tupac’s life and music.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

Newbery Reviews: 2008

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[All summaries via Goodreads.com]

Elijah of Buxton

Eleven-year-old Elijah is the first child born into freedom in Buxton, Canada, a settlement of runaway slaves just over the border from Detroit. He’s best known in his hometown as the boy who made a memorable impression on Frederick Douglass. But things change when a former slave steals money from Elijah’s friend, who has been saving to buy his family out of captivity in the South. Elijah embarks on a dangerous journey to America in pursuit of the thief, and he discovers firsthand the unimaginable horrors of the life his parents fled — a life from which he’ll always be free, if he can find the courage to get back home.

Christopher Paul Curtis is such a good writer. Elijah of Buxton offers an interesting voice to tell this historical story. It’s a story I haven’t heard often–that of formerly enslaved people who are making a new life in Canada–and I enjoyed reading it.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

The Wednesday Wars

Meet Holling Hoodhood, a seventh-grader at Camillo Junior High, who must spend Wednesday afternoons with his teacher, Mrs. Baker, while the rest of the class has religious instruction. Mrs. Baker doesn’t like Holling—he’s sure of it. Why else would she make him read the plays of William Shakespeare outside class? But everyone has bigger things to worry about, like Vietnam. His father wants Holling and his sister to be on their best behavior: the success of his business depends on it. But how can Holling stay out of trouble when he has so much to contend with? A bully demanding cream puffs; angry rats; and a baseball hero signing autographs the very same night Holling has to appear in a play in yellow tights! As fate sneaks up on him again and again, Holling finds Motivation—the Big M—in the most unexpected places and musters up the courage to embrace his destiny, in spite of himself.

Interesting, funny, and touching. The characters are relatable, and the recent historical setting of the Vietnam War is a strong backdrop to an otherwise timeless school story.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

Feathers

“Hope is the thing with feathers,” starts the poem Frannie is reading in school. Frannie hasn’t thought much about hope. There are so many other things to think about. Each day, her friend Samantha seems a bit more holy.” There is a new boy in class everyone is calling the Jesus Boy. And although the new boy looks like a white kid, he says he’ is not white. Who is he?

During a winter full of surprises, good and bad, Frannie starts seeing a lot of things in a new light: —her brother Sean’s deafness, her mother’s fear, the class bully’s anger, her best friend’s faith and her own desire for the thing with feathers.”

Jacqueline Woodson once again takes readers on a journey into a young girl’s heart and reveals the pain and the joy of learning to look beneath the surface.

This is a short and sweet novel about race, deafness, school, and growing up. Jacqueline Woodson is another amazing author, so although this isn’t my favorite of hers, it is still worth a read.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

Newbery Reviews: 2007

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[All summaries via Goodreads.com]

Medal Winner: The Higher Power of Lucky

Believing that her French guardian is about to abandon her to an orphanage in the city, ten-year-old Lucky runs away from her small town with her beloved dog by her side in order to trek across the Mojave Desert in this Newbery Medal–winning novel from Susan Patron.

Lucky, age ten, can’t wait another day. The meanness gland in her heart and the crevices full of questions in her brain make running away from Hard Pan, California (population 43), the rock-bottom only choice she has.

It’s all Brigitte’s fault — for wanting to go back to France. Guardians are supposed to stay put and look after girls in their care! Instead Lucky is sure that she’ll be abandoned to some orphanage in Los Angeles where her beloved dog, HMS Beagle, won’t be allowed. She’ll have to lose her friends Miles, who lives on cookies, and Lincoln, future U.S. president (maybe) and member of the International Guild of Knot Tyers. Just as bad, she’ll have to give up eavesdropping on twelve-step anonymous programs where the interesting talk is all about Higher Powers. Lucky needs her own — and quick.

I love a story populated with interesting characters, and this book certainly qualifies. Lucky is a quirky, lovable main character, and the other residents of Hard Pan are also enjoyable to read about. Heartwarming and fun.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

Penny from Heaven

It’s 1953 and 11-year-old Penny dreams of a summer of butter pecan ice cream, swimming, and baseball. But nothing’s that easy in Penny’s family. For starters, she can’t go swimming because her mother’s afraid she’ll catch polio at the pool. To make matters worse, her favorite uncle is living in a car. Her Nonny cries every time her father’s name is mentioned. And the two sides of her family aren’t speaking to each other!

Inspired by Newbery Honor winner Jennifer Holm’s own Italian American family, Penny from Heaven is a shining story about the everyday and the extraordinary, about a time in America’s history, not all that long ago, when being Italian meant that you were the enemy. But most of all, it’s a story about families—about the things that tear them apart and bring them together. And Holm tells it with all the richness and the layers, the love and the laughter of a Sunday dinner at Nonny’s. So pull up a chair and enjoy the feast! Buon appetito!

I really enjoyed this book when I was younger. It has some sad moments along with the funny, sweet ones, and I appreciate that about it. Penny from Heaven is that great kind of historical fiction that will transport you to its time and place, and I just wish I could remember more of it! (Adding this to my “to reread” list now!)

Rating: Good but Forgettable

Hattie Big Sky

After inheriting her uncle’s homesteading claim in Montana, 16-year-old orphan Hattie Brooks travels from Iowa in 1917 to make a home for herself and encounters some unexpected problems related to the war being fought in Europe.

This is one of my all-time favorite Newbery books. Even though I have reread it many times now, it still makes me laugh and cry every time. Hattie Big Sky follows a teenage girl who travels to Montana to prove up her uncle’s claim. She works the land on her homestead, scrapes together money, takes care of chickens, tries to survive the freezing cold winters, writes letters home, and makes friends with a nearby family who is being persecuted because the dad is German. This book is fantastic, especially if you were a childhood fan of pioneering stories.

Rating: Re-read Worthy

Rules

Twelve-year-old Catherine just wants a normal life. Which is near impossible when you have a brother with autism and a family that revolves around his disability. She’s spent years trying to teach David the rules-from “a peach is not a funny-looking apple” to “keep your pants on in public”-in order to stop his embarrassing behaviors. But the summer Catherine meets Jason, a paraplegic boy, and Kristi, the next-door friend she’s always wished for, it’s her own shocking behavior that turns everything upside down and forces her to ask: What is normal?

It’s surprising to me (although it probably shouldn’t be) how few Newbery books there are that star characters with disabilities or neurodivergence. Even in this book, which revolves around autism, focuses on the sister of the boy who has autism. It’s a great book about how Catherine tried to make rules for her brother David’s behavior and slowly comes to terms with her own role in life. I definitely recommend it and am wishing for additional Newbery books that will place the kids with disabilities or neurodivergence in a starring role!

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

Newbery Reviews: 2006

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Medal Winner: Criss Cross

She wished something would happen. Something good. To her. Looking at the bright, fuzzy picture in the magazine, she thought, Something like that. Checking her wish for loopholes, she found one. Hoping it wasn’t too late, she thought the word soon.

This is a gentle story about growing up in the summertime. Its style is unlike most other books I’ve read, and I enjoyed it greatly.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

Whittington

This Newbery-Honor winning tale introduces Whittington, a roughneck Tom who arrives one day at a barn full of rescued animals and asks for a place there. He spins for the animals—as well as for Ben and Abby, the kids whose grandfather does the rescuing—a yarn about his ancestor, the nameless cat who brought Dick Whittington to the heights of wealth and power in 16th-century England. This is an unforgettable tale about the healing, transcendent power of storytelling, and how learning to read saves one little boy.

This is a cute story with talking animals–not usually my favorite, but it works here. If you like historical fiction with a hefty dose of cats, you might like Whittington.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

Hitler Youth: Growing Up in Hitler’s Shadow

In her first full-length nonfiction title since winning the Robert F. Sibert Award, Susan Campbell Bartoletti explores the riveting and often chilling story of Germany’s powerful Hitler Youth groups.

“I begin with the young. We older ones are used up . . . But my magnificent youngsters! Look at these men and boys! What material! With them, I can create a new world.” –Adolf Hitler, Nuremberg 1933

By the time Hitler became Chancellor of Germany in 1933, 3.5 million children belonged to the Hitler Youth. It would become the largest youth group in history. Susan Campbell Bartoletti explores how Hitler gained the loyalty, trust, and passion of so many of Germany’s young people. Her research includes telling interviews with surviving Hitler Youth members.

This is an interesting exploration into the lives of German children during WWII, a perspective I haven’t read much about. Definitely recommended for kids who are learning about WWII.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

Princess Academy

Miri lives on a mountain where, for generations, her ancestors have quarried stone and lived a simple life. Then word comes that the king’s priests have divined her small village the home of the future princess. In a year’s time, the prince himself will come and choose his bride from among the girls of the village. The king’s ministers set up an academy on the mountain, and every teenage girl must attend and learn how to become a princess.

Miri soon finds herself confronted with a harsh academy mistress, bitter competition among the girls, and her own conflicting desires to be chosen and win the heart of her childhood best friend. But when bandits seek out the academy to kidnap the future princess, Miri must rally the girls together and use a power unique to the mountain dwellers to save herself and her classmates.

This is one of my favorite Newbery books, and it was also my introduction to Shannon Hale’s wonderful novels. Princess Academy isn’t anything like what you would probably expect from a book with this title. The girls at the academy are brave, athletic peasant girls who use the pretentious princess academy to create a better life for their mountainside village. There is also a bit of magic in this story, which fits so perfectly. Even if you’re not the kind of person who would usually pick up a book called Princess Academy, I hope you’ll give it a try. It is lovely.

Rating: Re-read Worthy

Show Way

Soonie’s great-grandma was just seven years old when she was sold to a big plantation without her ma and pa, and with only some fabric and needles to call her own. She pieced together bright patches with names like North Star and Crossroads, patches with secret meanings made into quilts called Show Ways — maps for slaves to follow to freedom. When she grew up and had a little girl, she passed on this knowledge. And generations later, Soonie — who was born free — taught her own daughter how to sew beautiful quilts to be sold at market and how to read.

From slavery to freedom, through segregation, freedom marches and the fight for literacy, the tradition they called Show Way has been passed down by the women in Jacqueline Woodson’s family as a way to remember the past and celebrate the possibilities of the future. Beautifully rendered in Hudson Talbott’s luminous art, this moving, lyrical account pays tribute to women whose strength and knowledge illuminate their daughters’ lives.

Beautiful illustrations and a great story. I think this may have been the first Jacqueline Woodson book I read, but it certainly hasn’t been the last. I really enjoyed this book when I was younger, and as most of the details now escape my memory, I think it deserves a place on my “books to reread” list.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

Newbery Reviews: 2005

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Medal Winner: Kira-Kira

kira-kira (kee ra kee ra): glittering; shining Glittering. That’s how Katie Takeshima’s sister, Lynn, makes everything seem. The sky is kira-kira because its color is deep but see-through at the same time. The sea is kira-kira for the same reason and so are people’s eyes. When Katie and her family move from a Japanese community in Iowa to the Deep South of Georgia, it’s Lynn who explains to her why people stop on the street to stare, and it’s Lynn who, with her special way of viewing the world, teaches Katie to look beyond tomorrow, but when Lynn becomes desperately ill, and the whole family begins to fall apart, it is up to Katie to find a way to remind them all that there is always something glittering — kira-kira — in the future.

This is a powerful story with sweet, realistic characters. A good way to continue a conversation about racism toward Japanese Americans in the US.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

Al Capone Does My Shirts

Today I moved to a twelve-acre rock covered with cement, topped with bird turd and surrounded by water. I’m not the only kid who lives here. There’s my sister, Natalie, except she doesn’t count. And there are twenty-three other kids who live on the island because their dads work as guards or cook’s or doctors or electricians for the prison, like my dad does. Plus, there are a ton of murderers, rapists, hit men, con men, stickup men, embezzlers, connivers, burglars, kidnappers and maybe even an innocent man or two, though I doubt it. The convicts we have are the kind other prisons don’t want. I never knew prisons could be picky, but I guess they can. You get to Alcatraz by being the worst of the worst. Unless you’re me. I came here because my mother said I had to.

This story, with its unusual setting on Alcatraz, is surprisingly lighthearted. Our main character is funny, and I enjoyed reading about him and his family growing up on Alcatraz. Certain plot points surrounding the MC’s older sister, a teenager with an intellectual disability, I remember as extremely uncomfortable and possibly problematic in retrospect, so maybe take a look before handing it to your child.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy

Not only is Turner Buckminster the son of the new minister in a small Maine town, he is shunned for playing baseball differently than the local boys. Then he befriends smart and lively Lizzie Bright Griffin, a girl from Malaga Island, a poor community founded by former slaves. Lizzie shows Turner a new world along the Maine coast from digging clams to rowing a boat next to a whale. When the powerful town elders, including Turner’s father, decide to drive the people off the island to set up a tourist business, Turner stands alone against them. He and Lizzie try to save her community, but there’s a terrible price to pay for going against the tide.

This is the story of two children become friends in a small town in Maine, but because she is poor and black and from the other side of the river, they are gradually torn apart. Another powerful story about racism, featuring smart, dynamic characters.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good