Thoughts on Newbery: Ten Books I’d Like to See Recognized this Year

1. Steve Sheinkin’s Bomb: The Race to Build–and Steal–the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon. Back in September I wrote in my review that

I was blown away by it.  This is nonfiction thriller writing of the very, very best.  Sheinkin weaves together the stories of the race to build the atom bomb, the developments in the war that made things more and more urgent, the efforts to steal it, and the efforts to stop others from creating their own.

Every kid I know who reads it adores it. Sheinkin is doing something new and different and very exciting in nonfiction for children.

2. Rebecca Stead’s Liar & Spy.  I concluded in my starred Horn Book review that:

Stead’s spare and elegant prose, compassionate insight into the lives of young people, wry sense of humor, deft plotting, and ability to present complex ideas in an accessible and intriguing way make this much more than a mystery with a twist.

3. Laura Amy Schlitz’s Splendors and Glooms. I finished my New York Times review with:

Schlitz skillfully manages multiple narratives as the story makes its complex way forward, creating scenes of warmth and humor along with those of drama and horror. Filled with lush language and delightful sensory details like the savored warmth of a velvet cloak, this marvelous story will keep readers absorbed throughout. While the intricate storytelling, captivating characters and evocative setting owe a great deal to Dickens, the book also feels very much in the tradition of such grand 20th-century writers as Joan Aiken and Elizabeth Goudge. Filled with heart-pounding and heart-rending moments, this delicious, glorious novel is the work of a master of children’s literature.

4. Jacqueline Woodson’s Each Kindness. In my review here I wrote:

Among the many well-intentioned books featuring issues of exclusion among children of different ages,  Each Kindness is for me the most transcendent with Woodson and Lewis taking this far-from simple issue to a profound place of emotional depth and truth.

5. Vaunda Micheaux Nelson’s No Crystal Stair.  In my blog review I noted that the book “… is a community itself” filled as it is with a vibrant collection of voices coming together to tell the story of a remarkable Harlem bookseller and concluded that it “…is an elegant and riveting look at an extraordinary man who was part of a remarkable historical time.”  A groundbreaking book that definitely does extraordinary things within a hybrid genre Nelson calls a “documentary novel.”

6. Sheila Turnage’s Three Times Lucky.  I enjoyed my first read of this, writing on goodreads that it was “completely and utterly charming!”  I then listened to the audio book with my 4th graders and that experience along with their responses only raised it in my estimation.

7. Cynthia Levinson’s We’ve Got a Job. I reviewed this last April, but it has stayed with me. Back then I wrote:

This is a real life story that takes place over a brief period of time and Levinson does a superb job bringing out the suspense, drama, harshness, and celebration of all. I especially appreciated the elegant way she brought in the complications — what was working and what wasn’t, the different behaviors and personalities of the leaders, and most of all the varied voices of her young people.

8.  Grace Lin’s Starry River of the Sky.  I like this one very much indeed. Well-done character development, plot (especially the structure), and setting. And while it won’t factor into the Newbery Committee’s deliberations, the art and design is spectacular.

9. Louise Erdrich’s Chickadee. I was a very big fan of Erdrich’s previous books in this series, especially The Game of Silence. Took me a bit to engage with this one as I was a bit miffed that she just jumped into a new generation, but once I did I enjoyed it. There are some wonderful characters and scenes.

10. Adam Gidwitz’s In a Glass Grimmly.  A long shot, no doubt. After reading this aloud to my students, I can say that that this guy nails it, balancing out the emotional stuff along with silliness (my students and I adore the frog and various sized salamanders), some major gross stuff, and the occasional lyrical moment (say with the mermaid).  I love the way he merges traditional tales with literary ones and then his own.

And while not in my top ten, here are my thoughts about two very popular titles.

R. J. Palacio’s Wonder. I enjoyed and admired this very much when I read it (my review is here) and continue to think it a strong work, one that speaks to children and adults in a sincere and powerful way.

Katherine Applegate’s The One and Only Ivan. What has stayed with me is the lovely relationships between the animals, the complexness of Mack, and the melancholy tone that permeates the book. I struggled initially with Ivan’s voice, finding him a bit too wise and using an awful lot of figurative language for a self-described spare speaker, but the folks commenting on this Heavy Medal post helped me enormously with this.

 

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8 responses to “Thoughts on Newbery: Ten Books I’d Like to See Recognized this Year

  1. Cynthia Levinson’s We’ve Got a Job is one of my favorites of 2012. I’d love to see it win every award for which it’s eligible. She has crafted a thoroughly informative, completely engrossing, and truly inspiring account of how the children of Birmingham saved the civil rights movement from failure in that city. What an incredibly empowering story for children to read! When the adults in their lives are about to give up, they bravely take up the mantle and save the movement. What better way could there be to draw young readers into the history of the Civil Rights Movement than to put the heroic actions of young people who participated at its center. I love the message the story conveys that young people can speak out, take action, and be agents of change.

    The narrative is dramatic and totally absorbing. It’s hard to imagine any reader not being hooked by a prologue that opens with a with nine-year-old girl announcing to her mother that she wants to go to jail. Levinson’s narrative is particularly notable for chronicling the heroic actions of four young protesters. I love the varied voices of these young people. Audrey, Washington Booker III, James W. Stewart, and Arnetta Streeter all were part of the marches, but in different ways. Each made his/her unique contribution.

    Levinson’s interviews with these people is something else that sets this book apart in an important way from other nonfiction books published this year. These are people whose stories have not been documented before. It’s very rare that you find a nonfiction book for young people that presents original research. Typically, a nonfiction book for young people is a purely secondary work. Some notable exceptions are books like Tanya Lee Stone’s Almost Astronauts and Philip Hoose’s Claudette Colvin biography. This contribution Levinson makes to Civil Rights history should be honored and celebrated. And 2013 will mark the 50th anniversary of the children’s march. How cool is that!

    The layout and design of the book is exemplary. It’s appealing and accessible. The reproductions of photographs and archival materials are of excellent quality, and described in detail in captions. Levinson thoroughly documents her research in detailed, extensive source notes. There is an excellent bibliography of multimedia resources for further research. It’s an exceptional book in every respect. Award or not, I hope everyone takes the opportunity to read it.

  2. literaryfriendships

    Great list, and so cool to find some listed that weren’t anywhere near my radar. I’m adding them to my TBR list right now. And what a great year for nonfiction!

  3. Cynthia Levinson

    I bow deeply in gratitude to you, Monica Edinger and Ed Sullivan, for appreciating WE’VE GOT A JOB, the research that went into it, and, in particular, the four real-life protagonists who, patiently and candidly, shared their lives and stories with me so I could bring them to readers.

  4. Mark Flowers

    I haven’t read 9 and 10, and I might do some slight shuffling, but this is probably the best list I’ve seen – which just proves that you are the smartest reader out there, Monica . . . or, maybe just that we have the same taste.

  5. Glad to see In a Glass Grimmly here! I agree it’s a long shot, but I’d like to see more award recognition for funny books, and that certainly fits the bill.

  6. Grace Lin’s illustrations and book designs are gorgeous, aren’t they? She’s coming to visit our libraries in a couple of months, and I was amused to come across this bit of her FAQ while rifling through her website:

    “I am very interested in becoming a children’s book illustrator. How do you become one?

    Grace worked very hard to become a children’s book illustrator. She received her BFA from the Rhode Island School of Design, majoring in Illustration. She worked as a bookseller in a children’s bookstore and learned all the books. She researched all the children’s publishers and all the art directors and editors that worked there. She attended Childrens’ Writing and Illustration conferences and workshops. She made color copies and postcards of her work and sent out thousands of them. She ate ramen noodles for many years. ”

    The ramen noodles paid off, Grace!

  7. Another point on Levinson’s finely crafted WE’VE GOT A JOB: It garnered 3 starred reviews and it’s 176 pages — it’s THICK. How wonderful to see it get noticed widely. Thank you, Monica.

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