Daily Archives: January 12, 2010

Thoughts on Newbery: Seven Distinquished Books

Since the Newbery Committee members had to come up with seven nominations, I’ve decided to go with seven too.  Seven potential winners among the many other titles I admire from this year. Seven that may or may not be recognized by this year’s committee.  Seven distinguished books.

Rebecca Stead’s When You Reach Me

Here’s the first paragraph from my New York Times review.

In this era of supersize children’s books, Rebecca Stead’s “When You Reach Me” looks positively svelte. But don’t be deceived: In this taut novel, every word, every sentence, has meaning and substance. A hybrid of genres, it is a complex mystery, a work of historical fiction, a school story and one of friendship, with a leitmotif of time travel running through it. Most of all the novel is a thrilling puzzle. Stead piles up clues on the way to a moment of intense drama, after which it is pretty much impossible to stop reading until the last page.

Philip Hoose’s Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice

Here’s what I wrote in a post I did about seeing Philip and Claudette speak to a group of teens in Harlem a few months ago:

Hoose’s research is remarkable, but it is the way he seamlessly interweaves Claudette’s own memories with his third person account (sprinkled with other quotes) that makes this book so outstanding.  Hoose does a beautiful job bringing in Jim Crow, the players, the situations, the trials, the arrests, and so much more while keeping Claudette’s own words front and center.  I think this book does an extraordinary job helping young readers today get a sense of that time through Claudette’s words and experiences.

Brian Floca’s Moonshot: The Flight of Apollo 11

Since I haven’t written about this before let me do so now.  I so appreciate the way Floca uses spare poetic text to communicate the sounds, the feelings, the drama, the moments of tedium, others of stillness, all the various aspects of this singular event.  Most of all, his words convey the awe of this spectacular moment in history.

Candace Fleming’s The Great and Only Barnum: The Tremendous, Stupendous Life of Showman PT Barnum

From my blog post:

Candace Fleming does it again!  She brings yet another larger-than-live individual from America;  this one is a wild ride of a biography of the Barnum that many young readers may well recognize from the circus that still has his name.  Filled with great stories, amazing primary sources, this is one terrific book.

Kate DiCamillo’s The Magician’s Elephant

From my post about this enigmatic book and the Where the Wild Things Are movie:

Decamillo’s book is also full of beautiful and moving images and language.  It has the feel of something from an earlier century — not just the setting, but the style too —in the tradition of certain sorts of literary fairy tale writers —   say Hans Christian Andersen and Oscar Wilde. There is the developing of an unconventional family by the end that reminded me of one of my favorite books, Russell Hoban’s The Mouse and his Child.

Marilyn Nelson’s Sweethearts of Rhythm: The Story of the Greatest All-Girl Swing Band in the World.

From my post about it:

Through the voices of the instruments, Nelson’s series of poems capture the story of this band as they performed throughout the United States in the 30s and 40s.  From fancy ballrooms to dusty picnics, these girl musicians were heard by a huge swath of the American population during a very challenging time period.  Nelson does a spectacular job with each separate poem slipping in historical facts about life in that time, the individual performer, the band, and the music.  Jim Crow, war and peace, pain and happiness, a myriad of fascinating details of 30s and 40s life suffuses these poems. And boy do they shine — bouncing, crooning, tootling, moaning, and blaring by way of those instrument storytellers.  Nelson respects her young audience, using big words and big ideas that swirl amidst sound, rhythm, pain, joy, and history in these captivating riffs of verse.

Rosanne Parry’s Heart of a Shepherd

I haven’t written about this one till now because I avoided reading it. Despite all the good things I heard about it  the description made me feel it wasn’t for me.  I was wrong. I finally read it this past weekend, thought it was superb, and now here it is, on my list of seven Newbery contenders.  I finished it in tears because Parry so perfectly brought the pain and joy of the story to a fitting conclusion.  Faith, community, family, ranching are all beautifully brought to life by this first time writer.  Most of all, I admired how she shows her main character Brother grappling with big ideas, the kind that are not always easy to sort out and the kind I well remember thinking about at his age. There are a lot of books out just now about war and absent military parents. This one gets it just right.



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