Friday, January 23, 2015

Four star Newbery and Other Young Adult/Children's Books 2014

Photo by roujo

Newbery Medal Books:

So my work ethic regarding my Newbery Medal blog post series has not been stellar so far. But that's okay - I have shit to do, and no one's paying me for it. It will happen in due time. These are the books I've managed to read so far, although I haven't reviewed all of them on the blog yet.

Criss Cross by Lynne Rae Perkins. Goodreads synopsis: 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.

Reviewed on blog. 

The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin. Goodreads synopsis: A bizarre chain of events begins when sixteen unlikely people gather for the reading of Samuel W. Westing's will. And though no one knows why the eccentric, game-loving millionaire has chosen a virtual stranger - and a possible murderer - to inherit his vast fortune, one things' for sure: Sam Westing may be dead... but that won't stop him from playing one last game!
Winner of the Newbery Medal
Winner of the Boston Globe/Horn Book Award
An ALA Notable Book

I wish I'd read this when I was younger - not because it wasn't good enough to read as an adult, just because I think it would have been quite magical to read as a tween - but I still enjoyed the icky food-stained library copy I borrowed. A little dated, but amazing strong young female character.

Jacob Have I Loved by Katherine Paterson. Goodreads synopsis: Esau have I hated . . . Sara Louise Bradshaw is sick and tired of her beautiful twin Caroline. Ever since they were born, Caroline has been the pretty one, the talented one, the better sister. Even now, Caroline seems to take everything: Louise's friends, their parents' love, her dreams for the future.
For once in her life, Louise wants to be the special one. But in order to do that, she must first figure out who she is . . . and find a way to make a place for herself outside her sister's shadow.

On my first post about the series, a few of us talked about how we always saw this book in our school libraries but never ended up reading it. Well, I finally did, and I loved it - and yet I still haven't gotten around to reviewing it, because the ebook expired from my ipad before I could make any notes. I promise I will review it next. 

Lincoln: a Photobiography by Russell Freedman. Goodreads synopsis: 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.
This title has been selected as a Common Core Text Exemplar (Grades 2-3, Read Aloud Informational Text).

Screw the kids - I thought this was great. I find conventional biographies can be such a slog; this was simple without being dumbed-down, and I felt like I gained such a greater understanding of him as a man and a political figure. If this was a series about important figures in history I would read every single book. 

The Giver by Lois Lowry. Goodreads synopsis: Jonas's world is perfect. Everything is under control. There is no war or fear or pain. There are no choices. Every person is assigned a role in the Community. When Jonas turns twelve, he is singled out to receive special training from The Giver. The Giver alone holds the memories of the true pain and pleasure of life. Now, it is time for Jonas to receive the truth. There is no turning back.

Reviewed on blog. One of the first reviews that comes up on Goodreads for this book is a one-star review by someone who calls himself Keely and launches a blistering many-page attack on how the book is a piece of 'nationalist propaganda' and the author uses oversimplification and something called a "monomyth" to "shut down her readers' minds". A spirited discussion, to the tune of 743 comments, follows. As usual, my first impulse when I read a review like this of a book I like, is to be stricken by self-doubt and shame - is he right? Am I a mush-brained sheep-like follower who caves into monomythic propaganda? Then I calm down and look again, and in a case such as this, realize that, while my first notion was that he had put a lot of thought into his attack, it would be more precise to say he had put in some thought which he then put into many many words, several of which were near-meaningless jargon. It's not a perfect book, but it's a good one, and in my opinion it's less about defending a particular system of government and more about wondering if sanding down all the rough edges of what makes us human can make a more perfect society. 

The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate. Goodreads synopsis: Ivan is an easygoing gorilla. Living at the Exit 8 Big Top Mall and Video Arcade, he has grown accustomed to humans watching him through the glass walls of his domain. He rarely misses his life in the jungle. In fact, he hardly ever thinks about it at all.
Instead, Ivan thinks about TV shows he’s seen and about his friends Stella, an elderly elephant, and Bob, a stray dog. But mostly Ivan thinks about art and how to capture the taste of a mango or the sound of leaves with color and a well-placed line.
Then he meets Ruby, a baby elephant taken from her family, and she makes Ivan see their home—and his own art—through new eyes. When Ruby arrives, change comes with her, and it’s up to Ivan to make it a change for the better.
Katherine Applegate blends humor and poignancy to create Ivan’s unforgettable first-person narration in a story of friendship, art, and hope.

Bittersweet and moving. 

Flora and Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures by Kate DiCamillo. Goodreads synopsis: It begins, as the best superhero stories do, with a tragic accident that has unexpected consequences. The squirrel never saw the vacuum cleaner coming, but self-described cynic Flora Belle Buckman, who has read every issue of the comic book Terrible Things Can Happen to You!, is the just the right person to step in and save him. What neither can predict is that Ulysses (the squirrel) has been born anew, with powers of strength, flight, and misspelled poetry—and that Flora will be changed too, as she discovers the possibility of hope and the promise of a capacious heart. From #1 New York Times best-selling author Kate DiCamillo comes a laugh-out-loud story filled with eccentric, endearing characters and featuring an exciting new format—a novel interspersed with comic-style graphic sequences and full-page illustrations, all rendered in black-and-white by up-and-coming artist K. G. Campbell.

Cock-eyed, funny, weird and sweet. 

Young Adult/Children's:

Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy by Karen Foxlee. Goodreads synopsis: A modern-day fairy tale set in a mysterious museum that is perfect for readers of Roald Dahl and Blue Balliett.
Unlikely heroine Ophelia Jane Worthington-Whittard doesn't believe in anything that can't be proven by science. She and her sister Alice are still grieving for their dead mother when their father takes a job in a strange museum in a city where it always snows. On her very first day in the museum Ophelia discovers a boy locked away in a long forgotten room. He is a prisoner of Her Majesty the Snow Queen. And he has been waiting for Ophelia's help.
As Ophelia embarks on an incredible journey to rescue the boy everything that she believes will be tested. Along the way she learns more and more about the boy's own remarkable journey to reach her and save the world.
A story within a story, this a modern day fairytale is about the power of friendship, courage and love, and never ever giving up.

I read this once and liked it, but had the nagging feeling that I hadn't quite done it justice. So I read it again, which confirmed that feeling. Ophelia Jane Worthington-Whittard (is that not a name to conjure with?) is a wonderful heroine, this is a kick-ass story, and the descriptions of the cold are, well, chilling. I bought two copies of this to give for Christmas. 

Parallel by Lauren Miller. Goodreads synopsis: Abby Barnes had a plan. The Plan. She'd go to Northwestern, major in journalism, and land a job at a national newspaper, all before she turned twenty-two. But one tiny choice—taking a drama class her senior year of high school—changed all that. Now, on the eve of her eighteenth birthday, Abby is stuck on a Hollywood movie set, miles from where she wants to be, wishing she could rewind her life. The next morning, she's in a dorm room at Yale, with no memory of how she got there. Overnight, it's as if her past has been rewritten.
With the help of Caitlin, her science-savvy BFF, Abby discovers that this new reality is the result of a cosmic collision of parallel universes that has Abby living an alternate version of her life. And not only that: Abby's life changes every time her parallel self makes a new choice. Meanwhile, her parallel is living out Abby's senior year of high school and falling for someone Abby's never even met.
As she struggles to navigate her ever-shifting existence, forced to live out the consequences of a path she didn't choose, Abby must let go of the Plan and learn to focus on the present, without losing sight of who she is, the boy who might just be her soul mate, and the destiny that's finally within reach.

I am of two parallel minds about this book. The cranky one was about to have an aneurysm if Abby realized one more time that she was late for something and had to go unshowered without brushing her teeth. It also thought the whole soulmate thing was silly and choosing one was totally arbitrary. The receptive one was enchanted with the whole crazy concept and loved Abby's relationship with her parents and the witty family banter; also, Caitlin and Dr. Mann and the way the whole parallel worlds thing was insane but also completely scientifically explicable; also, the ending, which was kind of courageous and not too neat. I would call myself sort of half-defensibly smitten.

Wild Awake by Hilary T. Smith. Goodreads synopsis: Things you earnestly believe will happen while your parents are away:
1. You will remember to water the azaleas.
2. You will take detailed, accurate messages.
3. You will call your older brother, Denny, if even the slightest thing goes wrong.
4. You and your best friend/bandmate Lukas will win Battle of the Bands.
5. Amid the thrill of victory, Lukas will finally realize you are the girl of his dreams.
Things that actually happen:
1. A stranger calls who says he knew your sister.
2. He says he has her stuff.
3. What stuff? Her stuff.
4. You tell him your parents won’t be able to—
5. Sukey died five years ago; can’t he—
6. You pick up a pen.
7. You scribble down the address.
8. You get on your bike and go.
9. Things . . . get a little crazy after that.*
*also, you fall in love, but not with Lukas.
Both exhilarating and wrenching, Hilary T. Smith’s debut novel captures the messy glory of being alive, as seventeen-year-old Kiri Byrd discovers love, loss, chaos, and murder woven into a summer of music, madness, piercing heartbreak, and intoxicating joy.

Borrowed the library ebook and then read it last night when I realized it was about to expire. I have mixed feelings about it, although I wholly enjoyed the experience of reading it. The argument can certainly be made that parts of it glorify mental illness, but then, I've had a few manic phases, and there ARE positive elements to them. I probably wouldn't let my kid read it without some accompanying discussion, but that's true for most YA books. The writing was good. The story was engaging: the family dynamic is realistic - I absolutely believe that some families would implode in this way if this type of thing happened. I love the love story, although as a mother the way they meet makes me shudder. 
So yeah. It's not an easy book to pin down and define. It doesn't wrap everything up neatly and there are problems. That's not necessarily a bad thing.

The Ear, the Eye, and the Arm by Nancy Farmer. Goodreads synopsis: General Matsika's children steal out of the house on a forbidden adventure--and disappear. In Zimbabwe, in the year 2194, the children's parents call in Africa's most unusual detectives--the Ear, the Eye and the Arm--who have powers far beyond those of other human beings. The children must avoid the evils of the past, the technology of the future, and a motley assortment of criminals in order to return home safely. 1995 Newbery Honor Book; ALA Notable Book; ALA Best Book for Young Adults.

This was a Newbery Honor book (runner-up for the Newbery Medal). It's a really great adventure/coming of age story with mild science-fiction elements. 

Into the Grey by Celine Kiernan. Goodreads synopsis: A pacy, chilling ghost story from the creator of the internationally acclaimed Moorehawke Trilogy.
I think the fire changed us – me and Dom. I think that’s how the boy was able to see us. Though he’d been there for every summer of our childhood, we’d only been stupid boys until then. Stupid, happy, ignorant boys. And what in hell would he have had in common with two stupid boys? But after the fire we were different. We were maybe a little bit like him. And so he saw us, at last, and he thought he’d found a home.
This was really quite original and frightening and sad and lovely. It's a ghost story, but not like any I've read before. 

Fortunately the Milk by Neil Gaiman. Goodreads synopsis: "I bought the milk," said my father. "I walked out of the corner shop, and heard a noise like this: T h u m m t h u m m. I looked up and saw a huge silver disc hovering in the air above Marshall Road."
"Hullo," I said to myself. That's not something you see every day." And then something odd happened.
Find out just how odd things get in this hilarious story of time travel and breakfast cereal.

I got the ebook for this on my ipad, and my ten-year-old daughter and I read it in bed in two sittings. She reads voraciously on her own now, so something that brings us back to "reading a story" is much appreciated. 

Flipped by Wendelin Van Draanen. Goodreads synopsis: Flipped is a romance told in two voices. The first time Juli Baker saw Bryce Loski, she flipped. The first time Bryce saw Juli, he ran. That’s pretty much the pattern for these two neighbors until the eighth grade, when, just as Juli is realizing Bryce isn’t as wonderful as she thought, Bryce is starting to see that Juli is pretty amazing. How these two teens manage to see beyond the surface of things and come together makes for a comic and poignant romance.

We watched part of this movie in our cabin on a rainy day on a Disney Cruise and I loved it. I always meant to finish watching it when we got home, but I forgot about it. I came across the book while surfing ebooks in the library catalogue and read it in an afternoon. I really, really liked it, although I had the impression that the movie took place a few decades ago, and the book seemed contemporary. The 'flipped' device worked on so many levels, the characters were incredibly nuanced and the interior dialogue seemed so realistic. What a great story.


Steph Lovelady said...

I'm fond of The Westing Game and The Giver, too. Read the first as a kid and then with Noah; the second with Noah.

Nicole said...

Looks great! You are such a prolific reader, my dear!

Lynn said...

I'm not such a big fan of kids/YA books - not sure why, I guess I feel like I'm obligated to spend my small amount of reading time on "respectable" pursuits. Also, I spend a LOT of time reading the Warriors books to my middle daughter and that kind of takes care of it for me :).

But there were many titles here that actually caught my interest - and I loved The Westing Game and The Giver and Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy (tried to read this last one to my middle daughter and she wasn't interested, but i couldn't help but finish it myself and loved it).

I was going to leave a list here of all the ones I'm putting on my list but then I realized that except for the three I mentioned as having already read, I'm going to but ALL of them on my reading list. Maybe even the Lincoln biography - which was one of the major Newberry winners that had me dissing the whole award, like way to be all about the IMPORTANT BOOKS, Newberry, and turns out it was actually GOOD, so I feel I should eat my words (not literally, but almost).

Lynn said...

Interesting - just went to the library website to put various titles on hold/save for later and discovered that:

* they only have an ebook version of criss cross
* they only have an ebook or large print version of Jacob Have I Loved
* they do not have a copy of The Ear, The Eye, and the Arm in any format

I'm always so curious about lost books and lost titles and how some things are just missing from the library's content. I get it that they have a limited budget and can't possibly have EVERYTHING but really - Jacob Have I Loved? Not a singe regular paper copy? Is this a apocalypse?

DaniGirl said...

Fortunately the Milk is what turned me on to Neil Gaiman. Love that book! Lucas had me read it again and again for a week.

Pam said...

Love you doing this list. It makes me want to curl up by a fireplace with a stack of books, coffee and a purple fuzzy throw and read. Thanks!

Alison said...

Lynn, I probably would feel I shouldn't read children's & YA books, but I was a teacher for a long time, so that gave me a reason! C.S. Lewis believed if a "children's" book wasn't interesting to grownups (at least to the right kind of grownups, who have never completely grown up), then it wasn't a very good book.

I loved The Westing Game and so did my daughter when she read it for school last year. I THINK they will read The Giver next year. If not, I'll encourage her to read it--I remember reading it when I taught it to 8th graders, and it gutted me. In a good way, as all you readers know.

Sasha said...

Something slightly disturbing about reading these posts (and let me say up front that it has nothing to do with the posts themselves) is how much I *don't* remember about what I've read. Criss Cross pops up here, and I know I've read it, and I think I liked it (but I had to check Goodreads just to be sure), but all I can remember about it was a scene where the kids are all sitting on the roof (watching fireworks? I'm not even sure about that). Yesterday, I went to add two books to my to-read (same author... Scalsomething? Scalsezy? I'm too lazy to look), and not only were both of them in Goodreads already, but one of them was marked as READ. And it wasn't even one of those "oh yeah, I read that already" moments, I'm so sure that someone messed that up somewhere that I moved it off my read and back to to-read. We'll see what happens when (if) I actually crack that book, maybe I'll remember it then?

And Newbery... why did I think that was a Sci Fi award. Is it just YA? I suppose I could look that up too, but I refer you to my earlier comment. Besides, if I stop writing, then maybe I'll start working, and then where would we be?? Either way, I want to follow you down your Newbery trail, partly to see how long it takes me to spell it with just one "r" on the first try, but mostly because I'll bet it will be awesome. The Westing Game looks really intriguing. I'm working on a short story about the reading of a will, I wonder, will this provide inspiration? Or just make me feel like I suddenly have no original ideas and everything will feel like it's stolen? That always worries me when reading something in the same vein as what I'm trying to write.

I started The Giver... it's one of those ones where I envy everyone else who seems to have loved it. Just wasn't working for me. I think I've whined about this before though, so I'll shut up now.

Is Flora & Ulysses a graphic novel? A hybrid? I'm intrigued...

And Parallel... preparing to also be half-defensibly smitten. I love the idea, so my expectations are high for this sort of thing, but then Sliding Doors (movie) was such a disappointment (although I think I liked it better on a subsequent viewing... because the bar had been set lower?) So I'll try to keep the (parallel) bar(s) low on this one (sorry, couldn't resist. Yes, I know I probably should have).

I have "Fortunately, the Milk" on my bedside table - did you lend it to me? I can't remember. I guess I should actually read it. (That makes it sound like a chore - totally not what I intended - I *want* to read it. I just never think of it when I have time to read).