Friday, February 29, 2008

The Giver by Lois Lowry

1994 Newbery Winner
Finished 12-14-06

Jonas lives in a world as near to perfect as it can be made. Every citizen of his community respects every other citizen. Each person has his or her place. The community runs like a well-oiled machine. Jonas is perfectly happy with this—until. Until he meets the Giver. Suddenly Jonas’s wonderful perception of his community begins to rust away, flake by flake.

When I started out reading the Newbery Award and Honor books, I was basically rereading. I didn’t want to spend a whole lot of time going “Well, I read this about five years ago. Should I count that as having read it for this project?” So I just decided to reread everything. We had quite a few Newbery books laying around the house, so I gathered them into a pile, and using the highly scientific method of eeny-meeny-miny-moe, began reading. None of the books were really new or exciting to me.

The Giver was one of the first Newbery books that I borrowed from the library, one that I hadn’t read yet. I think I’d kind of heard of it. But really, I wandered into it unawares, and came out grinning like some kind of overly happy clown. Looking back in my Newbery notebook, I see that I babbled somewhat incoherently about how great it was after I was finished.

What can I say about this book that hasn’t already been said by dozens of other reviewers? I can tell you why I think it clicked for me. It was the mixture of depth and accessibility. When I think of a “serious” book, words like “slow-moving” and “dull” come to mind. That’s probably a wrong assumption—but that’s a topic for another post. What I liked about The Giver was that it actually moved. Yet it also made me use my brain, and challenged ideas I had taken for granted.

If you haven’t read the book, you may not want to read this paragraph of the review. I want to give my opinion on the ending. A lot of people seem to dislike it because of its ambiguity. Me? I don't mind not knowing what happened to Jonas. It's obvious to me that he is going to be fine. I want to know what happened to the people he left behind. What about Asher and Fiona? And Jonas’s family? Do they change for the better? Those were the questions I wanted badly to be answered.

If I had a top-ten list of Newbery books, this would make the cut. Is that recommendation enough?

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse

1998 Newbery Winner
Finished 12-14-06

The dust bowl is hard for Billie Jo and her family, but they still have each other, and Billie Jo can lose herself by playing the piano. Then an accident occurs, and everything changes. Bereft of so many things important to her, Billie Jo struggles to deal with the circumstances she finds herself in.

The word that comes to mind when I think of this book is “raw”.

I don’t mean like unpolished, or any of that stuff. I mean, it almost hurts to read it. None of the words are wasted, and as such, they pack a powerful enough punch to knock you down. The emotions aren’t excessive, but they’re so undiluted that they sort of take your breath away.

I’m slightly allergic to books written free verse. After all, why write a book with all those funny little lines when you could just put them in perfectly nice paragraphs? Much more organized. I won’t say that this book won me over to free verse, but I will say that I don’t think this book would have been nearly as good had it not been written in free verse. So if you, like me, are a little worried about the format of this book, I would give it a try anyway. I think most will like it.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Mr. Popper's Penguin's by Richard and Florence Atwater

1939 Newbery Honor
Finished 12-13-06

When Mr. Popper, a dedicated Polar expedition fanatic, tunes in to the broadcast of the Drake Antarctic Expedition, he gets the surprise of his life.

“’That’s nothing,’ said Mrs. Popper. ‘Just a lot of men at the bottom of the world saying “Hello, Mamma. Hello, Papa.”’

‘Sh!’ commanded Mr. Popper, laying his ear close to the radio.

There was a buzz, and then suddenly, from the South Pole, a faint voice floated out into the Popper living room.

‘This is Admiral Drake speaking. Hello, Mamma. Hello, Papa. Hello, Mr. Popper.’

‘Gracious goodness,’ exclaimed Mrs. Popper. ‘Did he say “Papa” or “Popper”?’

‘Hello, Mr. Popper, up there in Stillwater. Thanks for your nice letter about the pictures of our last expedition. Watch for an answer. But not by letter, Mr. Popper. Watch for a surprise. Signing off. Signing off.’”

After this mysterious message, Mr. Popper can hardly wait to see what the surprise could be. And one day a package arrives. It is covered with warnings, like “Unpack at Once” and “Keep Cool”, and it has holes punched in it. And lo and behold, when Mr. Popper unpacks it, he discovers a penguin inside! Thus is the beginning of a wonderful adventure for the Popper family.

This book is a wacky, fun ride. The authors don’t in any way attempt to make the book believable, and in a way, that’s the best part of it. The reader is asked to sit back for a few hours, suspend practicality, and travel along with Mr. Popper and his penguins (notice the plurality of the word) on a wild adventure.

There are plenty of laughs along the way. Mr. Popper’s mischievous penguins interrupt a diva in the middle of her operatic concert, cause havoc on a train by giving in to the temptation to climb the porters’ ladders, and come close to getting into a fight with half-a-dozen seals.

An engaging and amusing book for anyone who’s willing to give it a try.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

By the Shores of Silver Lake by Laura Ingalls Wilder

1940 Newbery Honor
Finished 12-12-06

When we meet the Ingalls family in this book, there have been drastic changes. Mary has gone blind from the affects of scarlet fever. The Ingalls are once more preparing for a move, this time to Dakota Territory. Their hardships and triumphs are recorded here.

It seems like the older Laura gets in these stories, the more I enjoy them. In this book, she is forced to become more unselfish in order to help Mary. I can relate to her more as she deals with more mature problems.

You can read my review of On the Banks of Plum Creek here.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Newbery trivia

For any Newbery fanatics out there, here's a fun quiz at Linda Sue Park's website. (Linda Sue Park won the 2002 Newbery Medal for A Single Shard.) Head on over and see how much you know about the Newbery award. There's a couple of stumper questions. Here's another quiz she did that isn't Newbery related--but I'll post it anyway. Children's books, Newbery award, they're all related, right?

Friday, February 8, 2008

The Sign of the Beaver by Elizabeth George Speare

1984 Newbery Honor
Finished 12-10-06

Being chased by a swarm of bees isn’t the best way to meet friends, but that’s what happens to Matt. His father has left him to protect their cabin in the Main wilderness while he goes to fetch his wife and daughter, and Matt was doing perfectly fine—that is, until he decided that it might be a good idea to get some honey from a bee tree. His plan backfires. Fortunately, two Indians rescue him. One of them is a boy his age named Attean, and soon Matt and Attean strike up a tentative friendship.

Days pass. Months pass. Soon, it is way past time for Matt’s family to return. The Indians are moving to better hunting grounds, and they invite Matt to come. It is a difficult decision for Matt. Will he stay, clinging to the hope that his family will return? Or will he move on with his friend?

I liked how the author showed both Attean's and Matt's way of living. It didn’t feel like she had an agenda, to show that one or the other way was better. Neither was shown in a bad light. I felt as if it was a very fair and accurate representation of both worlds.

I enjoyed reading the book through once, although I don’t think it would become a favorite of mine. The reason for that is simply because I’m not a huge fan of wilderness survival stories. I think it would be an excellent book for any adventure-loving boy.

An interesting aside—Elizabeth George Speare only wrote four books in her lifetime. Three of them made the Newbery list—two were winners, and this one was an honor. That’s pretty amazing. It’s a shame that she didn’t write more books.

Monday, February 4, 2008

King of the Wind by Marguerite Henry

1949 Newbery Winner
Finished 12-10-06

When Sham is born, Agba knows there is something special about him, and that he will be a swift horse. And indeed, Sham is one of the horses sent by the Sultan as a gift to the King of France. Agba is sent with him, and ordered to care for the horse as long as Sham lives.

When the horses arrive, however, they are scrawny from the journey, and the king rejects them. One by one, people reject and underestimate Sham. Agba knows Sham can be great, but who will recognize this?

I wasn’t very fond of the other book I read by Marguerite Henry, Misty of Chincoteague, but I liked this one better. The plot was innovative, I enjoyed the character of Agba, and the ending was fitting. I’m sure that horse-lovers will like this one, but I think it will appeal to others as well.