Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Carry On, Mr. Bowditch by Jean Lee Latham

1956 Newbery Winner
Finished 12-25-08

Our family owns this book, and as such, I’ve read it several times throughout the years. Funny story: it took me for-ever to figure out that Nathaniel Bowditch was a real person. I always thought it was just a nice story about some fictional guy. I don’t really remember when I discovered that Nathaniel Bowditch actually lived—I just remember sputtering to my sister over it. She was pretty amazed that I’d never figured it out.

At any rate, the book is a retelling of the life of Nathaniel Bowditch, a man who did much for the art of navigation in the 1700s. Nat loves working with numbers, but at the age of twelve, he is forced to drop out of school and become indentured for nine years. Yet he refuses to give up. Using hard work and perseverance (what he calls “Sailing by the ash breeze”), he teaches himself all he can about mathematics and things related to it. In addition, he learns three new languages—all the result of plain hard work.

After his indenture is over, Nat signs on a ship. There he learns about navigation and teaches the common men on the ship that they, too, are smart enough to learn how to navigate if only they work hard enough. He soon becomes disgusted with the quality of the books of that day on navigation, and makes it his goal to write a book that even the unschooled seaman can understand.

I’m not sure whether it’s good or bad that it took me so long to figure out this wasn’t a fictional book. I’m inclined to think it’s good. The author worked the facts so smoothly into the book, that I obviously didn’t even notice. It’s filed in the biography section in one of my local libraries, but it doesn’t read like a long list of facts. The author created fictitious dialogue, so it isn’t strictly a facts book at all. It’s more like the story of his life. I, for one, really like that effect.

The character of Nathaniel Bowditch is definitely memorable. His sister claimed that he couldn’t even “pay a compliment without arithmetic”, he was so enamored with mathematics. Jean Lee Latham brought him alive for me, and for that reason, Carry On, Mr. Bowditch makes my top ten list.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Crispin: The Cross of Lead by Avi

2003 Newbery Winner
Finished 12-18-06

I remember when I first started working at my local library, one of the librarians, in an attempt to find out what I liked to read, asked me if I liked Avi. Avi, I thought. Who in the world is Avi? And why does he have such a weird name? The conversation slipped from my mind until I saw this book on the Newbery list and picked it up. Oh yeah, the guy with the weird name.

Crispin is a wolf’s head. Anyone can kill him without getting into trouble. How did this come about? Well, Crispin doesn’t really understand it himself. He was accused of a crime he didn’t commit, and forced to flee for his life. A man named John Aycliffe seems to be behind all this trouble. Crispin does his best to protect himself, but John Aycliffe is a powerful man. Will Crispin’s wits, and the help of his new friend Bear, be enough to keep him alive?

I was predisposed to like this book, because the cover flap promised adventure. Those types of Newbery books seem to be more of a rarity, and I usually enjoy the ones I come across. And sure enough, the book delivered what I was expecting. It wasn’t ever slow or boring.

The other thing that I really enjoyed about this book was the time period it was set in. It gives an interesting picture of the Medieval age—and not the glamorous one with knights and ladies either. It was quite realistic and kind of a revelation to me that things weren’t as sappy sweet back then as sometimes is implied.

So, now I know who Avi is. I must say, I enjoyed this book quite a bit, and directly after reading it, resolved in my Newbery notebook that I would try more of this author.

Monday, March 3, 2008

My Top Ten List

After I mentioned in my review of The Giver that it would be on my top-ten list of Newbery books, I thought, "Hey, it might be kind of fun to make a top-ten list." So I did.

Please understand that I'm not trying to say that these are the best Newbery books. I'm saying that they're my personal favorites. I absolutely know that someone else's list would look completely different.

Also, this list is incomplete, for the simple reason that I've got, oh, 200 something more books to read. Ha. Yeah. I'm planning to repost the list about once a month, and tell whether it has changed and why.

Without further ado, here is my top-ten list of favorite Newbery books. It includes both Winner and Honor books. The books are listed in no particular order.

The Giver by Lois Lowry, review here

I love the way this book is so accessible, yet it makes me think. It has the perfect balance between the two.

The Black Cauldron by Lloyd Alexander
The High King by Lloyd Alexander

I debated about putting two books from the same author AND the same series on this list, but in the end I couldn't help it. I love Lloyd Alexander. His characters captured me and I'm still as enthusiastic about them now as when I first read the books.

Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo

I loved this book for its sweetness and simplicity, and for its awesome characters.

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle, review here

The impulsiveness of Meg. The creepiness of IT. The triumphant ending. Okay, mainly the triumphant ending. All these combined to make an unforgettable book for me.

Charlotte's Web by E.B. White, review here

The slightly comical tone of this book is one of the reasons I like it so much. Among many other things.

Carry On, Mr. Bowditch by Jean Lee Latham

This might seem like a slightly odd choice, but me and this book have a long history. I've been rereading it since I was a kid, and it's always held up. Very enjoyable.

Princess Academy by Shannon Hale

I knew as soon as I saw the cover of this book that I was going to like it. And like it I did.

These Happy Golden Years by Laura Ingalls Wilder

Fine, I admit it. Sometimes I fall into a big, wet, sloppy puddle over a romance. This is one of those times. Awwwww.

Holes by Louis Sachar

Why do I like this? Does the fact that it's fun count?

I can't wait until I get to kick a book off this list, just because it means that I'll have found another book to drool over, to force in front of the noses of all my friends and relatives. It will be great fun.