18 April 2014

The Summer of the Swans: 1971 Newbery Award Winner

The beginning of March 2014 I started a new undertaking: reading every single Newbery Medal Winner book.  A number of them I have read in the past, but I am reading them with fresh eyes,and reviewing them for others. I am not reading them in order, as some will require some effort on my part to find them all.  Want to keep track of which books I read?  Check them out at Confessions of a Wannabe Reader!

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Cover of the book - The image is used for identification purposes only under the fair use clause


Sara Godfrey: Teenage Angst

"She could never really be sure of anything this summer.  One moment she was happy, and the next, for no reason, she was miserable."

Sara Godfrey is fourteen, and suddenly nothing seems right with her world.  It is summertime, and Sara lives in a West Virginia town with beautiful older sister Wanda and her mentally-handicapped brother Charlie, who are watched over by her father's younger sister Willie while he works in another state.  Sara finds fault with everyone but her little brother, because he can't help himself, and wishes she could fly away like the swans that live on the nearby lake.  She is also extremely overprotective of Charlie, and stops at nothing to "avenge" any wrongs done to him, though most are minor, and the resulting punishments she endures puts her deeper into a "world is out to get her" funk.  When Charlie disappears, Sara must come out of her teen-aged moodiness to figure out what really is important to her, and why her family does what they do.

This was a quick read for me, as I read it in only twenty minutes.  It was a good read, and an accurate description of teenage angst.  The Summer of the Swans, by Betsy Byars, is the story of one girl discovering that the world is not unfair to her, no matter how much she thinks it is.  Sara, being a middle child, feels like everyone is threatening to her, and she must act out to protect herself and her brother.  When she discovers that people can and do change, or at least her perceptions of them can change, she matures.  The story takes place in only two days, but was a good story nevertheless.

One thing I find interesting is the amount of Newbery Award winning books that take place in West Virginia.  I seem to have read them almost one after the other.  Summer of the Swans is just one example.  Missing May, Shiloh, and Belle Prater's Boy (while not a winner it is a Newbery Honor Book) all take place in West Virginia and Walk Two Moons has part of its setting in the Appalachians as well.

17 April 2014

The Westing Game: 1979 Newbery Award Winner

The beginning of March 2014 I started a new undertaking: reading every single Newbery Medal Winner book. A number of them I have read in the past, but I am reading them with fresh eyes,and reviewing them for others. I am not reading them in order, as some will require some effort on my part to find them all.  Want to keep track of which books I read?  Check them out at Confessions of a Wannabe Reader!

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Cover of book - used for identification purposes only under the fair use clause
Samuel Westing: Eccentric Man

"I, Samuel W. Westing, hereby swear that I did nor die of natural causes.  My life was taken from me - by one of you!"

The millionaire Samuel Westing mysteriously dies, and sixteen people in the neighboring apartment building are chosen to come to the reading of the will.  Because the late eccentric loved his games, the sixteen near strangers, are to compete for a chance to win his fortune.  The only problem is that one of them probably killed the old man.  Is it the Chinese restaurateur James Shin Hoo, his wife Mrs. Hoo, or his son Doug?  Is it Jacob Wexler, podiatrist and bookie?  How about his wife, Grace, or daughters Angela and Turtle?  Maybe it is Angela's fiance, Doctor Denton Deere.  Is it one of the brothers, Theo and Chris Theodorakis?  Is it the dressmaker Flora Baumbach, or the judge J.J. Ford? Maybe it's the doorman, Sandy McSouthers, or the old washerwoman Crow.  Perhaps it is the secretary Sydelle Pulaski or Otis Amber the weird deliveryman.  One of them will win the game, and one of them will be exposed for his or her crime.  But who is it?  Thus begins the Westing Game.

The Westing Game is a novel by Ellen Raskin and one of the best mysteries I have ever read.  I have always enjoyed wordplay and there is a great deal of it in this story.  The story is also reminiscent of the Encyclopedia Brown series by Donald Sobel in that there is a mystery which  can only be found because of a way things could be worded.  This book also brought to mind the movie Rat Race in which there were several people scrambling to find clues to a fortune.

The author does an excellent job of weaving together stories, and shows how these sixteen people were chosen as contestants.  The way that she brings all of them together is both comical and sweet at various times.  There are stories that contrast each other as well as stories that parallel.  Almost all of the characters grow and change during the novel as well.  And unlike some stories  in which there is a large ensemble of main characters, there is no getting lost when the author switches from one character to another.

15 April 2014

Shiloh: 1992 Newbery Award Winner

The beginning of March 2014 I started a new undertaking: reading every single Newbery Medal Winner book. A number of them I have read in the past, but I am reading them with fresh eyes,and reviewing them for others. I am not reading them in order, as some will require some effort on my part to find them all.  Want to keep track of which books I read?  Check them out at Confessions of a Wannabe Reader!

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Cover of book - used for identification purposes only under the fair use clause
Marty Preston: Determined to Do Right

"I’m thinking how nothing is as simple as you guess-not right or wrong, not Judd Travers, not even me or this dog I got here."

Marty Preston lives in the hills of Friendly, West Virginia.  At eleven, he wishes for a dog of his own, but there is little money for the family, and no money to support any pets.  While roaming the woods one day, he comes across a scared and abused beagle.  When he discovers that the dog belongs to his neighbor, Judd Travers, who is known to be an angry man, he decides to hide the dog, whom he names Shiloh, to protect him from Judd.   In doing so, he has to keep Shiloh a secret from his family, and when the secret starts to become to hard for him to handle, he finds that he's placing not only Shiloh's life in danger of exposure to Judd's anger, but his family as well.

Shiloh was written by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor.  I read it as a preteen and enjoyed it.  Rereading it again was like rediscovering a sliver of my childhood.  The story is bittersweet at times, and does have a happy ending, as well as a few sequels.  While I haven't read the sequels, I did enjoy this book as a child, and I enjoyed it again having re-read it as an adult.

The story is a coming-of-age novel, as Marty must battle with morals in his plight to do what is right.  Should he save Shiloh, or give Judd back what is legally his?  He wrestles with things that aren't black and white, and grows in maturity as a result.  Marty also learns that sometimes growing up is hard, for there isn't always an answer that will make everyone happy.  He also learns that not every adult will stay true to their word, and that the innocence of the world masks some of the horrors of it.

14 April 2014

Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry: 1977 Newbery Award Winner

The beginning of March 2014 I started a new undertaking: reading every single Newbery Medal Winner book. A number of them I have read in the past, but I am reading them with fresh eyes,and reviewing them for others. I am not reading them in order, as some will require some effort on my part to find them all.  Want to keep track of which books I read?  Check them out at Confessions of a Wannabe Reader!
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Cover of the book - Used for illustration purposes only under the fair use clause


Cassie Logan: Wishing For Change

"Oh, P-Papa, d-does it have to be?' ......'All I can say, Cassie girl... is that it shouldn't be."

Nine-year-old Cassie Logan lives in on her family's farm in Mississippi with her parents, her grandmother and her three brothers.  They are unique in their community because they are the only black family in the town to own land.  That doesn't mean they aren't being affected by the Depression going on around them though, as the land is mortgaged and the family does not have enough to make ends meet.  There is also the fact that many of the whites in the area can't stand the "uppity" ways of the Logan family.  When a series of events threaten to destroy Cassie's preconceived notion of how her life is, Cassie must struggle to accept her place in society and the fact that her family isn't as special as she believes.

I had recently read Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor, as it was read by the sixth grade class at the school I work at as one of their English novels, and I had been subbing for one of the English teachers at that time.  It is a great work about the lives of sharecropping African Americans versus the whites that lived in the areas, and an accurate account of what happened to those who went against the norms of society.

Struggle is a theme of this book.  Cassie struggles to find her place in society, as she deals with the racism of white children and adults alike.  Her parents struggle to make the farm successful.  Her elder brother, Stacy, struggles to be friends with two boys in the community, one black named T.J. Avery and one white named Jeremy Simms.

This was a difficult book to read, but was also a good book to read.  Like Sounder, this book is written from the perspective of an African American child.  The racism and tragic events in this story were told from Cassie's perspective, which seemed to soften their harshness.  I did enjoy this book more than I had Sounder, though this was not one of my favorites from this project.  It is a book that will open a child's eyes to the horrors of racism.

12 April 2014

Missing May: 1993 Newbery Award Winner

The beginning of March 2014 I started a new undertaking: reading every single Newbery Medal Winner book. A number of them I have read in the past, but I am reading them with fresh eyes,and reviewing them for others. I am not reading them in order, as some will require some effort on my part to find them all.  Want to keep track of which books I read?  Check them out at Confessions of a Wannabe Reader!

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Cover of the book - Used for illustration purposes only under the fair use clause
Aunt May: The Angel

"May Always said we were angels before we were ever people.  She said when we were finished being people we'd go back to being angels.  And we'd never feel pain again."

Twelve year old Summer has lived with her elderly Aunt May and Uncle Ob in their dilapidated West Virginia trailer since she was an orphan of six, having been shuttled from family member to family member since her mother died.  But Aunt May recently died, and her arthritic old uncle isn't doing so well missing his beloved wife, until one day he swears he feels her spirit.  With the help of a very odd schoolmate, Cletus Underwood, Summer tries to help Uncle Ob live again, and connect with the spirit of May.  She also must learn to continue living herself without May.

Missing May by Cynthia Rylant is a bittersweet short novel about grief.  May, the deceased aunt, was the glue that held both Ob and Summer together.  Her spirit kept the house from falling apart, and now she is gone.  The story has some of the same elements as Walk Two Moons, in that there is this grief that hasn't been let go yet, and that there is some wish of the characters to hold onto the living spirit of the departed. Cletus Underwood acts as the bridge between that grief and the healing that comes from letting that grief go and living again.

Missing May, like all great books, is a story of journey.  Ob and Summer both need to make a journey from what they had to what they have now, a life without the person they truly loved.  The story also reminded me of A Taste of Blackberries by Doris Buchanan Smith, which was also a book that haunted me in my childhood with its realistic portrayal of death and a child's way of dealing with it.

11 April 2014

A Year Down Yonder: 2001 Newbery Award Winner

The beginning of March 2014 I started a new undertaking: reading every single Newbery Medal Winner book. A number of them I have read in the past, but I am reading them with fresh eyes,and reviewing them for others. I am not reading them in order, as some will require some effort on my part to find them all.  Want to keep track of which books I read?  Check them out at Confessions of a Wannabe Reader!


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Cover of the book - Used for illustration purposes only under the fair use clause

Sometimes I binge read and then remember to write up reviews on several books at once, or I write up reviews on sheets of paper and then have to find time to type them into the computer, so forgive the multiple posts today.



Mary Alice Dowdel: The City Gal

Mary Alice Dowdel used to spend just her summers at her grandmother's house in southern Illinois, but the year is 1937 and the Great Depression has hit her family hard.  Her parents are boarding in a single room, her brother is working out West, and the fifteen-year-old is sent to live with her grandmother for the entire year.  She is not happy with the prospect, as her grandmother lives in a very rural area that is very hick to the Chicago girl.  Her grandmother is tough as nails and very no nonsense, and Mary Alice dreads the prospect of living with her.  But that changes as Mary Alice gets to know her grandmother and warms up to some of the townsfolk.   She learns that maybe the year spent "down yonder" wasn't so bad.

I had read this story before and thoroughly enjoyed it when I read it.  A Year Down Yonder is the middle book of a trilogy by Richard Peck, who also wrote the book Strays Like Us (another book I really enjoyed reading).  It is the heartwarming tale of a teen who learns that her seemingly backwards grandmother isn't as backwards as she seems.  It is also a tale about coming home.  This book, which seems to be written for teenagers instead of children, is an awesome story of remembering a stage in childhood for a young woman.  Some of it reminded me of elements of the book Belle Prater's Boy, particularly the revealing of some of the townsfolk's secrets and the way that some of the hoity-toity elite of the town try to stay away from the country bumpkins.  It is a very good read.

Flora and Ulysses: 2014 Newbery Award

The beginning of March 2014 I started a new undertaking: reading every single Newbery Medal Winner book. A number of them I have read in the past, but I am reading them with fresh eyes,and reviewing them for others. I am not reading them in order, as some will require some effort on my part to find them all.  Want to keep track of which books I read?  Check them out at Confessions of a Wannabe Reader!

Cover of the book - Used for illustration purposes only under the fair use clause
Flora Belle Buckman: The Cynic

"I promise to always turn back toward you."

Comic-book loving Flora Buckman, the only way to cope with her distant mother and her depressed father is to be cynical.  When a squirrel is sucked up into a neighbor's runaway vacuum, Flora comes to his rescue and brings the squirrel back to life. She is then amazed to find that the incident has left the squirrel with super hero powers of flight and super-strength, just like in her beloved comic books.  She names him Ulysses and takes him with her.  With the help of Ulysses, the weird boy next door named William Spiver, and a series of zany events, Flora learns to hope and love again and teaches those around her to do the same.

Flora and Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures was an interesting read for me.  The story is fantastic in nature, being a story about a super-hero squirrel.  The zaniness of the story kept me enthralled until the end of the book.  Having already read Kate DiCamillo's first Newbery Award book The Tale of Despereaux and her book Because of Winn-Dixie, I was used to her writing style, which flows freely and reads easily.

The theme of this book is love, family love in particular.  Flora has tried to stop loving those around her because it appears those around her have stopped loving her with all of their heart.  Yet when she saves Ulysses, a little of the cynical wall that she has built up around her heart starts to melt.  Throughout the adventures the tow have, they touch the lives around them, from Flora's parents, to William Spiver and his great-aunt, to the neighbor of her father's.  The story twists and turns and even has an arch-nemesis. Overall, it is a fun read with an ending that seems to mean good things to come for our superhero and his sidekick.