12 September 2014

Dicey's Song : 1983 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!



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Cover of the book - used for identification purposes only under the fair use clause
Dicey Tillerman : Keeping at Arm's Length

"You've been responsible a long time and done a good job.  Take a little rest now."

Dicey Tillerman is thirteen and lives with her three siblings James, Maybeth, and Sammy at her grandmother's house in the Chesapeake Bay area of Maryland, a place they had only recently moved to.  For so long, she has had to take care of siblings, having been abandoned by their mother in a parking lot in Massachusetts.  She feels lost having someone else do it, but Gram is determined to be the parent, as well as keep her own past hidden from her granddaughter.  Dicey's mother, living in Boston in a psychiatric hospital, is no better than catatonic, and the news worries Dicey and  James.  The family has to stay together, and that to Dicey means keeping others out.  But people like Maybeth's music teacher Mr. Lingerle, the slow shop keeper Millie, and fellow students Jeff and Mina, find their way into Dicey's heart and into the family fold. Dicey soon begins to learn that maybe taking care of others means letting others take care of her as well.

Dicey's Song by Cynthia Voigt is the second in a series of books written by the author.  Like Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, this book's resolution isn't really a resolution, but rather a interlude in the lives of the Tillerman children.  The book leaves you wondering what will happen next.

Dicey, the eldest of four, is consumed with worry.  She worries that her grandmother won't be able to care for them.  She worries that her little sister Maybeth won't be able to live a normal life, and that James and Sammy won't be able to fit in.  She worries that her mother will never be coming home or that she will take them off somewhere else to fend for themselves again.  She toughens herself up so that people can't get in, since so many people have left her, that she resists and fights when Mina, Jeff, Mr. Lingerle and even Millie find their way into the family.  

Dicey also has to learn to let go but still hold on.  For most of her siblings' lives, she has been their mother, and now that they live with their grandmother, Dicey must learn to stop being the mother in the other children's life.  Grandmother warns her that she must learn to continue to hold on though, something that confuses Dicey.  It isn't until she starts letting others into her hear besides her siblings that she learns what Grandmother means, and also learns that her grandmother is speaking from experience.  

This was the first book I could recall reading from this author, and I did enjoy it.  I am not sure thought if I want to continue on in the series.

11 September 2014

The Witch of Blackbird Pond: 1959 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!

Cover of the book - Used for Identification Purposes only Under the Fair Use Clause

Kit Tyler: Longing to Escape

"There is no escape if love is not there."

Katherine Tyler, known as Kit, is an orphaned English teenager without a home.  Her grandfather, a Royalist and a rich man, has recently died, and his Caribbean home has been sold off to pay debts.  The only place for Kit to go is to Puritan Connecticut, to the home of an aunt she has never met.  Aunt Rachel and Uncle Matthew Wood take her in, much to the delight of Kit's cousin Mercy and to the chagrin of their other daughter Judith.  However, Kit feels lonely, as she doesn't fit in to the stern Puritan society of the hamlet Wethersfield, and longs to escape the confines of her new life.  Her only place of refuge is the meadow surrounding Blackbird Pond, and it is here that she meets the Widow Hannah Tupper.  Hannah also doesn't fit in to the society around them, as she is a Quaker and called a witch by some in the community.  Kit, along with the young sailor Nat Easton and the dim-witted child Prudence Cruff, both of who also don't fit in ti visit the widow in secret.  When Kit's visits are discovered, she finds herself under suspicion of witchcraft and must stand trial herself.  Will her love prevail?

The Witch of Blackbird Pond was the second book of Elizabeth George Speare's to win a Newbery award, and it was the second of her books that I ever read as a child.  In fifth grade, I was introduced to this author when my teacher read The Sign of the Beaver to the class.  Naturally, I sought out another book by her, and the school librarian recommended The Witch of Blackbird Pond. I devoured the book.  Speare's writing style to this day enthralls me, and she makes the time periods come alive in my mind.

Kit is an outsider to the way of life in the community.  She tried hard to be dull and drab, as she feels she must in the strict and stern ways of the Puritans, but there's a part of her that feels like a colorful bird locked in a cage.  This feeling is one that people can relate to.  How often does one smother their own personality to be something for someone else?  While Kit does it out of necessity, she find she can't completely hide who she is, and it is only at Hannah's house that she can ultimately find the freedom to express herself and be who she wishes to be.  She finds love and acceptance with Hannah, but also finds that maybe society at large is not really as discouraging as she thought it to be.  She comes to view her uncle in a new light as the story progresses, and she sees that where she only saw sternness lives also a quiet strength that she never knew was there and a glimmer of the man her aunt has come to love.

This story is set in late 17th century Connecticut, when Puritans ruled New England.  Yet, the way of life as the Puritans knew it was changing, as the King of England started to take more and more of an interest in the shipping and industry of the area and moved to take stronger control of it.  This is mirrored in the novel as the Puritans begin to chafe under the new Royal Governor, with the town divided on whether of not they will acknowledge his rule.  It is well written and ends on a happier note, hiding the turmoil that the area will come to endure and will ultimately assist in leading up to the American Revolution. 


04 September 2014

It's Like This, Cat: 1964 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 Identification purposes only under the fair use clause


Dave Mitchell: Seeing Through New Eyes

" My father is always talking about how a dog can be very educational for a boy.  This is one reason I got a cat."

Dave Mitchell is a normal teen growing up in New York City.  He is fourteen and doesn't see eye to eye with his father, which cases many shouting matches.  When they yell at each other, Dave's mom has another asthma attack.  It is after one such fight that Dave storms out, headed to the crazy cat lady Kate's home.  He meets a striped stray tomcat and decides to bring the cat home.  Naming the cat Cat, Dave starts to notice that Cat brings about a strange series of events.  First, Dave meets the strange young man Tom Ransom while trying to rescue Cat from a locked cage.  Then, while on the beach at Coney Island with Cat, he meets a sweet teenager named Mary and begins to date her.  Lastly, he begins to realize that maybe life with his dad isn't as hard as he thought, and starts to see that his family isn't as overbearing as he imagined, all because of an old tom named Cat.

Written by Emily Newville, It's Like This, Cat is a coming of age story.  Set in the late 1950s or early part of the 1960s, the has a whimsical feel of the era that happened right before the turbulence of the hippie generation.  The book is a story about a boy, his love for a cat, and the relationship he has with his father.

It is a story about learning how to perceive people, and how perceptions can change over time.  Dave sees his dad as overbearing and always yelling, but doesn't see that he is much like his dad.  He sees his mother as quiet and shy and sickly, not understanding that he and his father both have been stressing her out.  His friendships change as he grows older, and while he doesn't understand it, he vents to his cat.  Cat takes everything in and becomes Dave's confidant.  Cat also helps him to make new friends like Tom Ransom and Mary whom allow him to grow, and those friends grow with him as a result.  Dave is starting to shed his childlike perceptions and see the world through adult eyes.

This wasn't the first time I have read this book, but it was the first time I read it with the intent to study it.  It is a good read.


29 August 2014

Jacob Have I Loved: 1981 Newbery Award Winner

In March of 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!

I apologize for my long absence from blogging.  Summers are usually filled with other endeavors for me, and this summer was no different.  I barely read during summer since I lost my library card and my Kindle bit the dust, and I regret doing so, but now that the school year is upon us, I am trying to make up for lost time.  I have found my library card, but must wait to replace my Kindle.  Therefore, I will be reading only print books.  


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Cover of the book - used for identification purposes only under the fair use clause
Sara Louise Bradshaw: Behind Her Sister's Shadow

"I kept wondering ever since you came.  Why would a woman like you, who could have anything she wanted, come to a place like this?  Now I understand."

Elder by just a few minutes, Sara Louise Bradshaw, nicknamed Wheeze, lives in the shadow of her more delicate sister Caroline.  Growing up with her family on small fictional Rass Island in Maryland's Chesapeake Bay during the turbulence of the Great Depression and World War Two, Louise feels robbed by her younger twin, who is gifted in music and is considered more feminine and beautiful.  Caroline steals Louise's name, her friends, her belongings, her family's affection, even her very hopes.  Louise longs to be a waterman like her father and prays to become a boy so she can escape her sister's personality.  What surprises her, however, is that her dreams and prayers do not sustain the woman she is becoming and that leaving the island of her birth may be the only way to finding herself.

I first read Jacob Have I Loved by Katherine Paterson as a seventh grader in my English class.  It was one of the books that shaped my childhood.  I could identify with Louise's struggle to find herself, as well as with the feeling over being overshadowed by others.  As the eldest child in my family, the idea that a younger sibling's personality could overshadow an elder one's was something I could relate to, as I often felt the same way with my younger siblings growing up.  Sibling rivalry was a big deal to me, as it was to Louise, and I could feel her frustrations.

As I read this book as an adult, I find that it still resonates with me.  Since this was written from an adult looking back on her childhood, it reads well enough for adults to enjoy it.  Like Louise, I have been able to look back at the journey to adulthood so far as one that was filled with trials, but also with tribulations.  She is confident as she looks back over the story that had she not have had her twin sister and her overshadowing personality, she may not have come into her own as an adult.

There is a religious aspect to this book.  The story gets its title from a verse in the Bible where God says "Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated."  Like the elder twin of Isaac, Louise feels unloved and unwanted as she compares herself to the favored, younger twin.  The story weaves itself around this tale of old, as Louise and Caroline's devout grandmother taunts the older girl with the verse.  It takes Louise years to feel wanted and loved again, and it is only when she releases herself that she feels this.

This book is a very well written story, and anyone who can remember what it felt like to be an outsider even in one's own home will probably enjoy this book.

26 May 2014

Happy Memorial Day

Since today is Memorial Day, and is a time when we honor those who have fallen while in service to their country, I thought I should do a blog post on those who are connected to my family who have fallen while in the line of duty.  I will not include any other serviceman in my family who died after their active duty service to the country because the day to remember those veterans is 11 November.

CIVIL WAR:

Charles Wesley Chapman, captain of company K of the 63rd Pennsylvania Volunteers.  Killed while on picket 3 March 1862.
While Captain Charles Wesley Chapman was NOT technically a member of my family, he was the namesake of my paternal great-grandfather, as he was good friends with my great-great-grandfather, John Devender Wood.  As a result, I choose long ago to include him in my research and thus he has become an honorary member of my family.  If any of his family is out there and wanting information, I have some!

Flag of the 40th Pennsylvania Volunteers, the regiment in which John W. Strickler fought.  He died in Andersonville Prison as a prisoner of war on 27 August 1864.
Private John W. Strickler was the first cousin of my great-great-grandfather, John Devender Wood.  He was only fourteen when he enlisted in the Civil War, but had lied about his age.  He died at aged 17 in the infamous Andersonville Prison in Sumter County, Georgia.

Private Paul W. Tatem was the brother-in-law of my great-great aunt, Reumah Anne Wood Tatem.  He was part of the 19th Pennsylvania Volunteers and was killed in action on 2 April 1863.  I have no photo of him.

World War One

Preston Ray Roach was a third cousin of my paternal grandfather, Charles William Wood.  He was part of the 319th Infantry of the American Expedition Forces and died in 1918.  I don't have specific information on his death, but I assume he was killed in battle. I do not have a picture of him and am looking for more information on the circumstances of his death.

World War Two

Howard William Young, SSG, gunner and engineer, 442nd Bomb Squadron

Staff Sergeant Howard William Young was the second cousin of my maternal grandfather, Ernest Waldspurger. His plane was shot down over the Mediterranean sea near Ladispoli, Italy on 29 January 1944 and all seven men on board were never recovered.

George D. Shields was a fourth cousin of my father. He was a flight officer with the 85th Squad, 79th Fighter Group in the Army Air Corps. He was killed in action in 1944. I do not have a picture of him and am looking for more information on the circumstances of his death.

Richard Bragg was another fourth cousin of my father.  He was killed in the Battle of Normandy, France on 18 July 1944. I do not have a picture of him and am looking for more information on the circumstances of his death.

Killed While Serving

David Waldspurger, Airman First Class

David Allen Waldspurger was my mother's first cousin.  He was not killed in action for his country, but died in a car accident near his base in Florida on 29 October 1972 at the age of twenty.  I have chosen to include him in this list because he was active duty at the time of his death.


23 May 2014

King of the Wind: 1949 Newbery Award

In March of 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 identification purposes only under the fair use clause
Sham and Agba: Finding Their Way

"When Allah created the horse, he said to the wind, 'I will that a creature proceed from thee."

Agba is a mute orphan and slave horseboy to the chief groom of the Sultan of Morocco.  His favorite mare has died, so he raises her little colt, a horse the color of gold he names Sham.  Sham soon become the fastest horse in the Sultan's stables and is chosen as one of six Arabians to be given as a gift to the King of France.  But because the horses are small, the King of France sends them away.  Thus begins Sham and Agba's long journey to find greatness in Europe.  They journey to England, where the Earl of Goldolphin lives and become part of his estate.  But can Sham, with the help of the mute Agba, show his potential?

King of the Wind by Marguerite Henry, is based on the real story of the Goldolphin Arabian, who was used in the mid-18th century to help found the modern thoroughbred race horse.   The tale is a fictionalized account of his biography.

The tale reminded me of a cross between Charles Dickens' novel Oliver Twist and Anna Sewell's story Black Beauty.  The tale is the classic story of a bond between a boy and his animal, for better or for worse.  In this case, it is between the beautiful bay horse Sham and the boy who follows him everywhere, Agba.  Agba cannot speak, but he can communicate with Sham in a way in which no one else can understand.  He also learns to understand both English and French in the story, though it is unclear how.  They become impoverished and beaten down, and at one point are left to fend for themselves in the wild, only to have some good fortune smile down on them once more.

I had read a number of Marguerite Henry's books as a fourth grader when I went through a phase where I was horse crazy, but this was the first time reading this particular tale.  While is was a sweet story, it felt a bit contrived for me. The character of Agba seemed to be written into the story to give someone other than the horse the point of view for the story, and it bothered me a bit.  If you love horse and horse tales, this is a good read, otherwise it would bore you a bit.

22 May 2014

The Grey King: 1976 Newbery Award Winner

In March of 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 identification purposes only under the fair use clause

Will Stanton: The Youngest of the Old

"Yet singing the golden harp shall guide / To break their sleep and bid them ride."

Recovering from a hepatitis attack, young Englishman Will Staton is sent to the Welsh coast to recover at his mother's cousin's home.  He cannot recall at first that he the youngest immortal Old One, servants of the Light that protect the world from the Dark.  When he meets the albino boy, Bran Davies, and his white dog with silver eyes, Cafall, the quest comes back to memory.  Will must find the golden harp that will waken the six sleepers who will partake in the last battle against the Dark, but the Grey King, an agent of the Dark, is working hard to stop him, and the madman Caradog Pritchard, is making things difficult with his stories of sheep-killing dogs.  Can Will find the harp, and why can Bran see and understand the quest Will was given?

Susan Cooper's The Dark Is Rising Sequence is my brother's absolute favorite series of fantasy novels.  But before I read this book for this project, I had not ever read any of the series, of which The Grey King is the fourth book.  While I devoured J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings and C.S. Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia and Space Trilogy, I never had a desire to read any of this series because it was something that belonged to my brother.

Like Tolkien and Lewis, Susan Cooper is a wonderful British author of fantasy, and this book is a wonderful example.  While I was a bit lost because I was reading the fourth book in her series, the tales soon captivated me and I was sucked into the land of Wales and an English newcomer to the land.  The story is a good rendition of the battle between the forces of Light and the forces of Darkness.

Anyone who loves Arthurian legends of Briton will enjoy this book, and possibly this series, which I will have to read now.  The Grey King in particular draws from the legends of King Arthur and Guinevere, though I will not give away how that is possible in a book that takes place in 1970s Wales.  

21 May 2014

When You Reach Me: 2010 Newbery Award Winner

In March of 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!

Front cover featuring a shoe, bread bag, winter jacket, library book, Miranda's school, a key, Miranda's apartment, two-dollar bills and a mailbox; all important plot elements in the novel.
Cover of the book - used for identification purposes under the fair use clause

Miranda : Seeking Answers

"I am coming to save your friend's life, and mine."

It is the school year of 1978 - 1979 and Miranda is twelve years old.  Her best friend since infancy, Sal, has suddenly stopped talking to her and she feels lonely as a latchkey kid.  She relates to the character of Meg from her favorite book, A Wrinkle in Time because she suddenly has no one to talk to and she feels like she doesn't fit in. There is also a mysterious person who is leaving her notes in the New York City apartment she shares with her mother, notes that suggest things about Miranda that no one else knows, things that haven't happened yet.  Who is the mysterious person and what happened to the spare key her mother hid?  Why is there a guy running naked through the neighborhood?  Why does the homeless man on the corner laugh so much and act so weird?  And how is Miranda going to find new friends to replace Sal?

This was a book I had to read twice in a row.  The first time I read  When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead, the pieces hadn't fallen into place until the very end of the book.  I had to reread the story to see how they had fit and to see the events I had missed before in a new light.  This story was very well written and extremely engaging.  

The biggest idea in this novel is the same idea that is in Madeleine L'Engle's novel, A Wrinkle in Time, and that idea it time travel.  Miranda herself wonders about it, as do other characters in the story, and each asks if it could be possible, and how it could work.  Could the homeless laughing man actually be a time traveler or is it just a figment of Miranda's imagination?  

Friendships play a big role in the story.  Sal just inexplicably decides to stop being friends with Miranda on day, which bothers her.  She has to make new friends, which is a difficult thing to do for some.  There is also fellow sixth-graders Annemarie and Julia, who decide one day to just stop being friends in the way that preteen girls do.  Eventually, Miranda comes to realize that in order to make new friends and strengthen old ones, she must grow and learn to emphasize with each of her fellow classmates.

This is a great read, but the concepts are a bit more intellectual and mature than some children can fathom at the suggested fourth grade reading level.

19 May 2014

Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH : 1972 Newbery Award Winner

In March of 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 identification purposes only under the fair use clause.
Mrs. Jonathan Frisby: A Mouse on a Mission

With her son, Timothy, desperately ill with pneumonia and to frail to be moved, Mrs. Jonathan Frisby, a young widow of a mouse, is frantic.  Spring is creeping in and the farmer will be plowing his garden soon, the garden that was her family's winter home.  Mrs. Frisby must seek the help of the rats who live nearby.  They escaped from a laboratory at NIMH, but can they help save her son?

This was the first of the Newbery Award books that I had ever come in contact with, but it wasn't through a book.  I saw the Don Bluth movie, The Secret of NIMH as a very young child.  I remember it scared me. Let me say this.  If you have ever seen the movie, the book is different.  The book is titled Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH and was written by Robert C. O'Brien.  I like the book much better than the film adaptation, which leaves out a good number of plot development and changes the characters of Nicodemus, Jenner, and Jeremy.

That being said, the book is a good read.  The idea that rats have the intelligence of humans through laboratory testing is plausible, and the story, while whimsical and pastoral, does say much about the idea of animal testing.  

Family and loyalty are big themes of this story as well.  Mrs. Frisby is a widow with four small children, her husband having died the previous year.  She loves her children, who have inherited their intellect from their father, and will do anything to protect them.  The rats also love their families and will protect them, but also honor the loyalty that Jonathan and the mouse Mr. Ages have given to them throughout the years.  They also mourn the loss of part of their colony through schism.  

If you have a chance to read the book, I would highly recommend doing so.  

18 May 2014

Sarah, Plain and Tall: 1986 Newbery Award Winner

In March of 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!

Drawing of a girl watching a woman cut a boy's hair
Cover of the book - used for identification purposes only under the fair use clause


Sarah Elizabeth Wheaton: Plain and tall

Anna and Caleb Witting live a lonely life on the prairie, and have ever since their mother died the day after Caleb was born.  Their father, Jacob, us to be happy, but now he's just as lonely as they are.  So when he places an ad for a bride and a mother in the newspapers back East, they want to know who will answer.  Sarah Wheaton, a plain and tall woman from Maine, answers them.  She soon comes for a month-long visit with her cat, Seal, and the family learns just what a wonderful woman she is.  But will she stay?

This short novella, Sarah, Plain and Tall by Patricia MacLachlan, was perhaps the very first Newbery Award book I ever read.  I loved it then and even recall seeing the movie one day in class.  I loved it again as I read it under the maple tree in the front yard of my apartment building.  It is a touching story about loss.  Anna and Caleb have lost their mother, and fear losing Sarah if she doesn't like living on the prairie.  Sarah misses her brother and the sea, as she lived on the coast of Maine.  But their is also love, and warmth and growth. The story is very short, but the story is sweet and very touching.  

Like Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House books, this story touches on the lives of those living on the prairie in the 19th century.  It doesn't sugarcoat the hardships, as there is a death mentioned in the first few pages of the story and a severe storm that comes through the farm.  But there is also strength in its pages, as Sarah and the children learn and grow together.  The story is a great piece of historical fiction and a fast read.


14 May 2014

Holes: 1999 Newbery Award Winner

In March of 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 identification purposes only under the fair use clause.

Stanley Yelnats IV: Wrong Kid?

"Stanley was not a bad kid.  He was innocent of the crime for which he had been committed.  He'd just been in the wrong place and the wrong time.  It was all because of his no-good-dirty-rotten-pig-stealing-great-great-grandfather!"

Stanley Yelnats IV lives with a curse that has been in his family for five generations, ever since his ancestor stole a pig and broke a promise.  Convicted of a theft he did not commit, Stanley is sent to  the boys' detention center at Camp Green Lake in Texas, a place that is neither green nor a lake.  Under the watchful eyes of Warden Walker and counselors Mr. Sir and Mr. Pendanski, every boy at Camp Green Lake spends every single day building holes that are exactly five feet deep and five feet high.  It does not take long for Stanley, nicknamed Caveman for his size, and the illiterate inmate, Hector Zeroni, called Zero, to figure out that the Warden is having the boys dig holes so she can find something she has been searching for.  Interspersed in the main story are vignettes about Stanley's ancestors, the story of the curse, and the tale of the famous outlaw Kissin' Kate Barlow.

I have read the story of  Holes by Louis Sachar numerous times and had seen the movie made from the book once.  The book is darkly humorous and filled with many pieces of a puzzle that come together neatly at the end.  It weaves together neatly at the end, much like Jerry Spinelli's works weave a picture that can't be seen until the end. While the ending on Holes is a little ambiguous, it leaves one thinking that good things have happened to the protagonists.

The story is one of redemption.  Stanley, who is described as overweight and friendless, comes to accept his failings and learns that he has a strength of character, and the physical labor of digging the holes strengthens his body as well.  The friend that he makes while at camp, Zero, learns also, as he is taught to read and has an aptitude for numbers and mathematics.   Zero also learns that he is not a nobody, but that someone cares for him, as he has been left behind by everyone and would not be missed if he disappeared, as Stanley looks out for him.

The theme of family is very strong in this work.  Stanley's family, though very poor, is very loving. And determined to make the best of Stanley's stay at Camp Green Lake.  Zero has no family, as his mother abandoned him, and he feels the loss greatly as he wishes for family.  There is also the Yelnats family curse, brought on by the Latvian pig-stealing Elya Yelnats, who is cursed by Madame Zeroni for not fulfilling a promise he made and the family he created with an American woman named Sarah.  Then there is Stanley Yelnats I, who was lost in the desert after being robbed of his fortune and falling in love with a nurse.   The theme of family is also demonstrated by the other boys at the detention center who have their bouts of homesickness and wish to see their own families.

Overall, this is a very well written piece of children's literature and I would recommend it!

13 May 2014

Lincoln: A Photobiography: 1988 Newbery Award Winner

In March of 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 identification purposes only under the fair use clause

Abraham Lincoln: A Giant Among Men
"Every man is said to have his peculiar ambition....  I have no other so great as that of being truly esteemed of my fellow men, by rendering myself worthy of their esteem." ~ Abraham Lincoln

The story of the sixteenth president is one of both facts and myth.  Yes, he was an honest man, but he wasn't a perfect man.  Russell Freedman does a great job in this book, Lincoln: A Photobiography of putting down in words and pictures the story of the president who lead the United States through the Civil War.  The words and photographs do justice to a man so steeped in American mythos that he's a modern hero.

This was the first non-fiction work I read for this project.  I enjoyed this book and it was a very quick read for me.  Abraham Lincoln is one of my favorite subjects in history, as he was the president who lead the country through the Civil War (my favorite portion of American history thanks to my father's love of the subject).  I was assigned Stephen B. Oates' Lincoln biography With Malice Toward None: a Life of Abraham Lincoln in college for a history class and required to pick the book apart - Thank you, Professor Edgington!.  I now own a dog-eared copy of Oates' book, as I try to read it once every other year. Freedman's work seemed to be a water-down version of that book, but given the fact that this was written for children, it is a very intelligent book.  Missing are some of the controversies that surrounded Lincoln, and dusted over are the views he had on race. But this book doesn't hold Lincoln up to the hero worship that American society has painted, but rather showed a man plagued by bouts of depression and sadness, a man who lost his mother and sister at a young age and two of his sons before his death, a man who was very insecure of himself because he had very little education and was self learned.  Even if you are an adult, you will appreciate the intelligence with which this book was written.

It is called a photobiography because most of the work revolves around the photos that Russell Freedman chooses to portray.  There are the earliest photos of Lincoln and his family, and the four pictures that were taken of him while he was President that show how he aged.  There are shots from the Civil war itself, and photos of those who worked closely with Lincoln at all stages of his life.   Each photo has its one narrative, and enhance the reading of the book. 

06 May 2014

From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler: 1968 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 identification purposes only under the fair use clause

Claudia Kincaid: Looking to Feel Different

"The adventure is over.  Everything gets over, and nothing is ever enough.  Except the part you carry with you."

Claudia Kincaid is twelve-years-old and feeling unappreciated.  She's the eldest child and only girl in a family of brothers, and is sure her parents do things to either harass her or because they know absolutely nothing about the ways of the world.  As a result of this preteen frustration, she decides to run away from home.  She plans out her running away.  First, she will live in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.  Second, she will leave on a Wednesday so she can take her violin case full of clothing.  Third, she will take her second youngest brother, Jamie, because he has a radio and money.  The running away part of her plan goes smoothly, and the two siblings grow close as they transverse the museum.  However, Claudia feels the same as she did at home, as she wanted to feel different as a result of her adventure.  When she and Jamie discover a beautiful angelic statue that has recently been bought by the museum, Claudia becomes obsessed with finding out who the creator was.  Could it be Michelangelo?  That question leads the siblings to Connecticut and to the mixed up file system of the eccentric Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler.

E. L. Konigsburg was one of my favorite authors growing up, and to this day I own a good number of her books.  From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler was the book that introduced me to this author.  I fell in love with the book because Claudia's character felt like a kindred spirit when I was a child.  Like Claudia, I wanted to feel different, and like Claudia, it took me awhile to realize that there is mystery in life around me.

That being said, this is a wonderful book from an adult viewpoint as well, as I have reread the book I own after having left it on my bookshelf for about eight years.  The idea that someone will hold on to secrets is one that rings true for adults, especially in this day and age where almost no one has secrets because of the information available at our fingertips.  I also thinks even adults wish they could run away from time to time and live in some place as cool as the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

01 May 2014

Maniac Magee: 1991 Newbery Medal 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 identification purposes only under the fair use clause

Jeffery Lionel Magee: The Boy With No Home

"But that's okay, because the history of a kid is one part fact, two parts legend and three parts snowball."

Orphaned and homeless, Jeffery Magee runs to Two Mills, Pennsylvania in search of something.  The town, divided in half by race into African-American East End and Caucasian West End, doesn't know what to make of the twelve-year-old boy, who seems at home with both the Pickwells, a white family, and the Beales, a black family because he is unaware of the racial tensions that surround the town.  Thus, stories are started about him, all based in fact, but capitulated into myths as the stories grow and he is soon given the name Maniac. He is also scorned by some, and makes enemies of Mars Bars Thompson, a African American youth who is the "big cat" in the East End neighborhood, as well as John McNab, a white teen-aged bigot and bully.  But he also has friends in Amanda Beale, a black youngster with a love of reading, and Grayson, the elderly and illiterate white groundskeeper.  Maniac is born of local legend, but was really an ordinary homeless boy longing for a home and a family to call his own.

Maniac Magee was written in 1990 by Jerry Spinelli, an author whose works I happen to love reading.   While it is not specifically stated, this is a historical novel and takes place in the 1950s or early 1960s in Eastern Pennsylvania.  The book focuses on racism and one young boy's reaction to it in a way that is unique.  Maniac, having not realized that he is supposed to be different, embraces everyone in the town as a friend if they treat him right. He also teaches others to do the same, starting with Grayson and Amanda Beale.

I was reminded a bit of the character of Huckleberry Finn from Mark Twain's books as I read this story.  Like Huck, Maniac is searching for his place in the world and is an outsider in the world.  Like Huck, Maniac also doesn't understand the implications of racism as others think he should.  Also like Huck, Maniac moves from place to place, seemingly homeless.  The difference between the two characters, however, is that Maniac would rather have a home than live on his own.

This was a well written book, and I enjoyed it very much.  It was enjoyable reading about the stories surrounding Maniac that became legends and what is hinted to have happened to the town as a result of those legends. 

29 April 2014

The Door in the Wall: 1950 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!

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Cover of the book - used for identification purposes only under the fair use clause
 Robin Crookshanks: Courageous Beyond His Years

"The courage you have shown, the craftsmanship proven by the harp, and the spirit in your singing all make so bright a light that I cannot see whether or no your legs are misshapen."

 Just before he is sent to be a page for Sir Peter de Lindsey, ten-year-old Robin, son of Sir John de Bureford, is stricken with a mysterious illness that robs him of the use of his legs.  His father is away with the King fighting the Scottish and his mother Lady Maud is awaiting the Queen, leaving Robin in the care of elderly servants who succumb to the plague attacking London.  Robin soon comes to live in a monastery, where he is cared for by the ever watchful monk, Brother Luke, who teaches Robin a number of useful skills, including the ability to walk with crutches.  When Robin is summoned to fulfill his duty as page to Sir Peter, he must rely on the skills that were taught to him an his own courage to face the challenges of being a crippled boy.  When danger strikes, he proves himself to be useful in a way that surprises even himself.

The Door in the Wall was written in 1949 by Marguerite de Angeli, who apparently was surprised to win the Newbery Award.  The book is a shot novel, but was a great read.  It is told from the point of view of Robin, though in third person, and talks of his struggles to overcome his new disability.  In a day and age where being crippled meant the loss of a useful life Robin shows that he is not only useful, but also courageous when needed.

The title of the story is also its theme.  As Brother Luke reminds Robin throughout the book, "Thou hast only to follow the wall far enough and there will be a door in it."  Every time Robin feels some sort of discouragement over his ailment, he is reminded that the skills he learns help him to overcome his perceived uselessness.  He learns to read, to craft, to swim and to play music, all skills which in the Middle Ages were hard to learn, and he keeps his cheerful heart throughout the story.  He learns that though he may never lose his disability, he can still be independent and self-confident in the abilities he has.  The message of the story is clear: anyone has a purpose if they look for it.

28 April 2014

Julie of the Wolves: 1973 Newbery Medal

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 identification purposes only under the fair use clause

Julie Edwards Miyak Kapugen : Caught Between Worlds

"Change your way when fear seizes.... for it usually means you re doing something wrong."

Miyax, also known by her American name Julie Edwards, is an Eskimo native who has known the ways of her father and her ancestors for most of her life.  When her father Kapugen disappears and she is married in the traditional way at age thirteen, she accepts her new life until it becomes a danger to her.  She runs away, intending to go to her American friend Amy in San Francisco.  However, she becomes lost on the Alaskan tundra with no food or way to guide her.  Her salvation comes in the form of a pack of wolves, led by a majestic male Miyax names Amaroq, or "father."  With the help of the wolves and the ways her father taught her, Miyax learns to survive, though she knows she must not remain in the wilderness.  She must choose between the old ways of her ancestors, and the new ways of the white foreigners.

Julie of the Wolves was written by Jean Craighead George and was one of the first survival stories I had ever encountered.  I remember having this read to my class when I was in fifth grade.  I had fallen in love with the book and bought a copy of it in college when I was building up a library of books.  Like Hatchet by Gary Paulsen, this book left a mark in my mind as one of the best stories of survival I read as a child.  I enjoyed rereading it again recently after having put it aside for almost a decade.

The wolves play a great role in this book, as they help Julie / Miyax survive once she learns to communicate with them.  Amaroq is majestic, and it is understood that he could kill Miyax easily, but sees her as a helpless pup.  Once he is sure she is strong, he shows her ways to survive on the tundra, just as her father once did before he disappeared.  While seized briefly by fear, Miyax becomes one with the wolves and part of their pack, looking out for the younger pups and learning their ways.

The story struck a chord with me because not only is it a survival story, but it is a story about a girl who is caught in a crisis of identity.  Is she Julie Edwards the American Eskimo, or Miyax of the old ways?  She relies on the stories of her father and ancestors to help her survive, but also longs for the ways of the gussaks, or whites, like her friend and pen pal, Amy.  She wants to be true to her ancestry, but also knows that the old ways are dying out as the ways of convenience take hold among her people.


27 April 2014

Onion John: 1960 Newbery Medal Book

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!

First off, I want to issue an apology for not blogging for a bit.  I have been reading, I just have also been busy.  Since it was a slow work week last week, I was busy working on genealogy, since Fold3 had free access to its Civil War databases for the latter half of May and Ancestry.com just released its first batch of Pennsylvania death certificates.  I also had Easter, the dear husband's birthday, and stuff to do with my wonderful batch of high school kids at church.


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Cover of the book - used for identification purposes only under the fair use clause
 Onion John: Throwback to an Innocent Age

"Because everything's changed for Onion John,on account of us getting to be friends the way we did."

Twelve year old Andy Rausch is at the edge of life where childhood innocence meets grown-up cynicism. He lives in Serenity, New Jersey and works for his dad in the family hardware store when he's not playing with his friends or attending school.  One day, while playing a Little League baseball game, he becomes friends with the town's eccentric hermit, Onion John.   Onion John lives in a stone hut with no running water, collects things from the town dump, and wears cast off clothing.  He also speaks a sort of jibberish language mixed with a smattering of English.  Andy soon becomes John's best friend, and discovers the old man lives in a world where clouds harbor good spirits, and the way to rid evil spirits is to smoke them out with different kinds of wood fires.  He enjoys the way Onion John lives and thinks.  But when Andy's dad starts to take interest in the old man and in improving John's life, Andy must make a decision that may change hs entire outlook on life, and end his friendship with his new best friend.


Onion John by Joseph Krumgold is a story of loss of innocence, and of the one man who still holds on to it.  John is a character who is a grown up, yet mysteriously he is still as innocent as a child.  Andy is a child who is about to lose the innocence of childhood as he enters into his teenage years, and while he wants to hold on to it, he struggles.

The book takes place in the mid fifties, and while a bit outdated, is still a good read.  However, I had a hard time reading this book.  The first part of the story was awesome and the character of John was well thought out and written.  I couldn't bear to finish reading it (though I forced myself to) because of the way the town takes an interest in John.  It was another tale of trying to improve a way of life that really didn't need improving.

What I did like was the ending.  It isn't a clear cut ending, such as life is not always clear, and it leaves something up to the imagination.  There is a "what if" aspect to the end of the book, which makes it worth having to force myself to finish this Newbery Medal winner.

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.