Newbery Roundup: November 2017

In which I review the Newbery books I've read in November 2017. | Book reviews by NewberyandBeyond.com
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I’m still trudging my way through the older Newbery books. *sigh* I have to admit that most of the early Newbery books just don’t hold up very well, whether because writing styles have changed or acceptable treatment of different groups of people has. Still, I’m getting there–only about 75 books left to read. I’m getting close! (All summaries via Goodreads.com)

Floating Island

When the doll house they inhabit is shipped overseas as a gift, a terrible storm results in shipwreck on an uninhabited tropical island for the Doll family. This includes Mr. and Mrs. Doll, their children William and Annabelle, and Dinah the cook. The story follows their adventures with affection and humor.

I loved the feel of this book–the dolls’ adventures on a tropical island, the illustrations, the narrator who talks directly to the reader–but the casual racism made it so I can’t recommend this book to modern readers. I would love to have a modernized version of this book; I think that children who like an old-fashioned adventure story would really like it.

Rating: Good but Problematic

Chucaro

Pink certainly is an unusual color for a pony, and when Pedro spies Chúcaro grazing on the Pampa he can hardly believe his eyes. He just has to have that pony for himself. Unfortunately, the estancerio’s spoiled son is equally determined to own the pony. But the wisest gauchos know that ponies as special as Chúcaro can never truly be owned. Chúcaro alone will decide for himself which gaucho will have the privilege of riding him.

I was surprised at how much I enjoyed this book. Although I don’t usually like books about horses, this short and sweet book with its great illustrations kept my interest. I also appreciated that the author, although Hungarian, seems to have a fair amount of knowledge about the Pampa and its residents, and the book never seems patronizing toward its own characters. (And yes, it’s sad that that was such a surprise!)

Rating: Good but Forgettable

Shiloh

When Marty Preston comes across a young beagle in the hills behind his home, it’s love at first sight–and also big trouble. It turns out the dog, which Marty names Shiloh belongs to Judd Travers, who drinks too much and has a gun and abuses his dogs. So when Shiloh runs away from Judd to Marty, Marty just has to hide him and protect him from Judd. But Marty’s secret becomes too big for him to keep to himself, and it exposes his entire family to Judd’s anger. How far will Marty have to go to make Shiloh his?

I was also surprised at how much I liked this book (again, I’m not a huge fan of animal stories). The West Virginian Southern dialect is great, and Marty’s family is wonderful. Their love and support for each other and others in their community, despite the poverty of their region, makes the story sweet even during the painful parts.

(*spoiler alert* that I think you all will be happy to have: The dog doesn’t die in this book!)

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

The Horsecatcher

Praised for swift action and beauty of language, The Horsecatcheris Mari Sandoz’s first novel about the Indians she knew so well. Without ever leaving the world of a Cheyenne tribe in the 1830s, she creates a youthful protagonist many readers will recognize in themselves. Young Elk is expected to be a warrior, but killing even an enemy sickens him. He would rather catch and tame the mustangs that run in herds. Sandoz makes it clear that his determination to be a horsecatcher will require a moral and physical courage equal to that of any warrior. And if he must earn the right to live as he wishes, he must also draw closer to family and community.

I was really bored by this book. 1) I don’t like books about horses (see above). 2) I’m about tired of books about Native Americans not written by Native Americans. And that’s pretty much all I have to say about this book. Unless you’re obsessed with horses, it’s probably not worth your time.

Rating: Meh

Newbery Roundup: April

My latest Newbery reads--some old, some new. | Book reviews by NewberyandBeyond.com
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I’m continuing to slog through the backlist of Newbery books. Whether through ILL, Paperback Swap, or my own library’s collection, I’m slowly but surely working my way through. I’ll be honest–most of these older books don’t capture my imagination the way the newer ones do, so I’m going to keep these reviews short. (All summaries via Goodreads.com)

Pran of Albania

Pran is a daughter of the sturdy mountain tribes of Albania – old enough to be betrothed in accordance with the ancient tribal traditions. This is the story of Pran and her life in the mountains and the refugee barracks at Skodra; of her friend, the laughing blue-eyed Nush and his secret; of her adventures in war times and peace, of her betrothal and the strange vow she takes.

This book offers an interesting look at Albania and women’s roles there one hundred years ago. I have no idea how accurate Pran is in describing Albanian life or whether the author had any experience living in or studying Albania, so I’m not sure I can recommend it. The story itself is not super memorable.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

Zlateh the Goat

Chelm is a village of fools. The most famous fools—the oldest and the greatest—are the seven Elders. But there are lesser fools too: a silly irresponsible bridegroom; four sisters who mix up their feed in bed one night; a young man who imagines himself dead. Here are seven magical folktales spun by a master storyteller, that speak of fools, devils, schlemiels, and even heroes—like Zlateh the goat.

I actually enjoyed this one. It’s a cute, funny collection of folk stories about foolish characters doing silly things. Some of these stories will probably be familiar to you; others will be brand new. It’s worth a look if you like silly folk tales.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

Journey Outside

Grandfather said they were headed for the Better Place, but Dilar suspected they were headed nowhere, simply following the dark underground river blindly. And so one night he leaped onto a shelf of rock and watched the flotilla of the Raft People disappear. And from there he found his way Outside, into a world so beautiful and strange he could only suppose he had died-a world of day, and sun, of trees and sky.

Weird is the only word I have to describe this book. It’s possibly an allegory about what kind of life will provide happiness, or possibly just a fantasy story about Dilar’s adventures Outside and the different people he meets. It’s well written, of course, but incredibly strange. It wasn’t for me.

Rating: Meh

Frog and Toad Together

Frog and Toad are best friends—they do everything together. When Toad admires the flowers in Frog’s garden, Frog gives him seeds to grow a garden of his own. When Toad bakes cookies, Frog helps him eat them. And when both Frog and Toad are scared, they are brave together.

So cute! I love the illustrations and the silly, sweet relationship between Frog and Toad. If you haven’t read any of the books in this series yet, you definitely should. You and your child are sure to love them too.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

A Fine White Dust

How much do you have to give up to find yourself?When Pete first sets eyes on the Man, he’s convinced he’s an ax murderer. But at the revival meeting, Pete discovers that the Man is actually a savior of souls, and Pete has been waiting all his life to be saved.

It’s not something Pete’s parents can understand. Certainly his best friend, Rufus, an avowed atheist, doesn’t understand. But Pete knows he can’t imagine life without the Man. So when the Man invites Pete to join him on his mission, how can Pete say no — even if it means leaving behind everything he’s ever loved?

This is another Newbery book that was just weird. I’m not a fan of this story, which is about a boy who falls under the spell of an itinerant gospel preacher. I kept wanting to grab Pete by the shoulders and yell at him, “This is not what religion is about!!” It’s just creepy to think about the preacher wanting to spend so much time with this little boy and eventually trying to convince him to leave town and join him in his preaching. *shudders*

Rating: Meh

Incident at Hawk’s Hill

Six-year-old Ben is very small for his age, and gets along better with animals than people. One June day in 1870, Ben wanders away from his home on Hawk’s Hill and disappears into the waving prairie grass. This is the story of how a shy, lonely boy survives for months in the wilds and forges a bond with a female badger.

This is the story of Ben, a six year old who relates more to animals than to humans, spending an entire summer with a badger. You all know how I feel about animal stories (in general, I hate them), and this book is exactly why. I don’t pick up books to read about how a badger feels about life. If the animals don’t talk, I don’t care. If you do like animals or survival stories, you might enjoy this book. It just wasn’t for me.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

Newbery Book Roundup: January Edition

A collection of all the Newbery books I read in January. | Book reviews by NewberyandBeyond.com
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Over the past month or so, I spent a lot of my reading time catching up on some Newbery books. If you’re here for the Newbery part of Newbery and Beyond, this post is for you. Enjoy!

Along Came a Dog

This book is by Meindert Dejong, a guy who I’ve had limited success reading in the past. This is partly because his books are old, and they read that way–the stories are old-fashioned and slow, and usually not much happens. Another strike against Dejong is that he tends to write animal books, something I have a hard time liking. But this one wasn’t too bad. I enjoyed the story of the little red hen, the big dog, and the man who watches out for them both. It’s cute and lighthearted, especially if you or your kids are particularly interested in the eccentricities of farm animals.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

The Voyagers

Ah, a book of mythology and short stories, two things which I really dislike as a general rule. Unfortunately, The Voyagers was no exception. This book was a 1926 Newbery honor book, and Colum’s writing is just as outdated as Dejong’s. (I realize this makes me sound like a spoiled modern-day reader who can’t stand anything slower paced than The Hunger Games… I’ll leave you to draw your own conclusions about that!)

The many stories in this book are all about ships and exploration and discovering new lands. Some are myths, but Columbus and Magellan also get a mention here. These short stories could make for fun bedtime reading if your kid is especially interested in exploring new worlds.

Rating: Meh

Honk, the Moose

This book was adorable. It’s a 1936 Newbery honor book, and it’s all about a moose that two boys discover inside their barn in Minnesota. At first, everyone is afraid and doesn’t know how to get rid of the moose, but the boys befriend him and start calling him Honk. The book is fully illustrated by Kurt Wiese, which makes it even more fun. The book does get into some dated and offensive cultural stereotypes (it was written in the 1930s), but these are easy to skim over if you are reading it aloud to your child.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

The Voice that Challenged a Nation

Oh, Russell Freedman. You are the best. You make me care about reading biographies, which is yet another book genre I usually steer clear of. Freedman has a way of shining new light on the famous figures in American history (his book on Eleanor Roosevelt is one of my favorites), and his biography of Marian Anderson is fantastic. Freedman discusses not only the incredible musical achievements of the contralto, but also gets into her fight for civil rights for African Americans. She, like Eleanor Roosevelt, broke ground in ways that were shocking for their time, ways which I was only remotely aware of before reading this book. (And apparently, Eleanor Roosevelt and Marian Anderson were friends! I love that thought.) Chock full of photos and snippets from newspapers and personal letters, this book is sure to teach your kids (or you) something new about this amazing woman.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

The Great Wheel

This Newbery honor book was a pretty interesting look at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair (especially in light of one of my other recent reads). It follows Conn, a young Irish man who moves to Chicago to help his uncle build the first Ferris wheel in time for the fair. I do wish women weren’t relegated only to a romantic role throughout the book, but it’s still a fun read.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

Waterless Mountain

Let me start this mini review by saying that I have absolutely no idea how this book would have been received by Native Americans at the time it was written. The story follows a young Navajo boy (spelled “Navaho” throughout the book) and his journey to become a medicine man, but it was written in the 1930s by a white woman. Armer was well respected by the Native Americans she lived with, and she became very familiar with their customs and way of life, but it does beg the question of how accurate a portrait this book actually is.

As a story, I found Waterless Mountain pretty interesting. I enjoyed reading about the ceremonies and traditional stories that the Navajos passed down through the generations, and I didn’t find it patronizing as many Goodreads reviewers did. Still, use caution before passing this book down to your child.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

ABC Bunny

This is a rhyming ABC book that tells the story of a bunny and his adventures, complete with black and white illustrations and a song you can sing with your child. (Interestingly, Gag’s sister and brother were the ones who wrote the song and drew the illustrations.) It’s pretty darn cute.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

Newbery Review: 1928

A review of the 1928 Newbery medal winner, Gay-Neck: The Story of a Pigeon. | A book review by NewberyandBeyond.com
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It has been a while since I first read Gay-Neck: The Story of a Pigeon, the 1928 Newbery medal winner, and I kind of want to go back and read it again. I enjoyed it well enough when I originally read it, but I think I might enjoy it even more as an adult.

Writing out of his own experience as a boy in India, Dhan Gopal Mukerji tells how Gay Neck’s master sent his prized pigeon to serve in Word War I, and of how, because of his exceptional training and his brave heart, Gay Neck served his new masters heroically. (Summary via Goodreads.com)

This book was actually pretty interesting and different from many of the other Newbery books of its time. It’s the story of a homing pigeon and the boy who owned him. Gay-Neck (so named because of his colorful feathers) is carefully trained by his young owner and then sent to serve in WWI. I can’t remember if the book is actually set in India as the Goodreads summary seems to imply, but if so, it’s one of the most diverse and interesting books out of the first ten or even twenty years of Newbery books. It’s definitely worth a read, whether you’re a child or an adult.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

Newbery Review: 1927

A mini review of the 1927 Newbery book, Smoky the Cowhorse. | A book review by NewberyandBeyond.com
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I’m picking back up with my Newbery reviews by year, starting with 1927. Again, there was only one Newbery book for this year.

Medal Winner: Smokey, the Cowhorse; Will James

Smoky knows only one way of life: freedom. Living on the open range, he is free to go where he wants and to do what he wants. And he knows what he has to do to survive. He can beat any enemy, whether it be a rattlesnake or a hungry wolf. He is as much a part of the Wild West as it is of him, and Smoky can’t imagine anything else.

But then he comes across a new enemy, one that walks on two legs and makes funny sounds. Smoky can’t beat this enemy the way he has all the others. But does he really want to? Or could giving up some of his freedom mean getting something in return that’s even more valuable? (Summary via Goodreads.com)

When I first read this book, I wrote myself a note about it, which said, “A little slow, but usually pretty interesting.” I remember practically nothing about this book, which probably has something to do with my usual disdain for animal stories. My recommendation is, if you enjoy books about horses, you’ll probably enjoy this one. If not, you’ll probably forget everything about it as soon as you put it down, just like I did.

Rating: Meh

ARC: Sapient

Sapient tells the story of an autistic boy and his mother, who will do anything to help her son--even steal a virus from the government. #spon | A book review from Newbery and Beyond
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Note: I received a free ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Abandoned by her husband after the birth of their child, Jane Dixon’s world is defined by her autistic son and the research she does to find a cure for his condition. She knows her work on animal intelligence may hold the key. She also knows that the research will take decades to complete. None of it will ultimately benefit her son.

All that changes when a lab rat named Einstein demonstrates that he can read and write. Just as her research yields results, the U.S. government discovers her program. The army wants to harness her research for its military potential. The CDC wants to shut her down completely. The implications of animal intelligence are too dangerous, particularly when the previously inert virus proves to be highly contagious.

She steals the virus to cure her son, but the government discovers the theft. She must now escape to Canada before the authorities can replace her son’s mental prison with a physical one.

(Summary via Amazon)

Sapient was a very interesting book. It was exciting without being too full of heart-pounding action; it talked about research labs and viruses without getting too science-y. I had a few problems with it, but on the whole, I found it enjoyable.

I liked that one of the main characters, Robbie, was autistic, and that the book talked about his mother Jane’s difficulties in giving him a “normal” life, but he’s not really autistic for long.  I would love to read a book that deals more head on with the issue of raising an autistic child.  Robbie’s autism is more of a plot device than a character trait, and because his autism is not fully explored, his mother’s behavior is much less understandable. I found myself getting so irritated with Jane!  Sure, she just wanted to take care of her kid, but she made some insane decisions that created some pretty violent and dangerous results.

I was also not a fan of the intelligent animals as protagonists thing. As you may have noticed, I do not generally like animal stories, because I find them too gimmicky. Just a personal preference, but Einstein especially got on my nerves at times.

This book is basically a thriller with a brief exploration of ethics in science and medicine. Despite a few flaws (and personal dislikes), I really enjoyed it. If you decide to pick it up, let me know what you think!

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

P.S. If you want to know what animal stories I have enjoyed, you can check out The Case of the Cursed Dodo, The Underneath, The One and Only Ivan, Abel’s Island, and Julie of the Wolves.

ARC: The Case of the Cursed Dodo

The Case of the Cursed Dodo is a fun adventure, told in "jungle noir" style. #spon | A book review by Newbery and Beyond
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Note: I received a free ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.

If you’re looking for trouble, you’ve found it. The name’s Jake G. Panda, and trouble seems to follow me wherever I go. I work in the protection racket at a flophouse for endangered critters called the Last Resort. I’m the hotel snoop. The resident fuzz. It’s my job to keep these guests safe and outta harm’s way. This is the first of my many misadventures. A wild and woolly mystery involving a lost suitcase, a green bird, and a bunch of double-crossing animals. I’m calling this jungle noir The Case of the Cursed Dodo. This hilarious first installment of The Endangered Files follows Jake, a hardboiled panda detective, and an unusual cast of endangered creatures on a globe-trotting adventure that will appeal to young and old alike. (Summary via Amazon.com)

Everything about this book is just adorable. You can’t see it well in the picture, but even the cover and spine have (fake) worn edges and creases, as if this book has been well loved. The book itself is wonderful, too. It’s about a panda who’s a hard-boiled PI, helping out other endangered animals in a way that is neither cutesy nor preachy. In The Case of the Cursed Dodo, Jake goes on a misadventure across the globe to chase down a mysterious green bird. He comes across many animals along the way–some who want to help and others ready to sell him out.

The book is written like a screenplay, which is a really fun and unusual technique–I don’t think I’ve ever read another book written that way. It’s also full of tropes (in a good way) from noir books and movies. This gives Jake a great voice (including, yes, voice-overs!) as well.

In addition to all this, there are drawings of the characters, and get this–they’re not cartoony! (Yes, this is important to me…) The animals are all drawn (at least mostly) true to life, and as an avowed hater of cutesy animal stories (with a few notable exceptions), I was really glad to see this realism.

Basically, I loved this book from the moment I got it, and the story was super fun as well. Any kid (or adult!) who’s looking for a fast-paced mystery with a quirky style and fun animal characters will love this. I look forward to reading the next book in this series!

Rating: Re-read Worthy

Newbery Review: 1923

The Newbery award winner from 1923 is the famous Doctor Dolittle! | A book review from Newbery and Beyond
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It’s been a while since my last Newbery roundup by year, so I figured it was about time to move on to 1923!  In 1923, the second year the Newbery award was given, there were no honor books.  Thus, the medal winner listed below is the only 1923 Newbery book in existence.

Medal Winner: The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle; Hugh Lofting
What a famous book this is, and how many movies have been made from this plot!  This book is pretty interesting and unusual.  It’s the second in the Doctor Dolittle series, which had at least ten sequels.  If you know anything about Doctor Dolittle, you probably know the gist of the plot.  Doctor Dolittle can speak to animals, and he goes on a voyage with Tommy Stubbins in order to find the greatest naturalist in the world.

It’s a fun book, but like many of the early Newbery winners, it’s not one that has stuck with me.  (Plus, in the early editions of this book, there are some regrettably racist terms–so be careful if you give this one to your kids!)

Rating: Good but Forgettable

Newbery Review: Abel’s Island

Abel's Island is an adorable, sweet story of a mouse who ends up far away from his comfortable home and loving wife. | A book review from Newbery and Beyond
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This Newbery honor book from 1977 is so cute!  It is an animal story, but shockingly, I really enjoyed it.  The illustrations are wonderful, and the main character, Abel, is a lot of fun.

This story is about a mouse named Abel who gets separated from his wife Amanda during a summer storm and becomes trapped on an island for a year.  He learns to fend for himself, and it’s all very Robinson Crusoe.  Abel is foppish, a trust fund baby who has never worked a day in his life, so his ingenuity and perseverance when it becomes clear that he will not escape the island immediately is impressive.  There are also, as I mentioned earlier, adorable illustrations.

This book is short and sweet, nothing mind-blowing, but certainly worth a look.  Abel is a believable character, as he struggles with his love for luxury, missing his wife, and his lack of experience fending for himself.  The friends (real or imagined) that he meets during his stay on the island, as well as his growing confidence and self-reliance, give Abel’s Island a unique flavor and journey.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

Newbery Review: The One and Only Ivan

The One and Only Ivan | A Newbery and Beyond book review
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What an adorable book.  This 2013 Newbery Medal winner by Katherine Applegate tells the story of Ivan, a gorilla who has been trapped in a mall’s zoo for almost thirty years.  Ivan is an artist, and he loves portraying the things in his cage: bananas, candy bar wrappers, beetles.  He has learned to forget his life in Africa and focus only on being the best silverback in captivity that he can be.  His companions–Stella, a former circus elephant, and Bob, a stray dog–are not as forgiving toward humans as Ivan is, and when a baby elephant named Ruby joins their ranks, in the hopes that she will boost the mall’s number of visitors, Ivan makes his companions a promise that he will free her from their life in a cage.

Ivan has human acquaintances, too.  Mack is the owner of the mall, and the one who raised Ivan and placed him in his strange menagerie meant to attract shoppers.  Julia is the janitor’s daughter and a fellow artist.  When Ivan comes up with a scheme to free Ruby, he relies on Julia’s help, even though Bob and Stella warn him that humans are not to be trusted.

This whole book is written from Ivan’s point of view, and it is So. Cute.  The sentences are phrased just the way you might imagine a thirty-year-old gorilla might say them–simple, understated, and serious.  Ivan is used to watching TV and making art to sell to mall-goers, but part of him wants to remember his former life in his gorilla family.  His current, ragtag family is also adorable.  Although Ivan, Stella, Bob, and Ruby are all alone, they band together to keep each other encouraged and safe.  Believe it or not, this book is based on a true story–although Ivan recently died, you can read all about his story on the Atlanta Zoo website.  Kids of all ages should enjoy this book, as it is written simply enough even for younger readers.  (There is an animal death, though, so be forewarned.)

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

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