Newbery Review: The Dream Coach

The Dream Coach is one of the 1925 Newbery honor books, and although it's a cute illustrated book, it has issues. | A book review by NewberyandBeyond.com
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The Dream Coach is one of the 1925 Newbery honor books (another book I had to find through interlibrary loan, because there are very few copies of this book still around).

The book is made up of five stories of the dreams of children around the world, and it’s framed by the story of the dream coach itself. I love the idea of that, and I can see parents in the 20s reading this to their kids as a bedtime story. The story is helped along by some really nice illustrations by Dillwyn Parrish.

Unfortunately, this book suffers from 1920s racism. What I mean by that is, although The Dream Coach doesn’t come right out and say racist things (and one of the main characters is, in fact, not white), it’s filled with the kind of stereotypes that make modern readers uncomfortable.

Is it still worth reading? Well, given how difficult it is to find this book, I would say probably not. It’s sad because this book has a lot of potential! It’s a really cute idea, and the illustrations are great. But it’s marred by prejudices that will make modern readers cringe a little.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

Newbery Review: Nicholas: A Manhattan Christmas Story

A charming but odd (and definitely dated) Newbery honor book. | A book review from NewberyandBeyond.com
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This 1925 Newbery honor book is one that I’ve been searching for for many months. It’s old and out of print, and I couldn’t find it at my library or on Amazon (at least, not for a reasonable price). So when I finally received a copy of Nicholas: A Manhattan Christmas Story through the interlibrary loan, I was thrilled!

Nicholas is a boy who is eight inches tall, and he sails from Holland to the U.S. in order to spend Christmas (and New Year’s, and President’s Day, and Valentine’s Day) with his friends in New York. He meets with many magical creatures, including trolls, brownies, and Santa, and he goes on many adventures on the east coast.

This book is charming. It has that distinctive feel of children’s books in the early 20th century–sweet, magical, and nonthreatening. Still, it left me with many questions. Why is Nicholas only eight inches tall? Why did he sail across the ocean just for Christmas? How does everyone in New York seem to know who he is? Is there a cohesive plot tying all these short vignettes together? Unless there are other books in a series about Nicholas, I guess we’ll never know.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

Newbery Roundup: March Edition

The March Newbery roundup contains this month's best (and worst) of the Newbery books I've been reading. | Book reviews by NewberyandBeyond.com
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We’re back with another Newbery roundup for March! Other than the 2016 Newbery winners that my sister and I reviewed, I’ve read some older books as well. Some were pretty decent, several were forgettable, and one was something I’m definitely not interested. So, on we go!

The Corn Grows Ripe

When his father is badly injured in an accident, a young Mayan boy called Tigre wonders who will plant and harvest the corn that they need to survive–and to please the Mayan gods. Twelve-year-old Tigre has never done a man’s work before. Now he will have to take his father’s place. (Summary via Goodreads.com)

I felt all right about this book. It was interesting to read about the culture of the Mayans and how important corn was to the families of the time, but I didn’t care very much, to be honest.

Good but Forgettable

The Wright Brothers: How They Invented the Airplane

I always enjoy what Russell Freedman writes (as you might remember). He is a fantastic biography writer, and this book about the Wright brothers is no exception. I found it amazing how much the brothers had to discover for themselves; they really did pioneer the science of flight, not just flying itself. The book was crammed with tons of pictures (the Wright brothers were meticulous about documenting their progress). I did sometimes skim the more technical parts, though.

Good but Forgettable

Kildee House

In this book, a man decides to escape his former life by building a home in the midst of the redwood forest. He then makes friends with a slew of animals, including a family of skunks, a pair of raccoons, some squirrels, and many other woodland creatures, as well as a preteen girl. The girl and the old man work together to raise the animals and make them comfortable, even as their families continue to grow.

It’s a cute idea, and the illustrations were pretty awesome. If your kid is into animals, they’ll almost definitely enjoy this book.

Good but Forgettable

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate

Calpurnia Virginia Tate is eleven years old in 1899 when she wonders why the yellow grasshoppers in her Texas backyard are so much bigger than the green ones. With a little help from her notoriously cantankerous grandfather, an avid naturalist, she figures out that the green grasshoppers are easier to see against the yellow grass, so they are eaten before they can get any larger.

As Callie explores the natural world around her, she develops a close relationship with her grandfather, navigates the dangers of living with six brothers, and comes up against just what it means to be a girl at the turn of the century. (Summary via Goodreads.com)

This was probably my favorite book of this month’s Newbery roundup. It’s well written and interesting, and Callie is a really fun character. I did struggle with how much her parents attempt to shove her into the turn of the century “female” box–they’re constantly discouraging her interest in science and trying to make her better at needlework and baking. I know it’s realistic, but it’s still heartbreaking, and I’m not sure I can force myself to read the rest of the series, good as this book was.

Pretty Darn Good

Pecos Bill

I really didn’t care for this book. I’m not a fan of mythology and tall tales, as a general rule, and this book wasn’t an exception to that rule. Add to that the casual racism and sexism that comes with many of the older Newbery books, and you come up with a book that I had to force myself to finish. Unless you or your kid is obsessed with American tall tales, maybe don’t bother.

Meh

Newbery Reviews: 1931

The latest addition to my series of Newbery book reviews: quick reviews of the 1931 Newbery books. | Book reviews by NewberyandBeyond.com
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1931 Newbery Medal Winner: The Cat Who Went to Heaven

This is the story of a little cat who came to the home of a poor Japanese artist, and, by humility and devotion, brought him good fortune. (Summary via Goodreads.com)

I read this book as a child as part of my homeschool curriculum. It’s about a cat who belongs to a painter who is commissioned to paint a picture of the Buddha surrounded by animals. The painter includes a cat in the picture, and he gets in a lot of trouble for doing so–apparently the cat refused to help Buddha when he was walking around on earth. But the painter’s beloved cat keeps worming its way back into the artist’s life and heart. It’s a short and sweet story that you or your pet-loving kids will really enjoy.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

Spice and the Devil’s Cave

A story of the rivalry between Arab traders, the city-state of Venice, and of the struggling nation of Portugal to dominate the spice trade by finding a new sea route to India by going around the “Devil’s Cave” — the Cape of Good Hope. In Lisbon, the workshop of Abel Zakuto, a Jew, becomes the meeting place for Vasco da Gama, Bartholomeu Dias, and Ferdinand Magellan to discuss their plans to find this sea route. (Summary via Goodreads.com)

In my original notes for this book, I wrote that it was a “really interesting story.” I honestly don’t remember much about it now, but the fact that I said a book was “very good” when it’s all about ocean voyages is really saying something (as you might recall, I have mixed feelings about books about the sea). So… maybe pick it up? I obviously enjoyed it, but the fact that it was so forgettable doesn’t make me feel great about recommending it wholeheartedly.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

Newbery Reviews: 1929

Short reviews of the 1929 Newbery books. | NewberyandBeyond.com
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Newbery Medal Winner: The Trumpeter of Krakow

A dramatic tale of 15th century Poland, it tells the story of a courageous young patriot and a mysterious jewel of great value. The beautifully written book, filled with adventure and excitement, gives young readers a vivid picture of Krakow in the early Renaissance. (Summary via Goodreads.com)

This was a fun, interesting story with what my young self described as a “very unusual setting.” I had not then read many books set in Poland, and I still haven’t, so I stick by that description. In fact, I might read this book again in the future to refresh my memory of this exciting story.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

Millions of Cats

Once upon a time there was an old man and an old woman who were very lonely. They decided to get a cat, but when the old man went out searching, he found not one cat, but millions and billions and trillions of cats! Unable to decide which one would be the best pet, he brought them all home. How the old couple came to have just one cat to call their own is a classic tale that has been loved for generations. (Summary via Goodreads.com)

This was so cute! It’s such a funny story with nice illustrations. Young kids will probably love it, and if you’re into cats and have a soft spot for the ridiculous, you might too.

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

Book Pairing: The Phantom Tollbooth and Stardust

This book pairing is a fun mix of magic, drama, and adventure. | A book review by NewberyandBeyond.com
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I’m continuing my posts in the Reading to Distraction book pairing challenge (you can read the previous posts here, here, and here) with another couple of books that I truly enjoyed, even before I thought of putting them together.

The books in this pairing are The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster with illustrations by Jules Feiffer and Stardust by my favorite, Neil Gaiman. According to BuzzFeed, here’s the connection:

It’s the playfulness of The Phantom Tollbooth that wins over its readers (and, really, it’s one of the children’s books that warrants revisiting), and Neil Gaiman’s Stardust captures that same sense expertly. When Tristan Thorn embarks on a quest to find a fallen star, he encounters witches, elf-lords, a captain of a flying ship, and all manners of eccentrics that will stay with the reader long after the book is finished.

The Phantom Tollbooth

Milo mopes in black ink sketches, until he assembles a tollbooth and drives through. He jumps to the island of Conclusions. But brothers King Azaz of Dictionopolis and the Mathemagician of Digitopolis war over words and numbers. Joined by ticking watchdog Tock and adult-size Humbug, Milo rescues the Princesses of Rhyme and Reason, and learns to enjoy life. (Summary via Goodreads.com)

I read this book several times as a child and loved it, even though parts of it always creeped me out. I always loved reading about other worlds in which everything was neatly organized into specific countries (I was kind of a weird kid), and this book filled that need for me. The Phantom Tollbooth is also full of wordplay, which both children and adults can enjoy. The illustrations work perfectly with this strange, magical story.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

Stardust

Hopelessly crossed in love, a boy of half-fairy parentage leaves his mundane Victorian-English village on a quest for a fallen star in the magical realm. The star proves to be an attractive woman with a hot temper, who plunges with our hero into adventures featuring witches, the lion and the unicorn, plotting elf-lords, ships that sail the sky, magical transformations, curses whose effects rebound, binding conditions with hidden loopholes and all the rest. (Summary via Goodreads.com)

Not only a great book by Neil Gaiman, but also a pretty funny movie. (Do be forewarned, though, that if you watched the movie first, the book will be quite a bit darker and more “adult” than the movie was.) This is one of the less creepy of Neil Gaiman’s worlds, but it still has that dark, not-quite-earthly flavor that Gaiman is so good at producing. There’s adventure, humor, and lots of magic as Tristan makes his way through the land beyond the wall in an attempt to bring back a star.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

Both of these books show their heroes making the leap from the dull, ordinary world into a world of magic and adventure–Milo through a tollbooth, Tristan through a wall in a seemingly empty field. Both are well written and lots of fun. If you’re into magical adventures with a sense of humor, you could do much worse than this book pairing.

Have you read either of these books? How do you think they stack up to each other? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

Mini Reviews: Summer Reading

My summer reading has been very hit and miss this year. | Book reviews from NewberyandBeyond.com
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Lately, I’ve been reading a lot of books that have been… mediocre. Either they’ve had forgettable plots or boring characters or just weren’t my cup of tea. So in case you’re interested in what I’ve been reading lately, here’s a stockpile of summer reading that just didn’t stack up.

Girl on the Train

The writing was good, I enjoyed the perspectives of the characters, and the story itself was interesting. But I found the plot a little predictable, to be honest… I don’t regret reading it, but I doubt I’ll ever read it again.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

Yes, Chef

As a former Food Network addict and a long-time viewer of Chopped, I’m a big fan of Marcus Samuelsson. He has a super interesting story–born in Ethiopia, he was adopted as a small child into a Swedish family. As a young chef, he traveled and worked his way through Europe before ending up in the U.S., where he now owns a restaurant in Harlem. I enjoyed Samuelsson’s voice in this memoir. It is quiet and honest, recounting past mistakes, failures, and triumphs with humility. Still, I felt there was something missing–probably humor, if you look at my past celebrity memoir list.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

A Little Something Different

I found this book to be cute but entirely forgettable. The romance was predictable, the characters were often stereotypical, and we didn’t get to know the main characters very well at all. The multiple viewpoints thing was a cute device, but it wasn’t enough to save this mediocre book.

Rating: Meh

Does My Head Look Big in This?

This book was one of my favorites of the bunch. The main character is a Muslim girl living in Australia, and she decides to wear the hijab full time, even at school. Her parents caution her and warn her of the difficulties she might face, but she takes the leap anyway. It was an interesting look at a group of people I know little about (Australian Muslims), but it never goes too deep into the religious implications. The book is mostly a YA story of friends, school, fitting in, and growing up.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

The Dragon of Handale

I picked up this medieval mystery on a whim, not realizing that it’s the latest installment in a series. The protagonist is a former nun who is attempting to decide whether or not to return to the convent. She lands in a harsh convent in the middle of nowhere, and she quickly begins to realize that things are not all they seem. The mystery itself is enjoyable, and I wouldn’t be opposed to reading another in the series if it landed in my lap, but it was pretty forgettable.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

Freakin’ Fabulous

Oh, Clinton Kelly. As I’ve mentioned before, I love What Not to Wear, so I knew I needed to pick up Clinton’s first book. It’s all about style in every part of your life, from clothing to behavior to throwing a successful party. Some of the tips were quite helpful (I showed my husband how to make the first successful poached egg we’ve ever made by using this book’s tips!), but some of them were totally inapplicable. I’m interested to read the follow up, Freakin’ Fabulous on a Budget, and see how that one stacks up.

Rating: Meh

Food: A Love Story

Okay, this one was actually pretty funny. I’m not a fan of comedians in general, but I do kind of like Jim Gaffigan. Reading this book is like watching an extended version of one of his comedy specials, so if you’re familiar with his work, you’ll probably recognize a fair amount of material. Still, it’s worth reading for the added jokes and exploration of all things food.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

Girl Talk

I had thought this book would be in the same vein as Don’t Worry, It Gets Worse or Never Have I Ever–that is, a funny, sometimes poignant look at Millennial life as we make our way through our twenties. Although it had some of that feeling (and the fact that it was made up of illustrations was pretty great), I found it pretty boring and totally forgettable. Save yourself some time and pick up one of the books I mentioned instead of this one.

Rating: Meh

Have you had better luck than I have recently with your reading? Leave me a comment and let me know what I should read next!

Mini Newbery Reviews

 

Mini reviews of several Newbery (or Newbery-related) books I've read recently. | Newbery and Beyond
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I know, I know–I’ve practically dropped off the face of the earth this week. I’ve been busy with a multitude of editing projects (check out my editing and proofreading website if you’re in need of either of those services) and I haven’t had time to write any reviews recently. But that doesn’t mean I haven’t been reading great books, and to make up for my absence, I’m giving you a mega-post, all about the latest Newbery (and Newbery-related) books I’ve read. Enjoy!

Frontier Living by Edwin Tunis

This book provides an interesting look into–yes–life on the frontier. I’ve been interested in pioneer life ever since Little House on the Prairie entered my life, and this book helped feed that interest. This book is fairly dry, and I think if I had picked it up as a kid, I probably would have lost interest pretty quickly. Still, I can see it working as a book to read with your kids, or something to give to a child who has an obsession with frontier life. The sketches of tools, homes, and clothing are a big plus.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

Guts by Gary Paulsen

Let me tell you about how much I loved Gary Paulsen’s work as a kid. He wrote Hatchet, which is a Newbery book, along with several related books. Hatchet is the story of a boy who is stranded alone in the Canadian wilderness and must survive using only his wits and the hatchet his mother gave him. He faces cold, hunger, and wild animals in his quest for survival.

In this new book, Paulsen tells the story of his own wilderness adventures, from his childhood to his adulthood. It is fascinating enough to keep an adult’s interest, but written simply enough to intrigue children–especially those who love the thought of having to survive on their own in the wild. I may be biased by my childhood love for Gary Paulsen, but this book is definitely worth a look, no matter what your age.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

The Hidden Treasure of Glaston by Eleanor Jewett

I found this book interesting once I got into it, but it was pretty slow paced at the beginning. In the year 1171, Hugh is left at a monastery when his father has to flee England. Hugh and his new friend Dickon discover some forgotten treasures and think they might be on the path to one of the greatest treasures of all time–the Holy Grail.

Good story, but only for those kids who have the patience to work through the slower-paced writing of many years ago.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

The View from Saturday by E.L. Konigsburg

Okay, here’s the deal: I’ve actually read this book before. I remembered enjoying it as a kid, so I ordered it cheaply a few weeks ago. I read through it again last weekend, and… I don’t know why I liked it so much before. The characters are interesting, but there isn’t much of a plot. The book is basically made up of four short stories, narrated by each of the four main characters, interspersed with information about the academic bowl they are participating in under the guidance of their sixth grade teacher. Noah, Ethan, Nadia, and Julian seem like interesting, intelligent kids, but they don’t do a whole lot. I was kind of disappointed in re-reading it, unfortunately.

Rating: Meh

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