by P. Craig Russell, adapted from the book by Lois Lowry
Overall: 4.5 out of 5 stars
I’m a bit reluctant to say too much because I’m don’t want to give anything away. This version stays extremely close to the original, which I have read probably about ten times. Since the book is narration heavy, this version is also narration-heavy, especially to start. Once the story really got going, though, is where the medium really shone. Parts of the story involving color and memory transfer worked very well in a visual medium. All that being said, I did not really love the drawings themselves, particularly the style of drawing people. It was interesting to note the artist’s comment in the back matter that he portrayed them not futuristically but rather in a sort of 1950’s throwback style in an attempt to ward off looking out of date.
by Erin Entrada Kelly
Overall: 4 out of 5 stars
This year’s Newbery winner is solid but also didn’t knock my socks off. It’s the story of painfully shy Filipino-American Virgil Salinas; his friend and visionary Kaori Tanaka; his crush, Valencia Somerset, who is hearing impaired; and local bully Chet Bullens. Chet throws Virgil’s backpack, containing his beloved guinea pig Gulliver, into an old well. When Virgil goes to rescue it, he gets trapped in the well. Meanwhile, Valencia shows up for her appointment with Kaori, but Kaori is preoccupied with Virgil’s missing his appointment hours ago. [Spoiler] The two, plus Kaori’s little sister Gen, set out to find him and eventually rescue him from the well. At the end, Virgil is finally able to stand up to Chet, tell his mother to stop calling him Turtle, and finally talk to Valencia.
It’s a sweet story, and definitely ticks the boxes for diversity, especially in #ownvoices. I can see why they chose it, and it will be a book I recommend to kids. I’m really curious to hear what my 4th and 5th grade book club kiddos think of it (next year – it’s still too new to choose for this year). I really appreciated the description of hearing aids on a hearing impaired person, and what reading lips is really like. I was upset to learn that Valencia’s parents didn’t think she “needed” to learn American Sign Language; first of all, she had trouble reading lips and also just wanted to, and I felt for her and the injustice of it. I also really enjoyed Virgil’s grandmother, Lola, and all of her stories of Filipino folklore. There is a presence named Ruby who comforts Virgil in the well and I missed where she came from (whether folklore or not) but I enjoyed her too, and her role in Virgil’s rescue.
by E. L. Konigsburg
Overall: 3.5 out 5 stars
“When I won a Newbery Medal for [The View from Saturday], I was filled with joy. And that’s a fact. I knew that kids would love meeting one character and then two and three, and I also knew — because I had learned it from them — that they would think that fitting all the stories together was part of the adventure. I knew I had been right about the spirit of adventure shared by good readers. I owe children a good story.” – Konigsburg, from her Scholastic author page
The View from Saturday feels very much like it was written in the same era as Konigsburg’s other novels, especially From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. Some of the things the characters said seemed kind of outdated and potentially problematic, like asking Julian Singh if he is a Native American or some of the adults’ gender roles. Also the language that the kids use felt a little stilted and idyllic, but in general a solid story and she weaves them together well, if not in a way that necessarily captured my imagination fully. I would probably have liked it a lot as a fourth-grader but seems like stories for 5th-6th graders generally have advanced somehow beyond this – more advanced, exciting plots. But still, a pretty solid story about how four kids’ lives intersect and they become an unbeatable academic bowl team, with the help of their teacher. It has the feel in the beginning of the movie Slumdog Millionaire, that the story will be how kids’ experiences magically are all represented in the questions in the final tournament, but it didn’t quite work out that dramatically which might contribute to my feeling of letdown. (FYI: this book is copyright 1996 so was written before Slumdog Millionaire, which came out in 2008.)
One final note: the teacher is paraplegic and there is some mild bullying of her by students, which was an interesting take on the bullying topic.
by Kwame Alexander
Overall: 5 out of 5 stars
Wow, I can definitely see why this won the Newbery Award this year. This novel in verse packs a punch while telling the story of seventh-grader Josh and his twin brother, sons of the legendary basketball player, sensations on the court. Josh feels left behind when his brother gets a girlfriend and they deal with their dad’s health scare in different ways. Josh is a good student and brings his vocabulary lessons into the poems to bring even more poignancy while telling his story.
There were two interesting parts in light of recent events regarding police violence targeting black boys and men, not to mention the history of black men sentenced to prison. On was when Josh and his dad get pulled over for a broken taillight. The police officer lets them go with a warning, but only after his dad pulls the fame card. Josh prays that his dad won’t go to jail. A little later, Josh loses his temper and lashes out at his brother physically. His mother is furious and gives him a lecture, calling him a thug and telling him that “boys with no self-control become men behind bars.” I hope that even those readers who don’t identify racially with Josh and his family can examine their own racial privilege in their reactions to this and have a conversation.
by Susan Patron
Overall: 4 out of 5 stars
Meet Lucky, a ten-year-old girl living in Hard Pan, California, population 43. Her mother died when she was eight and her father, who had long been out of the picture, did not want to raise her, so he found her a guardian: his first wife, a French woman named Brigitte. Life in Hard Pan isn’t easy for anyone, and Lucky becomes convinced that Brigitte is about to bolt, especially when she finds Brigitte’s suitcase and passport out and ready. It isn’t until Lucky runs away that she finds out what’s really going on.
The other residents of Hard Pan have their own problems, and Lucky tells us the story she hears while spying on the AA meeting of when Short Sammy hit rock bottom, the details of which may upset more sensitive readers. I did like the description of Lucky’s “meanness gland,” which makes her be mean to a small hanger-on named Miles (whose mother, it turns out, is in jail). I also look forward to hearing more from Lucky’s best friend, Lincoln, in the other books in the series (there are two as of now: Lucky Breaks and Lucky for Good).
by Cynthia Voigt
Overall: 4 out of 5 stars
I really liked Dicey and the journey that she goes on to learn how to open up to people. I wasn’t overly clear on what exactly the conflict, or main point of the story, was until near the end when her life starts to change and resolve, but I enjoyed spending time with her and her family and getting to know them so I didn’t care a whole lot. I’m not sure how I missed that this was book 2 in a three-book series, but it stands alone well enough. Dicey and her siblings have made it on their own from Massachusetts down to Maryland and their grandmother’s home, hoping to be taken in even though until they arrive on her doorstep, Gram has no idea they even exist. The process of learning what has become of their mother, and their adjustment to their new life, takes the entire book and I found myself growing right along with Dicey and company (even Gram). I also loved Dicey’s friendships with Jeff and especially Mina, the only other girl in Dicey’s class as smart as she is. Dicey is white and Mina is black and, with this novel written in 1982, it had me thinking a lot about what it was like to be in school at that time. Dicey’s friendship with her is as plausible and unremarkable as if it were written today.
by Ellen Raskin
Overall: 4.5 out of 5 stars
This is one of those books whose characters are going to stay with me for a long time. (Incidentally, I had the audiobook and it was the same narrator as the Bunnicula books, which I realized about halfway through. Also, the voice of Sydelle Pulaski will be with me for a very long time.) It took two tries to really get into it, but after a while the characters solidified and things came together. I was still along for the ride, though, and didn’t figure it out much before the solution was revealed, which is always nice. (Then again, I recently reread an Encyclopedia Brown that I remembered reading as a kid and could NOT figure them out! So maybe I’m not the world’s best mystery solver.) There were enough plot twists and turns to keep me on my toes but not so many to confuse me, though that might not be true for younger readers. I especially loved what happened to Angela, the meek, obedient girl who was engaged to a colossal jerk and who finally finds a way to stand up for herself and make her own way in life. Only one thing bugged me, and it can probably be chalked up to the book being written in 1979: both Sydelle (who uses crutches and is unclear whether she is actually injured) and Chris (who uses a wheelchair) are repeatedly referred to as “the invalid” or using other non-person-first language. So, if that’s of interest to you or a person you’re recommending this book for, just be aware of it. Other than that, great book!