The 2017 Newbery Books

Each year I anticipate the winner and honor books for the Newbery Prize. Past winners have included authors I regularly seek out, like Kate DiCamillo  (Flora and Ulysses). Among my favorite winners are a book about a gorilla (The One and Only Ivan) and Jacqueline Kelly’s The Evolution of Calpernia Tate.  One quote from that tale of an eleven year old budding scientist still rings true: “It was too bad, but sometimes a little knowledge could ruin your whole day…”

This year’s winner and honor books include a fantasy – The Girl Who Drank the Moon -magic is often a theme in Newbery books.  As a fan of “The Canterbury Tales,” I look forward to reading the Honor Book – The Inquisitor’s Tale: Or, The Three Magical Children and Their Holy Dog, written by Adam Gidwitz.  Another honor book, Lauren Wolk’s Wolf Hollow found its way into book club discussions, as its theme of bullying and discrimination mirrored present-day angst.  Finally, Freedom Over Me: Eleven Slaves, Their Lives and Dreams Brought to Life by Ashley Bryan, completed this year’s winners, with the music of poetry and the rhythm of song telling a story of history.

Read them all – it won’t take much of your time – and you will find satisfying tales written well.  Sometimes a good children’s book can be better than one written for adults.

9781616205676_p0_v4_s192x300   The Girl Who Drank the Moon

This year’s winner of the Newbery Prize – Kelly Barnhill’s The Girl Who Drank the Moon – delivers other worldly magic – we all need some right now. In a world similar to Shirley Jackson’s famous short story “The Lottery,” one person is sacrificed each year to appease an evil witch and keep the rest of the village safe – for another year.  Unknown to the villagers, the baby is rescued each time by a good witch of the Forest, who safely whisks the child off to a new family in a safer place, while the evil witch, disguised as mother superior in the local convent, thrives on the sorrow and despair of the sacrificing town.

One year the good witch, Xan, who shares her home with an ancient Swamp Monster and a Perfectly Tiny Dragon, keeps the baby.  When Xan accidentally feeds the baby girl light from the moon, instead of the usual fare of stardust, Luna becomes enmagicked with amazing powers.  Xan subdues Luna’s powers until she is thirteen, when she joins forces with her mother, imprisoned all these years in a tower, whose magic changes paper birds into lethal weapons,  and Antain, a young man from the village with a good heart whose baby would be next on the list to be sacrificed.  Of course, evil is defeated and a new world order of hope replaces the misery.

Each minor character has notes of the familiar in everyone’s life.  Antain disappoints his mother’s ambition for him by leaving the head Council and following his own yearning to be a carpenter.  The little dragon never seems to grow up, until a crisis tears away his youthful outlook and forces him to deliver.  The old Swamp Monster offers steady and sage advice and comfort when needed.  But, my favorite character in this story is Ethyne, who knows the evil witch from her days as a novice, before she left to marry Antain.  Ethyne’s outlook is always positive and cheery, with a steady sense of self which she uses to steer both her husband and the despairing villagers as well as her former subservient connections in the Convent.  Ethyne is that voice of common sense who might bring you a cup of tea when you are down, or suggest a plan to overcome your inertia when you need motivation.  She is someone everyone should have as a friend.

Related Review:  Wolf Hollow

 

What Children Read

If children do not see diversity in the books they read, how can they connect to other cultures?  A good friend,  who also happens to be a published author of children’s books, recently sent me Katrina Schwartz’s article with 20 Books Featuring Diverse Characters to Inspire Connection and Empathy.  Schwartz suggests books can “… provide both mirrors and windows so they {children} subconsciously build an image of who and what they could be, while building empathy and understanding for the lives of others.”

Not just for children, children’s books can send a strong message.  Here are two from the list I plan to read soon:

  • Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Pena – the 2016 Newbery Award Winner
  • Listen Slowly by Thanhhà Lai

book-market-street-small        book-listen-slowly-small

Related Review:  Inside Out and Back Again

 

The Thief and The Conspiracy of Kings

“I can steal anything.”

In Megan Whalen Turner’s Newbery winning book, The Thief, Gen slyly steals the king’s seal, but then brags about it – the downfall of all good thieves.  After some time in the bowels of the prison, the king’s magus – a Merlin-like advisor with wisdom and intellect – makes him an offer he cannot refuse.  His mission: to steal a hidden stone from a foreign land to secure the king’s access to more land, more riches, and the beautiful foreign queen.

Using an imaginative setting resembling some of ancient Greece, with medieval trappings, and anachronisms that include guns, pocket watches, and glass panes, Turner tells the story in Gen’s voice, weaving together stories of ancient gods, a good-hearted but bumbling prince in training, a faithful guardian, and a feisty and humorous rogue who has his own plan for the booty.

Despite clues throughout (that you will notice later), the ending is a wonderful surprise.

Turner has four books in the Queen’s thief young adult series.  I started with her newest – A Conspiracy of Kings – and stopped midbook to find her starter book – The Thief – and glad I did.  Although it’s possible to read the books in any order – just as you could with the Harry Potter series – it’s much more fun to watch the characters mature and progress in each.  If you decide to dive in, read The Thief first.

In this last book, the young prince has grown up – as has everyone else in the repertoire, including the Queen’s thief – and some romance has seeped in.  But, the swashbuckling fights for honor and country are still ever-present.  What fun!  I can’t wait to see how it all turns out.

When You Reach Me

Rebecca Stead’s Newbery Award winning young adult book, When You Reach Me, is a quick read – mysterious, fun, satisfying, and validating.

“The trip is a difficult one. I will not be myself when I reach you.”

A compelling read, mysterious notes, friendship, second chances… With references to Madeleine Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time, Stead creates a coming of age story for young adults that might bring back some life-turning moments of your own.   And make you wonder, what if you could go back and do it again? 

And, for adults,  some Seventies nostalgia…

original Charlie's Angels

and a Dick Clark who never ages…

Read More: Horn Book article