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.
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