1997 Newbery Medal: The View From Saturday by E. L. Konigsburg

The View from Saturday is written by E. K. Konigsburg. It was published in 1996 by Atheneum. More about Konigsburg can be found here.

Summary/Blurb:

“How had Mrs. Olinski chosen her sixth-grade Academic Bowl team? She had a number of answers. But were any of them true? How had she really chosen Noah and Nadia and Ethan and Julian? And why did they make such a good team?

It was a surprise to a lot of people when Mrs. Olinski’s team won the sixth-grade Academic Bowl contest at Epiphany Middle School. It was an even bigger surprise when they beat the seventh grade and the eighth grade, too. And when they went on to even greater victories, everyone began to ask: How did it happen?

It happened at least partly because Noah had been the best man (quite by accident) at the wedding of Ethan’s grandmother and Nadia’s grandfather. It happened because Nadia discovered that she could not let a lot of baby turtles die. It happened when Ethan could not let Julian face disaster alone. And it happened because Julian valued something important in himself and saw in the other three something he also valued.

Mrs. Olinski, returning to teaching after having been injured in an automobile accident, found that her Academic Bowl team became her answer to finding confidence and success. What she did not know, at least at first, was that her team knew more than she did the answer to why they had been chosen.”

What I Liked:

It’s E. L. Konigsburg! Her book From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler was one of my favorite books to read growing up, but I’ve also read this one a couple of times as well. When I got it at the library, the cover just gave me such nostalgia. I haven’t forgotten that cover, despite the fact that it’s been maybe 10 years since I’ve last read the book.

So, basically, this book is four short stories centered on an overarching narrative. There’s not really any “plot,” per se, except maybe the Academic Bowl, but the start of the book is towards the end of the competition and the entire book is essentially a flashback until the last few chapters, so it’s not a “traditional” plot. It’s more about the characters. Noah and Ethan are probably my favorites; I liked their stories best, anyway. This is a very character-driven book, and I think the “lack” of plot is made up for by the presence of the characters. Each kid has a distinctive voice (fact: I love Noah’s facts) and I loved the way Konigsburg structured it so that each child answers a question that somehow relates to the story they are about to tell (and yet it doesn’t completely overshadow the story itself).

Are sixth graders really that mean? I mean, the utter callousness of Hamilton shocked me. The kid’s, what, twelve? What twelve-year-old writes “Cripple” on the teacher’s blackboard? Granted, this was mostly for story purposes, but still…(this is under “Liked” for the sheer reason that Hamilton’s character in the story was really used for character development, which I liked.)

Also and finally, Julian correcting the commissioner was hilarious, and I absolutely loved the visual joke that Konigsburg gives near the end of the book (see quotes below), which is one reason why I love reading books and not listening to them.

What I Didn’t Like:

It gets a bit weird at the end. A little New Age-y, a little too…weird. Yeah.

It drove me CRAZY that Nadia never used contractions! She started sounding like a robot after a while. She was also way too melodramatic during her story, although I guess I sort of understand where she’s coming from and why she acted like that.

Rating: 4/5

Recommended Age Range: 10+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Realistic, Children’s

Passages/Quotes:

No one answered when he rang the front doorbell because we were all in the back loading the cake into the red wagon, so he walked around back to the patio. Unfortunately, he didn’t see the wagon handle, so he tripped on it, slid on the wet concrete, fell in the puddle of melted ice and, unfortunately, toppled the wedding cake.

The little top layer was totally smashed; it fell in the same puddle as Allen, and the little bride and groom were seriously maimed.

So was Allen’s ankle. Which fact I detected when he grabbed his foot and started to moan while still sitting the puddle on the patio. Grandpa Nate called 911. Grandma Sadie returned to the kitchen to whip up a repair batch of icing. Grandpa Nate took the remains of the cake to the clubhouse, and I sat with Allen until the ambulance came. He was not good company.

The groom called to see what was taking Allen so long. I answered the phone, and I thought I would have to call 911 for him, too. “Don’t panic,” I said. “I’ll be your best man.”

~Konigsburg 15

The previous year when Mr. Homer Fairbain had been master of ceremonies for the district playoffs, the contest had been broadcast on educational TV. When he was to ask the question, What is the native country of Pope John Paul II? Mr. Fairbain asked, “What is the native country of Pope John Paul Eye Eye?” The day after the broadcast, there were five letters to the editor in the paper about Mr. Fairbain, none favorable.

Dr. Rohmer knew that this year’s broadcast would have a larger than usual audience, partly because people were curious about having a sixth grade team be a contender for the district middle school championship but mostly because everyone would be waiting for Homer Fairbain to goof. Dr. Rohmer had to let Mr. Fairbain be master of ceremonies again. It would be his one chance to show the community that he had learned a thing or II.

~Konigsburg 134-135

Overall Review:

It’s all about character in this book, and that is pretty great. The short stories are memorable, the four kids are smart and (mostly) mature and sound that way (hooray!), and the Academic Bowl shenanigans at the end are pretty funny. Nadia’s voice and the weird New Age-y stuff at the end are really the only dampers.

You can buy this here: The View from Saturday

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