2005 Newbery Medal: Kira-Kira by Cynthia Kadohata

Kira-Kira, by Cynthia Kadohata, was published in 2004 by Houghton.

Glittering. That’s how Katie Takeshima’s sister, Lynn, makes everything seem. The sky is kira-kira because its color is deep but see-through at the same time. The sea is kira-kira for the same reason. And so are people’s eyes. When Katie and her family move from a Japanese community in Iowa to the Deep South of Georgia, it’s Lynn who explains to her why people stop on the street to stare. And it’s Lynn who, with her special way of viewing the world, teaches Kati to look beyond tomorrow. But when Lynn becomes desperately ill, and the whole family beings to fall apart, it is up to Katie to find a way to remind them all that there is always something glittering—kira-kira—in the future.

Rating: 3/5

Kira-Kira is all Newbery Medal—the “slice of life” plot, the heartbreaking incidents, and the slight philosophical/poetical angle encompassed by the word “kira-kira.” It’s a good story, although I found it perhaps a little too disjointed at times. The problem with “slice of life” stories is that they jump around from event to event and sometimes do not do a good job of connecting them enough, leaving a particular scene feeling random.

Katie is a typical “Newbery” protagonist—a middle child who feels slightly out of place in her family, with the older sibling that she feels she can’t live up to. Nothing is really surprising in this book, least of all Katie’s development. I don’t want to seem that I’m putting down “slice of life” books, because many of them are done well and they are very effective at what they do when they are done well, and Kadohata does portray Katie’s life effectively—the alienation of being one of only a few Japanese people in the community, the effect on her parents of their long, hard hours at a factory, the difficulty of having an ill sister and the emotions that come with that. Some of the events described just seem haphazardly placed.

I am surprised that Kadohata did not portray anything about the aftereffects of World War II on Katie’s family. Perhaps that was supposed to be implied in the community’s treatment of the Kadohata’s, but this was a country that was fresh from having Japanese internment camps. I don’t know—perhaps things were as mild as they seemed in the novel. I obviously was not alive during that time. One comment by a girl in their classroom, however, seemed a bit of an understatement. Or, again, perhaps she meant it more to be implied in the alienation as a whole, and the factory jobs of Katie’s parents.

Kira-Kira ticks off all the “Newbery Medal” boxes: a “slice of life,” coming-of-age novel with some sort of sad plotline attached. I felt as if some of the scenes in the book were jarring and random, and nothing really stood out to me as particularly memorable, but it’s a decent enough book that does a good job of showing aspects of a different culture.

Recommended Age Range: 10+

Warnings: Death.

Genre: Children’s, Historical Fiction

We sat cross-legged on the floor in our room and held hands and closed our eyes while she chanted, “Mind meld, mind meld, mind meld.” That was our friendship chant.

She gazed at me solemnly. “No matter what happens, someday when we’re each married, we’ll own houses down the block from each other. We’ll live by the sea in California.”

That sounded okay with me. “If y’all are going to live by the sea, I will too,” I said. I had never seen the California sea, but I imagined it was very pretty.

You can buy this book here: http://amzn.to/2yQNQDO

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Black Dove White Raven by Elizabeth Wein

Black Dove White Raven, by Elizabeth Wein, was published in 2015 by Hyperion.

Emilia’s and Teo’s lives changed in a fiery, terrifying instant when a bird strike brought down the plane their stunt-pilot mothers were flying. Teo’s mother died immediately, but Em’s survived, determined to raise Teo according to his late mother’s wishes—in a place where he won’t be discriminated against because of the color of his skin. But in 1930s America, a white woman raising a black adopted son alongside a white daughter is too often seen as a threat. Seeking a home where her children won’t be held back by ethnicity or gender, Rhoda brings Em and Teo to Ethiopia, and all three fall in love with the beautiful, peaceful country. But that peace is shattered by the threat of war with Italy, and teenage Em and Teo are drawn into the conflict. Will their devotion to their country, its culture and people, and to each other be their downfall…or their salvation?

Rating: 5/5

At first I didn’t think I would like Black Dove White Raven. The beginning starts abruptly, in media res, and it took me a moment to get my bearings straight. I also didn’t know how to feel about the craziness of Rhoda/Momma’s backstory, and the odd marriage-but-non-marriage she has. But Emilia and Teo gradually won me over—mostly Emilia.

The novel takes place before and during the Italo-Ethiopian War of the 1930s. It’s funny—I’m not used to reading a book set in the 1930s that doesn’t also mention the Great Depression. But, of course, since the novel is set in Ethiopia, there wouldn’t be mention of it, regardless of the characters’ prior years in the States. What’s more, since Rhoda came from a Quaker family, it’s likely life during the Depression was not too different than life before, which is why it wasn’t mentioned. Wein has an extensive author’s note in the back of the book where she details what is historical and what is poetic license, but the whole thing melds together so well that in the midst of the book you don’t care what things are made up and what aren’t. Everything makes sense, even the crazy stuff that happens at the end, and it’s grounded in the reality of Ethiopia’s history.

I mostly liked the book throughout, but towards the end I started really loving it. I loved Emilia’s adventures at the end; I loved how we didn’t get an adventure from Teo’s more competent and certain point of view but from Emilia’s uneasy, less adept point of view. The only thing I didn’t love about the ending was the lack of resolution we got regarding Emilia’s future.

Black Dove White Raven started out a little shaky for me, but towards the end really solidified into a gripping, exciting read. Emilia is a female character that I actually enjoy; Teo had his moments, too, though I liked him less (too perfect). Rhoda was a bit wild, but I suppose it fit her established character. I learned a lot about the Italo-Ethopian War, as well as about Ethiopia and that time period in general. Overall, I thought Black Dove White Raven was a solid book and I will seek out more Wein books to read.

Recommended Age Range: 8+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Historical Fiction, Young Adult

“Teo’s not here to learn to fly,” Momma said flatly.

There was an awkward silence.

But Colonel Augustus didn’t give up easily. “Teodros Gedeyon was born to be a pilot! Wasn’t his mother one of the earliest licensed fliers of her sex and race in the world? Wasn’t his father one of the earliest African men to take to the skies before his untimely death far from home—?”

(He really did talk like that.)

“—And does the new emperor not dream of an Imperial Air Force of young Ethiopian men born to the skies? The Black Dove’s son is destined to follow his mother into the air and fly for Ethiopia!”

You can buy this book here: http://amzn.to/2ygP0Et

I Walk in Dread by Lisa Rowe Fraustino

I Walk in Dread: The Diary of Deliverance Trembly, Witness to the Salem Witch Trials, by Lisa Rowe Fraustino, was published in 2004 by Scholastic.

Deliverance Trembley lives in Salem Village, where she must take care of her sickly sister, Mem, and where she does her daily chores in fear of her cruel uncle’s angry temper. But when four young girls from the village accuse some of the local women of being witches, Deliverance finds herself caught up in the ensuing drama of the trials. And life in Salem is never the same

Rating: 4/5

One of the last Dear America books (before the reboot), I Walk in Dread is a fair, historical coverage of the Salem Witch Trials, a period in history that is still fraught with controversy today. Fraustino certainly did her homework while writing this story; most of the people in the book are historical figures and Fraustino lays out what she researched and read at the end of the novel.

Many people today believe that the accusers were actually suffering from ergot poisoning (although that has been contested, as theories generally are), but, of course, Deliverance would have no idea what that was. Instead, a combination of mob hysteria, “sport,” and family feuds are the possibilities explored by Deliverance and her family as a cause for the witchcraft accusations. And, indeed, the Puritans themselves were later so embarrassed by their actions that they destroyed documents pertaining to the trials—showing that, despite their beliefs in witchcraft and the Devil, they realized that the extent to which it went was unacceptable.

Fraustino might have instilled perhaps a bit too much “modern thinking” into the story, but she does present the Trials as nothing more than a tragedy, a group of people caught up in mob hysteria and/or trying to avenge past wrongs by getting rid of people assumed to be responsible. It is, in fact, an excellent example of the way mob hysteria can work in a small town, the paranoia that ensues and the disasters that follow. Fraustino deals very fairly with the subject, which I found refreshing.

I Walk in Dread is perhaps much better to be assigned to read than a book such as The Crucible, which is a common book assigned to read in American Literature, which only perpetuates stereotypes and historical inaccuracies. Some of the Dear America books tend to drift a bit from accuracy themselves, but I’m glad to see that I Walk in Dread deals with the Trials according to the evidence as we know it, and that Fraustino did not push any particular ideological or political idea through the book (except for, maybe, the idea that modern people are more intelligent and progressive than their ancestors).

Recommended Age Range: 8+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Historical Fiction, Children’s

The four afflicted girls…were brought in to the front of the room, screeching and crying out as they laid their eyes on the prisoner. Their fear flooded the room….When it was quiet again, Mr. Hawthorne asked them to look upon Sarah Goode, and see if she were the person that hurt them. They all said yes, yes!….Sarah Goode looked shocked and confused. She denied that she had…even been near the children. At that, Abigail Williams and Ann Putnam twisted and cried out that the witch was pinching and biting them….It was terrifying to witness, and I felt a hot passion against Sarah Goode. Someone behind me muttered, “The woman should hang for this.”

You can buy this book here: http://amzn.to/2h9PxVo

1959 Newbery Medal: The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare

The Witch of Blackbird Pond, by Elizabeth George Speare, was published in 1958 by Houghton.

Kit Tyler knows, as she gazes for the first time at the cold, bleak shores of Connecticut Colony, that her new home will never be like the shimmering Caribbean islands she has left behind. She is like a tropical bird that has flown to the wrong part of the world. And in the stern Puritan community of her relatives, she soon feels caged as well, and lonely. In the meadows, the only place where she can feel completely free, she meets another lone and mysterious figure, the old woman known as the Witch of Blackbird Pond. But when their friendship is discovered, Kit faces suspicion, fear, and anger. She herself is accused of witchcraft!

Rating: 3/5

The Witch of Blackbird Pond was an interesting book to read. I thought, with all the talk of witches on the back cover, that it would be connected to the Salem Witch Trials, but it’s not—Speare merely runs with the old idea of “Puritans thought there were such a thing as witches and accused women of witchcraft all the time” and builds a story around it. And, I get that, the Salem Witch Trials were obviously A Thing That Happened, but it’s a really cliché plot device to use and a little bit lazy, in my opinion.

Speare does deal quite fairly with Kit’s family members, though. She never shows us enough of the village to get an idea of the community, beyond the Reverend and the bitter woman who dislikes Kit from the beginning, but Judith, Mercy, and Kit’s aunt and uncle are all well-developed, particularly the uncle. She also shows a lot of difference in characters, which is something that some authors can forget when they are trying to portray certain people certain ways (The Scarlet Letter, for example, which has zero redeemable or relatable characters and every Puritan in that book is gray and stern). She doesn’t paint everyone with the same brush, basically.

For a children’s book, Kit is rather an old protagonist, and the book reads much more like a young adult novel, in my opinion, with the romance plot lines. I’m not a huge fan of “outsider comes in and shakes up community with new, “scandalous” ways” plots, and Kit did one too many stupid things for me to really like her, but I didn’t completely hate her, and I enjoyed seeing her grow throughout the novel. I liked what Speare did at the end, too, with her character because it matched what we know of Kit. She’s not one to be tied down, nor is her life with her Puritan relatives ever quite believable as a life for her.

I didn’t think The Witch of Blackbird Pond was a great book, but I didn’t think it was terrible, either. I liked the development of the characters, and even though Kit was annoying most of the time, she had her moments, and I liked that Speare was true to her character throughout. The plot aspect was underwhelming and I thought the overall tone of the book was slightly too old to really be a children’s book. A bit of a mixed reaction all around, but I went into it expecting to hate it and I didn’t, so there’s that.

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Warnings: There’s some intense scenes at the end of the novel.

Genre: Historical Fiction, Children’s (though it’s really more Middle Grade)

“Don’t the servants do that?” [Kit] inquired.

“We have no servants,” said her aunt quietly.

Surprise and chagrin left Kit speechless. “I can help with the work,” she offered finally, realizing that she sounded like an overeager child.

“In that dress!” Judith protested.

“I’ll find something else. Here, this calico will do, won’t it?”

“To work in?”

You can buy this book here: http://amzn.to/2zsZN2w

1946 Newbery Medal: Strawberry Girl by Lois Lenski

Strawberry Girl, by Lois Lenski, was published in 1945 by Lippincott.

Strawberries—big, ripe, and juicy. Ten-year-old Birdie Boyer can hardly wait to start picking them. But her family has just moved to the Florida backwoods, and they haven’t even begun their planting. “Don’t count your biddies ‘fore they’re hatched, gal young un!” her father tells her. Making the new farm prosper is not easy. There is heat to suffer through, and droughts, and cold snaps. And, perhaps most worrisome of all for the Boyers, there are rowdy neighbors just itching to start a feud.

Rating: 4/5

If it were not for Lois Lenski’s foreword, you would think Strawberry Girl took place during the Western expansion—the Laura Ingalls Wilder vibes are strong. However, Lenski’s information about the late settling of Florida making it a frontier half a century after the “frontier age” makes it clear that, though the book reads as if it takes place in the nineteenth century, it actually takes place in the twentieth.

Strawberry Girl describes a series of events in the life of the Boyer family, with the tension between the Boyers and the Slaters as the underlying plot thread running throughout and bringing the events together. Along with Birdie, the reader experiences sympathy as well as anger as the Slaters are at times friendly, at times stand-offish, and at times downright hostile.

The idea of the “feuding families” is one that I’m not sure a lot of people think is based in reality. There’s always that one story of families who have fought for years over an event that has either been forgotten or one that has been grossly distorted—and the families are usually people from “the backwoods” as opposed to the prim and proper families of a more urban setting. Those stories always seem more of a critique or a ridicule of country living rather than anything based in reality. However, in the days when surviving meant living off the land and the actions of your neighbor (such as letting his cows eat your crops, which were both money and food) affected that survival, I can see that feuds may not be all that unlikely. And they more than likely took the form of something similar to what Lenski described in Strawberry Girl—a kind of “cold war” that escalates to killing livestock or even, in some cases, setting fires. In other words, Lenski does a great job of describing the tension between the Boyers and the Slaters so that the escalating feud makes sense—as does the eventual peace made between them.

Strawberry Girl reads very similarly to a Little House book, which isn’t surprising since even though the settings and the era are quite different, the circumstances are the same. Perhaps that’s why I enjoyed the book as I did. I also appreciated how Lenski made her characters memorable and thought that the escalation and resolution of the feud were well done. Strawberry Girl would appeal to any fan of Laura Ingalls Wilder.

Recommended Age Range: 8+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Historical Fiction, Children’s

“Right here we’re fixin’ to set strawberries.”

“I mean! Strawberries!” Shoestring’s eyes opened wide.

“Yes, strawberries!” said Birdie. “Heaps o’ folks over round Galloway are growin’ ‘em to ship north. Pa heard a man called Galloway started it. So we’re studyin’ to raise us some nad sell ‘em.”

“You purely can’t!” said the boy. “Can’t raise nothin’ on this sorry ole piece o’ land but a fuss!” He spat and frowned. “Sorriest you can find—either too wet or too dry. Not fitten for nothin’ but palmetto roots. Your strawberries won’t never make.”

You can buy this book here: http://amzn.to/2zSSm1o

A Journey to the New World by Kathryn Lasky

A Journey to the New World: The Diary of Remember Patience Whipple, by Kathryn Lasky, was published in 1996 by Scholastic.

The Pilgrims, as they came to be known, traveled in a small cargo ship, the Mayflower, for two miserable months of bad food, unfit drinking water, vicious storms, and sheer boredom on a leaky old vessel that had never been intended for human cargo and lacked even the most basic amenities. Mem, one of the 34 children among the 102 people on board, tells the story in diary entries. Almost as bad as the journey was what the travelers found when it was over. Mem’s story is one of incredible courage in the face of almost insurmountable obstacles, but it is also a story of real people with all their foibles, who refuse to give up no matter what happens. In the course of these inspiring events, Mem herself almost gives up, but a sense of humor and her hopes for the future carry her through the worst of them.

Rating: 3/5

My new reading project (because I clearly like setting myself massive reading goals) is to read all the Dear America books in chronological order. Dear America (and its spinoffs) is a series that is near and dear to my heart. I own several of the books and I read them over and over again. I’m excited to see if my favorites back then are still my favorites now.

A Journey to the New World starts this chronological journey off, with Mem, the Pilgrim girl, stepping foot onto the New World and Plymouth. The book vastly understates the sort of trials the Pilgrims must have gone through in that first winter, a winter that killed off half of the population, but, of course, this book is targeted for children and so must gloss over things like that. Lasky does get across that people die (including people near and dear to Mem), so perhaps it’s not so understated. Things aren’t as chillingly tragic as in other Dear America books, though (I’m looking at you, Across This Wide and Lonesome Prairie), or perhaps that’s just the narrator’s fault.

Some of my favorite Dear America books really breathe life into the protagonists so they are not just a vehicle for getting across information about the time period; unfortunately, Mem is not particularly memorable (ha! “Remember” is not memorable…okay, I’ll stop). She does seem to be just a mouthpiece for telling the reader about the first year of the Pilgrims in America; there’s some personal aspects to the story but nothing deep enough to establish more than just a peripheral connection. Some parts of the book seem mechanical, which make the more heartfelt parts seem awkward and disjointed, creating an uneven pace for the entire book.

A Journey to the New World is definitely informational, which was, I believe, the initial point of the Dear America series in the first place, but it lacks heart and depth. Mem is not a particularly interesting protagonist, and the trials of the Pilgrims are slightly understated—though the dedication to depicting the relationship between the Wampanoag tribe and the Pilgrims is admirable. However, I do think that this book, though shallow, perhaps, to an adult, would be just the right sort of thing for a child.

Recommended Age Range: 8+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Historical Fiction, Children’s

“Land ahoy!” The call from the crow’s nest cracked the dawn. Hummy’s and my eyes flew open…we all hurried out. Unable to believe the words, our eyes wide in the half-light of dawn. Several of us crowded along the rail. The sailors saw it first, the faint, dark line against the horizon…..But within minutes of searching the horizon with our eyes, Hummy and I began to see the same….’Twas not a wisp of dream but real. It had taken us all of 65 days but finally we are here. This be the New World and it doth fill my eyes for the first time.

You can buy this book here: http://amzn.to/2yMWhyx

2003 Newbery Medal: Crispin: The Cross of Lead by Avi

Crispin: The Cross of Lead, by Avi, was published in 2002 by Hyperion.

“Asta’s Son” is all he’s ever been called. The lack of a name is appropriate, because he and his mother are but poor peasants in 14th century medieval England. But this thirteen-year-old boy who thought he had little to lose soon finds himself with even less – no home, no family, or possessions. Accused of a crime he did not commit, he may be killed on sight, by anyone. If he wishes to remain alive, he must flee his tiny village. All the boy takes with him is a newly revealed name – Crispin – and his mother’s cross of lead.

Rating: 2/5

I wasn’t all that impressed by Crispin: The Cross of Lead. It has a rich historical background, which lends itself well to the Newbery, but Crispin himself is an annoying protagonist and the plot is incredibly obvious. Bear was also a confusing character, in that the first moment we meet him he seems kind, then devolves into some sort of cruel master the next moment, then turns into a gruff man with a soft heart.

Avi clearly did his research with the setting, depicting the Middle Ages with particular emphasis on the influence of the Church as well as the feudal system and the call for reform. Perhaps that’s why I’m so disappointed at the plot, which seems clumsy and even a little obtuse. It’s a fine fit for the setting, I suppose, but the mechanics themselves are obvious, to the point where fifty pages in I already knew what was going to happen.

I also didn’t much like Crispin, especially towards the end of the book where he consistently refuses to listen to the adults around him and goes sneaking off three times in succession. The third time actually had me speaking out loud to my book, which is almost never a good sign (“Stop it, Crispin!”). I really don’t like rash protagonists. I suppose he’s a teenage boy, so of course he would do rash things, but that doesn’t make me like him any better.

Crispin: The Cross of Lead has that historical background that seems to attract Newbery Medals, but I wasn’t impressed with the plot or the main character.  I actually didn’t mind Crispin at first, but once things started getting moving and he started doing really stupid things, I started getting annoyed. I also very quickly figured out the entire plot, due to the limited possibilities and obvious clues. Unlike another one of Avi’s books, I’m not fond of this one.

Recommended Age Range: 8+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Historical Fiction, Children’s

“Asta’s son,” came Aycliffe’s voice, “in the name of Lord Furnival, you’re herewith charged with theft. Give way.”

I was too stunned to move.

“The boy’s a wolf’s head!” the steward shouted. “Slay him if you can.”

From either side, men ran forward.

You can buy this book here: http://amzn.to/2xRThND

1935 Newbery Medal: Dobry by Monica Shannon

Dobry, by Monica Shannon, was first published in 1934 by Viking.

A Bulgarian peasant boy must convince his mother that he is destined to be a sculptor, not a farmer.

Rating: 3/5

Dobry is the story of a young boy growing up in a Bulgarian village. His grandfather tells him stories and teaches him the ways of the Bulgarian life; his mother shows him farming and the qualities of a hospitable adult. As the tiny blurb suggests, Dobry faces the tension of leaving the “family job” of farming to become a sculptor, though that aspect of the book does not come into play into nearly two-thirds of the way through.

Dobry, like Young Fu of the Upper Yangtze, is mainly a cultural piece. The Bulgarian culture is brought to life in this book, a fine example of how reading takes you to different places and times and allows you to experience people and cultures that you may otherwise never experience. Dobry is fascinating not because of the strength of its plot, but because of the richness of the setting, the glimpse into another country and the things they emphasize and celebrate.

It’s not my favorite book or my favorite Newbery Medal so far, but Dobry highlights the aspects of these award-winning books that I love: the cultural and historical. I suppose I wasn’t expecting so much variety as I started the challenge to read all the Newbery Medal winners. And I especially wasn’t expecting it in the earlier winners. But the glimpses into other countries, other cultures, other ways of life, other worldviews, that this journey is giving me is wonderful and beautiful and so much of what I love about reading.

Recommended Age Range: 8+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Historical Fiction, Children’s

The grandfather leaned over and announced to the mayor, “Michaelacky, I am going to serve up a little of the wine made the October our Dobry was born. We must drink to the good harvest—nothing frozen.”

The mayor stood up and instead of using his everyday voice used the deeper, ringing tones he kept only for state occasions:

“Let us drink to Now, this very moment!” he called out. “Now! The harvest is in, the storm is over!”

“Na lay! Na lay!” everyone laughed, shouted, and got on his feet to sing the old gypsy melody. And once the music got into their blood, nothing in this world could have kept these peasants from singing.

You can buy this book here: http://amzn.to/2yscKt0

An Inconvenient Beauty by Kristi Ann Hunter

Disclaimer: An Inconvenient Beauty, by Kristi Ann Hunter, was provided by Bethany House. I received a free copy from the publisher. No review, positive or otherwise, was required—all opinions are my own.

Griffith, Duke of Riverton, likes order, logic, and control, so he naturally applies this rational approach to his search for a bride. While he’s certain Miss Frederica St. Claire is the perfect wife for him, she is strangely elusive, and he can’t seem to stop running into her stunningly beautiful cousin, Miss Isabella Breckenridge. Isabella should be enjoying her society debut, but with her family in difficult circumstances, she has no choice but to agree to a bargain that puts her at odds with all her romantic hopes—as well as her conscience. And the more she comes to know Griffith, the more she regrets the unpleasant obligation that prevents her from any dream of a future with him. As all Griffith’s and Isabella’s long-held expectations are shaken to the core, can they set aside their pride and fear long enough to claim a happily-ever-after?

My rating: 3/5 

An Inconvenient Beauty is the sequel to An Uncommon Courtshipand the last book (presumably, since there’s no one left to marry off) in the Hawthorne House series. This book follows Griffith in his logical, rational quest to find an appropriate bride. And, of course, since this is an obvious trope, nothing about his quest turns out as he thought it would.

I feel like this book, in particular, is much more humorous than the previous ones that I’ve read. I could, of course, be misremembering, but An Uncommon Courtship had all that awkwardness between Trent and Adelaide and An Elegant Façade had Georgiana angsting over her dyslexia (I don’t mean that in a negative way, simply that she spent a lot of time agonizing over it, for good reason). I don’t remember much humor in those books. An Inconvenient Beauty, however, has lots of funny moments—as much as the trope is overused, Griffith’s preconceptions about “the perfect wife” being completely overturned by Isabella is fun. There’s also some amusing interaction between characters, especially Griffith and his family.

The things that prevented this book from getting a 4 out of 5 rating are Isabella’s beauty and the length of the book. I am so sick of beautiful romantic leads (and not just “beautiful,” but “incomparably beautiful”). I started heartily wishing that Frederica had been the protagonist, instead. I mean, at least Hunter pokes some fun at the idea of “the beauty” and also utilizes Isabella’s beauty as a plot device, but still. I also thought the book went on for slightly too long; the last third of it dragged on and stalled a little bit in terms of plot advancement. At that point, I started getting sick of all the back-and-forth between Griffin and Isabella and started wishing that they would just get together, already.

I also didn’t like how inconsistent the Christian elements were. It’s like Hunter thought she should throw in some mentions of what the characters believed about God, but then never followed through on any of it, particularly Isabella’s. The Christian elements also added nothing to the book and the same message could have been gotten across without them.

An Inconvenient Beauty is a good end to the Hawthorne House series. I think my favorite is still An Elegant Façade because it’s the most unique in terms of plot, but I enjoyed reading all of them. I found it hard to put this book down, even if the last part of it dragged on and I kept wishing that Isabella wasn’t so pretty.

Warnings: None.

Genre: Historical Fiction, Christian

You can buy this here: http://amzn.to/2xZRue2

1948 Newbery Medal: The Twenty-One Balloons by William Pène du Bois

The Twenty-One Balloons, by William Pène du Bois, was published in 1947 by Viking.

When Professor William Waterman Sherman leaves San Francisco in a hot-air balloon, he intends to fly across the Pacific Ocean. Instead, through a twist of fate, he lands on Krakatoa, a legendary island of unimaginable wealth, eccentric inhabitants, and fantastic balloon inventions. Once Professor Sherman learns the secrets of Krakatoa, he must remain there forever—unless he can find a means of escape.

Rating: 4/5

The Twenty-One Balloons reminds me a great deal of the Dolittle books, or the Oz books, or The Pushcart War or any number of inventive, imaginative novels that describe a lot of things that somehow manage to keep being interesting despite the wealth of information. This book is a fond memory from my childhood and I enjoyed rereading it and remembering all the little bits and moments that stood out to me back then.

I wish the beginning of the novel was quicker-paced; it’s a little tedious and takes a long time to get into the meat of the story, which is William Waterman Sherman’s trip. It’s hard, especially with a book as descriptive as this, to start in media res without being boring. I mean, the beginning is interesting, but not nearly as interesting as Sherman’s journey.

I like that du Bois took a real event (the volcanic eruption on Krakatoa) and expounded a fictional story on that, as far-fetched as it is. I really do like “shipwrecked on an island” stories (aka The Black Stallion, The Swiss Family Robinson, etc.), or survival stories in general, and I feel like this was an especially common trope in the mid-20th century, for some reason (perhaps inspired by Robinson Crusoe or by shows such as Gilligan’s Island). Du Bois’s story, though unrealistic as I said, is fascinating, fun, and quite worthy of a children’s book.

Recommended Age Range: 8+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Historical Fiction, Children’s

“Wake up, wake up; you’ve got to get in the shade!”

I shook my head and opened my eyes again. There was a man kneeling over me. He wasn’t a native, and didn’t suggest an explorer or a traveler. He was wearing a correctly tailored white morning suit, with pin-stripe pants, white ascot tie, and a white cork bowler.

“Am I dead?” I asked. “Is this Heaven?”

“No, my good man,” he answered, “this isn’t Heaven. This is the Pacific Island of Krakatoa.”

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