2013 Newbery Medal: The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate

The One and Only Ivan, by Katherine Applegate, was published in 2012 by Harper.

Ivan is an easygoing gorilla. Living in a shopping mall, he has grown accustomed to humans watching him through the glass walls of his domain. He rarely misses his life in the jungle. In fact, he hardly ever thinks about it at all. Instead, Ivan thinks about TV shows he’s seen his friends Stella and Bob, and painting. Then he meets Ruby, a baby elephant taken from her family, and she makes Ivan see their home—and his own art—through new eyes. When Ruby arrives, change comes with her, and it’s up to Ivan to make it a change for the better.

Rating: 3/5

The One and Only Ivan is apparently based on a true story. The real Ivan, like the one in the story, was in a circus-themed mall for twenty-seven years before enough information circulated about it that he was transferred to Zoo Atlanta. As an animal fantasy, The One and Only Ivan crawls into the head of book-Ivan and explores a similar story from the perspective of the gorilla.

It’s a very sentimental story, and it would be especially heartwarming if you really loved animals and don’t mind good zoos. For me, I found the whole thing a little bit too sentimental for my tastes. I also had a hard time accepting the point of view of a gorilla. I get it, it’s an animal fantasy, but it still rang false in my view.

That’s not to say the story isn’t good. Applegate does raise awareness of inappropriate and unsafe conditions for animals, and she does emphasize that good zoos are beneficial for animal welfare. The story, as a story, is lovely and heartwarming and has a good happy ending. It has a good lesson about treating animals correctly. But, at times, its sappiness sours the story. I’m glad it’s not all gloom and doom like some Newbery Medals, but the overt sentimentality of this book is almost as bad, in my opinion.

The One and Only Ivan is a good story, perfect for children who love animals, and has some good things to say about taking care of animals, but I found it to be too sentimental throughout. I’m not calling for Newbery Medals to be full of darkness and sorrow, but I would prefer a balance, and this book, though it has some sorrow in it, goes too far in the sappiness category for me to really like it.

Recommended Age Range: 8+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Children’s, Fantasy, Realistic

When the Big Top Mall was first built, it smelled of new paint and fresh hay, and humans came to visit from morning till night. They drifted past my domain like logs on a lazy river.

Lately, a day might go by without a single visitor. Mack says he’s worried. He says I’m not cute anymore. He says, “Ivan, you’ve lost your magic, old guy. You used to be a hit.”

It’s true that some of my visitors don’t linger the way they used to. They stare through the glass, they cluck their tongues, they frown while I watch my TV.

“He looks lonely,” they say.

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

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1957 Newbery Medal: Miracles on Maple Hill by Virginia Sorensen

Miracles on Maple Hill, by Virginia Sorensen, was published in 1956 by Harcourt.

The war is over and Marly’s father is home—but he’s not the same. Something inside him seems as cold and dead as the winter world outside. But when the family moves to Grandma’s old house on Maple Hill, miracles begin to happen. The sap in the trees begins to rise, the leaves start to turn, and maybe, just maybe, Marly’s father will begin to bloom again, like the world around them.

Rating: 3/5

Miracles on Maple Hill is one of those books that really makes me want to move to someplace woodsy and snowy, and the cover gives me that sort of 1950s-wistful feel, because I love the 1950s and love books set in that time period. After I finished reading this book, I thought about how amazing it would be to live in Pennsylvania with all the hills and woods and snow.

So, definitely the atmosphere of this book I enjoyed immensely. The other parts of it—the important bits, like the plot and things—were all right. I didn’t quite enjoy the plot as much as I enjoyed the setting, and all the jumping around in time at the beginning was a little confusing for me. I can see, a little, why this book won a Newbery Medal, but at the same time, I wonder how. The book is slow in the middle, and there’s really not a whole lot of the sort of deep storyline you expect from a Newbery. However, I suppose they all can’t be tragic stories of parental loss—some have to be lighthearted and whimsical, like this one.

 Miracles on Maple Hill is very lighthearted, thanks in part to Sorensen only lightly hinting in areas, such as Marly’s father’s PTSD. The darkest moment of the book is at the end, and has nothing to do with Marly’s father at all, as one might expect from the blurb. And the book still doesn’t go as dark as some Newbery Medals have gone—the title is Miracles on Maple Hill, and Sorensen means it.

Miracles on Maple Hill is lighthearted fare compared to other Newbery Medals. It struggles a bit in the middle, and to be honest the whole book blurred together a bit for me, but the setting called to all the snow-loving, tree-loving, 1950s-loving bones in my body. I wish it had been a bit more memorable, but its lack of any real dark or sensitive content makes it ideal for a cheerful children’s book.

Recommended Age Range: 8+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Children’s, Historical Fiction

It had to be the right place. All outdoors. With miracles. Not crowded and people being cross and mean. Daddy not tired all the time anymore. Mother not worried. But it looked little and old to be all that. She was afraid, now that she was actually here, that it wasn’t. She wished that they were still on the way. Sometimes even Christmas wasn’t as much fun as getting ready for it. Maybe thinking about Maple Hill would turn out to be better than Maple Hill itself.

She whispered, “Please, let there be miracles.”

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

1937 Newbery Medal: Roller Skates by Ruth Sawyer

Roller Skates, by Ruth Sawyer, was published in 1936 by Viking.

A year on roller skates! A whole year when Lucinda was free to stop and chat with Patrolman M’Gonegal, and make friends with old Rags-an’-Bottles the junkman, and even play with Tony, whose father kept a fruit stand down the street. That was Lucinda’s year in New York City in the 1890s, when her family went to Europe and left her—not, thank heaven, with Aunt Emily and her four docile, ladylike daughters, but with the Misses Peters, who understood that a girl of ten wanted to roller-skate to school, and who weren’t always worrying about a little lady’s social dignity!

Rating: 3/5

Despite the fact that Roller Skates has the protagonist-type that I can’t stand (the breaks-propriety, too-wild-to-handle type), I actually enjoyed reading the book. I’m not fond of New York City as a place to live, but I really enjoy stories about old New York, the New York of the 1800s and early 1900s. Sawyer portrays both the glamourous bustle and the peaceful parks of the city, and also includes a small glimpse of a slightly seedier underbelly. Though it’s not focused on so much as to make it a prominent theme, there’s definitely class tension in the novel as well—Lucinda runs into many characters that function on different social levels than she, whether it be Tony at the fruit stand, Rags-an’-Bottles the junkman, her rich uncle, or the mysterious “princess.”

Though Lucinda is supposed to be ten, she sounds, especially in her journal entries, much more like fifteen, and I imagined her as such throughout—which made for sometimes quite jarring scenes when Sawyer reminded me that Lucinda was younger than how I imagined her. Perhaps it’s due to the time period and the culture gap, but Lucinda says and does a great many things that I can’t imagine a ten-year-old articulating or doing today.

The book is a little bit wild and all-over-the-place (much like Lucinda) in terms of pace and development. There’s a few odd events scattered throughout that I sort of blinked and shook my head at in confusion, such as what Lucinda discovered on her last visit to “Princess Zayda,” which was so unexpected and strange that I’m not sure why Sawyer felt the need to include it (unless it was to illustrate the seedy side of New York). I also shook my head a bit when Trinket got sick, because Sawyer was so vague and mysterious about her treatment that I’m not sure even Sawyer knew what illness Trinket had. It works because Lucinda is ten and knows nothing about medicine, but still, it was an odd scene to me.

I can’t say I loved Roller Skates, but I did enjoy most of it. I thought there were some odd scenes here and there, but there were some amusing moments and I do really like the setting. I just wish I had enjoyed the protagonist a little bit more. I found her voice older than her age, and I don’t like her character type at all. However, I suppose a nice little girl who follows the rules wouldn’t make for such an adventurous book.

Recommended Age Range: 8+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Children’s, Historical Fiction

“What’s your name?”

“Trinket,” said the little girl.

“Caroline Browdowski,” said the woman, “but she is our very own trinket. It’s a pet name.”

“Oh! I never had a pet name. I’m called Lucinda, and sometimes severely—Lucinda Wyman! And I never had curls, either.”

You can buy this book here: http://amzn.to/2Fy2Zd2

 

1990 Newbery Medal: Number the Stars by Lois Lowry

Number the Stars, by Lois Lowry, was published in 1989 by Houghton.

Ten-year-old Annemarie Johansen and her best friend, Ellen Rosen, often think about the way life was before the war. But it’s now 1943, and their life in Copenhagen is filled with school, food shortages, and Nazi soldiers marching in their town. The Nazis won’t stop. The Jews of Denmark are being “relocated,” so Ellen moves in with the Johansens and pretends to be part of the family. Then Annemarie is asked to go on a dangerous mission. Somehow she must find the strength and courage to save her best friend’s life. There’s no turning back now.

Rating: 4/5

Number the Stars is yet another historical fiction book that told me a story I didn’t know. I’ve always considered myself pretty cognizant of World War II, and a majority of historical fiction I’ve read and enjoyed have taken place in that time period. However, I knew nothing about the amazing story of the Danish Jews and their escape from the Nazis due to their fellow Danes smuggling them across to Sweden. Thanks to Danish efforts, 99% of the Danish Jews survived the Holocaust.

Number the Stars is an assigned reader in my fourth-grade English class. From their reactions, I know that a majority of my students love the book. They may not completely understand everything about the time period, but the story has just enough suspense and mystery for them to really enjoy it. And Lowry does a great job of ramping up the tension: first, the undercurrent of danger as the Rosens leave and Ellen hides with the Johansens. Then, the mysterious death of Great-Aunt Birte and the empty coffin. Finally, the mystery package that Annemarie must deliver to her uncle. All of it exactly conveys the hush-hush nature of the entire operation the Danes were carrying out, and conveys it in such a way that children will be able to grasp the seriousness of the situation.

The one thing holding me back from outright absorption and enjoyment of the book is that I’m really not a fan of Lowry’s writing style here. And, having read it out loud to my class, I’m even more aware of some of the awkwardness of expression that is more apparent when verbalizing the sentences. It’s a little clunky, basically, and, since I’m big on writing style, it’s just enough to mildly bother me throughout the book.

However, the story, of course, is fantastic, a tribute to the Danes and what they did for the Jews during World War II, a story that conveys the horror that took place during World War II, but also dwells on a positive story, one of bravery and hope. Number the Stars would probably be the first book I would recommend for children to learn about World War II and some of the lesser-known events that took place. I wish that I had more time to really discuss it with my fourth graders, but it’s enough that they get to read it.

Recommended Age Range: 8+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Children’s, Historical Fiction

[Annemarie] turned to her father. “Papa, do you remember what you heard the boy say to the soldier? That all of Denmark would be the king’s bodyguard?”

Her father smiled. “I have never forgotten it,” he said.

“Well,” Annemarie said slowly, “now I think that all of Denmark must be bodyguard for the Jews, as well.”

“So we shall be,” Papa replied.

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

1943 Newbery Medal: Adam of the Road by Elizabeth Janet Gray

Adam of the Road, by Elizabeth Janet Gray, was published in 1942 by Viking.

“A road’s a kind of holy thing,” said Roger the Minstrel to his son, Adam. “That’s why it’s a good work to keep a road in repair, like giving alms to the poor or tending the sick. It’s open to the sun and wind and rain. It brings all kinds of people and all parts of England together. And it’s home to a minstrel, even though he may happen to be sleeping in a castle.” And Adam, though only eleven, was to remember his father’s words when his beloved dog, Nick, was stolen and Roger had disappeared and he found himself traveling alone along these same great roads, searching the fairs and market towns for his father and his dog.

Rating: 4/5

Adam of the Road is a delightful tale of a boy who longs to be a minstrel like his father and travel the road. After his dog, Nick, is stolen, and he loses his father while searching for Nick, Adam sets out on a journey to not only find his lost dog, but also to return to his father and to finally become a minstrel.

Adam’s journey never becomes boring, even as it becomes slightly repetitive in format. His adventures fall in “travel—city—adventure” format pretty consistently, with few variations. However, Gray does not spend too much time dwelling on things that could easily get boring; the pace is fast where it should be and slackens when necessary. The book seems long, but actually goes along quite quickly, especially once Adam, Nick, and Roger are separated and Adam is on his own.

Gray also manages to make each adventure Adam has realistic, and clearly a great deal of research went in to representing thirteenth-century England accurately. Adam is a relatable protagonist, plucky and courageous at all the right times, with hints of young boy creeping through in his boastfulness and pride. His encompassing desire to become a minstrel, regardless of other circumstances perhaps being better for him, is clearly shown in his thoughts and actions.

I couldn’t help but compare Adam of the Road to the books set in the same (or near enough) time period, Crispin and The Door in the Wall. Of the three, this book is absolutely my favorite. Adam was not nearly as annoying as Crispin, and, while The Door in the Wall was surprisingly deep in historicity, Adam of the Road was more enjoyable to read as well as being more memorable. I never once got bored or tired of reading this book.

Recommended Age Range: 8+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Children’s, Historical Fiction

Adam’s gray eyes suddenly shone out as if candles had been lighted behind them. “He’s coming!” he cried. “Roger’s coming!”

Nick got up and put his paws on Adam’s knee, his tail wagging so hard that his sides shook.

“Now there was no name mentioned,” said the dame warningly.

“They don’t have to say his name,” said Adam proudly. “He’s the only minstrel worth talking about. Where are they coming from?”

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

1956 Newbery Medal: Carry On, Mr. Bowditch by Jean Lee Latham

Carry On, Mr. Bowditch, by Jean Lee Latham, was published in 1955 by Houghton.

Nathaniel Bowditch grew up in a sailor’s world—Salem in the early days, when tall-masted ships from foreign ports crowded the wharves. But Nat didn’t promise to have the makings of a sailor; he was too physically small. Nat may have been slight of build, but no one guessed that he had the persistence and determination to master sea navigation in the days when men sailed only by “log, lead, and lookout.” Nat’s long hours of study and observation, collected in his famous work, The American Practical Navigator (also known as the “Sailors’ Bible”), stunned the sailing community and made him a New England hero.

Rating: 5/5

There are so many historical events and figures I wouldn’t have known if it wasn’t for literature. Ruta Sepetys’s Salt to the Sea taught me about the wreck of the Kaiser Wilhem, and that one review copy I read taught me about Dunkirk. I learned about the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, the harsh child labor and factory work in England, Stalin’s “cleansing” of the Baltic states, and many more things. Carry On, Mr. Bowditch, continues that tradition, with its story of Nathaniel Bowditch.

Nathaniel Bowditch wrote The American Practical Navigator, a book that is still used on Navy ships today. He stopped going to school when he was ten, but taught himself calculus, Latin, French, and Spanish. He figured out a new way of calculating navigation using the moon and the stars, and taught it to the crews he sailed with. He found many mistakes in the current navigation book of the time and wrote his own book as a result. He translated books that helped developed astronomy in America. Basically, Nathaniel Bowditch was an awesome person that for some reason I’d never heard of before.

I’m not sure how much of Latham’s account is fictionalized and how much is reality, but at least the bones of it are grounded in history. The book is actually quite humorous, which is needed because of all the death that occurs. I think maybe ten named people die in this book, as well as a few members of the “faceless masses.” Seriously, Bowditch had a ton of tragedy in his life—reminiscent of the dangers of that day in occupation, as well as in the lack of life-saving medicinal discoveries. And while there’s certainly enough death to be concerned about younger readers, it’s a good opportunity to discuss the perils of the day and why people back then so often died of “consumption” (aka tuberculosis).

It’s also a great book to emphasize how a lack of education doesn’t necessarily spell doom. I mean, Bowditch had no schooling past the age of 10, yet he taught himself calculus and four different languages. Self-teaching and self-motivation are huge factors in educational/intellectual success.

Carry On, Mr. Bowditch, while written simply, is a wonderful portrait of a man who before this I’d never even heard about. The eighteenth century was a great time of discovery and this book highlights a little of the enthusiasm and determination that carried inventors and discoverers through all life’s hardships to better the lives of the people around them.

Recommended Age Range: 8+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Historical Fiction, Children’s

He whistled while he found his slate and pencil. He whistled until he was out of the house and up the street. Then the whistle died.

All the way to Mr. Walsh’s house Nat’s feet seemed to beat out the words: Nine years…nine years…nine years…

Two or three months to study bookkeeping. Then no more school—ever.

Indentured: Nathaniel Bowditch.

You can buy this book here: http://amzn.to/2BBZ4tE

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

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

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