2002 Newbery Medal: A Single Shard by Linda Sue Park

A Single Shard, by Linda Sue Park, was published in 2001 by Clarion.

Tree-ear is an orphan boy in a twelfth-century Korean potters’ village. For a long time he is content to live with Crane-man under a bridge, barely surviving on scraps of food. All of that changes when Tree-ear sees master potter Min making his beautiful pottery. Tree-ear sneaks into Min’s workplace and dreams of creating his own pots someday. When he accidentally breaks a pot, he must work for the master to pay for the damage. Though the work is long and hard, Tree-ear is eager to learn. Then he is sent to the King’s Court to show the master’s pottery. Little does Tree-ear know that this difficult and dangerous journey will change his life forever.

Rating: 5/5

A Single Shard is a short book, but it’s wonderfully crafted and much more engaging than you would think a book about pottery would be. I found every aspect of the book, to Tree-ear sneaking through the foliage to peek at Min’s work, to working at Min’s shop, to his journey to the royal commissioner, intriguing. It’s a simple little book, but it’s full of soul and charm.

The book also teaches quite a bit about celadon pottery and Park manages to show the process without dragging the book down in unnecessary or boring detail. Even as the centerpiece of the novel, the pottery aspect is balanced just enough so that the book doesn’t seem like a “how-to” guide. Tree-ear’s wonder and curiosity helps with the balance, as well.

I can see why A Single Shard won the Newbery Medal; it’s equal parts informative, delightful, and, yes, even tense. Tree-ear is a darling protagonist, conveying all the politeness that the Korean culture requires but with the inexorable energy of youth. There are good lessons woven throughout in the shape of Crane-man’s advice to Tree-ear, never overly moralizing or out of place. And the background and content is historically rich and informative, showing off the research Park did and melding it with a delightful little story about a boy who wants to make pottery and the journey he must take to do so.

Recommended Age Range: 10+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Historical Fiction, Children’s

“Honorable potter? Sir? Could I not work for you, as payment? Perhaps my help could save you some time…”

Min shook his head impatiently. “What could you do, an untrained child? I have no time to teach you—you would be more trouble than help.”

Tree-ear stepped forward eagerly. “You would not need to teach so much as you think, sir. I have been watching you for many months now. I know how you mix the clay and turn the wheel—I have watched you make many things…”

The potter waved one hand to cut off the boy’s words and spoke with derision. “Turn the wheel! Ha! He thinks he can sit and make a pot—just like that!”

You can buy this book here: http://amzn.to/2hl9Nmo

1958 Newbery Medal: Rifles for Watie by Harold Keith

Rifles for Watie, by Harold Keith, was published in 1957 by Harper.

Jefferson Davis Bussey is sixteen when the Civil War breaks out. He can’t wait to leave his Kansas farm and defend the Union against Colonel Watie, leader of the dreaded Cherokee Indian rebels. But Jeff soon learns that there’s more to war than honor and glory. As an infantry soldier, he must march for miles, exhausted and near starvation. He sees friends die in battle. He knows that each move he makes could be his last. Then Jeff is sent to infiltrate the enemy camp as a spy. And it is there that he makes his most important discovery: The rebels are just men—and boys—like him. The only difference between them is their cause. Passing himself off as a rebel Jeff waits for the information he needs to help the Union conquer the enemy forces. But when the time comes, Jeff finds himself up against a very difficult decision .Should he betray the enemy? Or join them?

Rating: 4/5

Rifles for Watie starts out with an author’s note that explains the historical research and interviews that Harold Keith conducted in order to make the book as realistic as possible. And that research shows in every area of this book, from the attitudes of the various people to the details of battles to the geographical locations.

It’s fascinating to read a book about the Civil War that is remarkably respectful to both sides (mostly the Confederate side). Nowadays, all you tend to get is “Confederates bad!” and other, more extreme iterations. Rifles for Watie, however, delves into some of the psychology of, at least, the Native American side of the war (many of whom fought for the Confederates) and has an empathetic, wonderful protagonist in Jeff, who realizes that people are people, not nameless pigs to be slaughtered, and that things are confusing in war when it seems that the side you were fighting against might, actually, have a legitimate reason for fighting you. In this case, keeping one’s property. And no, I’m not talking about slaves.

Land and the idea of owning your own property is really the driving force presented in the novel. Jeff is fighting to drive the bushwhackers out and to help his family keep their land without fear of being killed. The Native Americans on both sides are fighting to keep or reobtain their land. While there are slaves, there’s very little mention of slavery as a reason to fight, except when it came to the slave who runs away to join the Union’s all-black regiment. There is, maybe, just a tad too much of the “happy slave” idea, but Keith still treats the subject with respect (and, after all, this was a book for children in the 1950s).

Keith also depicts both good and bad sides of both forces. There’s looting from both armies; there’s corrupt Clardy on the Union side juxtaposed with charismatic Watie on the Confederate side; there’s the friendly Confederate cook; there’s the loyal Union friends Jeff makes; and, of course, Lucy, who is on the Confederate side but has respect (and deeper feelings) for Jeff, a Union soldier.

Overall, Rifles for Watie is a fabulously even-handed book on a war that pitted two ideologies against each other. There’s respect for the great leaders on the Confederate side, even when Jeff (and through him, the reader) disagrees with their ideas. Both the good and the bad of both the Union and the Confederate armies are shown or hinted at (let’s be real here; the Union army most likely did some terrible things to the people living in the Confederate south, looting their houses and taking their livestock being some of the more mild). Jeff is empathetic, does not simply dismiss the Confederates as “bad” or “racist” but recognizes similarities and respects them even as he seeks to combat them. Rifles for Watie can teach people today a thing or two about what it’s like to really put yourself in another person’s shoes and respect them even as you disagree with them.

Recommended Age Range: 8+

Warnings: Violence, death.

Genre: Historical Fiction, Children’s

“I’m lonesome,” David blurted, miserably. “I want to go home and see Ma. Goshallmighty, Jeff, I ain’t cut out to be no soldier. I was a fool to ever leave the farm.”

“Corn, Dave,” Jeff said, in alarm, “you can’t just walk off from the army once you’ve joined it. That’s desertion. You know the penalty for desertion. They’ll stand you up against a wall and shoot you.”

You can buy this book here: http://amzn.to/2uv0tk8

1936 Newbery Medal: Caddie Woodlawn by Carol Ryrie Brink

Caddie Woodlawn, by Carol Ryrie Brink, was published in 1935 by Macmillan.

Caddie Woodlawn is a real adventurer. She’d rather hunt than sew, plow than bake, and beat her brothers’ dares every chance she gets. Caddie is friends with Indians, who scare most of the neighbors—neighbors who, like her mother and sisters, don’t understand her at all. Caddie is brave, and her story is special—because it’s true, based on the life and memories of Carol Ryrie Brink’s grandmother, the real Caddie Woodlawn.

Rating: 3/5

If you were to think of a typical Newbery Medal book, you’d probably think of many of the tropes and techniques in Caddie Woodlawn, which seems to me to be the earliest of what I can only call the “Newbery Medal” formula, or perhaps, more simply, the “coming of age” formula.

That’s not to say all Newbery Medals follow along with Caddie Woodlawn—clearly they don’t—but a lot of them do have the same type of formula to them: girl/boy is in the process of growing up, has adventures, learns lessons, does brave things, etc. They’re also fairly episodic in plot, with each chapter (perhaps two) being one particular episode in the protagonist’s life. There’s usually some sort of arc connecting them all together, whether it’s plot or a particular character. All these things are present in Caddie Woodlawn and, though it makes for a disjointed pace, it’s effective at communicating the coming-of-age aspect.

I’ve actually read Caddie Woodlawn before, 15 or more years ago, and the thing I remembered most of the book was the part where Caddie gets her friend to “cross her heart” and the friend freaks out because she doesn’t think she can tell anyone where Caddie is. This event takes place much earlier in the book than I expected—there’s a whole part with the settlers being afraid that they were going to be massacred and one would expect this to be the crowning moment of the book, the place for the protagonist to truly show off her bravery and end the book in a spectacular fashion. However, it happens about halfway through and, to be honest, the rest of the book falls a little flat after that particular escapade.

In fact, it’s after the “cross your heart” and the fear of massacre part where the book starts to feel very episodic and choppy. I mean, I enjoyed it for the most part, but I got a little bit tired of Caddie’s shenanigans towards the end. Brink includes some historical events and things, which are nice, but the book feels a trifle long and gets tiring by the end.

Caddie Woodlawn reminds me of the Laura Ingalls Wilder books, but much more choppy in terms of pace and a little bit less endearing and enduring. It’s definitely a step-up from much of the 1920s Newbery Medals I read, but the clear “coming of age” formula (not old when it was written, but very predictable and tired now) detracts a bit from it, and Caddie’s adventures get tiring, especially after the halfway point when the Big Event happens and the book keeps going on as if that wasn’t the biggest moment in the book.

Recommended Age Range: 8+

Warnings: N/A

Genre: Historical Fiction, Children’s

“Well, I guess we’re even, Uncle Edmund,” said Caddie, gravely smiling. She held out her small, brown hand.

Uncle Edmund shook it hearty, but he said: “No, Caddie, we’re not even yet. I promised you a silver dollar.”

“You said if I beat you to the end of the lake on the raft, or if I wouldn’t tell Mother. But I didn’t beat you and I am going to tell Mother.”

You can buy this book here: http://amzn.to/2ufC6I5

1929 Newbery Medal: The Trumpeter of Krakow by Eric P. Kelly

The Trumpeter of Krakow, by Eric P. Kelly, was first published in 1928. I read the 1966 Simon & Schuster republication.

A dramatic tale of 15th century Poland, it tells the story of a courageous young patriot and a mysterious jewel of great value. The beautifully written book, filled with adventure and excitement, gives young readers a vivid picture of Krakow in the early Renaissance.

Rating: 3/5

After a run of dry, plodding 1920s Newbery Medal winners, The Trumpeter of Krakow is like a breath of fresh air. While not as immediately enjoyable and enticing as The Voyages of Dr. Doolittle, Kelly’s novel about Poland in the 15th century is authentic, informative, and full of tension as Joseph and his family evade the villain who is after the treasure their family is guarding.

I’m not sure how much of The Trumpeter of Krakow is based on history; the introduction implies that it’s at least somewhat inspired by a story from the 13th century. Regardless, the story is full of lots of historical elements, such as the exploration of alchemy, the wars between Poland, Russia, and the surrounding countries, the invasions by the Tartars/Tatars, and other bits of medieval history. It explains enough that the reader learns and understands a bit of the time period, but not so much that the reader gets overwhelmed. Kelly also clearly knows Poland and Krakow in particular, and there is lots of details given that make the book more authentic than a simple “this is a story set in Poland” vibe.

The Trumpeter of Krakow is a little dry in places, in parts due to the language and in parts due to the description, which while giving the novel an authentic feel also tends to slow down the pace, but for the most part the story of Joseph and his family carries throughout the novel, even towards the end when everything seems to have worked out and there are still a few chapters left to go.

It was refreshing to read this book after the problems I had with many of the other 1920s Newberys, so I’m hoping that this is a good sign and the books will continue to improve from here on out. If the Newberys in the 1930s are like The Trumpeter of Krakow, then I can’t complain (although maybe I will anyway; you never know!).

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Historical Fiction, Children’s

“Cease—cease—cowards all!” [the scholar] shouted in a commanding tone of voice. “What persecution goes on here?”

“The man and the woman and boy are workers in magic, wizards and a witch,” said the leader roughly. “Keep your hands off, for we are admonishing them.”

“Wizards and witches—fiddlesticks!” shouted the newcomer, pulling himself up in the wagon until he stood beside Pan Andrew. “This is but an excuse for some such deed of violence as this city has seen too much of in the past twelve months. To attack an honest man—for to any but a blind man he appears as honest—a weak woman, and a defenseless boy—Cowards all, I say! Disperse, or I will call the king’s guards to disperse you.”

You can buy this book here: http://amzn.to/2up8pkn

2006 Newbery Medal: Criss Cross

Criss Cross, by Lynne Rae Perkins, was published in 2005 by Greenwillow.

She wished something would happen. Something good. To her. Looking at the bright, fuzzy picture in the magazine, she thought, Something like that. Checking her wish for loopholes, she found one. Hoping it wasn’t too late, she thought the word “soon.”

Rating: 4/5

Criss Cross was a really interesting read. It has this kind of 70s/80s feel to it and a quirky tone, which really comes across in Hector’s sections, which make it both a strange and an endearing novel. I thought it was a pretty unique Newbery Medal winner, in that nothing particularly sad happens nor is there a particularly prominent coming-of-age moment—it’s simply whimsical and laid out in a pretty unique and interesting style.

One of the things I loved most about Criss Cross was Hector and Rowanne. Many times a sibling relationship in novels is characterized by lots of fighting and complaining. However, Hector and Rowanne showed the caring, friendship side of family, where they helped each other, hung out with each other and in general were quite darling as characters. Hector was probably my favorite character and the part where he runs around with a sarong tied around his waist—that Rowanne helped him with tying without laughing at him at all—was my favorite scene of the book (following closely behind in second: Hector at the carnival with the elephant ear).

The end also doesn’t end the way you think it will, either. There’s this moment where you think Perkins is taking it somewhere and then at the last moment it changes, and it’s done in a way that makes sense with the tone of the book so that even if you were hoping one thing would happen, you’re not surprised when it doesn’t.

Criss Cross is whimsical, nostalgic and charming, a more subtle book than some other Newbery winners in terms of message but a good read all the same. The characters are endearing, the style of the book is unique and memorable, and overall I found it a delightful read, especially when it came to Hector.

Recommended Age Range: 10+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Realistic, Children’s

“So you were going to take this girl to a drainage ditch?” said Rowanne.

“It’s a ravine,” said Hector. “It’s more like a ravine than a drainage ditch. It’s a really pretty spot. Except for the garbage. I don’t think it’s gonna work. I don’t know where else to go, though.”

“Why don’t you just come here?” asked Rowanne. They were sitting on a bench at the Tastee-Freez, eating ice cream cones.

“I mean, for starters,” she said. “Then you could work your way up to the drainage ditch.”

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

1926 Newbery Medal: Shen of the Sea

Shen of the Sea, by Arthur Bowie Chrisman, was published in 1925 by Dutton.

A series of fascinating Chinese stories with the character of folk and wonder tales in which the author has caught admirably the spirit of Chinese life and thought. Not only are the tales amusing and appealing in themselves, but hidden beneath their surface is the wise and practical philosophy that has influenced Chinese life for thousands of years.

Rating: 4/5

Shen of the Sea: Chinese Stories for Children is a delightful little book of folk tales, something that I think Tales from Silver Lands tried to be and failed. Each folk tale embodies its own humor and cleverness—none of them are straightforward or predictable. There’s some sort of moral attached to each one, but not in any obtrusive way as in Aesop’s Fables.

Shen of the Sea brings a lightheartedness to these early Newbery Medals that has been absent since The Voyages of Doctor Doolittle. The folk tales are simple, but not simplistic, and the language, though crowded with Chinese terms and names, is easy to understand and fits well with the nature of the book. Though I found the characters of each tale tended to blur together, their actions and the plot of each tale did not, allowing for memorable moments from each one.

I enjoy books like these, and this one reminded me of a story I read when I was little, in some sort of story collection, that was similar in style (all I remember is that it was about 7 Chinese brothers who were identical and each had a special ability that they used to save one of their brother’s skin). Though I’m not ranking the Newbery Medals, Shen of the Sea is my second favorite of the 1920s batch I’ve read so far, behind Doctor Doolittle. Let’s hope the 1929 Medal winner will follow in Shen’s footsteps.

Recommended Age Range: 10+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Fantasy, Fairy Tales, Children’s

Who will say that Ah Mee was disobedient? He had been told not to throw his toy dragon through the window. But had his father, Ching Chi, told him not to heave a block through the door? Not at all. Ching Chi had said nothing about blocks, and he had pointed his finger at the window. Nevertheless, Mr. Ching felt almost inclined to scold his son. He said, very sternly, “Ah Mee…”

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

1927 Newbery Medal: Smoky the Cowhorse by Will James

Smoky the Cowhorse, by Will James, was published in 1926 by Buccaneer Books.

Smoky knows only one way of life: freedom. Living on the open range, he is free to go where he wants and to do what he wants. And he knows what he has to do to survive. He can beat any enemy, whether it be a rattlesnake or a hungry wolf. He is as much a part of the Wild West as it is of him, and Smoky can’t imagine anything else. But then he comes across a new enemy, one that walks on two legs and makes funny sounds. Smoky can’t beat this enemy the way he has all the others. But does he really want to? Or could giving up some of his freedom mean getting something in return that’s even more valuable?

Rating: 3/5

Smoky the Cowhorse reminded me a great deal of Black Beauty, although it comes nowhere close to Black Beauty’s lasting power and “classicness” and, of course, the point of view is not the horse but rather either various cowboys or an omniscient narrator. The novel is about the horse named Smoky and his adventures on the range in the Old West. The things you might expect to happen do: Smoky grows up, gets into trouble occasionally, narrowly escapes the claws of predators a few times, and enjoys his freedom until the cowboys come calling.

Then, you have the requisite training period, then the bonding between the horse and the human, then the times they go out together and rope cattle, and then, of course, since happy times can’t last forever, something terrible happens and for the rest of the book you’re rooting for the horse and his human to find each other again.

It’s a good horse book in terms of hitting all the notes that you might expect in a horse book, but the downside is that the vernacular of the book itself is not easily read, especially 90 years later. It’s written as if someone from that time period and from that area was telling the story, so a lot of the terminology is unfamiliar, since it deals with herding and roping and things like that, and it’s in the accent and dialect of, presumably, a cowboy, which means there’s a lot of “figgering” and verb/subject disagreement and other things to make a grammar teacher frustrated. It makes the book seem more authentic, but at the same time I can see it being very distracting and make it hard for a reader to get into the book.

Overall, I enjoyed Smoky more than some of the other 1920s Newbery Medal books I’ve read, but to be honest, I doubt I’d pick it up again. I’d rather read Black Beauty, which tells a similar story in a better and much more memorable way.

Recommended Age Range: 10+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Historical Fiction, Children’s

Smoky’s mammy took the lead, and after the rest of the bunch was thru parleying with the strange horses they joined in with her and the colt and all strung out for the foothills. The next day they all was up in high country again and everything of the day before was forgotten, forgotten, all excepting with Smoky and the other little colts. They still remembered some, on account that it had all been mighty new to ‘em, and besides, the sting of the fresh brand was there on their left thigh to remind.

You can buy this book here: http://amzn.to/2st7D4J

1922 Newbery Medal: The Story of Mankind by Hendrik Willem van Loon

The Story of Mankind, by Hendrik Willem van Loon, was published in 1921 by Liveright. I read the updated version that was published in 1972.

Hendrik Willem Van Loon’s renowned classic charms us once against with its warmth, simplicity, and wisdom as it unfolds its tale of the history of man for both adults and children. Reaching back into the beginnings of man and sweeping forward to illuminate all of history, van Loon’s enthusiasm breathes life into the characters and events of other ages.

Rating: 2/5

There’s no surprise that The Story of Mankind won the first Newbery Medal ever awarded. It’s history retold almost as a story, in a fairly simple manner and covering a great deal of time in relatively few pages. However, unlike many Newbery Medal winners, this book does not age well—no wonder, considering its nature as a history book first and foremost.

The original edition of The Story of Mankind stops after World War I, while the updated version tells of history up until the Korean War (actually, I’m not sure how far it goes—my edition was missing about 20 pages or so at the end, so it could also have covered the Vietnam War). While van Loon gets many things correct about history, there are many other things he gets extraordinarily wrong, owing both to the time the book was written and what his voice as the “narrator” of history reveals.

It’s not surprising that someone in the 1920s would get some aspects of previous history wrong, since today we’ve had 90+ extra years to study and get things right, and van Loon got more things right than I expected. But he does get some things wrong, such as the birth of modern science and his hilariously incorrect story of “Joshua, whom the Greeks called Jesus.” Van Loon seems to be highly contemptuous of all religion, for even his story of the beginnings of Islam is brief and told in an irritatingly patronizing tone.

This patronizing tone is present throughout the entire novel, really, but particularly worse in areas where religion or archaic ways of doing things are concerned. He tells of particular moments in history in a pretentious, “those silly, ignorant peasants” tone that is almost unnoticeable at first but starts to build and build as the book progresses. In addition, The Story of Mankind is, in actuality, The Story of Western Mankind, as Eastern thought and culture gets only a handful of pages devoted to it, and no history of China or Japan is given until it relates to a war or a particularly global moment in history. Perhaps I’m expecting too much of van Loon, however, or perhaps it’s only natural that someone who seems as contemptuous of certain cultures and times in history as he is would leave out a few things here and there.

The only reason I’m not giving The Story of Mankind a lower rating is that, as fed-up as I was with his pretentious tone, van Loon does get some aspects of history correct that I wasn’t expecting, such as the emphasis on the Middle Ages as a time of great development rather than being “Dark” (although, according to van Loon, they were still ignorant peasants who weren’t nearly as intelligent as the people who came after them) and the fact that no one during Columbus’s time actually thought the world was flat. But despite van Loon’s accuracy in some areas, he is wildly inaccurate in others, especially in the ones he clearly thinks are beneath him. This condescension of tone made The Story of Mankind, ultimately, an unpleasant read.

Recommended Age Range: 10+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Children’s

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

1928 Newbery Medal: Gay-Neck, The Story of a Pigeon

Gay-Neck, The Story of a Pigeon, by Dhan Gopal Mukerji, was published in 1927 by Dutton.

The heartwarming and sometimes almost heartbreaking story of the training and care of a carrier pigeon. Writing out of his own experience as a boy in India, Dhan Mukerji tells how Gay-Neck’s master, an eager, highly-sensitive lad, sent his prized pigeon to serve in World War I, and of how, because of exceptional training and his brave heart, Gay-Neck served his new masters heroically.

Rating: 3/5

I found Gay-Neck, The Story of a Pigeon, the most interesting of the early Newbery Medal’s I’ve read so far, barring The Voyages of Dr. Doolittle. That’s not to say it enthralled me, but it was better than the dense and confusing The Dark Frigate and a much better story than any of the myths in Tales from Silver Lands. It was also a very quick read for me, which I’m citing as a positive since I was beginning to fall behind in my reading when I started Gay-Neck.

Much of the interest of Gay-Neck, for me, was not the story of a pigeon and his adventures leading up to and during World War I. It was the description of India and its culture. I always enjoy it when an author so clearly knows a culture different than the one I do, and, since Mukerji grew up in India, he’s even more qualified to describe it and make it approachable for American readers (I say American since the Newbery medal is an American award). And since this was written during a time when lots of people were traveling abroad and the British still occupied India, it’s nice to get a glimpse of the mountains, valleys, and jungles of India through the eyes of an Indian.

So, yes, the culture part of it interested me. The actual story of Gay-Neck, not so much. I’ve read better animal books before, and let’s face it, I’m more into horses than pigeons. The pages-long descriptions of Gay-Neck flying to avoid the claws of an eagle may be riveting to some, but I found myself skimming a lot of it. There’s also only so many times Gay-Neck can disappear and his owner wonder if he’s dead before all the suspense is drained out of the event entirely.

Gay-Neck is definitely a step up from previous Newbery Medal winners, but despite its lavish and loving descriptions of India and Indian culture, it’s not particularly exciting or enthralling. It’s a good look at how carrier pigeons were used, and, of course, as I’ve already mentioned, its depiction of India is beautiful, but it falls apart a little in terms of mechanics and holding the reader’s interest.

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Children’s, Historical Fiction

But this [bird] was coming straight, like an arrow. In another two minutes my doubts were dispelled. It was a hawk making for little Gay-Neck. I looked up and beheld a miraculous sight. His father was tumbling steadily down in order to reach his level, while his mother, bent on the same purpose, was making swift downward curves. Ere the terrible hawk had come within ten yards of the innocent little fellow, both his flanks were covered. Now the three flew downwards at a right angle from the path of their enemy. Undeterred by such a move, the hawk charged.

You can buy this book here: http://amzn.to/2pq0uFq

1981 Newbery Medal: Jacob Have I Loved

Jacob Have I Loved, by Katherine Paterson, was published in 1980 by HarperCollins.

“Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated….” With her grandmother’s taunt, Louise knew that she, like the biblical Esau, was the despised elder twin. Caroline, her selfish younger sister, was the one everyone loved. Growing up on a tiny Chesapeake Bay island in the early 1940s, angry Louise reveals how Caroline robbed her of everything: her hopes for schooling, her friends, her mother, even her name. While everyone pampered Caroline, Wheeze (her sister’s name for her) began to learn the ways of the watermen and the secrets of the island, especially of old Captain Wallace, who had mysterious returned after fifty years. The war unexpectedly gave this independent girl a change to fulfill her childish dream to work as a waterman alongside her father. But the dream did not satisfy the woman she was becoming. Alone and unsure, Louise began to fight her way to a place where Caroline could not reach.

Rating: 2/5

Jacob Have I Loved is written by the same author as Bridge to Terabithia, a book I still vividly remember and another Newbery Medal winner that I’ll be reading at some point. Another of her books, The Great Gilly Hopkins, won a Newbery Honor. So, basically, Katherine Paterson’s books are good and she won a lot of awards for them.

However, I must say, I was disappointed by Jacob Have I Loved. I think it was because the underpinning of the novel, the perceived favoritism of Caroline that affects pretty much everything Louise does, seemed more like Louise was overreacting to small things than actual favoritism. To me, Louise seemed overly melodramatic in places, such as when Caroline would say something normal and Louise would suddenly start yelling or storm out of the house. I understand that they’re teenagers, but Louise didn’t really do much to make me sympathize with her feelings of jealousy and invisibility.

It got a little better once more solid things than Louise’s perceptions were involved, such as Call and Captain Wallace, and Paterson better communicated Louise’s sense of always being overshadowed, but still, several times during the novel I thought Louise was being more ridiculous than Caroline and certainly was more unlikeable.

Perhaps that was Paterson’s point, though, that Louise was ultimately unhappy with her own life and was blaming it on whoever or whatever was in reach, such as her sister. In which case, Louise’s behavior makes more sense, I suppose.

There were also several parts of the book I found inexplicably strange, such as Louise’s infatuation with Captain Wallace (??) that had virtually no explanation and then dissipated into nothing, used only as a vehicle for Louise’s grandmother to say mean things and scare Louise, and the ending, which I sort of understood when I read it, then read someone describing how bittersweet it was, and then read the ending again only to wonder from where in the world that person was getting any of his descriptions. Either the ending communicated something that I clearly missed or the person inferred a whole lot from two pages that wasn’t actually there.

I can see why Jacob Have I Loved won the Newbery; it’s exactly the sort of adolescent coming-of-age novel that these sorts of awards seem to attract. But I didn’t quite buy Louise’s characterization and for a lot of the book I barely sympathized with her, seeing her instead as a melodramatic teenager who needed to stop blowing things out of proportion. It got a little better by the end, but overall I barely enjoyed Jacob Have I Loved. Mostly, I think it’s strange and not something I would immediately recommend.

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Warnings: Swearing, some nasty insinuations made by the grandmother

Genre: Middle Grade, Realistic

“I’d want to pay you something,” the Captain said. My ears stretched practically to the top of my head, and I opened my mouth to utter a humble thanks.

“Oh, no,” said Call. “We couldn’t think of taking money from a neighbor.”

Who couldn’t? But for once in his life Call talked faster than I could think, and the two of them snatched away my time and energy and sold me into slavery before I had breath to hint that I wouldn’t be insulted by a small tip every now and then.

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