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Newbery Pie

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August 2015

A Wrinkle in Time, the 1963 winner

wrinkle

This week’s Newbery winner is A Wrinkle in Time. We’ll start things off with Sara’s review.

Sara: I brought home The Wrinkle in Time graphic novel adapted and illustrated by Hope Larson from the public library. As I was busy doing other things, I soon heard from my 4th grader, “What is a tesseract?” I did not use this as a bonding moment or as a time to nurture my child’s reading interest. I was annoyed she took MY book. I took it back and told her I would let her read it after I had finished. Of course, she is MY child and would not be deterred and I had to wait.

When sharing with colleagues that I was reading it, our art teacher was mad. She said, “I read that in 4th or 5th grade when I was required to and I never understood it.” This was my 3rd favorite novel when I was growing up, right after Charlotte’s Web and Anne of Green Gables. It was also the first sci-fi novel I ever read. I pretty much read these three books on a constant loop from grades 3-6. Why was my experience withWrinkle in Time different than my colleague’s? I wasn’t required to read it. I chose it. I didn’t understand it the first time or the second, but I kept reading it because I enjoyed the characters. When reading these novels, a question that obviously comes to mind was, why was this the most distinguished book of 1962? I think it was the strength of the relationship among the characters. I’m not a betting woman, but I could put some money down that Benji is going to make some connections between this book, Bronze Bow and the 1960s, because Jesus is mentioned, and despite two completely opposite settings, there are parallel themes.

With Benji’s permission, I read the graphic novel instead of reading the text version again. I’m glad I did. Larson did a wonderful job of adapting the text and I felt like she didn’t leave anything vitally important out. I have 10 copies of text version of The Wrinkle of Time in my library and all of them are sitting on the shelf and haven’t been checked out in ages. I have no doubt that if I had the graphic novel in my collection that my students would have the same reaction my daughter did. I plan to order it immediately! I appreciate Ms. Larson making a book I loved as a child appealing to a new generation of readers. Hooray for graphic novels!

I give it five out of five Newbery Pies.

Benji: I read A Wrinkle in Time for the first time four years ago. I wasn’t that impressed. I kind of felt like people read Wrinkle in Time for the same reason they play Super Mario Bros today. Not because they think it’s a great game by today’s standards, but because they loved it as a child and have fond memories of it. The things that bugged me about Wrinkle in Time back in 2011 were Meg’s terrible attitude, the dated language, Calvin’s sudden infatuation with Meg like two minutes after he meets her, (there’s almost immediate hand-holding and remarking about “dreamboat eyes” My preteen self only wished it were that easy.) and the abrupt ending of the book.

I read it with a fresh mind this time, I still saw the little flaws in the book, but since I already knew what was coming, I could focus on the overall arc of the story, and I could watch Meg’s subtle transformation closely. What I didn’t catch last time, is that J.K. Rowling definitely borrowed from Winkle in Time. Meg and Harry could both be annoying, rage filled adolescents at times, but they both conquered their enemy because of what they possessed that their enemy didn’t have. Love. (duh) This time around I loved that Meg the underdog, the plain one, the dull one in a family of geniuses, the weak one who is aways having to be protected by Calvin, the girl whose only real strengths are her weaknesses is in the end, the only one who can save Charles Wallace from IT.

I had such a change of opinion about this book, that I even have it on display now in “Mr. Martin’s favorite books” bay. I can see why people love it now and I even love it a little myself.

I didn’t make many connections between this one and Bronze Bow like Sara predicted. I did notice that they were both religious in theme, but that’s about it, really.

Today, as I was thinking about the book and digesting it, coincidently, a student actually came and returned Wrinkle of Time to me. I had checked it out to him before the summer. I had told him, he might like it, he might not, not a whole lot of kids do these days. (I think I was trying to save my reputation just in case he hated it) Well, he brought it back, and told me that he loved it, and he didn’t see what I was talking about. Kids should all love it. He also told me that he thought he was like Charles Wallace, the child genius 🙂

I’m going to start recommending it to kids more often. Next week, I’m going to show my students this book trailer. 

I give Wrinkle in Time four out of five Newbery Pies.

Next up: Sara and I will be giving our kinda-too-early-Newbery 2016 Predictions

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The Bronze Bow: The 1962 Newbery Winner

Hi! There’s exciting news this week. Sara Ralph, Elementary School Librarian from Asheboro, NC is joining me on the Newbery journey. Today, we’ll be discussing the 1962 winner, The Bronze Bow. We’ll start with Sara’s review.

bronze

Thanks to Benji for inviting me to join Newbery Pie. Reading all the Newbery books seems to be a librarian thing to do. Having a reading partner makes it much more fun!

I had never heard of Bronze Bow and jumped into it without reading a summary or a synopsis. I thought, Biblical times? Yep. Despite ample background knowledge (including a college English course – Literary Study of the Bible), I was confused about places, Roman emperors (they are all called Caesar?) and had to research.

The story took awhile to get into, but I enjoyed it once I did. Daniel, who is Jewish, has left an abusive apprenticeship placement as a blacksmith to join a band of outlaws, led by Rosh, who sees himself as a Robin Hood type, stealing from Romans and other Jews (rich or not) for the “cause.” Daniel parents have died, but he has a grandmother and younger sister, Leah, who live in a town close by (Galilee, or is that the region?). Other important characters include: Simon, another blacksmith and an adult Daniel trusts; two friends Daniel makes, Josh and his sister Thacia; Sampson, a black slave that Rosh’s group liberates from the Romans and who forms a special attachment to Daniel; and obviously, Jesus, who is traveling around preaching and healing people.

I think the most impressive part of this story, and definitely a sign of its Newbery worthiness is Daniel’s character development. He goes from someone motivated only by hated for the Romans and a desire for vengeance to having the ability to develop strong relationships with others, putting their needs ahead of the cause.

I do not have this book in my K-5 library. I think it might be more appropriate for middle school because of the content. Getting my 7th grader to read it would be a hard sell.

I give The Bronze Bow 3.5/5 pies.

Benji’s review:

Of course, I had heard of the Bronze Bow before. I knew it was on of the titles down the line on the Newbery list, that I would have to read sooner or later, but I didn’t know anything else about it. Like Sara, I have a pretty strong Biblical foundation. I grew up in  a Christian home, my grandfather is a Southern Baptist preacher, I attended a Christian school from elementary to high school, and in college, the only class I ever got a perfect grade in was New Testament survey. Yup. 100 %. So I figured out where and when we were pretty early in the novel. The only thing that really confused me was the issue of the two Simons, Simon the Zealot and Simon (soon to be Peter) the fisherman. The author doesn’t really go out of her way to tell us which Simon she’s referring to and I had to rely on contextual clues to figure it out. That meant a lot of going back and rereading. I don’t know many kids who are going to make that effort. They’re either going to be confused and move on, enjoying it less, or they’re going to give it up.

That was pretty much my only beef though. I liked the story a lot. To me, if you can put Jesus into your novel, the most important divisive figure in history, you have to be really careful, but Speare handled it wonderfully. There aren’t a whole lot of very religious Newbery winners out there, but I think Speare pulled off a terrific novel no matter your beliefs or opinions.

I think that The Bronze Bow was very appropriate for the time period. In one particularly moving scene, Daniel is meeting with Jesus alone for the first time. He can’t move past his hatred for the Romans. It has become to big a part of who he is. Jesus tells him, “Hate does not die with killing. It springs up a hundredfold. The only thing stronger than hate is love.” I stopped reading there, and thought, “Jesus sounds a lot like Dr. King.” But then I thought some more, and corrected myself. The truth is Dr. King actually just sounded a lot like the Jesus we see in the New Testament. In the 60’s when The Bronze Bow was published, there was a lot of racial hate in the United States, and the people giving out the most hate, were professing Christians. It’s almost like Speare is saying, “Look! Stop the hate! Jesus didn’t give out hate. He gave out love, and he wants you to as well!”

Unlike Sara, I do have The Bronze Bow in my library, and I actually checked it out once last year, to a fifth grader. She read it, and claimed that she liked it. She spent the rest of the year reading The Dork Diaries, so this was kind of confusing to me, (not that there’s anything wrong with the Dork Diaries, it was just an extreme outlier to her usual tastes.)  but I was glad that she read and enjoyed it.

I give The Bronze Bow 4 out of 5 Newbery Pies.

Next up: A Wrinkle in Time

The 1961 Winner: Island of the Blue Dolphins

dolphins

Newbery Pie is back! I took some time off this summer to read some other things, but I’m back on the Newbery trail, running hard. Next up is Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell. I was excited about picking back up with this book because  I remembered loving it as a child, and also because, hey let’s be honest, it’s only 184 pages. I don’t know if it’s because I had such high expectations for it, or because it’s the first week of school and I’m super busy with all of the craziness or something else, but I didn’t love it as much as I remember loving it as a kid. I still saw the merit. I especially noticed and appreciated the way the whole novel reads like a story being remembered and told. There aren’t your usual literary devices. It was just “I did this and then I did that, and it made me feel this way.” You can almost imagine Karana sitting next to you telling you the whole story. I liked Karana’s courage, how she jumped off of the boat for her brother, how she took care of the animals and all that. I didn’t find anything wrong with the book, it just wasn’t as enjoyable for me this time around. Maybe it even bored me a little.

That being said, I still see it’s literary goodness and 4th grade Benji loved it, so in his honor, I’m going to give 4 out of 5 Newbery pies.

ps. One extra fun thing about reading this one, is that I was reading my wife’s old copy from 5th grade. I had fun noticing all of the random words that she highlighted for apparently no reason. 🙂

Sara’s Review: This is probably one of the most widely read Newbery books of the canon. In his Newbery Medal Infographic, school librarian, Travis Jonker, names it as the bestselling Newbery winner. In fact, my 4th grade daughter read it in school this year for Language Arts. I had read it as a child and again as an adult because it recurs as one of the titles on our North Carolina Battle of the Books list.

Popularity does not come without controversy. Debbie Reese, author of the blog, American Indians in Children’s Literature, takes issue with Scott O’Dell’s depiction of the Indians as “savages,” reinforcing that sterotype. Karana, based on a true story of a woman named Juana Maria, is accidentally left behind after her people flee due to the Aleuts, who came to the island to hunt seals and then killed Karana’s father and several other men in a confrontation over payment. Although O’Dell mentions that the Aleuts are there with a Russian, who describes them as “his men,” the enslavement is not directly mentioned.

While her point does have validity, as an English major, I learned that we cannot retroactively apply modern values to works of literature. Authors are a product of their time. If an author today published a book with such little research, he would be criticized online, and as in the case of one book, their book may be recalled.

As a librarian, I know that censorship is a slippery slope. Once you open the door, even with the best of intentions, it may be hard to close it later. We have to be very cautious when anyone asks us to remove a book from our shelves, even if it doesn’t have a shiny gold sticker on it.

Both my 4th grade daughter and 7th grade daughters have no illusions about the fate of American Indians. I asked the younger why she thought the Aleuts killed Karana’s father, and she said, “The Russian guy probably told them to do it if they caused problems.” When we talked about them being “rescued” by the white people, my older daughter chimed in, “Well, that’s a bad idea.” When I asked my 4th grader if she agreed, she said, “yes, because they will be exposed to new diseases, and the white people always hurt the Native Americans by taking their land.”

For its distinguished writing, I give Island of the Blue Dolphins 4 out of 5 pies.

 

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