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Newbery Pie

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September 2015

Up a Road Slowly, the 1967 Newbery Medal Winner

uparoad

Hi! Welcome to this week’s edition of Newbery Pie. We’ll be discussing the 1967 Newbery Winner, Irene Hunt’s Up a Road Slowly. Like always, Sara will kick things off with her review.

Sara’s Review:

After her mother dies, Julia leaves town and goes to the country to live with her aunt Cordelia, who also becomes her teacher. This is one of what we now call “coming of age” novels. It spans a decade of Julia’s life (from age 7-17) in less than 200 pp. To pull off such a feat requires an amazing writer, and  Hunt handles it expertly.

I, Juan de Pareja was also somewhat of a “coming of age” novel, but whereas that was a chore, this one was a delight. I’m sure the difference in reading experience was mostly due to my ability to make a connection with the main character. Julia reminded me of heroines from my favorite books from my childhood. Like Laura Ingalls, she attends a one room schoolhouse for many years. Like Jo March, she has a close, relationship with her sister, although not one completely free of jealousy. And like Anne Shirley, she has to navigate the changing feelings of a relationship with a classmate over time.

In terms being appropriate for elementary readers, there were a couple of shocking moments in the book, and I am convinced that many of these 60s Newbery books would be labeled “YA” if published today. There is an almost rape scene in the woods, and a girl winds up leaving town to stay with an aunt. Then there is the very open discussion of an alcoholic uncle.

All in all, Up A Hill Slowly is an excellent book. Thankful for the Newbery Challenge, Benji and this blog because otherwise I never would have read it. I give it a delicious 5 Newbery pies!

Benji’s Review

Two weeks ago, if you would have stopped me in the street and said, “Quick! Name an Irene Hunt novel!” I would have automatically responded with, “Across Five Aprils!” I’m not even sure I knew Up a Road Slowly existed until I saw that it was next on the Newbery list. First I want to say that I was very impressed with the writing in this novel. It’s only 186 pages in paperback, but there is a total, but subtle character transformation in Julia the protagonist. I remember finishing the book and thinking, how did she change that much, that subtly in so few pages? The answer is simply that it’s really good writing.

Julia isn’t a very nice girl when we first meet her, but as someone very wise once told me. Show me a bitter person, and I’ll show you a hurt person. Life has dealt Julia a hard blow. Her mother has died of the same sickness that left her bedridden for a while, and her dad, in the beginning is totally closed off from her. She is sent away to live with her aunt who, gradually throughout the book, with the help of Julia’s own experience, teaches her how to be a kind, loving human being.

One of the fun things about reading through the Newbery winners is going back and looking at the reviews of friends who have read them before. Sometimes I’ve disagreed with what a few of them said, but never as much as with this book. Two of my friends totally smashed the book because of Julia’s childhood meanness, and one of them even called Julia an “evil person.”  Anyone who knows me knows that I like my characters flawed. I like to see them change and learn from their mistakes, but that’s not always necessary. What is necessary is having real characters. They can’t all be kind and wonderful all the time. That’s not believable. Who wasn’t mean to someone as a child. Who doesn’t wish they could go back to their immature, bratty self and beat some sense into them? The beginning of the book reads kind of like a confessional to me, and instead of turning me off to the book, I appreciated it.

Later, when Julia’s uncle is critiquing her writing samples, he tells her, “your villains have nothing but venom in their souls, and your sympathetic characters are ready to step right off into Paradise without one spot to tarnish their purity.” I wanted to shout and give Uncle Haskell a high five and an amen. We don’t need characters like that. We need real characters who go through real ordeals. It’s almost like Hunt saw the issues people would have with prepubescent Julia and added this part in there to defend her book.

All in all, I thought it was really good. My only problem was with the whole Danny thing. You could see it coming from a mile away, from the beginning of the book, really. I give it 4 out of five Newbery Pies.

Next up: From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler

I, Juan de Pareja, the 1965 Winner

juan

Welcome to this week’s Newbery Pie. Today, Sara and I are discussing I, Juan de Pareja, winner of the 1965 Newbery Medal, by Elizabeth Borton de Trevino. We’ll kick things off with Sara’s review.

Sara:

It had to happen some time: my first unpleasant Newbery reviewing experience. I, Juan de Pareja takes the reader to the world of 17th Century Spain. Juan de Pareja, referred to affectionately as “Juanico,” is a slave of artist Diego Velazquez. At first I was appalled at what seemed to be inappropriate content for a children’s book. For example, a visiting artist asks for a nude model, the household balks, yet finds loosely clothed models to hopefully satisfy the visitor’s demand. Another off-putting thing about the book is that women are stereotyped as the hysterical female; at one point, Diego’s wife is described as wanting to throw herself out the window because he is leaving.

As the book went on, I missed these parts because at least they were interesting. The central plot of the story is that Juanico wants to paint, yet slaves are forbidden from taking part in the arts by law, but he does it anyway and then feels badly. B-O-R-I-N-G. As I told Benji today, Juanico stealing colors and then refusing to go to confession put me in a coma. Last night, I read 7 pp. and fell asleep. And, I’m Catholic, and actually understand all the religious elements. I cannot begin to imagine a kid reading this book. We’ve had a copy in our K-5 library for over 20 years and it has been checked out once. The ending redeemed the book somewhat, but all I really wanted was for Juanico to stop whining.

Many elementary school librarians are elementary school teachers first. This was not true for me. 15 years ago, I mistakenly thought I wanted to be a high school English teacher. I quickly realized that I like little children much better than teens. While getting my English degree, I took an entire course on Seventeenth Century Literature. If you are interested in this time period, I highly recommend reading something written by someone who actually lived in it.

I give I, Juan de Pareja 2 pies.

Benji:

This one was definitely the hardest winner to get through since Sara joined the challenge. Not a whole lot happens, and it takes a long time for what does happen to get started. Plus, something about a book by a white lady about a black man and how tolerable (you might even say nice) his slavery was, just didn’t set that well with me. Juan even implies at one point, that he’s glad he’s a slave because life isn’t that good for a black boy on the streets. Needless to say, that was all kind of problematic for me. It gave me the same unpleasant vibes that I got from Amos Fortune, Free Man.

There were a few things that I did like, though. I enjoyed  Velazquez’s discussion of art, how real art it supposed to portray the truth no matter how ugly it might be. (Although, I did find this kind of ironic in a novel beautifying slavery). I liked when the plot actually started to happen, when Juan was painting in secret because it was illegal for a slave to make art. I thought it was kind of beautiful that he just couldn’t help it.

The ending was pretty satisfactory for me, too, and I really liked Lolis, who becomes Juan’s wife. (Too bad we don’t meet her until the very end) Even though she has a nice mistress, and even admits that she is fond of her, she still hates her slavery, and that’s how I think I would feel if I was a slave with a kind master. “Yeah, you’re a decent guy, but you still own me, and that’s kind of a problem, you know?”

So yeah, there were problems, but there were some good things, too. It still wasn’t as bad as Smokey the Cowhorse or The Dark Frigate. I give it three Newbery Pies

Next up: Up a Road Slowly by Irene Hunt

It’s Like This Cat, the 1964 Winner

cat

Hi, welcome to this week’s slice of Newbery Pie. In case you missed it, last week, instead of reviewing a Newbery winner, Sara and I gave our Kind-of-too-early Newbery predictions for 2016. This week we’re discussing the 1964 winner It’s Like This Cat by Emily Cheney Neville. We’ll start with Sara’s review.

I had never heard of this book before and so that’s always interesting. The 60s seem to be a pretty good Newbery decade though, I found this book immediately engaging. It was also the perfect length, around 175 pp.

Do we need to give spoiler warnings for 50+ year old books? Consider yourself warned. My favorite chapter by far was Chapter 10 when the Mitchell family is leaving for vacation and Cat jumps out the car window.  Dave immediately jumps out of the car door after him. Talk about crazy! Talk about unconditional love for your pet.
My thought: his poor mother.

From a feminist POV (another spoiler!), it is probably really cliche, but I loved that Dave went for the “independent,” interesting girl, rather than the giggly, obviously pretty girl that threw herself at him.

One of things I noticed was the age of the characters. The main character is in his summer before high school. A lot of junior highs at the time were grades 10-12, which would make him 15. There was nothing objectionable about the content, and I have this book in my elementary school library and the book was in the children’s section of the public library. However, Benji and I were talking about books that were “too old” for elementary when we were making our Newbery predictions last week.

What if a book that is more appropriate for middle school wins the medal? The criteria for the award makes this a possibility because the age range is 0-14. What should you tell your elementary students if this happens? Although, this is my 13th year as school librarian, I honestly haven’t always followed the Newbery medal very closely with my students. It has only been the past 3 years or so. I bought Crossover and read excerpts to students in 4th/5th grade; 2 review journals recommended it for grades 6+, but two other recommended it for ages 9-12.  Which other media winners from 2000-now could be considered problematic for elementary students?

I give it four out of five Newbery Pies

Benji’s Review

It’s Like This, Cat has the best opening line of any Newbery I’ve read so far, even the famous “Dark and stormy” line from Wrinkle in Time. “My father is always talking about how a dog can be very educational for a boy. This is one reason I got a cat.” Genius, right? I knew right then that I was going to enjoy this one, and I did. I really related to Dave. I too grew up in a house with an attorney father who liked to argue. Luckily, I had a brother who did most of the arguing back. The tone was irreverent, which was enjoyable, and a little refreshing after the last two overly religious novels.

Sara is right about the book being for an older audience. Content-wise it’s probably the most YA, up to this point . There was even one spot, I could see a parent complaining about if I sent it home with a student. (There was a song on one of Dave’s records about the birds and the bees.) Even mentioning the birds and the bees in an elementary novel runs a risk of parent complaint.

Anyways, I liked the book. I also give it four out of five Newbery Pies.

Next up- I, Juan de Pereja

Our Kind-of-too-early Newbery Predictions

Hi! We didn’t read a new Newbery winner this week. It was kind of a crazy week for Benji and Sara for different reasons, but we thought it would be fun to do a Newbery prediction post based on the 2015 books that we’ve read so far this year.  There are a lot of books that Sara and I both haven’t read yet, but we wanted to celebrate the books that we have loved, and maybe we’ll do another prediction post closer to ALA-Midwinter. So here it goes!

1. If you were a one person Newbery committee, based on what you’ve read so far, what book would be your winner?

Sara: Echo by Pam Munoz Ryan

Echo

The writing is amazing, but I’ve felt that way about all of her novels. It also doesn’t read like a 550+ pp. book. I like that I have a strong emotional connection to the characters and the interconnections between them. And, it is time Pam Munoz Ryan got some Newbery love!

Benji: 

The Penderwicks in Spring by Jeanne Birdsall

pis

I know it’s the fourth book in a series and that might be a huge hurdle to clear with the Newbery committee, but if it was totally up to me, Penderwicks in Spring would take home the medal. No book this year has meant more to me or touched me more deeply than this one. I think it could stand alone without the other Penderwick books, and I think it’s the best of the series, and talk about needing some Newbery love! How has Birdsall not even gotten an honor, yet?

2. What books (if any) would be your honors?

Sara:

Crenshaw by Katherine Applegate

crenshaw

Disclaimer time: Ivan is a special book; it ranks up there with my favorite book from childhood, Charlotte’s Web, except it actually won the medal. Crenshaw doesn’t compare, but honestly, no other book will. The Imaginary Friend character is big right now – Beekle from last year’s Caldecott winning book and Bing Bong from Pixar’s summer blockbuster Inside Out. Applegate adds another memorable one to the list with Crenshaw. Readers will either remember their imaginary friend with fondness or those who never had one will want Crenshaw to be theirs.

Circus Mirandus by Cassie Beasley –

circus m

Another book that made me cry. The setting of this book was so wonderful; I could truly envision myself as a child at a magical circus. The book also deals with a common childhood reality, a very sick grandparent.

Sunny Side Up written by Jennifer Holm, illustrated by Matthew Holm –

sunny

Go out and read this graphic novel, each and every one of you! The way Holm handles the complexities of this family, and the way the emotions of the main character range from scared to lonely to bored to sad to somewhat happy portrays a very real portrait of a family in crisis.

Benji: 

Goodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead

stranger

Before I read Penderwicks in Spring, this one was my favorite.  I know some people are saying it’s too old for the Newbery, but let’s not forget that the criteria say it can go all the way up to books appropriate for a 14 year old. This is an awesome story about love and relationships.  It’s about real relationships, fake relationships, being a sister, being a brother, being a lover, being a friend. It’s an ambitious novel, I think, but it accomplishes what it set out to do.

Echo by Pam Munoz Ryan

Echo

I also really loved this one. It’s really long, and I’ve gotten exactly one student to read it, but it really is spectacular.

Crenshaw by Katherine Applegate

crenshaw

I agree with Sara about this one. It isn’t quite Ivan, but nothing else is, either. Ivan is a once in a lifetime kind of novel. To a kid, it may seem like the novel is about an imaginary friend, but Crenshaw kind of plays a minor part in the novel. It’s really about poverty, calamity and a family trying to keep its head above the water. I’m going to be reading it to my fifth graders (and possibly fourth) as soon as it’s published.

3. Are there any books that you’ve really loved this year, that you don’t think will be awarded anything?

Sara:

Penderwicks In Spring by Jeanne Birdsall: Sequel Problem

pis

Gone Crazy in Alabama by Rita Williams-Garcia

gonecrazy

(Cool fact: Gone Crazy in Alabama is set in Benji’s home town of Prattville, Alabama)

Benji: 

Sunny Side Up

sunny

This is where I’m going to get in trouble. I loved Sunny Side Up, and if it got Newbery recognition like El Deafo did, I would dance with joy. But……the El Deafo text could totally stand alone without the illustrations. I tried reading Sunny Side Up without the illustrations, and it doesn’t really work. Jenn and Matt work so well, so seamlessly together, that the text and the illustrations are dependent on each other.  That makes it a great graphic novel, but unfortunately, not a Newbery winner. I hope I’m wrong.

Circus Mirandus

circus m

I loved this one as well, but kind of like a few years ago with Wonder, I’m just not feeling it for Newbery. Again, I would love to be wrong.

4. What are some books are receiving a lot of hype that you plan to read but haven’t yet?

Sara: The Hired Girl – Schlitz (Newbery Winner)

The Bamboo Sword – Preus (Newbery Honor Winner)

The Thing About Jellyfish – Benjamin (tons of buzz)

Orbiting Jupiter – Schmidt (Newbery Honor Winner)

Benji: pretty much all of those that Sara listed, plus Diva and Flea, ( a Mo Willems novel!!!) Moonpenny Island, and A Question of Miracles.

Bonus Question #1: 5. What book is your favorite for Caldecott at the moment?

Sara: You’re killing me, Benji. Can I plead the fifth? I can’t decide on just one, but I wouldn’t be sad if Yard Sale by Lauren Castillo won.

yard sale

Benji: Right now, I’m debating between three for the Caldecott. I think my favorite is Float by Miyares, (my review) but I also really like A Fine Desert and Swan is just beautiful. (and lyrical. I honestly wouldn’t be blown away if it won a Newbery honor) EDIT: I was just informed that Swan isn’t eligible for Caldecott or Newbery 😦 I didn’t do my research, but you should still go out and read it. It’s lovely)

float

fine

swan

Bonus Question #2: Geisel?

Sara: Ballet Cat by Bob Shea. All the way!

ballet

Benji: This award might as well be renamed the Theodore Geisel/ Mo Willems award. Mo could win this award writing a book in his sleep. Speaking of being asleep. The Geisel award this year, should totally go to I Will Take a Nap.

nap

(I wish I had time to post my whole conversation with Sara about these two books. It was pretty entertaining. Maybe I’ll have to pit the books against each other for a Monday Book Battle, and have Sara over as a guest reviewer.)

We’ll that’s it. We’ll check back in in a few months and reevaluate our opinions and then again after the awards to see how wrong we were both times.

Next week, we’ll be back on the Newbery trail visiting It’s Like This Cat by Emily Cheney Neville.

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