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Newbery Pie

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February 2016

A Visit to William Blake’s Inn: The 1982 Newbery Winner

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This is kind of a sad one for me (Benji) since it will by my last Newbery Pie review for a while. Due to other commitments, I’ll be stepping away for a few months. Sara will be carrying the Newbery Pie torch by herself , and will be going back to some of the books that we had already read and reviewed before she joined, and adding her two cents. Today, we’ll be taking a look at A Visit to William Blake’s Inn.

Sara’s Review: William Blake was a 19th century British artist and writer, most famous for his two poems “The Tyger” and the “The Lamb.” In the 1982 Newbery winning book, A Visit to William Blake’s Inn, Nancy Willard bring Blake back to life as a whimsical, fantastical character with a magical inn. He has a magical flying car that transports his guest and he wears a marmelade hat. In a way, he reminded me of Dahl’s Willy Wonka. At William Blake’s Inn, you are taken to your room by a rabbit, you might have a bear for your bed and eating breakfast “on the house” is taken quite literally. William Blake will take you for a walk on a Milky Way. He ends arguments with dances and tells delightful bedtime stories, which teach universal lessons like “All things are new in the morning.”

I found this book quite delightful. The text and illustrations work seamlessly to transport the reader to a magical place. I like how you could read this as a continuous story or open it to a page in the middle and just read that individual poem. My favorite illustration is opposite “The King of Cats Orders an Early Breakfast.” A table is set precariously on top of the inn, only kept upright by magic. The King of Cats is at the table, crown on his head and a napkin tied around his neck. Servers are bringing up platter to the table by ladder. It is before dawn, so all of this takes place under a starry, moonlit sky.

A Visit to William Blake’s Inn is the first picture book that won the Newbery Award. Some people have difficulty wrapping their heads around a picture book winning the Newbery. The fact that the main character is an author I am very familiar with from my undergraduate studies is a good reminder of the type of critical reading that is the task of the Newbery Committee. Like an English major, they must analyze a work based on criteria. The members are more widely read than even the biggest of book nerds and they read books multiple times. Part of loving the award is respecting the Newbery Committee members and the decisions they make. I give A Visit to William Blake’s Inn 4 out of 5 stars.

Benji’s Review: I know it’s our last time reviewing a book together for a while and I should probably play nice, but I’m afraid that I have to disagree with Sara about a couple of things. I didn’t like William Blake’s Inn all that much, story wise. I loved the illustrations, the Provensens are amazing, and I have no problem with the Caldecott honor is received. It totally deserved it, but for a book to beat Ramona Quimby, Age 8, it’s got to be a spectacular book, and I thought it was just ok. The nonsensical poems were decent, but the overall text was in no way better than Ramona.

I have no problems with a picture book winning the Newbery. I was so happy for Last Stop on Market Street, but if a picture book does win, it needs to be more distinguished than all the other books of that year, and for me, this one just didn’t beat Ramona.

Like Sara said, the Newbery committees are super-well read. They read everything, but that doesn’t mean that their decisions are always the best. There are always politics involved, and certain members of the committee are sometimes more popular or “important” than others and their opinions hold a little more weight (just like any other committee). It isn’t a perfect system, but we usually get a really good book out of it. They just sometimes drop the ball. (Cough Charlotte’s Web Cough Cough) and I feel like they did this time. A Visit to William Blake’s Inn would have made a fine Newbery Honor, but I’m not convinced it deserved to win the whole shebang.

I give it 3 out of 5 Newbery Pies.

Jacob Have I Loved, The 1981 Newbery Winner

Hi! Welcome to Newbery Pie. Today we’ll be discussing Jacob Have I Loved, Katherine Paterson’s second Newbery winner.

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Sara’s Review: 

Jacob Have I Loved is a novel of two twins: Sara Louise, nicknamed Wheeze, born first, and Catherine, who was born not breathing. Catherine has always been sick and fragile, causing her to be worried and fussed over by her parents and grandmother. Sara Louise has never given her family cause for worry, making her feel unloved and unwanted. Catherine also has a beautiful singing voice, and charms everyone she meets. The girls live on a tiny island in Chesapeake Bay in the 1940s. Most of the men on the island are involved with the seafood trade, and the twins’ father is no exception. Everyone on the island is Methodist and is concerned with proper behavior. There are frequent references to the Ten Commandments in the book. I became confused and asked Benji why Katherine Paterson got them wrong. He told me that she got them exactly right. I, who had to prepare my children for sacraments in the Catholic Church, insisted they were wrong. It was then that we discovered that Protestants and Catholics have different versions of the Ten Commandments. I also spent a lot of time wondering, “Who the heck is Jacob?” (mentioned in the title) because Katherine Paterson doesn’t reveal the Biblical reference to twins Esau and Jacob until almost 2/3 into the book.

There are two important characters in Wheeze’s life, and the fact that Catherine takes both of them away from her cements Wheeze’s hatred for her. One is her childhood best friend, Call (short for McCall) and the other is Captain Hiram Wallace, who is just returning to the island (he left in shame after his cowardice during a thunderstorm compelled him to chop down his father’s mast). Wheeze develops a school girl crush on 70 year old Wallace. She is heartbroken when he decides on a “marriage of convenience” after he loses his house in a hurricane. Catherine invites herself along on visits that Call and Wheeze make to Captain Wallace.  After he gets married, Wheeze refuses to visit, so Catherine continues to visit without her sister. After his wife dies, Captain Wallace uses her money to send Catherine to a private boarding school to continue her music education. This angers Wheeze. The final straw comes with Call. The book takes place during WWII so Call has a stint in the Navy. After the war is over, he returns to the island and tells Wheeze and Captain Wallace that Catherine has accepted his proposal of marriage.  Eventually, Sara Louise leaves the island, is educated as a midwife and finds happiness.

I felt sorry for Wheeze during the book; I kept hoping that she could move past her jealousy and hatred, but she never could. It made me grateful for my relationship with my own sister, Amy. Although, we were not twins, we are less than 13 months apart. We were quite different growing up, and had several fights as teens. Most infamously, when I was 16, I threw a book at her and hit her in the face. It was Stephen King’s Insomnia. However, we now share a lot of similarities and we are very close. We are both school librarians, live less than a mile away from each other and blog together. She even travels with me every year from North Carolina to Parma, Michigan for Nerd Camp!

I am giving Jacob Have I Loved 4 out of 5 pies. I had to take away one because, to use a reference from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Wheeze’s crush on Captain Wallace gave me the major wiggins.

Benji’s Review: I like Katherine’s Paterson’s books a lot. I’ve only read two, but some day, when I have some free reading time, I’m going to read the rest of them. I thought this book was masterfully written. I liked the hatred theme throughout  the book. Until Wheeze let go of her hatred, she is absolutely unable to find real happiness. I didn’t like her sister any more than she did. She was kind of a brat, but at the same time, as an outside reader, I could see that by holding on to her bitterness, Wheeze was really only hurting herself.

I didn’t mind her old man crush on Captian Wallace. He was one of the few people in the town who actually paid attention to Wheeze, and teenagers have weird feelings sometimes. I guess it didn’t bother me because it bothered Wheeze. She knew it wasn’t normal, and she eventually got over it.

Cool fact: I used to live in the valley that Wheeze moves to at the end of the book.

I give the book five out of five Newbery Pies.

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