Newbery Pie

A review site

Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH the 1972 Newbery Winner


Hi! Welcome back to Newbery Pie. This week we’ll be looking at Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert C. O’Brien.

Sara’s Review: Mrs. Frisby has a problem; her son Timothy is sick with pneumonia and unable to make the early Spring move to avoid Mr. Fitzgibbon’s plow. The solution comes from the Great Owl: go to the rats to have them move her house so that it is safe from the plow. As soon as she enters their rose bush, she discovers that they are no ordinary rats. Their leader, Nicodemus, tells Mrs. Frisby the story of their captivity at a research facility called NIMH, where they received injections that enhanced their intelligence and life span. He details their escape, temporary life at a mansion, arrival at the Fitzgibbons’ farm, and their eventual plan to survive without stealing from humans. Most shocking of all, Mrs. Frisby learns that her husband was at NIMH and that he died trying to drug Dragon, the Fitzgibbons’ cat. In order for the rats to move her house, Mrs. Frisby will also have to drug Dragon!
My favorite childhood book was Charlotte’s Web and if I had to choose my favorite as an adult, I would say The One and Only Ivan. Based on these titles, animal fantasy is obviously on my list of preferred genres. I love this book and enjoy it more every time I read it. As a mother I identify with Mrs. Frisby’s plight completely and find her brave and admirable.

Being the “old” one, I remember a 1980s animated film adaptation titled The Secret of NIMH. The screenplay writers glossed over the NIMH story and added a goofy amulet, but the characters were great, especially the shrew (renamed Auntie Shrew). My husband and I quote one of her lines all the time, [about Martin] “Cast not pearls before swine, I always say, and that includes impudent little piglets. Good day!”

I give Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH 5 pies.

Benji’s Review: I had never read this one before, and for some reason, I really struggled with it for the first few pages. It just reminded me a lot of the other talking animal books that we’ve already read on the Newbery trail, specifically Rabbit Hill. I had heard so many good things about it, so I knew that the whole book couldn’t be as dull as I was finding the beginning. It got a lot better, though, as it when on, especially once the sci-fi elements of the story got going. I specifically liked how as the rats became more human-like, they got caught up in the futility that is the pointless upgrading to nicer things without any real improvement to their quality of life. I liked the moral dilemma that they faced. They would never be really happy while they were living on stolen goods. They were going to have to go out and create resources for themselves to find any kind of satisfaction. (hmmm. I didn’t realize that this book could have a kind of conservative political message while I was reading it) Someday, I want to read the sequels to see if Mrs. Frisby’s children get mixed up with the Rats of NIMH in the future. The story seemed a bit unfinished to me once it was all over.

I give it 4 out of 5 Newbery Pies


The Summer of the Swans: The 1971 Newbery Winner

Hi! Welcome to this week’s Newbery Pie! Today, Sara and I will be discussing The Summer of the Swans, the 1971 Newbery winner.


Sara’s Review: I should have already read Summer of the Swans because it is on our Elementary Battle of the Books list, but it is one of the few selections that I didn’t read. I really enjoyed it , and it was a fast read. The author, Betsy Byars, is from my home state of North Carolina, and I share a name with one of the characters. It is even spelled the same way.

Sara is a fourteen year old living with her aunt, her older sister, Wanda, and her younger brother, Charlie, who is described in 1970s terms as “mentally handicapped” because he never speaks. Sara is his strongest defender. One time she soaks a girl in a silk dress with a hose for calling him a “retard,” and her biggest enemy is the boy she thinks stole Charlie’s watch. At the same time, she is resentful at having to be responsible all the time.

The main event of the story is the family waking up one morning to find that Charlie has disappeared. Sara, whose biggest concern up to this point is her disastrously dyed tennis shoes, is determined to find him.

Sara really isn’t a likable character in the beginning; she complains a lot and is very judgmental. I couldn’t help but compare her to Julia from Up A Hill Slowly. They both lost their mother, and are living with their aunts instead of their fathers. While Sara defends a character against bullies, Julia participates in bullying of a character. However, that character is her brother, not a classmate. How can we say that Julia would not have done the same thing as Sara under different circumstances or vice versa?

I think as we think about book characters to remember that as human beings, we do not fit into categories, and we develop and evolve over time. I know that I’m better at 37 than I was at 17 or 27. Even now, some days I know I am not my best self. And I agree with what Benji said in his Up a Hill Slowly review: who wants to read about boring one-dimensional characters anyway?

I give it four out of five Newbery Pies.

Benji’s Review:

I jokingly told Sara that I hoped that I would hate this one, so I could say, “The best part about this book was that I found a copy at the thrift store for 79 cents (true story)” in my review. Alas, I didn’t hate it at all. It would have made a great line.

I don’t know if I found Sara’s character totally unlikable. She was a pretty normal teenage girl, over-worried about looks and unimportant things like that. That’s just part of being a teenager, I think. I immediately found some redeeming qualities in her, her fierce love and devotion for her brother being the biggest. She may have been rude and obnoxious to a lot of the other characters, but as a sister, she was exactly what Charlie needed. Her temper and fiery personality made it tough for her to apologize to Joe Melby once she realized she was wrong about the watch incident, but she did, and that said a lot to me about how much she had grown up in the two days in which this book takes place.

There were a lot of amusing scenes, like when her sister’s boyfriend gets her aunt to ride on the motor scooter, and when Sara dies her shoes puce, accidentally. Those tone in those parts of the book reminded me a lot of It’s Like This Cat.

The one part of the book I really didn’t like was Sara’s relationship with her father. I’m ok with a character having a poor relationship with a parent. That’s just the way things are sometimes, but it seemed like it was just mentioned, but never really dealt with, even at the end when he calls. It felt like an unfinished part of a story in which everything else is wrapped up pretty neatly.

I also give the book 4 out of 5 Newbery Pies

Next up: Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH

Sounder: The 1970 Newbery Medal Winner


Hi! Welcome to this week’s Newbery Pie. Today, we’ll be discussing Sounder by William H. Armstrong. As usual, we’ll start things off with Sara’s review.

Sounder appears to be almost the complete opposite of our last book, The High King. It is short, barely over one hundred pages. Where The High King has a long cast list of character names to remember, the character list ofSounder is quite short, with the dog being the only named character in the story. We have a family of sharecroppers enjoying food that is an obvious luxury to them, a luxury because the food is not theirs. A police officer comes and arrests the father and their dog, Sounder, gets shot trying to chase after the vehicle who takes away his master. I do not want to give away the entire story, but I didn’t enjoy this one. I know that some people think that there is never an excuse for stealing, but I think the brutality the father receives as punishment for his crime was just too much. There is also a gruesome part about the boy putting Sounder’s severed ear under his pillow. I guess the one glimmer of hope in the story is the boy gets taken in by a teacher and taught how to read. As a teacher and a librarian, of course this saved the book for me. In terms of dogs, Sounder is about a loyal as they come. The most important thing to him is seeing his master again, and nothing, even death, interferes with that. In terms of painful Newbery books, this one was nowhere near as difficult as I, Juan de Pareja, but it wasn’t my favorite. I’m going to give it 2.5 Newbery pies. Benji didn’t tell me I could give half pies, but he didn’t tell I couldn’t. 😉

Benji’s Review

I seem to have enjoyed this one much more than Sara. It was a really dark story, but the late 19th century was a really dark time for African American sharecroppers. Despite the darkness, though,There was a LOT of hope in the book. The boy hoped that they would somehow manage to get food to eat. After his dad was arrested, the boy hoped that he would be able to come home soon. He hoped against all of his mom’s advice that Sounder wasn’t dead. He hoped that he could get his hands on a book so he could teach himself to read. He may have been really naive, but in the end, his relentless hoping does pay off, and he finds himself in a better situation. I felt like hope was a recurring theme in the book.

The book did something that I really didn’t like in Where the Red Fern Grows, but I didn’t mind it so much in Sounder because I felt like it was done for different reasons. I’m talking about the narrator giving us the name of the dog, but not naming any of the other characters. I felt like Rawls did it in Red Fern because she was trying to manipulate our emotions. As a reader, we felt closer to the two dogs than any of the human characters because we didn’t even know their names, so when the dogs are finally killed, we’re supposed to feel it more intensely. It didn’t work for me. I felt like Armstrong didn’t give us the boys name, because he was basically every black boy during that time. They were all struggling to eat, a lot of them were all missing fathers who had been abused by the system and were arrested for minor things like stealing a ham. He didn’t need a name because he could have been anyone from that community.

Now, the ending for the boy was by no means, the case for every African American living at that time. The opportunity that the boy gets at the end wasn’t available to all, and I kind of felt like Armstrong was saying, “If you just keep on hoping and keep working for it, your dreams will come true!” Which is kind of a high handed tone for a white author in the 70’s to take, but that’s really the only thing about the book I didn’t like. It was well-written and concise, and I appreciate that.

I give it four out of five Newbery Pies.

Next up: The Summer of the Swans by Betsy Byars

The High King: The 1969 Newbery Medal Winner


Welcome to this week’s Newbery Pie! We’re finishing up the 60’s this week with the High King, the 5th and last book of the Chronicles of Prydain. We’ll start with Sara’s review.

Guess what happens when you try to read the 5th book in a high fantasy series (pun intended) without reading the others, and the author does little to reintroduce characters or explain what has already happened. Confusion. Lack of focus. My mind wandering. I put the book down several times; it felt comparable to reading a foreign language where you’ve had a couple of years of study and then you try to read a novel, yet you are nowhere near ready.

First challenge: who is who? Here is a helpful wiki site I found:

It is not light reading though and I was still confused. Then I found a movie!

No, I didn’t cheat to get out of reading! I was born in 1978 and I vaguely remember the 1985 release of the Black Cauldron. I accessed it via Amazon Instant Video. The Wiki page described it as a critical and box office bomb. It also mentioned that it terribly departed from the books (it was supposed to cover the plot of the first two). However, I found it helpful in setting up who was who among the main characters (although some were left out) and detailing the basic premise of the series (oracle pig, cauldron that can call the dead back to life, love story between an enchantress and who we assume-to-be a lowly assistant pig-keeper).

Once I understood the story, I did enjoy it for the most part. It was long and tedious at times, although I loved how Taran and his crew often defeated their enemies with their brains rather than brawn. One time, they melted a frozen sheet of ice that turned into a waterfall and washed their enemies away. My favorite character was Eilonwy. She was amazing, right there fighting alongside Taran and the others. I like that she wasn’t a damsel in distress; she was a very fitting role model for girls in 1969. Movie Eilonwy is a typical Disney princess. If the movie had been really popular,  she could have been princess royalty along with Belle, Ariel, etc., but alas, it was not to be. She’ll just have to be a kickass book character instead.
I got so mad at how I thought the book was ending that I almost threw it across the room. However, to say anymore spoils not only the end of the book, but the whole series. If you want me to tell you why, DM me on Twitter at @sralph31. Alexander fixed it though so I can give The High King 3.5 pies.

Honestly, I do not see myself reading the rest of these because I already know the outcome and there are too many great new books to read.


Benji’s Review

I’ve heard it so many times this year when I tell people that Penderwicks in Spring  is my favorite for the 2016 Newbery Medal. “Yeah, it’s a good book, but does it stand alone?”  (I do think it does, for the record, and I even got one of my students to read it who hadn’t read the rest of the series. You can read her interview here if you want.) I don’t know when this whole stand alone thing became an issue, but it was definitely some time after 1969 because The High King definitely does not stand alone, and it still won the Newbery medal.

Like Sara, I was really confused in the beginning trying to figure out who everyone was and what their backstories were. Alexander definitely seems to have expected his readers to read the other four books before attempting this one. (Speaking of Alexander, he called Jenn Holm! Like on the phone. Sara directed me to this Nerdy Book Club post, and I loved it.) The Wiki page helped some, and I did start enjoying the book before too long. I do feel like the mini-giant would have been funnier if I had known more of his back story, and the partings at the end would have been more sorrowful if I had been with the characters for the other four novels.

My favorite character was Fflewddur Fflam. I loved the idea of a bard whose harp stings broke every time he stretched the truth, and instead of just learning to tell the truth, he was just repairing harp strings all the time. Storytellers, huh? A dishonest bunch of people. I made me wish I had read the other books, and known more of his tale.

In the end, I did really like the book. It was a bit long, but there’s nothing in there that didn’t really need to be. I just have a lot of reading on my plate, right now, so longer books tend to frustrate me a little. Luckily, our next book, Sounder, is less than 100 pages!

I didn’t watch the Black Cauldron movie like Sara. I tried to find in on YouTube, but you had to pay, and I can be a cheapskate sometimes.

I probably will read the rest of the series someday. I want to know more about Hen Wen and Fflam, the king who wanted to be a bard, and the tiny guy who drunk a magic potion to become a giant and got stuck in his cave. I give The High King four out of five Newbery Pies.

Next Up: Sounder by William H. Armstrong

The 1968 Newbery Medal Winner: From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler


Hi, welcome to this week’s Newbery Pie. We’ll be discussing a well-loved Newbery Winner, From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. 

We’ll start with Sara’s Review:

Reading things as an adult ruins a book sometimes. We tend to overanalyze things and want them to fit very neatly into specific boxes. Being a librarian can make these qualities even worse. Thanks to meticulous (read: nerdy) record keeping that I eventually transferred over to Goodreads, I know that I first read The Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler in 2004. I was twenty-six years old, I had one child (which is frankly baffling to even try to remember since now my third, and youngest child, will be eight in about a month) and I was in my first year as a school librarian. Twitter didn’t even exist and I had no inkling that I would eventually belong to the amazing community of educators, readers and authors from the Nerdy Book Club. I didn’t like the book and I scoffed at its beloved status in the Newbery canon. Despite the fact that it was written in 1967, I couldn’t get my head around the fact that two children could stay in the Metropolitan Museum of Art overnight.

I was more than prepared to have suspension of disbelief issues again this go round, and wasn’t looking forward to reading the book again. I even found research to make the reading a little easier. Mental floss has a neat article about the book:

Apparently, E.L. Konisburg did her research and I was wrong about the book being implausible. However, when I started reading the book, such details didn’t matter in the least because my connection with the characters was so strong. You see, I live with a Claudia. My 12, almost, 13-year old daughter, Carolyn, gets fed up with her siblings and her parents, and I’m sure she would love to run away at times. I have also taught over 1200+ 5th graders, which is more than enough to remember that I was kind of like Claudia myself once upon a time. There was a time in middle school when I wanted to go and spend my birthday money on books; my father would not drive me so I decided to walk to the store myself. I swore my sister, Amy to secrecy, and like a loyal sibling, she did not tell my parents where I had gone. I called the house and she told me not to come home! She did give in when they called the police, and my father found me sitting on a lawn chair in K-mart reading a book! Growing up, I haven’t lost all of my Claudia-like qualities. Friends may describe me as kind, but you will not be my friend/follower on social media for long before discovering that I am also very opinionated and outspoken, almost to a fault.

Also, if you like art, I highly recommend this book over I, Juan de  Pareja. Unlike the latter, I did not fall asleep reading the Mixed Up Files even once! I give it 5 Newbery pies!

Benji’s Review: I’m really glad to see that Sara had a change of heart, because Mixed up Files is a really good book. I too, first read it as an adult, but I loved it. I still remember wondering as a kid if it would be possible to stay in the mall or Wal-mart overnight if I hid in a bathroom stall. I think every kid wants to run away at some point in their life, no matter how good they have it. Even if they never attempt it, it’s there in their daydreams, and that’s why I think this book has such high appeal to kids, even today. I wouldn’t hesitate recommending it to one of my students. I’m not sure why I gave it four pies on Goodreads back when I first read it, but I didn’t notice any flaws at all this time around, and without hesitation, I give it 5 Newbery Pies.

Up a Road Slowly, the 1967 Newbery Medal Winner


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


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.


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.


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


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


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!


The Penderwicks in Spring by Jeanne Birdsall


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?


Crenshaw by Katherine Applegate


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 –


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.


Goodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead


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


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


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?


Penderwicks In Spring by Jeanne Birdsall: Sequel Problem


Gone Crazy in Alabama by Rita Williams-Garcia


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


Sunny Side Up


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

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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)




Bonus Question #2: Geisel?

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


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.


(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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