Newbery Reads - A Guest Post

My world has taken a few unexpected twists and turns this past week and I haven't time to write much.  I am so thankful for friends like Donna.  A while ago, she sent me another book reflection, so you can enjoy hearing from her this week!    If you do want to leave a comment for her, she will be checking the replies on this post.  You might also enjoy Ignorance is Not Innocence and Book Reflection- A Guest Post which both feature Donna's thoughts on contemporary young adult and juvenile literature.
From joy to joy,

Newbery Reads
 by Dr. Donna Johnson

I wouldn’t exactly call it a life goal, but I’m usually working on reading one or another of the Newbery Medal or Honor books that I’ve missed. Before I return my current stack to the library I’ll share a few comments.

When I look for a Newbery to read I usually go back a few years. Which leads to my current situation of having almost completely missed reading any of the choices since about 2008 or 2009. So I checked out Moon over Manifest  by Clare Vanderpool, the 2011 Medal winner. That was a few weeks back. To be honest it didn’t leave much of an impression on me, and I finally just gave up. From what I remember, it’s set during the Depression and is about a young girl whose father sends her off to stay with relatives for a while. I didn’t get to the end so I’m not sure what he’s actually up to in his absence. The daughter, meanwhile, is solving some sort of mystery related to her father’s childhood. What just didn’t sit well with me was that the storyline seemed early 2000s contemporary; the historical setting seemed forced and without authenticity. Let me know if it would have been worth sticking with to the end.

Moving on to Surviving the Applewhites by Stephanie S. Tolan, one of the 2003 Honor books. I chose this because it appeared on a list of books whose protaganists have emotional/behavior disorders (EBD).  Half the chapters are told from the point of view of Jake, a middle school student who has been kicked out of every school he’s ever attended. Now the only school that will give him a chance is a homeschool, one of the attendees of which is E.D., whose point of view we hear in the alternate chapters.

This book is OK, but not very plausible. For one thing, the young man with EBD is “cured” by the end of the book. Not likely. For another thing, this is one of those wacky 1960s homeschools with hippie parents. Maybe such families exist, but this is just a bit too exaggerated for me. The book is well written but not to the level of becoming a lasting classic. I probably will add it to my list of suggested possible choices for the future teachers that have to take my introduction to special education course. It could also be read to discuss what some people apparently think home schooling is all about. So have fun with this one.
As we move on back in Newberry history we come to a great title: Miracles on Maple Hill by Virginia Sorensen, the 1957 Medal winner. Now here we have a classic. Once you start reading this you are there and the people are real and miracles do take place in ordinary life. This book deals subtly with a very current issue, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), but while this theme is central and underlying, it is not onerous or oppressive. The seriousness of life is dealt with gently, with humor and with hope. We learn about nature (making maple syrup; living off the land, etc.), hard work and people that serve and sacrifice for others.  Without any of it being preachy. It’s just a good, well-written story. I’m not sure how I missed reading this book before now. I’ll always remember that when I finally did read this story set primarily in an old country farmhouse, it was on a day I was snowed in in my old country farmhouse.

Finally  my most recent Newbery read is Criss Cross by Lynne Rae Perkins, the 2006 Medal winner. I recommend this book. Of the four reviewed here, this is the most well written. It’s pretty much a can’t-put-it-down book. Which is surprising when you consider that it’s a coming of age story about a group of friends set in the 1970s* that deals with issues such as first love, self-image, uncertainty and teen/parent relationships.  It’s not exactly action packed or fast moving and is told mostly from the point of view of two of the 14-year-old middle school students.  You’ll love the chapter written in haiku, the one printed in two columns to convey an incident from two points of view simultaneously and the one written in dialogue like the script of a play. These literary devises don’t interfere with the flow though. The story moves on gently and is enhanced by the author’s drawings and the occasional photograph. What is objectionable about this story is the world view: the belief that what happens in life is a result of fate and the random criss crossing of events and lives. So while I recommend this book, I also recommend that it be discussed with young people who read it and may be susceptible to the underlying fallacious thinking.

*This book is a good companion to The Wednesday Wars and Okay for Now. While it’s set in the 1970s, it focuses solely on the lives of the characters rather than events happening in the greater culture and the world.


  1. I'm currently reading through the Newberys with my 10 year old. For the most part, the older they are the more we have enjoyed them. It is good to know that at least a few of the recent ones are worth including.

    Sigh. Why is nobody normal in modern books?

    1. For the most part, I find the same thing you do related to publication date of the Newbery books. An assignment the students in my university children's literature class do every fall is a compare/contrast of a recent Newbery with one that is 50 or more years older. They usually have an opposite opinion from yours and mine - but not always. Depends on the books they choose sometimes. (But by completing the assignment they do read one of the older books :o)
      As to normal - it is different for each person you meet. Normal for some children in our day can be very challenging to say the least. Many writers seem to be trying to identify with the struggles children face, but without providing hope.

  2. Thanks for the list. I always find some beautiful and inspiring literature!

    1. I'm glad. When I saw Nancy recently I told her about a new picture book biography I can't wait to recommend. I love having a job that requires me to read children's books.