Posts tagged ‘Newbery’

Bomb: The Race to Build and Steal the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon

BombTitle: Bomb: The Race to Build and Steal the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon
Author: Steve Sheinkin
ISBN: 9781596434875
Pages: 266 pages
Publisher/Date: Flash Point, an imprint of Roaring Brook Press, c2012.
Publication Date: September 4, 2012
Awards: 2012 National Book Award Finalist for Young People’s Literature, 2013 Newbery Honor Book, Winner of the 2013 Sibert Award and the 2013 YALSA Excellence in Nonfiction Award, Cybils Top Five Nonfiction Finalist,

This is a big story. It’s the story of the creation — and theft — of the deadliest weapon ever invented. The scenes speed around the world, from secret labs to commando raids to street-corner spy meetings. But like most big stories, this one starts small [...] sixteen years before FBI agents cornered Harry Gold in Philadelphia. (7)

Not only is this a big story, but it’s also a complex and sometimes convoluted story, filled with spies and sabotage, intrigue and ingenuity, science and suspense. In 1938, German physicist Otto Hahn was the first to split the atom, an accomplishment that scientists around the world thought was impossible. Less than one year later, President Roosevelt was appraised by none other than Albert Einstein of the possibility of this discovery being used to build a super-sized bomb, and Roosevelt demanded action. Thus began the race for physical, monetary, and intellectual resources to discover the key and build a bomb before any of their enemies. In the shadow of World War II and into the Cold War, scientists worked tirelessly. Robert Oppenheimer’s team in California was the first to crack the code, but the group was plagued with security uncertainties and the government, military, and scientists involved questioned who they could really trust with this deadly and destructive data.

This book has received many accolades, from being a 2012 National Book Award Finalist for Young People’s Literature and 2013 Newbery Honor Book to winning the 2013 Sibert Award and the 2013 YALSA Excellence in Nonfiction Award. One thing that would have helped this award-winning book immensely is a timeline. As readers bounce from scientists to spies and back again across multiple continents and countries, it was almost information overload. It was difficult to differentiate everyone in the beginning, especially when the forward starts in one year and then you zip backwards in time almost a decade and another part where two people on a sabotage team both had the same first name. But for science enthusiasts and detailed orientated people, this will intrigue and enthrall them to have all the pieces of the puzzle together in one concise book. Sheinkin goes beyond the creation of Fat Man and Little Boy and their deployment on Japan, allowing readers a glimpse into the beginnings of the Cold War.

One scene mentioned in the book that particularly struck me was learning how far America went to determine who was spying on us:

While in the United States, Soviet spies had to use an American telegraph company to send information quickly to Moscow. The KGB probably knew that the telegraph company was making copies of every telegram and handing them over to the U.S. Army. This didn’t particularly worry the Soviets–the messages were always written in an extremely complex code.
In 1949, after years of failure, American code breakers cracked the code. Intelligence began decoding all the messages sent to the Soviet Union during the war. That’s when they came across a shocking note sent from New York City to KGB headquarters in 1944. [...]
The 1944 telegram summarized a top-secret scientific paper. The paper had been written by one of the British scientists working with Oppenheimer. A few phone calls later, Lamphere [a FBI counterintelligence agent] had the name of the paper’s author: Klaus Fuchs. (221)

Proving how complex the situation was, the German-born physicist named Klaus Fuchs was working with British scientists in England when his assistance was requested in America, prompting him to spy for the Russian Communist Party. When he is arrested and finally being tried in 1950, his lawyer emphasizes the fact that at the time he was passing secrets to the Soviet Union during World War II, the country and Britain were allies. This made the difference between a maximum 14 years in prison for passing secrets to allies and the death penalty if the two countries had been enemies at the time the crime was committed. Fuchs got out early for good behavior, later moving back to East Germany.

Especially interesting is a peak, however brief, into the political rational of Japan not surrendering after the first bomb was dropped. I would have liked to have read more about the bombs’ effects on the country, but sticking to the facts and not trying to sensationalize the country or its population I feel made a greater impact. The simple statement “Fat Man exploded over the city of Nagasaki with the force of 22,000 tons of TNT. At least 40,000 people were instantly killed, and tens of thousands more fatally wounded or poisoned with radiation.” leaves a power impression. I hope readers considered these stark statistics and allowed them the full attention they deserved. This is not a fast read, but you’ll feel immeasurably rewarded once you get through this dense text that presents the making of the bomb and it’s after effects from all sides.

This post is in honor of Nonfiction Mondays. For the entire round-up of all the bloggers who participated, check out Sue Heavenrich over at Sally’s Bookshelf.

This book in particular was read as I participate in YALSA’s 2013 Hub Reading Challenge which challenges readers to finish 25 books by June 22nd from a list of 83 titles that were recognized and published over the last year.

Dead End in Norvelt

Title: Dead End in Norvelt
Author: Jack Gantos
ISBN: 9780374379933
Pages: 341 pages
Publisher/Date: Farrar Straus Giroux, c2011.

BLAM! The rifle fired off and violently kicked out of my grip. It flipped into the air before clattering down across the picnic table and sliding onto the ground. “Oh sweet cheeze-us!” I wailed, and dropped butt-first onto the table. “Ohhh! Cheeze-us-crust!” I didn’t know the rifle was loaded. I hadn’t put a shell in the chamber. My ears were ringing like air raid warnings. I tried to stand but was too dizzy and flopped over. “This is bad. This is bad,” I whispered over and over as I desperately gripped the tabletop.
“Jaaaack!” I heard my mother shriek and then the screen door slammed behind her.
“If I’m not already dead I soon will be,” I said to myself. (10-11)

After playing with his father’s war souvenirs when he wasn’t supposed to and mowing down his mother’s corn when his dad told him to, Jack gets grounded for the rest of the summer. Stuck in his house, the only time he’s allowed out is to either dig the bomb shelter his dad is intent on making, or help the neighbor Miss Volker. Helping Miss Volker doesn’t involve the usual things like painting the house or raking leaves. Instead, Jack drives the elderly medical examiner around and types the obituaries as she dictates them to him. The job is much easier than digging in the heat a hole the size of a swimming pool. But when the elderly residents start dying out one after another, suspicion is cast on Miss Volker. Is Jack unwittingly helping a murderer?

This book has garnered a lot of love over the past year, winning the Newbery Award and the Scott O’Dell Award for historical fiction. Now I’m not saying that it’s a bad book by any means, but I’m not sure I can whole heartedly agree with the committee’s decision like I did with When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead. I had a hard time getting engaged and engrossed by it, and I think I’m going to have a hard time convincing kids to read it. The biggest draw is I think the growing number of dead bodies, but although there are some suspicions, it’s not brought up until almost the end of the story, and even then quite suddenly. There is little suspense, if any, and the resolution of this mystery is accomplished quite suddenly, with not even a glimpse into the police work involved in “solving” the “crime” and no real rationale behind it. I found the obituaries that Miss Volker writes somewhat humorous, but I’m not sure how much humor tweens would get out of them.

The best way I can describe this book is odd. Jack does all sorts of “odd” things during his two month sentence, from driving a car and examining dead bodies (his sort-of friend’s dad owns the funeral home) to buying rat poison and digging a bomb shelter. His dad is odd, insisting that Jack mow down his mother’s corn to make room for a runway for an old airplane that Jack’s dad bought at a surplus auction. The chief of police chases people in a tricycle, a Hell’s Angel drops dead from dancing, and the old houses are being bought up and transported to another town. Even the cover of the book is “odd”, with Jack’s missing head behind the sign giving no inclination of the deaths in the book. The whole town is odd, but not in the Gilmore Girls series kind of kooky, just a collection of oddities.

The other thing I would have liked to have seen is an author’s note in the back separating fact from fiction. Obviously it’s semi-autobiographical since the main character shares a name with the author and grows up in a town where the author grew up. An accounting of what is fact and what is fiction would have been much appreciated and could have allowed for a strong connection for readers.

I’m sorry to say that this one fell flat for me.

Breaking Stalin’s Nose

cover imageTitle: Breaking Stalin’s Nose
Author/Illustrator: Eugene Yelchin
ISBN: 9780805092165
Pages: 154 pages
Publisher/Date: Henry Holt and Company, c2011.
Awards: Newbery Honor, 2012

“Why does Vovka call you Amerikanets?”
I shouldn’t tell him. “My mom was American. Don’t tell anyone.”
He squints at me. “And she was arrested and shot?”
“What do you mean? Of course not. She came from America to help us build Communism.”
He nods. “They think all foreigners are spies.”
“She wasn’t a spy! She was a real Communist.”
“My mom and dad are real Communists, too,” Four-Eyes says. “They are in Lubyanka prison now–enemies of the people.” [...]
“My aunt took me there last week,” says Four-Eyes. We stood in line for two days, but when we got to the door, they wouldn’t let us see them. No visitation rights, they said. My aunt tells me they always say this when the prisoners have been shot already, but I know she’s lying. They’re alive and I’m going to see them.” (63-64)

Sasha Zaichik has dreamed about becoming a Soviet Young Pioneer for as long as he can remember. His father works for the secret police force, unmasking enemies of Stalin’s Communist regime, and is scheduled to attend the ceremony taking place tomorrow as a guest of honor. In the middle of the night, Sasha’s father is taken by the same police force and Sasha is forced out of his home by opportunistic neighbors. He hopes that this is all a big misunderstanding and that his father will be waiting for him at school. With enemies at every turn, both imagined and real, Sasha must be careful that no one finds out about the “mistake” that has occurred. But compounding events and accusations during the school day lead Sasha to see the world in a whole new light. What if it wasn’t a mistake that his father was taken?

Velchin writes in a succinct and appropriate manner, placing events strictly from the viewpoint of Sasha. Sasha, for all the information he thinks he knows, is naive about what the government is doing and how people feel about it. Readers see this in his letter that he writes to Stalin in the opening pages, filling it with the propaganda that he’s been fed his whole life. Part of that is due to his father shielding him from his environment. We never really find out what happened to his mother, or what role anyone had in her death, which Sasha can’t even confirm for us since he never saw a body or funeral.

Readers witness the fear and greed that arise from the Communist life style through Sasha’s eyes, even though Sasha himself doesn’t recognize it. He mentions how his room that he shares with his father is bigger then the one the family of six down the hall have, and is “embarrassed that we live in luxury”. (14) His father gave that same family their ring on the large iron stove that the twelve families share when they added a stove to their room. But Sasha tells readers that “My dad and I oppose personal property on principle. Personal property will disappear when Communism comes.” (32) American readers will be exposed to a lifestyle and government system that they have no knowledge or experience with, and witness the horror.

Stalin’s rule reminds me of Hitler, the way innocent people who believed in something different were secretly whisked away. In an author’s note, Velchin talks about his own experience with the secret police and provides important background information. During Stalin’s 30 years in power, over twenty million people were executed, imprisoned, or exiled. To put it in perspective, that’s more than the commonly accepted number of people who perished in the Holocaust. I personally think it might be the residual bad feelings regarding the Cold War and the USSR/Rusia that might be preventing students from getting information about these events. There is so little literature about Communism available for students that this book is a necessary addition just for the subject matter alone. The fact that it won a Newbery Honor only stresses the book’s importance.

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate

Title: The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate
Author: Jacqueline Kelly
Narrator: Natalie Ross
ISBN: 9781441802422
Discs/CDs: 8 CDs, 9 hours and 6 minutes
Pages: 349 pages
Publisher/Date: Brillance Audio, Henry Holt and Co., 2009.

Being the only girl in the family, falling smack in the middle of six older and younger brothers, Calpurnia Virginia Tate is her mother’s only hope of raising a proper girl. Callie however despises knitting and darning and all those other homely crafts, and would much rather spend time recording her observations of the world around her in her notebook. This pursuit for knowledge leads her to finally approach her reclusive grandfather, who is an amateur scientist trying to make his own mark on society. Forging a friendship that no one ever expected to succeed, Callie and her grandfather work tirelessly in the fields and surrounding forest, hoping to stumble upon a discovery of scientific significance. Will Callie’s mother’s plans for her derail their investigations, or will her big plans for the new century come to fruition?

Personally I really enjoyed this book, although there were some parts that I liked more than others. Callie is a very precocious twelve-year-old, wise beyond her years. She does appear slightly over-emotional towards the end, which I think is out of character for someone with so much intuition about the scientific and societal world around her. While she was very well-developed, her brothers weren’t delineated very well, as the only one who I was ever able to keep straight was Henry, the oldest and the one Callie got along with the best.

Another quibble is the language, but I guess it’s really not that huge of a quibble to begin with. Kelly’s word choices and Ross’s prim and proper narration makes Callie sound older than eleven/twelve (she has a birthday within the book). It was a refreshing change of pace, considering how many books are trying to capture the tone and speech patterns of today’s teens. I do wonder how accurate the portrayal was and how modern-day readers would react to someone who responds to their parents with “Yes, Ma’am” and “No sir” and considers “darn” a swear word. If the shoe was on the other foot, I have to wonder how Callie would react to today’s teens.

Otherwise, it’s a fascinating and unobtrusive way to teach and study Darwin, and it most certainly puts it in cultural context. Callie is not allowed to check out Darwin’s book from the library without a note from her mother, and has never seen a microscope. The one and only telephone is installed in the town, for which they hire *gasp* a woman to serve as the operator. Calpurnia and her family see their very first automobile at the fair, and Coca-Cola has just come on the market for a nickel. The details put things in perspective of how new this concept of Darwin’s theory was when it was first published.

Overall verdict is a detailed account of life at the turn of the century, which I think is why it received the Newbery Honor. While it might be a difficult sell for adventurous boys, I think one reviewer was correct in saying that it would appeal to girls who enjoyed the Little House on the Praire series. The cover might just draw others in who enjoy tomboy stories and are looking for a younger version of Jo from Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women.

Turtle in Paradise

Title: Turtle in Paradise
Author: Jennifer L. Holm
ISBN: 9780375836886
Pages: 191 pages
Publisher/Date: Random House, c2010.

Mama says she’s lucky to have a job with Mrs. Budnick considering how tough times are. I don’t know how lucky I am, though. Mrs. Budnick shook her head when Mama brought our things over to her house.
“You didn’t say anything about a child. Children are noisy. I can’t abide noise,” Mrs. Budnick said, tapping her foot. [...]
So now I’m on my way to Key West to live with Mama’s sister, Minerva, who I’ve never met. [...]
Mama thinks me going to Key West is a swell idea.
“You’ll love it, baby,” Mama told me. Mama’s good at looking at the sunny side of life. Her favorite song is “Life Is Just a Bowl of Cherries.”
I blame Hollywood. Mama’s watched so many pictures that she velieves in happy endings. She’s been waiting her whole life to find someone who’ll sweep her off her feet and take care of her.
Me? I think life’s more like that cartoon by Mr. Disney–The Three Little Pigs. Some big bad wolf’s always trying to blow down your house.(9-10)

Eleven-year-old Turtle is sent to live with her aunt in Key West Florida while her mother works as a housekeeper for a woman who doesn’t like kids. Turtle really doesn’t know her aunt or her cousins very well, and at first has a really hard time getting used to this new life where no one wears shoes and everyone is called weird names. Finally beginning to make friends, rumors of treasure will unite Turtle with her cousins’ Diaper Gang, but what they find might prove there’s more then treasure in Key West as Turtle discovers a family history she never knew.

First, I need to get something off my chest — Who in their right mind would name their kid Turtle?! It sounds like a celebrity name, like Apple, or a bad nickname. Granted, there are plenty of unusual nicknames in this book, but Turtle as a legal name?! GAHH!

Okay, now that that is out of the way, I liked the book. It moves slowly in the beginning (like a turtle?) but then it really picks up the pace, and towards the end there are curve balls that just come one after another and kind of steam roll the reader. I actually like the curve ball ending because I really didn’t see one of them coming (I’ll let you guess which one). I liked how realistic the boys reactions are to letting a girl in the group, and you can tell the kids are just trying to stay entertained with their antics around the island. It has some exciting action, such as when the boys convince the town there’s a ghost or when the hurricane hits, but a lot of it isn’t observed by Turtle, so readers don’t witness it first hand. There’s quite a bit of humor as well, although some of it might go over some kids heads. I liked how readers get little bits of history and culture through the eyes of newcomer Turtle, such as hunting for sponges and eating turtle.

Overall a really nice read, although I hate to generalize but this Newbery Honor book might be better suited for girls just a bit more than boys due to the main character being a girl and the slow start. Stick with it though, because the humor and action will capture readers.

Where the Mountain Meets the Moon

Title: Where the Mountain Meets the Moon
Author: Grace Lin
Narrator: Janet Song
ISBN: 9780307746047
Pages: 278 pages
CDs/Discs: 4 CDs, 4 hours, 57 minutes
Publisher/Date: Random House, Inc., Listening Library, c2010.

Living with her mother and father in a small and sparse mountain village, young Minli toils with them over the land to yield the bare minimum of food. Minli enjoys listening to her father’s stories of dragons and the Old Man on the Moon, but she can’t block out her mother’s discontented sighs for greater wealth. Taking it upon herself to improve her family’s fortune, Minli sneaks away from her home in search of the Old Man on the Moon. Her journey is anything but easy, as she encounters magic around every turn that test her strength and resilience.

I was pleasantly surprised by the narration. Janet Song does not distinguish the character voices so they are instantly recognizable. Instead, her soothing tone makes you feel like you’re being read a bed time story or sitting around a camp fire with your family. It’s an intimate experience where you can envision she’s talking right to you, and I thought she was a perfect choice for this story that’s essentially a string of inter-connected shorter stories. This book is perfect for bed time reading as the sections are quite short and snippets can be read as desired or as time dictates.


While I absolutely loved the audiobook, readers of the physical book get an extra treat with author Grace Lin’s beautiful illustrations. The jacket art is just a preview of her skills, as each chapter is preceded by a line drawing of an object or event portrayed in the story. Interspersed amongst the chapters are full color illustrations that portray in vivid detail the scenes described. You can apparently buy prints of these illustrations from the author through etsy, like this one, which is one of my favorite: http://www.etsy.com/listing/60892565/the-dragon-gate-print

Grace Lin weaves these stories together effortlessly, as one segues into another and they all come together at the end. The alternating points of view give listeners and readers a glimpse into not only Minli’s perspective, but also takes turns showing us the thoughts and feelings of Minli’s parents and other characters, including a dragon. This gives readers a connection to all the stories. A wonderful, understated gem of book that sparkles from the inside, it has a satisfying happy ending that is a result of unexpected actions.

I hope someone used this Newbery Honor Book for their Summer Reading program of One World Many Stories, because this would have coincided well with that theme.

One Crazy Summer

Title: One Crazy Summer
Author: Rita Williams-Garcia
ISBN: 97800607960885
Pages: 218 pages
Publisher/Date: Amistad, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, c2010.

“We were a block away from the green stucco house, chatting and laughing. Then we stopped walking. All three of us. There were three police cars parked outside of Cecile’s house. One in the driveway and two along the curb. Policemen lined the walk. Lights flashed on top of their cars onto the streets. Red, white, and blue lights everywhere. We inched up, the happiness knocked out of us.
Cecile and two Black Panthers. Hands behind their backs. Handcuffed. Being led out of the house and down the walkway. I could hardly breathe. (167)

Eleven-year-old Delphine and her two younger sisters are being placed on a plane for the first time. Leaving behind their father and maternal grandmother in Brooklyn, they’re forced to spend several weeks of their summer in Oakland, California with Cecile, the mother who abandoned them seven years ago. Cecile is about as happy as her children with the arranged visit. Their mother sends the sisters to a summer camp sponsored by the Black Panthers, where they receive a whole new education about black history and pride. When Cecile is arrested for her involvement with the group, will Delphine, Vonetta and Fern continue to fend for themselves? Or will they finally learn the benefits of having their mother in their life again?

I know some colleagues who have remarked that the experiences the girls go through and especially Delphine’s reactions to the situations seem too advanced for her tender eleven years old. But others have argued that her circumstances have forced her to grow up early, and it’s nice to see a child of questionable upbringing rise to the challenge and take responsibility for not only herself but her younger siblings. It’s overcoming adversity at it’s best. Regardless of how you feel about her circumstances and reactions, it’s impressive how Delphine is able to observe and process her surroundings. Even her uninterested mother comments at the end of the book that Delphine should “Be eleven while you can.” (210)

I have a coworker using this book for her next mother/daughter book group, which I think is a really good choice because of the mature themes of the Civil Rights Movement. Delphine asks some powerful questions regarding the events of that time. There is the story of Bobby Hutton, who was shot multiple times by police two days after Martin Luther King Jr. was killed. The Black Panthers are planning a rally in order to honor Bobby Hutton and urge the renaming of a park in his honor. Delphine observes

“Wouldn’t Little Bobby rather be alive than be remembered? Wouldn’t he rather be sitting out in the park than have the park named after him? I wanted to watch the news. Not be in it. The more I thought about it, the more I had my answer.” (133)

The settings and environment are brought to life by Rita Williams-Garcia’s vivid descriptions. When the girls leave for California, Delphine counts how many black people are in the airport, and informs readers that her grandmother expects the oldest black woman boarding the plane to look out for her grandchildren. Also, Delphine relates her awareness of racism and the novelty of her race to some people when she talks about strangers trying to take pictures of her and her sisters. While on the plane she recognizes that they are serving as representatives for the entire race in a way that white people don’t have to worry about.

While it’s a thought-provoking book, I didn’t fall in love with it the way everyone else seems to be embracing it. In one year, this book has won four, yes FOUR, awards.

  • 2011 Coretta Scott King Award Winner
  • 2011 Newbery Honor Book
  • 2011 Scott O’Dell Prize for Historical Fiction
  • 2010 National Book Award Finalist

You’ll see in the picture that there’s barely enough room on the cover for all the awards stickers that it’s received. I just think that adults might get more out of it than the audience it’s geared for, with the focus being on such an abstract political movement. There are other books with the identity “what’s-in-a-name” focus that I think might ring truer for the younger set. And while there are a very small number of books that deal with the Black Panthers for this age group, I hope that’s not influencing people’s opinions of the book.

The Mostly True Adventures of Homer P. Figg

Title: The Mostly True Adventures of Homer P. Figg
Author: Rodman Philbrick
Narrator: William Dufris
ISBN: 9780739372326
Pages: 224 pages
Discs: 4 CDs, 5 hours 1 minute
Publisher/Date: The Blue Sky Press, c2009.

My name is Homer P. Figg, and these are my true adventures. I mean to write them down, every one, including all the heroes and cowards, and the saints and the scalawags, and them stained with the blood of innocents, and them touched by glory, and them that was lifted into Heaven, and them that went to the Other Place.
I say my “true” adventures because I told a fib to a writer once, who went and put it in the newspaper about me and my big brother, Harold, winning the battle at Gettysburg, and how we shot each other dead but lived to tell the tale. That’s partly true, about winning the battle, but most ways it’s a lie.
Telling the truth don’t come easy to me, but I will try, even if old Truth ain’t nearly as useful as a fib sometimes. (7)

Orphaned Homer P. Figg is cared for by his seventeen-year-old brother Harold and his mean and nasty Uncle Squinton, who Homer thinks of like he would “think of a rabid skunk, or scabs on my backside, or a bad toothache.” (8) In fact, Harold makes Squint so mad, Squint lies about his age and forces him to enlist in the Union Army to fight the Civil War. Homer heads off to find his brother, certain that Harold is going to get killed in battle. Along the way, he meets a Quaker abolitionist who’s part of the Underground Railroad, joins a suspicious medicine show, and participates in one of the largest battles of the Civil War.

First, I need to continue to rave about the narration, which is done by William Dufris. It’s EXCELLENT! Dufris is truly the epitome of narration at it’s best. The sheer range of his different voices for each and ever character is highly impressive. From the childish frustrated squeak of Homer’s “I want to go with Harold!” to the booming, almost god-like voice of Quaker abolitionist Mr. Brewster, from the sniveling, non-to-bright Mr. Willow to the commanding con man Professor Fleabottom, he nails them all.

And what a wonderful cast of characters this book contains. Rodman Philbrick details Homer’s journey in an authentic voice, with rambling interludes of past adventures accompanying the embelishments of present events. Although I’m not entirely sold on the cover drawing done by David Shannon, the Newbery Honor Book sticker on it is well deserved in my opinion. The innocence, brotherly concern, and exagerrated bravado that Homer shows seems well balanced. Homer’s brother Harold is a conflicted character, saddled with the responsibility of taking care of Homer at an early age, a responsibility that he’s never desired. Even the secondary characters have their own back stories and seem well developed.

When You Reach Me

Title: When You Reach Me
Author: Rebecca Stead
ISBN: 9780385906647
Pages: 199 Pages
Publisher/Date: Wendy Lamb Books, c2009.

I have no idea what you expect from me.
If you just wanted to know what happened that day this past winter, it would be easy. Not fun, but easy. But that’s not what your note says. It says to write down the story of what happened and everything that led up to it. And, as Mom likes to say, that’s a whole different bucket of poop. Except she doesn’t use the word “poop”.
Because even if you were still here, even if I did decide to write the letter, I wouldn’t know where to start. The day the laughing man showed up on our corner? The day Mom and Louisa met in the lobby? The day I found your first note?
There is no answer. But if someone sat on my legs and forced me to name the day the whole true story began, I’d say it was the day Sal got punched. (20)

Twelve year old Miranda knows something strange is going on. Her classmate/friend Sal who lives in her apartment complex, is avoiding her. She’s helping her mother practice to go on the television game show The $20,000 Pyramid. A man had mysteriously appeared outside her apartment complex, mumbling about bookbags and pocketshoes. And her apartment key has gone missing, but at first glance nothing has been stolen from the apartment. But as she tries to make some new friends, Miranda realizes that all these events might be interconnected with her love of the book A Wrinkle in Time.

I really liked this book. It’s no wonder in my mind that it won the Newbery Award for 2010. I’ve been meaning to read this book since it was published, because it’s been talked about so much, but the hype is warranted in this case. Part mystery, part fantasy, part historical fiction (set in 1979), the story doesn’t really fit neatly into any of those genres, with illusions to time travel and questions that arise from that concept. The appeal is the tween relationships, which are masterfully crafted with girls and guys trying to navigate the new rules of friendships now that they’re in sixth grade. There are the beginnings of two sweet little romances. It’s a gentle story, and while some kids might be thrown by the mind-bending aspect of time travel, it’s astonishing how well the book reads and how well the ending wraps up all the loose ends. Highly recommended.

The Higher Power of Lucky

Higher Power of LuckyTitle: The Higher Power of Lucky
Author: Susan Patron
ISBN: 9781416901945
Pages: 134 pages
Publisher/Date: Atheneum Books for Young Readers, c2006.

“Out of the millions of people in America who might become Lucky’s mother if Brigitte went home to France, Lucky wondered about some way to trap and catch the exact right one. She was pretty sure she’d be able to, if only she had a Higher Power.
But when she envisioned her perfect mother, she kept thinking of traits and habits like Brigitte’s. That always made her think somehow not of the perfect mother but of the perfect child, which in most ways Lucky already was, but not in every way. Brigitte did not fully realize the ways Lucky was almost perfect, but she did notice thoroughly the ways Lucky was not.” (13)

By listening in on the discussions of the various annonymous groups that meet locally, 10 year old Lucky Trimble learns that she needs a Higher Power to get control of her life. Two years ago, her life went spinning out of control when her mother died after being struck by lightning. Her father’s ex-wife, Brigitte, comes from France to care for Lucky. But Lucky keeps expecting that anyday, Brigitte will want to return to the France she loves and misses. Lucky devises a plan to runaway from home and make Brigitte miss her so much that she won’t want to leave. Plans change though, when a windstorm whips up that sends the entire town (population 43) in a frenzy.

The Higher Power of Lucky by Susan Patron won the Newbery Award in 2007, which some people/librarians found controversial due to the inclusion of the word “scrotum” on the very first page. I can definitely understand the trepidation people would have in recommending it to young children, especially if the parents are caught unaware of that occurrance and forced to explain something they’re unprepared to explain. The story itself is sweat in it’s simplicity as Lucky struggles to understand the situation she’s placed in. While I’m unfamiliar with the standards of the Newbery committee, this story doesn’t seem as memorable to me as previous winners I’ve read, and I wish Rules (which received an Honor that year) would have won.

As I continue to read throughout this year, it’s interesting to see unintentional connections through my reading choices. Ironically enough, Lucky carries a survival backpack, much in the same way Cassandra does in The Name of This Book is Secret. They both also lost a parent, which contributes to the need they feel to carry their survival backpacks.

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