Posts tagged ‘Newbery’

The Book of Boy

34807877Title: The Book of Boy
Author: Catherine Gilbert Murdock
Illustrator: Ian Schoenherr
ISBN: 9780062686206
Pages: 278 pages
Publisher/Date: Greenwillow Books, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, c2018.
Awards: Newbery Honor (2019)

“And now you go on pilgrimage.” I should say something, I felt.
“Ah. Yes. I am on a quest, Boy. A quest for seven objects. Seven relics as precious as anything on this earth. Seven relics that will save me.” He held the book so I could see a page of writing. “Rib tooth thumb shin,” he recited. “Dust skull tomb.”
“Rib tooth thumb shin dust skull home,” I whispered to myself. How grand these words sounded. Like a prayer. […]
“Guard that pack, Boy. Guard it as you would your life. For within that pack rests one of Saint Peter’s ribs.” (23-24)

A hunchbacked orphan called simply Boy is sold into the service of Secundus, a traveler in the guise of a pilgrim. However, Boy and Secundus both learn that each of them are hiding secrets from the other. Secundus is on a quest for seven relics of St. Peter that will save him, but from what the Boy doesn’t realize until it’s too late to turn back home. Boy has a way with animals that even he doesn’t fully understand, but it will come to light that they may be on opposite sides of a divide that has existed for centuries. When Seundus’ actions lead to questionable decision making involving thievery, bribes, and a cursed key, Boy must decide how far he is willing to go to have his own prayers answered.

For families who are looking for overtly Christian themed stories in the vein of Chronicles of Narnia, this one would be an excellent choice. This book reminded me of The Seven Tales of Trinket, from it’s medieval setting and long journey to the seven items that drive the momentum of the story. The reveal of the secrets carried by both Boy and Secundus are unexpected and dramatic, with small foreshadowing hints peppered throughout the story remaining unnoticeable until they coalesce into a way brings new meaning to the journey and the relationship between the two. The inclusion of a hunchback character, which is rarely seen in children’s literature, is inspired, allowing superstitions to be brought into the novel and show Boy’s insecurities both literally and figuratively change as he gains confidence, worldliness, and understanding. While a line in the story “if you slump like a monster, then so you’ll be treated” could be misconstrued and taken literally, it should be seen as encouragement to wear a mantle of confidence because people treat you as you appear.

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Hello, Universe

Hello Universe.jpgTitle: Hello, Universe
Author: Erin Entrada Kelly
ISBN: 9780062414151
Pages: 313 pages
Publisher/Date: Greenwillow Books, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, c2017.
Awards: Newbery Medal (2018)

“What’s going on?” Valencia asked, puzzled. […]
Kaori moved quickly to stand next to her sister, then clamped a hand over her mouth. “We can’t tell you.”
“Why not?”
“Just because.”
“That’s not an answer,” said Valencia. “Obviously it has something to do with me, so I deserve to know.” She shifted her eyes to Gen. “So what is it?”
“We can’t tell you because it would interrupt fate,” Kaori said. She still had her hand over Gen’s mouth. […]
“It will all make sense once we find Virgil.” (270-271)

Four kids. One is a partially deaf girl with a love of science and a healthy skepticism of the world. One is a Japanese-American psychic who sees fate at work and doesn’t believe in coincidences, revealing the “truth” with her somewhat helpful younger sister. One is an overlooked Filipino boy, nicknamed Turtle by his family, who hasn’t come out of his shell and is overshadowed by his two older, athletic twin brothers. And one is a bully, who learns hypocrisy and mockery from his father and uses it as self-preservation. Together, along with a snake, a dog, and a guinea pig, their paths will cross in the woods, affecting and impacting their lives in ways they never expected.

This book has overtones of the Mr. Terupt series but also the Egypt Game. We witness quiet character growth from both Virgil (the quiet boy) and Valencia (the scientist). I think Chet (the bully) learns a lesson, and I think Kaori (the psychic) is satisfied to have been proven right (probably not for the first or last time). I enjoyed the addition of Kaori’s sister, Gen, as the tag-along younger sibling who is only going to follow directions so long as she is included in the unfolding events, but will quite likely rat you out to the adults the moment she feels slighted. Told from the four main perspectives, each character is sympathetically portrayed.  While readers might have a favorite character and might be against others, all their actions are understandable in a certain light.

The diversity of characters plays a role in the plot, but it is not their defining feature. I’ve been especially surprised at the number of portrayals of deaf characters in main stream media recently. This book, television commercials, movies like The Shape of WaterA Quiet Place, and Wonderstruck (also a book), and El Deafo. The acknowledgements at the end recognizes four contributors involved in the Deaf community who provided insight into her writing and it’s great to see that level of detail and effort towards authenticity. An extended telling of the “Timmy fell in the well” tag line, it’s not as memorable as other Newbery winners, but contains some discussion starters about friendship, differences, and bullying.

Piecing Me Together

Piecing Me Together.jpgTitle: Piecing Me Together
Author: Renee Watson
ISBN: 9781681191058
Pages: 264 pages
Publisher/Date: Bloomsbury Children’s Books, c2017.
Awards: Newbery Honor Award (2018), Coretta Scott King Author Award Winner (2018)

The front of the folder shows a group of black women–adults and teens–smiling and embracing one another. Woman to Woman: A Mentorship Program for African American Girls. Mrs. Parker is smiling like what she’s about to tell me is that she found the cure for cancer. But really, what she has to tell me sounds more like a honking horn that’s stuck, a favorite glass shattering into countless pieces on the floor. […]
“Why was I chosen for this?”
Mrs. Parker clears her throat. “Well, uh, selection was based on, uh, gender, grade, and, well, several other things.”
“Like?”
“Well, uh, several things. Teacher nominations . . . uh, need.”
“Mrs. Parker, I don’t need a mentor,” I tell her.
“Every young person could use a caring adult in her life.”
“I have a mother.” And my uncle, and my dad. “You think I don’t have anyone who cares about me?”
“No, no. That’s not what I said.” Mrs. Parker clears her throat. (17-18)

Junior Jade has a scholarship to attend St. Francis, a mostly white, expensive private school on the other side of Portland from where she lives with her mother and uncle. When she is called down to the counselor’s office, she thinks it’s about the study abroad to trip to Spain, a trip she’s anticipated for the last two years, learning Spanish and making money for by tutoring her classmates. Instead, Jade learns she’s been nominated for Woman to Woman, a mentor program that pairs her with Maxine, a graduate of her high school. Maxine however, doesn’t seem to be the best person to mentor, showing up late to or completely forgetting about plans and being more concerned about her ex-boyfriend then Jade. Jade doesn’t want to forgo the “opportunity” to get a full-ride scholarship if she completes the program, but the things they do make her feel more out of place then ever. She’s tired of being someone who needs help, and wants to get out of town and out of her circumstances; the trick is finding someone who can listen and help in the way she needs.

I finished Piecing Me Together by Renee Watson and it’s given me some things to consider as a mentor and a librarian. There’s a lot of excellent passages that I could quote from that provide insight and an evaluation of who we feel is “in need” and what we feel they need. After much self-doubt, Jade finally gets the courage to voice her concerns about the program to her mentor Maxine. Jade tells Maxine that just because her parents aren’t around doesn’t mean she needs a mentor. (In actuality, her mother just works an nontraditional schedule and is highly involved in Jade’s life and is not like other non-existent mother characters that are cliche characters in other books.) Just because she has the opportunity to go other places doesn’t mean she wants to see what she can’t afford. Just because she lives in a “wrong side of the tracks” neighborhood doesn’t mean there aren’t still things to see and people who can help from within. Why is Jade “only seen as someone who needs and not someone who can give?” (direct quote from page 199) While it was a little preachy in places, I would recommend it for anyone who finds themselves with who we typically consider “underprivileged youth.” Sometimes even mentors need a reminder that the people they mentor are capable of contributing in their own way, and don’t need to be rescued by someone.

The material is also very relevant in relation to the Black Lives Matter conversation. Although that phrase never makes an appearance in the narrative. About two-thirds of the way in, an incident makes the news regarding a fifteen-year-old black female named Natasha Ramsey receiving a broken jaw and fractured ribs as a result of police breaking up a house party due to a noise complaint. Jade’s uncle E.J. (who is only a few years older then Jade) responds with scorn at Jade’s suggestion that they say a prayer.

“And what is prayer going to do?” E.J. asks. “Prayer ain’t nothing but the poor man’s drug.”
“What?”
“Poor people are the ones who pray. People who don’t have what they need, who can’t pay their rent, who can’t buy healthy food, who can’t save any of their paycheck because every dollar is already accounted for. Those are the people who pray. They pray for miracles, they pray for signs, they pray for good health. Rich people don’t do that,” he tells me. […]
“Be careful today, Jade. For real.” (182-183)

Jade is hyper-aware of her classmates’ response to the event, which seems nonexistent as there is no talk in the hallways, no discussion in the classroom, and from her perspective everyone is acting oblivious, except for her Spanish teacher whom she finds watching new coverage during his break. There are small instances of racism that keep frustrating Jade, especially because the only other person she talks to at school, a white classmate named Sam who also comes from her neighborhood, doesn’t seem them as racism. When Jade is the only one who gets in trouble for laughing at another student’s disrespectful comments about a staff member, Sam blames it on wealth disparity. “Her parents donate a bunch of money to the school every year. She can say and do whatever she wants,” Sam says. “That had nothing to do with her being white and your being black.” Jade responds “You know that’s what people are going to say about Natasha Ramsey. That it had nothing to do with her being black.” and Sam asks “Who?” Another time, Jade questions why she is always the one given these opportunities instead of Sam, who lives in the same area, is also lacking parents, and sees Jade as being ungrateful at having these opportunities to go places like the symphony. This is definitely a perfect scene to spark discussion for students and adults. When have their been times where two people have been in similar situations and the outcomes have been treated differently, and what factors played a role in the resulting outcomes?

We as readers will never know the real reason why her classmate doesn’t get punished for saying the comment but Jade gets in trouble for laughing at it. I think both reasons could be validated, as money and race both talk, but I also fear that as a white female I’d be accused of implicit bias if I brought up this possibility, just as Sam does. I can’t claim to understand what African Americans have to face in terms of racism, both overt and obvious, but I do understand that if you face enough situations with racial overtones, everything starts getting colored and about color. And there was at least one instance in the book of overt racism that Sam also discounts when faced with the account, that could be contributing to Jade’s mounting frustrations. Jade instead seeks out people who understand her feelings on the issue, and readers in turn gain an understanding of just how much the case has affected Jade and her friend from the neighborhood, Lee Lee. These girls are scared it could have been them or will be them, and the other white girls in Jade’s school don’t have that fear because they are insulated by their racial identity. Jade and Lee Lee feel a powerlessness that they are hesitant to admit, because then they fear it means they are, and they don’t want to see themselves or have others see them in that light. In studying Lewis and Clark and their slave York, which she finds out about from Lee Lee’s talking about her history teacher, Jade wonders if he ever “existing in a world where no one thought him strange” and I think Jade feels that otherness herself. Going to an all white school where she can’t relate her family life with that of other students, and then coming home where she can’t relate her options and experiences at school to her family, Jade and Sam share that feeling of isolation and being stuck in the middle.

I keep coming back to the previously quoted passage, “Why am I only seen as someone who needs and not someone who can give?” Jade and Lee Lee are scared, but they don’t want to be seen as someone who needs protection, reassurances, or special treatment. They are women of action, and by the end, it’s inspiring that they found a way to tie resources from their community into a proactive attempt at change. Jade responds to a question that she has learned from the mentor program she doesn’t “have to wait to be given an opportunity” and I think that’s really the most important thing that we can teach the people we mentor. This book is placed in the teen collection at my local library, but I feel it would be appropriate for middle school reading.

It’s making me consider how I can reach out more professionally and personally to fulfill the needs and the desires of the kid I mentor through Big Brothers Big Sisters and the public I serve. What are we pressing on others versus providing others? How can we identify what patrons need but also what they can give, and how do we tie the two together? I welcome your thoughts in the comments, and also recommendations for further reading on either enacting these goals, or working with populations that are traditionally seen as underprivileged, but should never be seen as uninformed or unable to contribute.

El Deafo

El DeafoTitle: El Deafo
Author: Cece Bell
Color: David Lasky
ISBN: 9781419710209
Pages: 242 pages
Publisher/Date: Amulet Books, an imprint of ABRAMS, c2014.
Awards: Newbery Honor (2015)

I wake up every morning happy and relieved to be home. I stay close to Mama, no matter where she is. But suddenly, I lose her. Where is she? I call out but she doesn’t answer me! When I finally find her, I know that everything is different. I think she knows it, too. I can’t hear. (11-12)

As a result of meningitis when she was four, Cece spent some time in the hospital. When she got back home, her parents and her realized that there was something wrong. She had become deaf. After being fit with hearing aids, Cece attends a special school to adapt to her lost hearing, but a family move means she leaves behind the welcoming environment. A new school means she needs to adapt to kids not understanding what the hearing aids do and how to react and interact with her.

The idea of portraying the people as bunnies was an inspired choice on the author’s part. Deafness seems more pronounced when exhibited by an animal with such pronounced ears, and that makes real the anxiety that the author feels when trying to hide her defining characteristic. I had a classmate with a similar hearing device that Cece wears and uses in school, and it’s interesting to see the world from that perspective. Cece’s reluctance to learn sign language was surprising to me, but her reasoning makes sense. She is trying so hard to not appear different that she is isolating herself because she can’t change her differences. It’s when she finally embraces her differences and uses them to the class’s advantage (like a super power) that she makes friends. But honestly, I’m glad she made friends like Martha, who didn’t care about her hearing aids, either as a positive super power or a negative disability.

Most of the feelings of acceptance are universal, they are simply amplified by Cece’s difference. Fans of Raina Telgemeier’s Smile and R. J. Palacio’s Wonder will probably enjoy this graphic novel with a similar story line. These books are important to have to teach acceptance to children and share unique perspectives, but some may be turned off by the continued emphasis of the differences and the primary role they play in the plot.

ALA Media Awards 2015

The ALA Media Awards were announced today. The Oscars of the children’s and teen literature world, here’s a break down of some the winners. The complete list can also be found on their website. I hesitate to include all of them because this post would be way too long, but these are the ones I think the majority of the readers have heard of and are interested in learning. But please do check the website, as all of the winners should be considered and I may include the winners of the other awards in a future post.

John Newbery Medal for the most outstanding contribution to children’s literature:
Newbery Slide 2015

WINNER

“The Crossover,” written by Kwame Alexander

Two Newbery Honor Books also were named:

El Deafo” by Cece Bell, illustrated by Cece Bell
Brown Girl Dreaming,” written by Jacqueline Woodson

You’re going to have a sense of de ja vue between the Newbery and Coretta Scott King Author Award, so let’s get that out of the way.Coretta Scott King (Author) Book Award recognizing an African American author and illustrator of outstanding books for children and young adults:
Coretta Scott King Author Slide 2015

WINNER

Brown Girl Dreaming,” written by Jacqueline Woodson

Three King Author Honor Books were selected:

Kwame Alexander for “The Crossover,”
Marilyn Nelson for “How I Discovered Poetry,”
Kekla Magoon for “How It Went Down,”

I had a weird since of coincidence as well when viewing the winners of the Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award. I give you the trio of biographies on female African American artists.

Coretta Scott King Illustrator Slide 2015

WINNER

“Firebird,” illustrated by Christopher Myers and written by Misty Copeland

Two King Illustrator Honor Books were selected:
Christian Robinson for “Josephine: The Dazzling Life of Josephine Baker,” by Patricia Hruby Powell
Frank Morrison for “Little Melba and Her Big Trombone,” by Katheryn Russell-Brown

You’ll see some repeats from the above list to this next list as we move to the Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Award for most distinguished informational book for children.
Sibert Slide 2015

WINNER

“The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus,” written by Jen Bryant

Five Sibert Honor Books were named:

Brown Girl Dreaming,” written by Jacqueline Woodson
The Family Romanov: Murder, Rebellion, & the Fall of Imperial Russia,” written by Candace Fleming (Also recognized as a finalist for YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults)
“Josephine: The Dazzling Life of Josephine Baker,” written by Patricia Hruby Powell, illustrated by Christian Robinson
“Neighborhood Sharks: Hunting with the Great Whites of California’s Farallon Islands,” written and illustrated by Katherine Roy
“Separate Is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez & Her Family’s Fight for Desegregation,” written and illustrated by Duncan Tonatiuh

I don’t think anyone was as surprised by the list for the Randolph Caldecott Medal for the most distinguished American picture book for children:
Caldecott Slide 2015

WINNER

The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend,” written and illustrated by Dan Santat

Six Caldecott Honor Books also were named:

“Nana in the City,” written and illustrated by Lauren Castillo
EDIT: (reviewed here with other books featuring grandparents)
“The Noisy Paint Box: The Colors and Sounds of Kandinsky’s Abstract Art,” illustrated by Mary GrandPré and written by Barb Rosenstock
“Sam & Dave Dig a Hole,” illustrated by Jon Klassen and written by Mac Barnett
“Viva Frida,” written and illustrated by Yuyi Morales
“The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus,” illustrated by Melissa Sweet and written by Jen Bryant
This One Summer,” illustrated by Jillian Tamaki and written by Mariko Tamaki

SIX Honorees! Three picture book biographies! And the most shocking inclusion of all, is a young adult graphic novel!! While I applaud the diversity of the selections and the number of honorees is unprecedented (can anyone prove otherwise), I’m disconcerted at the range of ages that the selections are intended for. I need to gather my thoughts and reread the book before addressing this fully, so stay tuned.

This One Summer was also featured in the list of the Michael L. Printz Award books for excellence in literature written for young adults as an honoree. Am I the only one thinking “WHAT CRAZINESS IS THIS!?!?”
Printz Slide 2015

WINNER

“I’ll Give You the Sun,” written by Jandy Nelson

Four Printz Honor Books also were named:

“And We Stay,” by Jenny Hubbard
“The Carnival at Bray,” by Jessie Ann Foley
“Grasshopper Jungle,” by Andrew Smith
This One Summer,” by Mariko Tamaki and illustrated by Jillian Tamaki

A list that didn’t have a single repeat on any of the other lists was the Odyssey Awards, presented for best audiobook produced for children and/or young adults, available in English in the United States:
Odyssey Slide 2015

WINNER

H. O. R. S. E. A Game of Basketball and Imagination,” produced by Live Oak Media, is the 2015 Odyssey Award winner. The book is written by Christopher Myers and narrated by Dion Graham and Christopher Myers.

Three Odyssey Honor Recordings also were selected:

“Five, Six, Seven, Nate!” produced by AUDIOWORKS (Children’s) an imprint of Simon & Schuster Audio Division, Simon & Schuster, Inc., written by Tim Federle, and narrated by Tim Federle;
“The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place,” produced by Listening Library, an imprint of the Penguin Random House Audio Publishing Group, written by Julie Berry, and narrated by Jayne Entwistle;
“A Snicker of Magic,” produced by Scholastic Audiobooks, written by Natalie Lloyd, and narrated by Cassandra Morris.

And since we’ve covered all the other age group specific awards, let’s finish this post with the Theodor Seuss Geisel Award for the most distinguished beginning reader book (which in my opinion should just be renamed the Mo Willems Award):
Geisel Slide 2015

WINNER

You Are (Not) Small,” written by Anna Kang and illustrated by Christopher Weyant

Two Geisel Honor Books were named:

Mr. Putter & Tabby Turn the Page,” written by Cynthia Rylant, illustrated by Arthur Howard
Waiting Is Not Easy!” written and illustrated by Mo Willems

What award or winner most surprised you?

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.

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