Newbery-Induced Attention Deficit Disorder
With the deadline looming for announcing the shortlist for the Oakland Public Library Mock Newbery, I’ve been frantically reading multiple books in an effort to make sure that no stone is left unturned. I’m juggling no less than six books, trying to decide which ones might be the best contenders. It’s probably not normal to read this many books simultaneously, but it happens quite frequently on award committees, particularly late in the year.
FREDERICK DOUGLASS by David Adler is a very solid biography with two starred reviews. The book design is nothing special, and that makes it easy to overlook this one, but I find the text to be quite good. I’ve always read bits and pieces about Frederick Douglass in other nonfiction books, but never a biography devoted exclusively to him. Some of the reviews ding this one for not being as nuanced as it could have been. I’ll have to see how that bears out.
A NEST FOR CELESTE by Henry Cole is an animal fantasy with a historical cameo from John James Audobon. Unlike FREDERICK DOUGLASS, the package is extremely pleasing, heavily illustrated in the fashion of THE DOLL PEOPLE by Martin, Godwin, and Selznick. But I find the writing to be extremely lackluster. I’m not the biggest fan of animal fantasy, and this one should appeal to younger readers in the Newbery range. I really want to love this one, but . . . not so far. Maybe it will get better?
TURTLE IN PARADISE by Jennifer Holm has a great setting–Key West–and some wonderfully realized characters. It reads effortlessly and, like A NEST FOR CELESTE, would be a great 4th grade Newbery book. Of course, Holm has already won a pair of Newbery Honors for OUR ONLY MAY AMELIA and PENNY FROM HEAVEN. Could this be her third? I’m not sure. I’m liking it, but it’s sort of middle of the pack for me.
THE BONESHAKER by Kate Milford is, by turns, by turns absolutely brilliant (the fantasy bits) and absolutely boring (the historical fiction pieces). That’s a big oversimplification, but I find one chapter riveting and the next one a yawner. I think this one is too long by half, but I’ll also acknowledge that this book suffers from the way I’m reading it. I think I just need to take the plunge and commit to this one alone. Where is a nice long plane flight when you need one?
THE FANTASTIC SECRET OF OWEN JESTER by Barbara O’Connor is another potential young book. This one reads really well for those fresh off transitional chapter books: short chapters, short paragraphs, lots of dialogue, interesting characters and plot. I like the premise so far, and definitely want to keep reading, but it doesn’t scream distinguished to me. But I like it, and if you made me choose a book for 3rd graders, this would probably be the one.
CLEMENTINE, FRIEND OF THE WEEK by Sara Pennypacker is another good Newbery book for 3rd graders. I haven’t read the other Clementine books. I like this one, but I find myself comparing Clementine to Ramona, Junie B. Jones, Judy Moody, and several others of this ilk–not that I should, but I have a hard time shaking it off. Then, too, I think the best transitional chapter books have gone graphic: CAPTAIN UNDERPANTS by Dav Pilkey and BABYMOUSE by Jennifer Holm. I’m just having a hard time getting excited about this one. Someone please help me see the light!
Well, what do you think? Which book(s) should I finish?
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About Jonathan Hunt
Jonathan Hunt is the Coordinator of Library Media Services at the San Diego County Office of Education. He served on the 2006 Newbery committee, and has also judged the Caldecott Medal, the Printz Award, the Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards, and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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