Will Lightning Strike Twice?
We’ve already considered the work of Christopher Paul Curtis (THE MIGHTY MISS MALONE), Karen Cushman (WILL SPARROW’S ROAD), Kate DiCamillo (BINK & GOLLIE: TWO FOR ONE), Rebecca Stead (LIAR & SPY), Laura Amy Schlitz (SPLENDORS AND GLOOMS)–and I’d like to consider Russell Freedman (ABRAHAM LINCOLN & FREDERICK DOUGLASS) a bit later in the context of the other biographies published this year–so by my count that leaves five remaining Medalists unaccounted for.
I’m of two minds about SON by Lois Lowry. On the one hand, I think Lowry does a good job of tying the three previous companion novels together, and succeds in doing so, in spite of the segmented structure of the story. There is evidence of distinction in many of the literary elements, most notably the dovetailing of Claire’s emotional and physical journey and the twin themes of motherhood and sacrifice. On the other hand, it sort of reads like THE GIVER meets THE GIVING TREE. Some people may perceive this as more of a YA book than its predecessors. Others will probably quibble with the issues that naturally arise from judging the concluding volume of a quartet independent of said predecessors. Neither one is a problem for me, and while I’m happy to have revisited this world, I can’t get excited about it for the Newbery.
I also have mixed feelings about KINDRED SOULS by Patricia MacLachlan. One the one hand, I’m having a hard time finding transitional chapter books this year for primary grade students, and this one would certainly fit the bill. The book is short; the chapters are short; the writing is spare, elegant, and graceful; and the relationship between the various characters are portrayed with depth and wisdom–all MacLachlan trademarks. And yet I found the plotting left something to be desired. The idea of this young boy wanting to build a sod house for his dying grandfather is quite touching. The idea of him actually doing it (with help from the family) bordered on ridiculous. Another question: this is such a quiet little book (compared with what we considered last year for this field–SIR GAWAIN, TOYS COME HOME, CLEMENTINE, and ALVIN HO) that I wonder how it plays to the chapter book crowd.
Like Lowry and MacLachlan, Creech remains firmly in her wheelhouse: brisk plotting with short chapters and mysteries galore coupled with quirky characters on a journey of one kind or another. It’s a winning formula that always works for me as a reader–this one is no exception–but I’m not hearing much buzz about this title, and I think it may be the result of an author staying so firmly in said wheelhouse that it’s hard to get excited despite the obvious strengths of the book. Nina said as much regarding Karen Cushman and WILL SPARROW’S ROAD–and we could probably say the same for many of the authors profiled in this post. Still, I think THE GREAT UNEXPECTED is stronger than SON or KINDRED SOULS.
These next two I have not read yet, so I’m going to quote liberally from the reviews and hope that readers will pitch in on the comments. First, we have SOPHIA’S WAR by Avi which has, to date, accrued three starred reviews. Booklist: “Few historical novels are as closely shaped by actual events . . . Avi manages to keep the fictional narrator on the scene for a good deal of the action and uses real moments to bring the imagined story to its dramatic heights.” School Library Journal: “Sophia’s War is outstanding historical fiction, bringing to dramatic life the human story behind extraordinary events. The climax is a seamless incorporation of hard fact with thrilling espionage . . . Rich in period detail, the atmospheric prose vividly re-creates old New York and allows readers to experience Sophia’s conflicting emotions.”
JAKE AND LILY by Jerry Spinelli has been mentioned here and there in the comments. It’s been awhile since I’ve read Spinelli . . . it’s also been awhile since he’s had buzz. This one has one starred review. Publishers Weekly: “Spinelli adroitly balances emotional tension with introspective moments in this smart and funny story about a pair of twins growing apart . . . Spinelli doesn’t suggest that the two will go back to being the people they once were; rather, he celebrates each child’s individualism and growing self-awareness.”
We are typically drawn to the work of previous winners, especially when those winners have produced a long body of excellent work. The irony is that the chances of repeating are quite slim, and yet we pay an awful lot of attention to these books anyway. I know Stead and Schlitz are the odds-on favorites to repeat, but do you think any of these stand a chance at an upset?
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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 email@example.com
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