Full of Beans
Sure, they like to say that kids make things up and that we don’t tell the truth. But they’re the lying liars.
Take President Roosevelt. He’s been saying on the radio that the economy was improving, when anyone with two eyes could see the only thing getter better was my mother’s ability to patch holes in pants. Not that she had a choice. There was no money for new threads with Poppy out of work. It was either that or let us go naked.
The opening illustrates so much of what I love about this book. First, the voice of this young main character is not only distinct, but it feels authentic to the period, and the developmental age of the child narrator (unlike perhaps *ahem* WOLF HOLLOW). And second, this is the kind of historical fiction where you actually learn quite a bit about the time and place, but it’s seamlessly woven into the book. There’s no info dumping here. That third paragraph is as long of an expository paragraph as you are likely to find in this book as most of the book is comprised of dialogue. President Roosevelt on the radio gives us an indication of the setting, and then Beans elaborates how it specifically has impacted his family. Nice segue, that, and it communicates so much about the setting without a history lesson.
This is a prequel to TURTLE IN PARADISE, but it goes without saying that you do not need to have read the former in order to enjoy this episodic story of the origins of the Diaper Gang, boys making mischief left and right. I know that many of us are besotted with books like GHOST and WOLF HOLLOW that sit at the upper end of the middle grade range, but this is an excellent one for the bottom end of that range, a perfect book for third and fourth graders, and one that could read aloud to even younger children.
For this specific audience of younger readers, say grades 3-6, is there a more distinguished book in terms of plot, character, setting, theme, style, and presentation of information? I don’t think so, and therefore, to my mind, this one has to be taken very seriously as a Newbery Medal contender.
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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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