One-Minute Book Reviews

January 30, 2010

A Review of the 2010 Newbery Medal Winner, ‘When You Reach Me': Enjoyable? Yes. The Year’s ‘Most Distinguished’? Maybe Not.

A 12-year-old girl tries to figure out who’s sending her mysterious notes in a novel that pays homage to Madeleine L’Engle

When You Reach Me. By Rebecca Stead, 197 pp., Wendy Lamb/Random House, $15.99. Ages 9–12.

By Janice Harayda

When You Reach Me won the American Library Association’s latest John Newbery Medal, and it’s certainly an enjoyable and well-written book. But is it the year’s “most distinguished contribution” to children’s literature?

Maybe it depends on how you define “distinguished.” By my lights, the ALA citation implies: “a book that will seem as great decades from now.” And I’m not convinced that When You Reach Me passes that test, or that Rebecca Stead will hold her own against Newbery winners like Russell Freedman (Lincoln: A Photobiography) and Katherine Paterson (Bridge to Terabithia, Jacob I Have Loved).

Stead tells a cleverly plotted story about a bright 12-year-old named Miranda, who tries to decipher a series of mysterious and slightly ominous notes from an unknown sender in 1978–1979. The sender — whose knowledge of events seems to transcend the laws of time and space — may or may not live near the apartment Miranda shares with her mother on the Upper West Side of New York.

Miranda’s favorite book is Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time, a novel about time-traveling children. And like that 1963 Newbery winner, When You Reach Me raises the question: Is time travel possible? Stead handles the issue well, offering enough science to keep her story plausible without turning it into a treatise.

But When You Reach Me deals with less complex questions than – and appears derivative in comparison to – L’Engle’s modern classic. Like most suspense novels, this one gets much of its appeal from its quick pace and ability to keep you guessing, not from its depth of characterization. Miranda’s mother has a boyfriend, “who is German but not strict or awful,” and whose German-ness resides mainly in his Aryan looks: You never understand why Stead made him German instead of another nationality.

Far more complex characterizations appear in Deborah Heiligman’s 2009 National Book Award finalist, Charles and Emma, which won a nonfiction award from the ALA. And Phillip Hoose tells a more powerful story in his Newbery Honor Book, the biography Claudette Colvin. Those books seem more likely to be important decades from now. If I had to assign grades, I’d give Charles and Emma and Claudette Colvin each an A or A-minus and When You Reach Me a B.

So why did the novel win the Newbery? Hard to say. It can’t have hurt that Stead’s novel subtly flatters the ALA by ratifying its choice for 1963 Newbery, or that its allusions to A Wrinkle in Time are a bonanza for teachers who love to assign compare-and-contrast exercises. Nor can it have hurt that, like the 1991 winner, Maniac Magee, the latest testifies to the joy of reading. When You Reach Me was also popular — a bestseller on Amazon — before it won, so it was a safe choice. And I’ve read few of the fiction candidates for the 2010 Newbery: If the judges wanted to honor a novel, though they didn’t have to, Stead’s may have been the best. So When You Reach Me gets a qualified endorsement: Amble to your library or bookstore for it if you’re inclined, and save your sprint for National Book Award winner Claudette Colvin.

Best line: Miranda has proprietary feelings about A Wrinkle in Time: “The truth is that I hate to think about other people reading my book.”

Worst line: “At the meetings, during which Mr. Nunzi has usually burned a new hole in our couch with his cigarette …” Doesn’t ring true. Most sofas sold in the U.S. contain polyurethane foam stuffing, which is highly flammable, and one cigarette burn can send them up in flames.

Art notes: The cover of this book does not serve it well. It shows greenish-gray grid that looks like a patchwork of lawns and suggests that the action takes place in a northern New Jersey suburb that faces New York skyline when, in fact, it’s set in Manhattan. And the book as a whole begged for illustrations.

Published: July 2009

Furthermore: Two reviews of When You Reach Me by librarians: Amanda Pape’s on her blog Bookin’ It and Elizabeth Bird’s on the School Library Journal blog.

Janice Harayda is a novelist who has been the book editor of the Plain Dealer and the book columnist for Glamour. You can also follow her on Twitter www.twitter.com/janiceharayda. She satirizes American literary culture and the publishing industry at www.twitter.com/fakebooknews.

© 2010 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

August 14, 2009

2010 Newbery and Caldecott Medal Predictions From the School Library Journal Blog

From "The Lion and the Mouse"

Update, Jan. 11, 2010: The School Library Journal blogger Elizabeth Bird now predicts that When You Reach Me will win the Newbery Medal and The Lion and the Mouse the Caldecott. She also predicts the Honor Books at http://tinyurl.com/yarluuf.

You say the kids aren’t going back school for a couple of weeks and you’ve run out of ideas on what they could read? You might want to look at the 2010 Newbery and Caldecott Medal predictions that Elizabeth Bird has posted on the School Library Journal blog. Bird is a children’s librarian with the New York Public Library system and a past Newbery judge who has a better record than most of us do for predicting the winners of the American Library Association’s annual awards. Among her favorites for the 2010 Newbery: Jacqueline Woodson’s: Peace, Locomotion (“it has her customary style and grace intact and she’s been edging closer and closer to outright Newbery Award status with every year”). Bird’s 2010 Caldecott candidates include Jerry Pinkney’s “almost wordless” and “meticulously researched” interpretation of a fable by Aesop, The Lion and the Mouse (“the kind of Pinkney book that will make converts out of people who weren’t Pinkney fans before”).

© 2009 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.twitter.com/janiceharayda

February 26, 2009

2009 Delete Key Awards Finalist #3 – Kathi Appelt’s ‘The Underneath’

Filed under: Delete Key Awards,News — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 2:43 pm
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Delete Key Awards Finalist #3 comes from Kathi Appelt’s The Underneath (Atheneum, 311 pp., $19.99, ages 8 and up), a finalist for the most recent Newbery and National Book Awards, with drawings by David Small:

“The pain she felt was palpable.”

What’s wrong with this sentence? All together now: “Palpable” means you can feel it.

© 2009 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com

January 26, 2009

Complete List of 2009 Newbery, Caldecott, Printz, Sibert, Alex and Other American Library Association Award-Winners and Honor Books

Filed under: News — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 3:52 pm
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Neil Gaiman has won the 2009 Newbery Medal for The Graveyard Book, illustrated by Dave McKean, for “the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children.” The House in the Night, written by Susan Marie Swanson and illustrated by Beth Krommes, has won the 2009 Caldecott Medal for “the most distinguished American picture book for children.” The American Library Association announced the awards today in Denver.

The others who won medals or Honor Book citations are:

Newbery Honor Books:

The Underneath, by Kathi Appelt, illustrated by David Small

The Surrender Tree: Poems of Cuba’s Struggle for Freedom, by Margarita Engle

Savvy, by Ingrid Law

After Tupac & D Foster, by Jacqueline Woodson

Caldecott Honor Books:
A Couple of Boys Have the Best Week Ever, written and illustrated by Marla Frazee

How I Learned Geography, written and illustrated by Uri Shulevitz

A River of Words: The Story of William Carlos Williams, illustrated by Melissa Sweet, written by Jen Bryant

Michael L. Printz Award for excellence in literature written for young adults:

Melina Marchetta, author of Jellicoe Road

Printz Honor Books:

The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Volume II, The Kingdom on the Waves, by M.T. Anderson

The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks, by E. Lockhart

Nation, by Terry Pratchett

Tender Morsels, by Margo Lanagan

Coretta Scott King Book Award to an African-American author and illustrator of outstanding books for children and young adults:

We Are the Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball, written and illustrated by Kadir Nelson

The Blacker the Berry, illustrated by Floyd Cooper, written by Joyce Carol Thomas, is the King Illustrator Book winner.

King Author Honor Books:

The Blacker the Berry, by Joyce Carol Thomas, illustrated by Floyd Cooper

Keeping the Night Watch, by Hope Anita Smith, illustrated by E.B. Lewis

Becoming Billie Holiday, by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Floyd Cooper

King Illustrator Honor Books:

We Are the Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball, by Kadir Nelson

Before John Was a Jazz Giant, by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Sean Qualls

The Moon Over Star, by Dianna Hutts Aston, illustrated by Jerry Pinkney

Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe New Talent Author Award.

Shadra Strickland, illustrator of Bird, written by Zetta Elliott, is the Steptoe winner.

Schneider Family Book Award for books that embody the artistic expression of the disability experience for young readers:

Piano Starts Here: The Young Art Tatum, written and illustrated by Robert Andrew Parker

Leslie Connor won the middle-school award for Waiting for Normal.

Jonathan Friesen won the teen award for Jerk, California

Theodor Seuss Geisel Award for the most distinguished book for beginning readers:

Are You Ready to Play Outside?, written and illustrated by Mo Willems

Geisel Honor Books:

Chicken said, ‘Cluck!,” by Judyann Ackerman Grant, illustrated by Sue Truesdell

One Boy, written and illustrated by Laura Vaccaro Seeger

Stinky, written and illustrated by Eleanor Davis

Wolfsnail: A Backyard Predator, by Sarah C. Campbell, with photographs by Sarah C. Campbell and Richard P. Campbell

Margaret A. Edwards Award for lifetime achievement in writing for young adults:

Laurie Halse Anderson is the recipient of the 2009 Margaret A. Edwards Award honoring her outstanding lifetime contribution to writing for teens for Catalyst, Fever 1793, Speak,

Pura Belpre Awards to Latino authors and illustrators whose work best portrays, affirms and celebrates the Latino cultural experience in children’s books:

Just in Case, illustrated by Yuyi Morales, is the winner of the 2009 Belpre Illustrator Award.

The Surrender Tree: Poems of Cuba’s Struggle for Freedom, by Margarita Engle, is the winner of the 2009 Belpre Author Award.

Belpre Illustrator Honor Books:

Papa and Me, illustrated by Rudy Gutierrez, written by Arthur Dorros

The Storyteller’s Candle / La velita de los cuentos, illustrated by Lulu Delacre, written by Lucia Gonzalez

What Can You Do with a Rebozo?, illustrated by Amy Cordova, written by Carmen Tafolla

Belpre Author Honor Books:

Just in Case, written by Yuyi Morales

Reaching Out, written by Francisco Jimenez

The Storyteller’s Candle / La velita de los cuentos, written by Lucia Gonzalez

Robert F. Sibert Medal for most distinguished informational book for children:

We Are the Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball,by author and illustrator Kadir Nelson

Sibert Honor Books:

Bodies from the Ice: Melting Glaciers and Rediscovery of The Past, by James M. Deem

What to Do About Alice?: How Alice Roosevelt Broke the Rules, Charmed the World, and Drove Her Father Teddy Crazy!, written by Barbara Kerley, illustrated by Edwin Fotheringham

Andrew Carnegie Medal for excellence in children’s video:

Paul R. Gagne and Melissa Reilly of Weston Woods Studios, producers of March On! The Day My Brother Martin Changed the World

Mildred L. Batchelder Award for the most outstanding children’s book originally published in a language other than English in a country other than the U.S. and translated into English for publication here:

Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit, originally published in Japanese, written by Nahoko Uehashi and translated by Cathy Hirano

Batchelder Honor Books:

Garmann’s Summer, originally published in Norwegian, written by Stian Hole, translated by Don Bartlett

Tiger Moon, originally published in German, written by Antonia Michaelis, translated by Anthea Bell

Odyssey Award for Excellence in Audiobook Production:

Recorded Books, producer of the audiobook The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, written and narrated by Sherman Alexie

Odyssey Honor Audiobooks:

Curse of the Blue Tattoo: Being an Account of the Misadventures of Jacky Faber, Midshipman and Fine Lady, written by L.A. Meyer, narrated by Katherine Kellgren

Elijah of Buxton, written by Christopher Paul Curtis, narrated by Mirron Willis

I’m Dirty!, written by Kate and Jim McMullan, narrated by Steve Buscemi

Martina the Beautiful Cockroach: A Cuban Folktale, written and narrated by Carmen Agra Deedy

Nation,written by Terry Pratchett, narrated by Stephen Briggs

Alex Awards for the 10 best adult books that appeal to teen audiences:

City of Thieves, by David Benioff

The Dragons of Babel, by Michael Swanwick

Finding Nouf, by Zoe Ferrari

The Good Thief, by Hannah Tinti

Just After Sunset: Stories, by Stephen King

Mudbound, by Hillary Jordan

Over and Under, by Todd Tucker

The Oxford Project, by Stephen G. Bloom, photographed by Peter Feldstein

Sharp Teeth, by Toby Barlow, published by Harper

Three Girls and Their Brother, by Theresa Rebeck

May Hill Arbuthnot Honor Lecture “recognizing an individual who shall prepare a paper considered to be a significant contribution to the field of children’s literature, and then present the lecture at a winning host site”:

Kathleen T. Horning, director of the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Cooperative Children’s Book Center (CCBC).

Laura Ingalls Wilder Award to an author or illustrator whose books are published in the United States and have made a substantial and lasting contribution to literature for children:

Ashley Bryan, whose works include Dancing Granny, Beat the Story-Drum, Pum-Pum, and Beautiful Blackbird.

William C. Morris Award:

A Curse Dark as Gold, written by Elizabeth C. Bunce

More information on all of the awards appears on the American Library Association Web site.

© 2009 Janice Haraydal All rights reserved.

January 2, 2009

Who Are the Newbery and Caldecott Frontrunners? A Tip Sheet

Filed under: Children's Books,News — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 11:15 pm
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At this time of year, many libraries let their staff or patrons or both vote for the books they believe should win the next Newbery and Caldecott medals. You can find the results of these contests by searching for “mock Newbery” and “mock Caldecott” awards, though most posts may not appear until closer to the Jan. 26 announcement of the winners. Another a great source of leads is the Fuse #8 blog written for School Library Journal by Elizabeth Bird, a former Newbery judge and longtime children’s librarian at the Donnell Central Children’s Room of the New York Public Library system. Bird seems to see almost all of Newbery candidates — far more than most critics do — so her posts are unusually comprehensive and authoritative. She also writes in an engaging style that makes her blog fun to read.

Update on Jan. 23: Bird makes more Newbery and Caldecott predictions at www.schoollibraryjournal.com/blog/1790000379/post/1640034164.html.

© 2009 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

December 5, 2008

A Review of Laurie Halse’s Anderson’s ‘Chains’ — Tomorrow

Coming tomorrow: A review of Laurie Halse Anderson’s Chains, a finalist for the 2008 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature, which involves a 13-year-old slave who lives in New York during the Revolutionary War and devises a dangerous plan to escape from her cruel Loyalist owners. The review is the latest in the “Countdown to the Caldecott and Newbery Medals” series on this site, which looks at possible candidates for the American Library Association prizes to be handed out on Jan. 26.

June 8, 2008

‘Jan the Hungarian’ Predicts the Winners of Major Book Awards – A New Series Starting Tomorrow on One-Minute Book Reviews

Filed under: Jan the Hungarian Predicts — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 7:41 pm
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Are you tired of getting blindsided by all those year-end news reports on award-winning books, half of which you have never even heard of, let alone read?

One-Minute Book Reviews wants to help with a new series that will predict which books or authors will win major literary awards in late 2008 or early 2009. Inspired by late Las Vegas bookie Jimmy “Jimmy the Greek” Snyder, Janice Harayda will make her predictions under her nom de guerre of “Jan the Hungarian.” (Yes, she is going to hear about this from the Scottish half of her family, but “Jan the Scot” just doesn’t have the same ring, does it?)

The first post in the series will appear tomorrow when Jan will predict the winner of the next National Book Critics Circle Award for fiction even though she has not read all of eligible books because they have not come out yet. Her predictions will be based not on inside information – because she obviously never has any — but solely on having read the books.

Jan is starting with an NBCC prize because she used to be an NBCC judge … so that should be easy, right? Future posts may involve predictions about winners of the National Book Awards, the Pulitzer Prizes, the Nobel Prize in Literature, the Man Booker Prize for Fiction and Newbery and Caldecott medals. She will not make predictions about all the awards, only about those she thinks will interest you if you are bored at work.

Please bookmark this site or subscribe to the RSS feed to avoid missing these posts. Thanks for visiting One-Minute Book Reviews.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

www.janiceharayda.com

February 16, 2008

A Great Presidents’ Day Book for 8-to-12-Year-Olds: Russell Freedman’s ‘Lincoln’

If the children’s department of your public library has put up a Presidents’ Day display, it probably includes Russell Freedman’s Lincoln: A Photobiography (Clarion, 160 pp., $20). And well it should. In this innovative book Freedman marries the picture-book and chapter-book forms to create a dynamic portrait of Abraham Lincoln that deals extensively with his youth and early adulthood but also covers his presidency and the Civil War. First published in 1987, Lincoln: A Photobiograpy was one of the most acclaimed books of children’s nonfiction of the 1980s, when it won the 1988 Newbery Medal and “Best Books of the Year” honors from School Library Journal and Publishers Weekly. Freedman has also written other excellent nonfiction books for tweens discussed in an earlier post www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/03/03/ (which recommended them for 9-to-12-year-olds, though they may appeal to some younger children who are strong readers).

(c) 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

February 2, 2008

A Tale by the Brothers Grimm Returns in ‘The Bearskinner,’ a Picture Book by Newbery Winner Laura Amy Schlitz and Max Grafe

A former soldier struggles to avoid losing his soul to the devil in a parable about faith, hope and charity

The Bearskinner. By Laura Amy Schlitz. Illustrated by Max Grafe. Candlewick, 32 pp., $16.99. Ages 4 and up.

By Janice Harayda

Laura Amy Schlitz is the newest supernova in the field of children’s literature. For years, she had a passionate following mainly among the students who listened to her stories at the Park School in Baltimore, where she is the librarian. But her visibility soared after she earned raves for her 2006 novel for ages 10 and up, A Drowned Maiden’s Hair. This year she won 2008 Newbery Medal for her cycle of one- and two-person plays, Good Masters! Sweet Ladies!, and she would be equally worthy of a major award for The Bearskinner, her retelling of a Faustian tale by the Brothers Grimm.

The grave and eloquent opening lines of the book set the tone: “They say that when a man gives up hope, the devil walks at his side. So begins this story: A soldier marched through a dark wood, and he did not march alone.” In this tale a hungry and cold soldier returns from war to find nothing left of his home and the people he loved. At his lowest moment, he accepts an offer from the devil, a man with a goat’s hoof for a left foot: For seven years, the soldier will have unlimited gold. But he must wear a bearskin and may not wash, pray or tell anyone of his dark bargain. If he does, he will lose his soul.

Clad in the skin of a bear he has just killed, the ex-soldier goes off to indulge his desires. After three years, he looks like a monster, and people flee from him. He loathes himself, too, and is thinking of ending his life. But he sees a starving mother and child who give him an idea – he will use Satan’s money to feed the poor. This act of charity leads to others that enable him to outwit the devil, throw off his bearskin and marry a kind woman who has seen the good heart behind the repulsive appearance.

All of this has aspects of both a fairy and morality tale. But Schlitz neither sentimentalizes nor preaches, and Max Grafe’s wonderful illustrations remind you the work of the late Leonard Baskin in their boldness, their restricted color palette and their use of fluid body lines to suggest inner turmoil. Grafe sets the text on yellowing pages that resemble parchment, or perhaps charred tree bark, which locates the story in the distant past and may soften its potentially frightening aspects. And his devil is one of the most original to appear in a picture book in years in years. Grafe casts Lucifer as a handsome devil in the literal sense of the phrase, a man who resembles 1930s matinee idol with slicked-back hair and a flowing green cloak. No ogre with a scar, his devil is a smooth operator – just like a lot of devils in real life.

Best line: The first lines of the book, quoted in the review.

Worst line: “He rode to the gambler’s house on a dapple-gray horse.” The use of “dapple-gray” is confusing. Why not “dappled gray”?

Published: November 2007 www.candlewick.com

Furthermore: Schlitz, a Baltimore librarian, won the 2008 Newbery Medal from the American Library Association www.ala.org, for her book of monologues and dialogues, Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! Voices From a Medieval Village (Candlewick, $19.99), illustrated by Robert Byrd. She lives in Maryland. Grafe is a New York printmaker and illustrator.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

February 1, 2008

Coming Tomorrow — A Review of ‘The Bearskinner’ by Newbery Medalist Laura Amy Schlitz

Laura Amy Schlitz won the 2008 Newbery Medal for Good Masters! Sweet Ladies!, a book of one- and two-person plays for ages 10 and up. Can Schlitz write for younger children? A review of her recent picture book The Bearskinner, illustrated by Max Grafe, will appear tomorrow on One-Minute Book Reviews.

(c) 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

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