Tuesday, July 30, 2013

The Winner's Circle: Onion John, by Joseph Krumgold (1960)

Only five authors in the 90+ year history of the Newbery Medal have won that honor twice. But while E. L. Konigsburg, Lois Lowry, Katherine Paterson, and Elizabeth George Speare are all widely acknowledged as some of the most important authors in the history of American children's literature, Joseph Krumgold is more of a footnote.

Partly, that's because his writing for children was only a very small part of Krumgold's career. He was primarily a screenwriter, director, and documentary filmmaker; somehow, Krumgold won the Newbery twice while only writing five children's books total (one of which, Sweeny's Adventure, was a film adaptation). The three titles that didn't win the Newbery (the other two are Henry 3, and The Most Terrible Turk) are all long out of print and essentially forgotten, meaning that contemporary readers are unlikely to come across anything by Krumgold except ...And Now Miguel and Onion John.

Onion John, Krumgold's second Newbery winner, tells the story of twelve-year-old Andy Rusch, Jr., and his friendship with the highly eccentric immigrant man that everyone calls Onion John. John's firm belief in folk magic is at odds with the standards and mores of the community -- and especially with those of Andy's father. The town's efforts to bring John into the 20th century, whether he wants it or not, mirror Andy's father's attempts to plan the course of Andy's life, and these parallel plot strands converge at the end of the book.

The world of Onion John is that small-town America that's increasingly unfamiliar today, where the most influential organization in town is the Rotary Club, and the most important social event of the year involves beating on the ice of the frozen river in order to drive the fish into a downstream net. The speeches that Andy's father gives about how John ought to be "civilized" are based in a worldview that seems horribly out of date today -- though it's to Krumgold's credit that he doesn't seem sympathetic to that set of ideas. Indeed, there aren't really any villains in Onion John; everyone in the book is sincerely trying to do the right thing, which is the source of its pathos, its tragedy, and even its cautious optimism.

If we were to give out the 1960 Newbery again, it's unlikely that Onion John would win. My Side of the Mountain, by Jean Craighead George, was one of the three Honor books (The Gammage Cup, by Carol Kendall, and America is Born: A History for Peter, by Gerald W. Johnson, were the others), and George's survival novel has probably aged better than the others. However, Onion John is still a well-written, surprisingly tender book, one that deserves to be better-remembered than it is.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

2014 Contenders: Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library, by Chris Grabenstein

Luigi Lemoncello is the most famous game designer in the world, and twelve-year-old Kyle Keeley is one of his biggest fans. So when Kyle finds out that the town's new library has been funded and designed by Mr. Lemoncello, he's excited. When it turns out that the twelve winners of a school essay contest will be invited to a lock-in at the library before it even opens -- and that, against all odds, he's one of the winners -- he's ecstatic. However, the lock-in is only the beginning. The first one of the children to solve the puzzle of the library itself and figure out the secret exit will win the grandest prize of all, and Kyle is determined to beat the game.

Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library owes something to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and quite a bit to The Westing Game, both titles that are explicitly referenced in the book. It also bears a resemblance to a more recent novel, The Puzzling World of Winston Breen, with its engaging cast of juvenile puzzle-solvers and seemingly inscrutable clues. However, the cleverness of the central conceit -- how do we get out of this building? -- is original enough to ensure that Escape doesn't read like a mere photocopy or homage.

As much as Escape is a mystery, it's also a love letter to libraries, books, and reading. The descriptions of the new library are filled with unabashed affection. Dozens upon dozens of children's literature titles new and old are referenced -- at times, Mr. Lemoncello's dialogue seems to consist of little else. And a large part of the story is not only about solving the mystery, but about the way that Kyle, who loves games of all kinds, but isn't much of a reader, comes to appreciate the joy of books.

The mystery and its associated puzzles are expertly designed and presented. The few quibbles that I had with the novel largely had to do with the moments when I felt like the subtext (books! reading!) was overshadowing the main narrative. Some of our longtime readers might remember from my discussion of Okay for Now that I'm very leery of authors overtly extolling the virtues of books, and in a few instances, Escape pushed that particular button of mine.

It wasn't enough, though, to really keep me from enjoying Escape. I don't think it's on the same level as The Real Boy, but I think it's firmly in the next tier of contenders. I wouldn't go so far as to predict an Honor for it, but I can tell you that, if it is recognized by the committee on Newbery Day 2014, I won't be at all surprised.

Published in June by Random House

2014 Contenders: Better Nate Than Ever, by Tim Federle

Thirteen-year-old Nate Foster is your quintessential small-town social outcast. He's chubby, terrible at sports, and prone to belting out Broadway songs in public bathrooms. When he and his loyal BFF Libby learn about an open casting call for the Broadway musical adaptation of E.T., they hatch a plan. Nate will take the bus from Pennsylvania to New York, audition, and be on his way home before his family ever knows he's gone. Naturally, things don't go exactly according to plan.

I love this book. It's just so loveable, as is its plucky, awkward protagonist, and it is Nate, as character and as narrator, who carries the novel on his sweaty middle school shoulders. Debut novelist Federle really nails the voice of a kid at the worst, in-betweeniest age. Sometimes Nate is wiser than his years, but more often he is painfully and hilariously naive. On his first visit to New York, he's starstruck by the "biggest Applebees in the world," and tries to strike up a friendship with a street hawker. A lot of this is played for laughs, but by the end of the book the tone grows gradually more poignant.

And that brings us to Federle's second great accomplishment: this is an LGBTQ book without being an LGBTQ book. Nate never states outright that he is gay - in fact, by the conclusion, he's only just begun to tentatively question his sexual identity. In both obvious and subtle ways, though, Nate's urban odyssey leads him towards that process of introspection. One of the most powerful passages comes when Nate explains the allure of New York to his aunt's (gay) roommate. "`Two boys were dancing together in a club,' I want to say, `and nobody stopped them.' But instead I say `I want to be on Broadway, and you can't do that forty-five minutes outside of Pittsburgh.'"

Broadway is a stand-in for gay, in a way, but it also isn't. Nate really does want to be a Broadway star - badly. He also wants to live in a place where he doesn't get beat up on a regular basis for his perceived homosexuality. The story can be about both things, Federle seems to say. Text and subtext are always intertwined.

Better Nate Than Ever is not without its flaws. It's a bit slow to start, and some of the structural choices (such as the parenthetical flashbacks in one chapter) are questionable. There's a lot of landscape - both inner and outer - to keep track of, and a lot of characters too. For the most part, though, Federle has done an admirable job of keeping it all together.

The verdict? I suspect Nate may be this year's Wonder or Okay for Now. Lots of popular accolades, lots of critical praise from outside the library bubble, a heartwarming message, etc. I think it's better than both of those books, but this is the kind of crowd-pleaser that the committees often seem to snub.

Published in February by Simon & Schuster

Friday, July 19, 2013

2014 Contenders: The Fortune-Teller, by Paul B. Thompson

When last we saw Mikal and Lyra, at the end of The Brightworking, they had escaped the destruction of the Guild of Constant Working's Hall in the city of Oranbold, carrying with them Orichalkon, a magic artifact in the shape of a bronze head. However, we find out almost immediately upon beginning The Fortune-Teller that the evil wizard Harlano, Mikal's former master, is hot on their trail, trying to get Orichalkon back for his own nefarious purposes.

The Fortune-Teller has essentially the same strengths and weaknesses as its predecessor. It runs from adventure to adventure at full tilt, always keeping the reader entertained, but at the cost of some character and world development. This is a conscious choice on Paul B. Thompson's part, and I think it works well for an audience just learning to cut its teeth on fantasy novels. I would have preferred a book with more detail, even if it didn't move as quickly, but I understand the authorial decision at work here, and I can respect it. (The fact that there isn't a map to help with the somewhat confusing geography, however, is a serious omission.)

There are some series -- even fantasy series -- where beginning with a book in the middle isn't particularly problematic. I remember as a teenager starting Alan Dean Foster's Spellsinger series with the eighth book (Chorus Skating), and not having any real trouble picking up the storyline. However, a reader picking up The Fortune-Teller without having read The Brightworking will be at a severe disadvantage; this is a series that should be started at the beginning. Similarly, the book ends with a cliffhanger -- to get any kind of resolution, readers will have to continue to the third (and final) entry in the series, The Battle for the Brightstone, which is scheduled to be published in September.

I don't expect The Fortune-Teller to earn any ALA awards -- it's designed to be a popular, rather than a literary book, and it's not the kind of novel that has hidden literary depths. But it's a lot of fun, and beginning fantasy readers could do a lot worse than this series.

Published in January by Enslow.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

2014 Contenders: The Year of Billy Miller, by Kevin Henkes

When I attend ALA, I usually approach author signings in one of two frames of mind. Sometimes - probably the majority of times - I am diffident and humble, giving them a quick "thank you" and getting out of their hair. This year, however, I went with the other approach, which I'll call "wild-eyed fangirl." I hugged Laura Amy Schlitz and took a picture in her hat. I burbled and enthused at Anne Ursu. And when I finally got to the front of the Kevin Henkes line, I burst out with, "THANK YOU FOR WRITING SO RESPECTFULLY ABOUT THE EMOTIONAL LIVES OF CHILDREN." 

Mr. Henkes looked a bit bewildered and murmured something noncommittal, but I went away satisfied, because really, he needed to be thanked. I can't think of anyone else writing today who approaches the inner lives of five, six, and seven-year-olds as if he's writing Mrs. Dalloway. As I noted a couple of weeks ago, the emotional authenticity of Penny and Her Marble puts it near the top of my Newbery list for this year. In 2011's Junonia, he portrayed a certain shade of disappointment so honestly that it backfired and made a lot of people dislike the character. (Not me, though - I was that quiet, slightly spoiled ten-year-old living a charmed but melancholy life. Thanks again, Kev!) No matter the age group, Henkes groks kids.

So I was pleased to see that, with his newest novel, Henkes is stepping into the early chapter book arena for the first time. The Year of Billy Miller is just that - a year in the life of a second-grade boy. Many of Henkes' novels defy conventional plot summaries, and I think the back flap copy on this one really misses the mark. "Laugh-out-loud funny!" it shouts. "Dioramas! A second grade poetry slam!" Calm down there, marketing folks. While this book does contain dioramas and a poetry program ("slam" is pushing it), it comes nowhere near that level of implied wackiness, and at no point did I find myself laughing out loud. This is not Clementine, and to market it that way is selling it short.

The Year of Billy Miller is, like most Henkes novels, a quiet, slightly melancholy meditation on a collection of moments. It is structured episodically, in four parts (Teacher, Father, Sister, Mother) that chronicle Billy's conflict and reconciliations with the people closest to him. The Teacher section, for example, has echoes of Lilly and her purple plastic purse, as Billy struggles to correct a humiliating misunderstanding with his new teacher. As he negotiates the parameters of his relationships, we see Billy grow and begin to come into his own, thereby fulfilling his father's prediction that this will be the titular "year of Billy Miller." Throughout the book, Billy takes tentative steps towards increased self-confidence and maturity, until at the climactic poetry reading, he shows us just how far he's come.

Billy Miller is primarily a character-driven book, and Henkes' beautifully complex characters are on full display. Billy, of course, is a wonderful, full-blooded second-grade boy, full of contradictions and half-baked ideas about the world. The other characters are fully realized as well, especially the occasionally moody stay-at-home artist dad. As always, Henkes uses his words sparingly but effectively, establishing character with telling details like the way the teacher involuntarily touches her hair when she thinks Billy is making fun of her chopstick hair accessories.

Stylistically, Henkes is a minimalist, and the early chapter book format is the perfect showcase for that. The scene where Billy and his mother bury a dead bird is one of the loveliest stretches of prose I've read this year - filled with sensory details - but it is almost entirely devoid of adjectives or adverbs. Joanne Rowling, take note!

If Billy Miller has a handicap at the Newbery table, it may be its episodic structure. Of course, that didn't keep The Graveyard Book from winning, and the two books share a thematic unity that ties the episodes together. My only other quibble: Henkes never really resolves Billy's conflict with Emma - a small but unsatisfying omission. Otherwise, this is definitely one of the year's best middle grade novels. 

Publication in September by Greenwillow Books (HarperCollins)

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

2014 Contenders: The Hidden Summer, by Gin Phillips

Nell and Lydia, a pair of Alabama girls on the cusp of adolescence, are best friends. Their mothers used to be friends too, but they've had a fight, and now Nell and Lydia aren't supposed to see each other. Nell, however, has devised a plan -- they'll pretend to be off at summer school (Nell) and summer camp (Lydia), when really, they'll be spending their days together at the abandoned golf course. This is especially important to Nell, the narrator, who has a deeply troubled relationship with her mother, and doesn't really want to be at home.

It would be hard to provide a plot summary beyond that point, because The Hidden Summer is very light on plot. It's more than a little episodic, and it's so still that in places, it almost seems to have fallen asleep. But this melancholy tone poem is also gorgeously written and achingly emotional, a coming of age story that embraces the darkness as well as the light.

The book works because Gin Phillips is an excellent stylist, but also because the characters come fully to life. This isn't true only of Nell and Lydia, but of the minor characters at the edge of the plot, from the teenaged gas station clerk to Nell's latest stepfather. Some of these characters only take up a few paragraphs, but Phillips makes every word count, so we're never denied a clear picture of each person. Of course, the picture we get is always from Nell's point of view, but her strong, consistent voice makes the first-person narration effective.

Despite certain adventure-story elements (hiding out in the hollow dinosaur on the putt-putt portion of the abandoned golf course!), The Hidden Summer is a book that will likely have more appeal for contemplative readers than for adventurous ones. It reads a bit like a less ensemble-cast Criss-Cross, or a modern-day Breathing Room; even when something exciting happens, the focus isn't on the action, but on the impact on the characters and their relationships.

I've heard little fanfare about The Hidden Summer, and it may simply be too low-key to make an impression on the Newbery committee. However, it's a gem that it would be a pity to overlook.

Published in June by Dial / Penguin

Thursday, July 11, 2013

2014 Contenders: The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp, by Kathi Appelt

"I am not the person to review this movie. Perhaps you will enjoy a review from someone who disqualifies himself at the outset..."
            ~Roger Ebert, on Sex and the City (2008)

I can safely say that I am not the person to review The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp. I disliked it intensely, but it's hard for me to figure out how much of that is the result of failures on the part of the book itself, and how much of it is simply because the book is built of tropes, settings, and characters that don't do anything at all for me. I will try to separate the two, but I feel like it would be unfair of me not to state my conundrum up front.

The plot involves a pair of raccoons (the Scouts of the title) and a twelve-year-old boy, who work in parallel ways to save Sugar Man Swamp from the twin threats of an overzealous land developer and a rampaging group of wild hogs. There are also angry snakes, a lost Chrysler DeSoto, an overnight radio host, cane sugar pies, and the Sugar Man himself, a sort of cryptid protector of the swamp with the unfortunate habit of sleeping very deeply, and for a very long time.

I'm largely immune to the charms of the literary deep south, but the setting is actually quite well done; the oppressive humidity, intolerable insects, and sultry laziness of the bayou all come to life. More problematic is the aw-shucks folksiness of the prose, which struck me as affected rather than charming -- especially when paired with an intrusive narrator whose closest point of comparison might be the voiceover guy from the old Dukes of Hazzard TV show. Rachael (who once made the mistake of trying to sell me on The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making) can tell you that I have a long-standing aversion to intrusive narrators of any kind, but the one in True Blue Scouts felt particularly like someone was reading (and commenting) over my shoulder.

I didn't feel like the characterization was strong either. The villains (both human and porcine) reach near-Snidely Whiplash levels of cartoonishness, and in a year that's given us the careful nuance of The Water Castle and The Real Boy, I don't think that cuts it. The heroes felt a bit flat to me as well, but it was the treatment of the antagonists that struck me as especially dubious.

Finally, the pacing and structure of True Blue Scouts seemed questionable to me. This is a long book -- 371 pages in my ARC -- but it's cut up into 104 chapters, with most of the chapter breaks bringing a change of scene, disrupting the flow of the story. The pacing is leisurely, full of odd digressions and interludes that don't go anywhere, but the tone of the book is insistent, even alarmist, which made me feel rather like the novel was crying wolf at me for most of its duration. (This, by the way, was also my complaint about Keeper, Kathi Appelt's previous book, so make of that what you will.) I was particularly disappointed in the lack of payoff for the story elements involving the ivory-billed woodpecker, which was treated as a major motif for most of the book, but which just fizzled out at the end.

Many of the early reviews of True Blue Scouts are overwhelmingly positive -- Monica Edinger loves it, and it's received stars from Publishers Weekly, Booklist, Kirkus, and School Library Journal. I don't think it works, and I wouldn't put it on my Newbery list, but as I said at the beginning, I'm not really the right reviewer for this book, so feel free to take my opinion with as many grains of salt as you have available.

Publication in July through Atheneum / Simon & Schuster

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

2014 Contenders: Words with Wings, by Nikki Grimes

Gabby's parents have recently divorced, and she's about to start at a new school as Words with Wings opens. She's unhappy about both of those things, but finds solace in her daydreams, which generally take single words as their jumping-off place. But how can Gabby succeed at her new school when she always has her head in the clouds?

It's not a bad premise necessarily, but I have to confess that it's one that feels uncomfortably familiar. From Anne of Green Gables (1908), to Captain David, by Miriam Klugman (1991), to last year's What Came from the Stars, children's literature is littered with books featuring characters whose daydreaming and inattentiveness get them into trouble. Words with Wings slots a bit too neatly into this list, without bringing a particularly fresh perspective to a timeworn topic. Yes, the eventual response of Gabby's teacher, Mr. Spicer, is useful -- even inspiring -- but it's not necessarily enough to support an entire book.

Part of the difficulty, I think, is the format of the book. Words with Wings clocks in under 100 pages, and the fact that it's a verse novel means that a huge portion of that page count is white space. Gabby comes across reasonably clearly, but her parents, her new friend David, and even Mr. Spicer are all essentially ciphers. A book that treads such familiar territory lives and dies by the degree to which the story can present itself as individual, and I don't think Words with Wings really manages to escape the archetypal.

Now, Nikki Grimes is a skilled author (she won the 2003 Coretta Scott King for Bronx Masquerade, and has a mind-boggling four CSK Honors to her name), and so it's not as if Words with Wings is a difficult or tedious read. Some of the lines, indeed, are genuinely beautiful. I don't think it would be a particularly hard sell to a child reader who enjoys contemporary fiction and/or poetry. But I don't think Words with Wings rises to the level of "distinguished," and I don't expect to see it featured in the Newbery list.

Publication in September through WordSong / Highlights

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Mid-Year Newbery Predictions: Sam Edition

Rachael's given you her mid-year Newbery predictions, so without further ado, here are mine:

The Big Gold Medal

I was bitterly disappointed when Breadcrumbs was shut out of the 2012 YMAs, but I don't think I'll have to be disappointed again. The Real Boy hits each of the applicable Newbery criteria so hard that it will take them weeks to get back up. This was Rachael's pick, and I'm also behind it 110%.

The Fairly Large Silver Medals

Though they're very different books, I think The Water Castle may be this year's Three Times Lucky -- a middle-grade debut that wins readers (and the committee) over with its intricate plotting. The Water Castle also features strong characters and a lovely, atmospheric mood, and I think it may come away with an Honor.

I may be letting my heart rule my head here, but this is such a lovely and dexterous collection of poems, and the Newbery has seemed increasingly willing to recognize poetry over the last decade or so. I'd love to see this one take an Honor.

But what about...?

I think Courage Has No Color might be this year's We've Got a Job -- a very, very good book that doesn't have quite enough to make it onto the Newbery list. I do believe that it has an excellent shot at the Sibert though.

This one is my dark horse candidate for the YMAs. I've hardly seen anyone talking about it, but it's a lovely and honest look at a highly controversial figure. Again, I don't think it wins over the Newbery committee, but I'm hoping the Sibert folks warm to its considerable merits.

It's a lovely book, no question about it, but given the Newbery's long-standing aversion to easy readers, I just don't think it's going to happen. I hope this Penny wins the Geisel though.

Why I Have No Idea What I'm Talking About

Here are just some of the things I still have to read. So much is still to come before Newbery Day 2014!


Monday, July 8, 2013

2014 Contenders: Rump, by Liesl Shurtliff

IN A WORLD... WHERE YOUR NAME DETERMINES YOUR DESTINY... Rump is the butt of everybody's jokes. Rump isn't really his whole name, of course. It's just that his mother didn't live long enough to tell anyone the rest of it. Rump spends his days mining gold and enduring the taunts of his peers, until he discovers his mother's old spinning wheel hidden in the wood pile. This sets his fate (and the basic outline of the Rumpelstiltskin story) in motion. But in order to find his name and unravel his story, Rump is going to have to prove that he's the master of his own destiny.

Fractured fairy tales are an easy sell for me, and this one was an enjoyable read. The gentle scatological humor was a nice addition to the formula, and one that will easily win over its third and fourth grade audience. (And me. I like a good butt joke.) As Kirby Larson notes in her cover blurb, Shurtliff does an impressive job of drumming up sympathy for one of the Grimms' less likeable characters. There are fresh takes on some other fairy tale tropes along the way - the trolls are especially winsome, if also rather pungent.

This is the paragraph where I tell you that it's probably not going to win the Newbery Medal. There are a couple of flaws working against it. The most troubling one, to me, was the ease with which Rump ultimately figures out the rest of his name. It just sort of... dawns on him, and it feels like it only happens because the plot requires it to. Then too, the villains (especially the miller) are extra villainous - real mustache-twirling, belly-patting caricatures. I've read too many morally complex juvenile fantasy novels to be satisfied with that sort of thing.

As a first novel, though, it's impressive, and it will have no problem finding an audience. Hand it to fans of Adam Gidwitz, Lauren Oliver, or even your biggest fart joke enthusiasts.

Published in April 2013, by Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers (Random House) 

2014 Contenders: The Real Boy, by Anne Ursu

The Real Boy is set on an island in the twilight of its Silver Age, a world that largely rests on the laurels of those who came before. Magic was powerful once, but the true wizards are long gone, and only one person in the Barrow -- the magic-infused forest that surrounds the great city of Asteri -- is skilled enough now to even call himself a magician. This is Caleb, and Oscar, the novel's main character, works for him as a hand, collecting and grinding herbs. Everything seems peaceful on the surface, but there are signs that all is not well in the Barrow; signs that become increasingly unsettling as the book goes along. Oscar would like nothing more than to stay in his quiet routine and let others take care of the problems at hand, but that may not be a choice he gets to make.

This bare description of the setup does The Real Boy absolutely no justice. It's an astonishing book -- meticulous in its world-building, sharp in its characterization, and beautiful in its prose. Anne Ursu creates a universe that resembles little so much as an M.C. Escher drawing; everything seems perfectly normal at first, but the more both the reader and the characters examine it, the more vertiginous and off it becomes. Figuring out what is actually going on requires Oscar and his new friend Callie to peel back the comforting lies of their society to reveal the rotten truth beneath.

The Real Boy has much in common with Breadcrumbs, Ursu's last novel. Like Breadcrumbs, The Real Boy has no true villain, a somewhat ambiguous ending, and a protagonist with characteristics that aren't common in children's fantasy literature (Hazel in Breadcrumbs was adopted from India; Oscar in The Real Boy is almost certainly somewhere on the autism spectrum). However, The Real Boy is less fragmented, less deliberately subversive of fantasy tropes, and, though it retains an air of profound melancholy, less bleak. As a result, I think it may be easier for the Newbery committee to come to consensus around.

And make no mistake, this is a book that deserves serious consideration. It's far and away the best children's book I've read this year, and the finest exemplar in my opinion of the Newbery criteria. I can't see a scenario in which it doesn't make the reading list for our Maryland Mock Newbery, and I will be talking it up to anyone who will listen for at least the next six months.

(As a side note, The Real Boy for the Schneider as well? Fantasy novel or no, I've rarely read a book with as well-rounded and thoughtful a portrait of a character on the autism spectrum.)

Publication in September through Walden Pond Press / HarperCollins

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Mid-Year Newbery Predictions: Rachael Edition

The Big Gold Medal

 About 3/4 of the way through this one, I turned to Sam and said, "So, what do you think Anne Ursu will wear to the banquet for her acceptance speech?"

I was a pretty big fan of Breadcrumbs, but I think this one is even more well-crafted, (and - crucially, at the Newbery table - less potentially divisive). I don't want to steal the thunder of Sam's upcoming review, but everything - character, setting, theme, style - fits together to make a truly distinguished novel. Ms. Ursu is at the top of her game.

I luuuuuurve it.

The Fairly Large Silver Medals

I love this one almost as much as I love The Real Boy, but I think it will go silver - partly due to its sequel status. As I believe Sam is going to point out in an upcoming post, there's actually nothing in the rules preventing sequels from winning, but they've been overlooked for the medal for the past couple of decades.

Linda Urban's about due for some Newbery recognition, isn't she? And maybe this is the book that will earn it. It was the first book I reviewed this year, and its intricate structure and emotional honesty have stayed with me for lo these many months.

Ok, this is really more of a wish than a prediction, but Henkes captures a moment in the emotional life of a child so perfectly here that I just have to add it to my Honor list.

But what about...?

This is an impressive book. It is also completely polarizing. I have a hard time imagining fifteen people agreeing on its charms.

I'm in the "good, but not Newbery good" camp on this one. I think it lags behind some of the other titles in character development and style.

Why This Post is Full of Bologna

Here's what's still sitting on my "to read" shelf:

...and many more. So I will no doubt be eating my words come November, December, and most assuredly, January.