Newbery Through the Decades–1990s/August link-up

newbery through the decadesAugust has come and (almost!) gone and I’ve done a respectable amount of Newbery reading for the month. Here are the books I’ve read and reviewed that won a Newbery during the 1990s:

I enjoyed all three of these books a lot and recommend them all!

What have you enjoyed for this month’s Newbery Through the Decades challenge?

Shabanu by Suzanne Fisher Staples

Shabanu: Daughter of the Wind by Suzanne Fisher Staples won a Newbery honor in 1990.  I first read it for a children’s literature class when I was in library school a decade and a half ago.  My memories of it were that it is a good story, full of insight about a people group and an area of the world I will likely never see.  Reading it now as a parent gave me a slightly different take on it, though I still consider it a beautifully written (if at times difficult) story.

Shabanu is the story of Shabanu, a young Pakistani girl of the Cholistan desert, and her coming of age.  Coming of age stories are usually a hit with me; I love tracking with a protagonist through their growth pains and realization of who they are and are becoming.  The very plot of this novel turns on Shabanu’s coming to marriageable age.  The story opens with Shabanu enjoying her camel, being outdoors, and essentially being the son her father never had.  Her family is looking forward to and preparing for her older sister’s marriage to Hamir, to whom Phulan has been promised for years.  Shabanu herself has been promised to Murad, the younger brother of Hamir, though their marriage is not in the immediate future.  Shabanu is spirited, even rebellious at times, but she considers her future marriage to Murad with innocent curiosity and even anticipation.  Murad seems like a good match for her.  Of course, all of these pleasant plans are upended by a seemingly innocent turn of events, and we get to see the reality of life in a culture where women are considered property and girls don’t have the option of making up their own minds.  Still, Shabanu keeps her selfhood intact thanks to the support of her very powerful and liberated aunt, and the story ends as well as it can for her.

This story really isn’t for the faint of heart.  There’s a good bit of discussion and understanding about physical maturation and s**, and just the whole arranged marriage discussion is quite jarring to the western sensibility.  However, it is eye-opening.  Also, Shabanu is a very likable character–spunky and smart and self-aware.  And then there are the camels!  Oh, how I love Staples’ depiction of the relationship between the desert nomads and their camels!  The whole nomadic lifestyle is interesting, and Staples paints vivid word pictures of the Cholistan desert, monsoon season, the hardships and joys of desert nomadic life, and the intricacies of the familial relationships.

I’m glad I re-read this one.  I couldn’t hand this off to one of my girls without being willing to discuss some hard things with them,.  However, in the interconnected world in which we live, some of the conversations this book would provoke are needful.  Highly Recommended (with the aforementioned caveats).  (Random House, 1989)

newbery through the decades


Some new picture books we’ve enjoyed

Going to the library is one of the joys of my life, and my favorite part of going to the library is browsing the new books shelves.  We’ve picked up quite a few winners lately.

This first book is just a rip-roaring delight.  Pirate’s Perfect Pet by Beth Ferry is sure to tickle the funnybone of ‘most anyone.  It’s the story of a pirate named Captain Crave who retrieves a message in a bottle from the deep blue only to learn that it’s from his mum.  She is sending him a checklist from Be Your Best Buccaneer magazine.  He meets all the criteria of the list except a few:  the peg leg is, as he says, “on me to-do list” and he has no pet.  The rest of the book recounts his quest to find his perfect pet.  He and his crew mates visit and wreak havoc in the zoo (and he gets his peg leg, check!) and are then sent post haste to the local pet store.  There, in a most satisfying exchange, he finds his perfect pet.  My DLM loves this book, choosing it over a vast array of other choices.  The text is delightful:  full of rhythm and rhyme and alliteration and clever plays on words.  I don’t want to ruin it with any spoilers at all, so I’ll just say this:  if you can get your hands on this one, do it!  Highly Recommended.  (Candlewick, 2016)

Goodbye Summer, Hello Autumn by Kenard Pak is a slow and gentle read that is perfect for this time of year.   It is a conversation:  the child in the book goes for a walk and makes observations by addressing the various parts of nature she encounters, and the plants and animals speak back to her.  The tone of the book is serious and observant.  When I first started the book, the text felt a bit awkward to me.  However, the combination of the conversation of the text and the subtle illustrations worked their magic on me, and by the end of the book I was ready to turn around and read it again.   The illustrations are lovely–watercolor and pencil drawings–and very evocative of the subtly changing seasons.  This is a good one to add to your list of books for autumn.  (Henry Holt, 2016)

This last book is a sweet and comforting one for the younger set.  Safe in a Storm by Stephen R. Swinburne is a lyrical reminder to little ones that they are safe in their parents’ care while a storm rages over them.  The little ones in the book are from many different species:  giraffes, wolves, whales, and many more (even sloths).  Jennifer A. Bell’s illustrations are both sweet and evocative of movement, which is perfect for this book in which the wind is always blowing.  Benny loves this one and gives it a Highly Recommended.  In both tone and rhythm it reminds me of one of our favorite board books, Time for Bed by Mem Fox.  That’s high praise indeed.  (Cartwheel, 2016)

That’s a few of the ones we’ve enjoyed lately.  How about you–any new discoveries in your book basket?

Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech

I re-read Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech for this month’s Newbery Through the Decades challenge.  I had vague memories of reading it years ago, and I did remember the general outline of the plot.  However, both the details and the theme were mostly lost to me.  I finished the book not ten minutes ago in tears.  Wow.  What a story.

Walk Two Moons is a quest story.     Thirteen year old Salamanca Tree Hiddle (Sal) is on a cross-country trip with her grandparents to find her mother.  Her whole family, including her grandparents, had lived in Kentucky up until just after her mother’s disappearance.  Gram and Gramps are taking Sal to her mother’s apparent destination of Idaho.  Along the way she tells them a story about her new life in Ohio.  As she tells them the story of the disappearance of her friend Phoebe’s mother, she realizes that her own story is “hidden” under Phoebe’s story, and we have the unfolding as Sal shares her story with her grandparents.

Quirky is the best word I can use to describe this story.  Sal’s grandparents are a little eccentric (perhaps?) but very likable.  Her grandfather uses all sorts of what I must assume is meant to be regional slang.   He calls Sal his chickabiddy and her grandmother his gooseberry.  Sal herself also speaks this way just a little.  The characterization is well done and makes the story very enjoyable.

All I can say about this story’s theme without giving too much away is that it is all about grief, its effects, and acceptance.  It’s also about the mother-child relationships and families.  Sal comes to realize that everything that happened with her mother is not her fault.  Her self-awareness grows as she tells Phoebe’s story.

I really love this book, though there are things about it that discerning readers might find problematic:  Sal prays to the trees (because she can see them and can’t see God), there is some talk about Native American beliefs, and there is a romantic element between Sal and her friend Ben.  Overall, though, I think the message of this story is heart-wrenching, beautiful, therapeutic, and wortshile.  Highly, Highly Recommended.

newbery through the decades

A Long Way from Chicago by Richard Peck

I am a Richard Peck fan.  In fact, if I made a short list of my favorite contemporary children’s/YA authors, he’d be at the top.  I find his blend of humor and poignancy irresistible. Add to this the fact that he writes about common midwesterners (which are astonishingly like southerners, at least in my mind), and you have a recipe for a perfectly enjoyable book that also tugs the heartstrings.  The Newbery award committees and others think so, too.  A Long Way from Chicago won a the Newbery honor in 1999; its sequel, A Year Down Yonder, won the gold in 2001.  I first read these two novels in my pre-blogging days and LOVED them.  (They even made my list of my favorite books ever.)   I listened to A Long Way from Chicago, performed by Ron McLarty, recently and with much anticipation and enjoyment, and I was not disappointed.

A Long Way from Chicago is the story of Joey and his sister Mary Alice, denizens of Chicago, who visit their Grandma Dowdel in rural Illinois every summer.  The subtitle/tagline of the book is “a novel in stories,” and so it is:  each chapter recounts the experiences of Joey and Mary Alice from another year, 1929 through 1935, with the conclusion being the year 1942.  Joey tells the stories, and we get to see Grandma Dowdel and her dealings with her neighbors through his eyes.  Grandma Dowdel is, as we say here in the South, somethin’.  She “likes to keep herself to herself”; that is, she keeps her own counsel, and she always has something up her sleeve.  She’s not above doing something underhanded, but it’s always to get back at the town busy bodies and better-than-thous.  Joey and Mary Alice’s first experience with Grandma Dowdel involves giving a big city reporter his comeuppance when she hosts the wake for Shotgun Cheatham (whom the reporter just happens to believe is a big city gangster).  Grandma Dowdel gets the reporter drunk and scaring the bejeebers out of him. (The title of this chapter is modestly and hilariously understated:  “Shotgun Cheatham’s Last Night Above Ground.”)  I don’t want to overshare about their hijinks, but to suffice it to say that something like this happens every summer.  The novel isn’t without its subtleties, though.  The kids grow up over the course of the novel, and Grandma Dowdel softens– not in her behavior, but in our perception of her.  With the last chapter, Grandma Dowdel’s soft heart towards her grandchildren is shown in a very poignant way, and (naturally) I was in tears.

Richard Peck’s writing style is reminiscent of that master of understated comedy, Mark Twain.  Without complete context, this isn’t as funny as it should be, but here’s a snippet:

I’d never seen Mr. Weidenbach before, but this couldn’t have been one of his better days.  Over his head on the wall above the desk was a widemouthed bass, stuffed.  “You will have to excuse me,” he boomed, showing us chairs.  “This crackbrained rumor that Dillinger is still alive is doing our business no good.”

“If it’s a rumor at all,” said Grandma, on her dignity and then some.  “A rumor is sometimes truth on the trail.”

“I am interested to hear you say so, Mrs. Dowdel.”  The banker pulled the purse strings of his mouth taut.  “It brings us to the point.”

I love the imagery:  the widemouthed bass, the banker’s mouth that is a purse.

Richard Peck is a very prolific author, and I’ve only read his historical fiction (which also includes some animal stories).  I’d like to branch out and read from his other genres.  I give both Richard Peck and A Long Way from Chicago a Highly, Highly Recommended.


Other reviews here at Hope Is the Word:

newbery through the decades