Newbery Through the Decades–1980s/July link-up

newbery through the decadesThis month I’ve done a lot of reading, and almost all of it has been Newbery reading!  Here are the books I’ve read and reviewed that won Newbery recognition in the 1980s:

This is an interesting and diverse lot of books:  a coming-of-age novel, a poetry collection, a trio of short stories, and a picture book.  They’re all so very different that I can’t pick a favorite, though I can say that reading two selections by Paul Fleischman back-to-back makes me appreciate his versatility.  Also, I have a warm place in my heart for William Steig and his mice.  🙂

What have you read this month?  Link me up in the comments!

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Monthly Reading Report: June and July 2016

    I’ve decided that a bimonthly reading report is all I can do. I really try to write up a monthly reading report, but it never fails that by the time I actually get around to thinking about doing it, half the month is gone, so I give up.  This time I’m giving my bimonthly report before the month ends–wow!  So from here on out, I’ll just plan to do this thing every-other-month.  🙂
    What I read in June and July:
    • By the Light of a Thousand Stars by Jamie Langston Turner.  I did not review this one because, well, time, mostly.  That, and because I’ve already reviewed lots of books by Turner, I feel like another post might be a bit redundant.  She’s one on a very short list of Christian novelists I still read.  I enjoy her stuff.  This one’s a gentle conversion story, like all her books I’ve read so far.  It’s also set in the South, which I enjoy.  Written from multiple perspectives, this books depicts the relationships of four women who live in the same community and gives insight into their relationships with each other and with God.  What I would consider the main protagonist in this story isn’t very likable–she’s very stuck up and difficult to live with, but (of course), there’s a backstory there that halfway explains some of her issues.  “Real life” happens in Turner’s novels (for example, one of the main characters in this story has just lost her teenaged daughter in a traffic accident), but usually the stories resolve somewhat happily and tidily with a conversion experience.  I’m feeling rather disillusioned these days, so sometimes that rings a little hollow in its tidiness.  Nevertheless, these books are usually page-turners for me, with a bonus that Turner is an English teacher so she makes lots of literary references.  That’s refreshing.  Here are the other books by Jamie Langston Turner I’ve reviewed:
      1. A Garden to Keep
      2. No Dark Valley
      3. Some Wildflower in My Heart
      4. The Suncatchers
      5. Winter Birds
    • I re-read When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead on the heels of re-reading A Wrinkle in Time.  I distinctly remember after reading When You Reach Me the first time that I thought, “WOW!  I should go back and re-read this immediately!”  Of course, I didn’t.  However, I did read this time with more attention to detail and with a sense of “this time I’m looking for clues.”  This is a knock-your-socks-off kind of book.  Highly Recommended.

What I read aloud in June and July:

To say that our read aloud routine hasn’t been what it used to be is an understatement.  We have been reading, though:

Audiobooks for June and July:

  •  Lulu and I listened to The Case of the Left-Handed Lady by Nancy Springer and thoroughly enjoyed it.  
  • By the official month’s end I will no doubt have finished A Long Way from Chicago by Richard Peck, but we’ll count it for next month since it’s a 1990s Newbery winner (and August is the month for 1990s for the Newbery Through the Decades challenge.)

The DLM has listened to quite a few audiobooks, but they’ve mostly been repeats:  he loves Alexander McCall Smith’s stuff in particular.

I have a few things in progress, but that will wait for next month’s report month-after-next’s report.  🙂




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Abel’s Island by William Steig

I am enjoying William Steig’s world of uber-sophisticated mice these days.  First was Doctor De Soto; more recently it has been Abelard de Hassam Chirico Flint, Abel for short.  Abel is swept away from his very civil life by a storm when he attempts to keep his beloved Amanda’s scarf from being driven away by the wind.  When the storm blows itself out, he finds himself marooned on an uninhabited island where he then lives for a year.  After trying to rescue himself several boat and bridge-building attempts, Abel settles down to life there and learns to survive, all the while maintaining most of his civility.  Almost the entire 117 pages is devoted to Abel’s comings and goings, first daily, and then seasonally as the days pass.  Although written in third person, it is Abel’s very complex thought-life that comes through via the voice of the narrator.  I was captivated by this very humane little mouse.  Here is an excerpt to give you an idea of the type of mouse Abel is:

How good to be standing on solid earth again.  He did some quick knee bends and ran around the tree just for the joy of free movement.  Then he sat on a stone, his elbows on his knees, and looked up and down the river.  Perhaps by now they had managed to figure out what had happened to him and would be turning up in a boat, or something, after all.  He waited, and to keep himself amused, he hummed snatches of his favorite cantata and imagined how he would narrate his adventures.  He would be quite matter-of-fact, especially about the parts where he had shown courage and endurance; he would leave the staring and gasping to his audience.  (17)

It is no spoiler to say that this story has a happy ending; one would expect nothing less for Abel.

In addition to Abel’s sophistication, two things make this book very enjoyable:  Steig’s black-and-white illustrations, which are emotive and delightful, and the book’s urbane vocabulary.  There are words in this story the definitions of which I can only guess (or look them up 😉 ), though context provides enough clues to get a general idea.  I appreciate that in a children’s book with a deceptively simple cover and title.  There’s much more to 1977 Newbery honor recipient Abel’s Island than meets the eye!

So far William Steig is two-for-two in my book.

newbery through the decades


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Doctor De Soto by William Steig

Picture books dot the Newbery Medal landscape.  According to the terms of the Newbery award, any genre–fiction, nonfiction, or peotry–may be considered, and the target audience includes “persons of ages up to and including fourteen, and books for this entire age range are to be considered.”  Still, it seems to me that it would require a picture book of some complexity or with a very compelling theme to stand up to what an entire novel can sustain at least for the purpose of garnering the attention of an awards committee.   There happens to have been two picture book winners during the 1980s, one of which is Doctor De Soto by William Steig.  Doctor De Soto is a sophisticated story–one that might serve as a cautionary tale to intelligent but trusting mice everywhere.  😉  It’s the story of Doctor De Soto, a dentist who happens to be a mouse, and his assistant wife.   Accustomed to treating all sorts of animals, they break their own rule about treating animals that are natural enemies of mice when a fox with a very bad toothache begs for their help.  They keep their wits, though, and, with a very clever dental treatment,  manage to thwart the fox’s plan to eat them.  It’s the juxtaposition and sheer improbability of first, a mouse dentist, and second, that a mouse in such a precarious position (inside a fox’s mouth, no less) could outfox the fox, that make this story delightful.  Couple those improbabilities with fantastic illustrations (Steig was cartoonist for The New Yorker for years) and intelligent and very endearing characters, and you have a winning combination.  It’s like a modern-day Aesop’s Fable, only perhaps the moral mostly goes for mouse dentists.  🙂 Highly Recommended for any age.

newbery through the decades

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Graven Images by Paul Fleischman

Curious to read more from Paul Fleischman’s varied oeuvre, I picked up a collection of three of his short stories that won a Newbery honor in 1983.  Entitled Graven Images, the stories share a common element of some sort of statue or figure that represents something to the characters in the stories.

The first story in the collection is “The Binnacle Boy.”  Set in the seaside town of New Bethany, Maine, it is the story of a ship, Orion, that returns to port with all its crew inexplicably deceased.  The main character in the story is Miss Evangeline Frye, whose adopted son was on the Orion.   Miss Frye’s home is within sight of the binnacle boy–the wooden statue that held the ship’s compass. It was taken off the ship and placed before the townhall as a sort of memorial for the ship’s crew.  It quickly becomes a confessor for the people of the town, and it is looked at with awe and reverence.  A cadre of town busybodies soon learn that Miss Frye’s hired girl can read lips (because she is hearing impaired), so they press her into service as their spies to learn the secrets of the town.  These secrets include everything from the mundane to the deadly.  The story ends with a shocking revelation of the identity of the person who killed the Orion‘s crew.

The second story is “Saint Crispin’s Follower,” and it is the story of a cobbler’s apprentice in Charleston, South Carolina, who is in love with a young woman, Juliana, who works in the local grocery.  The master cobbler is always reminding his apprentice, Nicholas, about the patron saint of cobblers, Saint Crispin, and how he watches over cobblers and directs them.  Thus, it is the metal weathervane in the shape of St. Crispin that becomes Nicholas’ compass, especially in relation to his pursuit of Juliana.  This results in a comedy of errors that ultimately ends in the coming together of not just the one couple, but two.

The last story is “The Man of Influence,” which is the story of Zorelli, a proud stone carver.  He has been without work for a while because although he lives in a prosperous (Italian?) trading city, his usual patrons, the tradesmen, have fallen on hard times.  He is out wandering one night, engrossed in his own dejected thoughts, when he comes upon an apparition who hires him to carve a likeness of himself.  The ghost hasn’t the appearance of one Zorelli would usually consider worthy of his craftsmanship, but because he promises Zorelli a more than adequate remuneration for his work, Zorelli consents.  The result of Zorelli’s work is that he learns a lot about his own misplaced pride and judgment.

These are very sophisticated stories thematically.  All three of them are what I would consider dark in tone, although the degree of darkness varies.  By far the darkest is the first one, and I’ll admit I didn’t like it very much.  “The Binnacle Boy” reminds me of something out of one of Hawthorne’s stories.  My favorite by far is the third, “A Man of Influence.”  One of its themes is that appearances can be deceiving, and I positively love that Zorelli learns that just because someone looks to be fine and upstanding doesn’t mean that he is.  (I think this is something that we could all use more practice in discerning.)  These stories remind me of something that might be in a high school literature anthology; in fact, they would make good comparison/contrast pieces to pair with works (like some of Hawthorne’s, for example) with similar themes.

Fleischman is a master wordsmith, that is for sure.  I marked so many passages to share!  Here are a few snippets from “Saint Crispin’s Follower”:

The shoemaker studied his lanky apprentice.  The boy was thin as a wrought-iron picket, with a shirt that hung like a sail in a calm.


The apprentice stared at her in awe.  His heart broke into a trot, then a gallop.


He looked down, and suddenly realized that his entire supply of words had fled his mind like a frightened flock of birds.  Trembling, Nicholas glanced around, ransacked his brain for something to say, and finally , in desperation, mutely thrust the bouquet at Juliana.

These are the opening lines from “The Man of Influence.”

Lightning twitched like a dreaming dog’s legs.  The wind blew.  Rain fell.  And Zorelli lay awake in the night.

And one final description which I love:

He eyed the ghost’s teeth, crooked and sparse, leaning like tombstones in a forgotten graveyard.


Fleischman’s writing is rich and entertaining.  I wouldn’t say these stories are enjoyable, exactly, but if you don’t mind dark stories heavy with meaning and symbol, these are the stories for you.

My reviews of other books by Paul Fleischman

newbery through the decades

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