2015 Newbery Through the Decades–Wrap-Up

newbery through the decadesDo you know why I love blogging and don’t want to give it up, even when time grows scarce and I can’t get into this space as often as I’d like?  It’s because blogging gives me a little bit of room to express myself.  My interest in and passion for books and all things bookish, particularly children’s books, predates my foray into motherhood.  It predates my short career as a public elementary school librarian.  It predates the two delightful years I spent in library school earning my master’s degree in school media.  It predates my short public school teaching career.  It even predates the five years I spent as a library aide in a public library.  I’m pretty sure my interest and passion were ignited on my mother’s lap, though I don’t have strong memories of spending lots of time being read to.  My love of story is something that has been with me for as a long as I can remember, and publishing here at Hope Is the Word reminds me to stop and savor that.

I set as a life-goal the reading of all the Newberys at some point in my blogging career.  For a few years I was even really good at reading the year’s winners right after they were announced.  Still, I wasn’t making progress in reading those obscure, old titles that (gasp!) some libraries have weeded from their collections.  This challenge is very much my attempt to hold myself accountable so I can achieve my goal.  I’m so glad some of you have joined me for the ride! :-)

Here’s a list of links to all the original posts (which each contains a list of the eligible titles for that decade/month) and the link up posts.  The link up posts are where to go if you want to see what I and others read.

This year I didn’t read as many books as I optimistically hoped I would.  (Do I ever? :-) )  I completed thirteen books for the challenge, with one more currently in the works.  Here are the titles, with links to my reviews:

*Denotes a read-aloud

Picking favorites is very hard, for there isn’t a book on the list that I didn’t enjoy.  The one that stands out the most to me is Invincible Louisa by Cornelia Meigs, probably because of my nearly lifelong love of Little Women and my fascination with the Alcott family.  I still think about this book and the Alcotts some eight months later.  It spurred me on to read another work of children’s fiction about the Alcotts, and it has inspired me to move Alcott’s other works higher up on my mental TBR list.

I have to include Carry On, Mr. Bowditch by Jean Lee Latham on my top picks list because it is such an interesting and compelling story, and I enjoyed so much sharing it with my girls.  Having never read it before, we have been very gratified to find references to Nathanael Bowditch here and there in our studies.  (For example, in another Newbery read-aloud, Heart of a Samurai–it was yet another connection we made).

Lastly, I have to mention The Mostly True Adventures of Homer P. Figg by Rodman Philbrick. What an over-the-top adventure this one is!  I was so entertained by this book.  However, despite its entertainment value, this is a story with depth.  I handed this one off to Louise and she thoroughly enjoyed it, too.

There isn’t a bad one in the bunch, though.  I am very glad to have read all of them, and I’m already looking ahead to January when we’ll pick up the challenge again.  Who’s with me?  I’d love to hear all about what you read and what you liked and/or disliked.

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Read Aloud Thursday–October 2015


Hi, friends!  I’m here, just super duper busy.  (That seems to be a constant refrain lately, doesn’t it?)  I haven’t forgotten about you all, though, and I definitely haven’t forgotten about Read Aloud Thursday!  Sharing what we’ve been reading aloud is one of my favorite things to do, and I plan to keep doing it for as long as we read aloud. (And I’m not stopping!)

My reading with my girls has been pretty consistent–a chapter or two (or three or four, depending on their length and how much time we have) during the day from something related to our history and a “fun” read aloud at night.  Since last month we have finished Heart of a Samurai by Margi Preus as our history read-aloud.  I shared some connections we made between this story and other things we’ve learned here, and you can read my original review of the book when I first read it myself here.  We also finally finished Laddie by Gene Stratton-Porter, which was been our bedtime read for a long, long time.  You can read my thoughts about it here.

This month marked the first time in a long time (and possibly ever) that I abandoned a book in the middle.  I purchased Neil Gaiman’s Fortunately, the Milk back a few years ago after reading a positive review of it, and I had always meant to get to it.  After finishing Laddie, I thought we’d all enjoy a change of pace, and I figured that this one would definitely be that–it’s modern, a totally different genre, and short (which was the number one consideration after reading the 400 page Laddie!)  Fortunately, the Milk is actually not a chapter book–instead it’s a long-ish short story, with plenty of very quirky illustrations and typography, etc.  Unfortunately, none of us liked it.  We all just thought it weird.  I’m not one to give up on a book, but after several nights of plugging away at it, I just couldn’t bring myself to finish it.  Neither girl was disappointed.

Now we’re on to a couple of good ones!  :-)  For our history read we’re enjoying Bull Run by Paul Fleischman.  We’re almost two-thirds of the way through it, so I hope to share my thoughts on it in the near future.

Our night time read is special.  :-)  I’m one of those booklovers who has a hard time sharing books that are really personally meaningful to me.  (I still haven’t read Anne of Green Gables aloud!)
This year, though, in the months leading up to Christmas, I decided to read Little Women aloud.  Both girls have attempted it, and one of them may have read the whole thing.  However, neither of them loved it when she read it alone.  I’m not sure if this is because they both read it too young, or if they truly just didn’t enjoy the story.  I’m hoping to change their opinion of it with this reading.  We’re six or seven chapters in, and so far it has been a delight for me to share it with them.  I think they may even feel the same way.
Every so often–when I think about it and we have time–I’ll pull out this little gem of devotional thoughts by Corrie Ten Boom and share one with the girls at night.
This week I also started reading aloud Civil War!  America Becomes One Nation by James I. Robertson, Jr.  The girls usually read their history independently, but I’ve had a hard time keeping up with their reading lately, and this seems like a good solution for this busy time in our lives.  Plus, I like to read aloud from different genres.

This is where it turns ugly.  :-(

Just kidding.  Sort of.

I do read aloud to the boys, but I don’t read aloud to them NEARLY as much as I read aloud to the girls when they were of similar age.  This causes me untold guilt and grief.  I want to read aloud to them more, but squeezing more into an already jam-packed day is impossible right now.

Ok, enough sniveling.  Onward and upward to what we are reading!

A faithful blog reader recommended Escape from Baxters’ Barn by Rebecca Bond way back in August, and earlier this month I finally remembered to request it at the library.  I thought it might make a good chapter book for the DLM.  It turns out that it’s fairly sophisticated in a Charlotte’s Web kind of way, and I’ve considered shelving it until he’s a bit older.  However, as long as he’s game to read it most of the time, I’m going to keep going with it.  It’s quite enjoyable.  Stay tuned to find out if we really do finish it.  :-)

Picture books are definitely still his favorite thing.  (Full disclosure:  Transformer comic books are really his thing.)  
By far his favorite picture book this month is a new one:   I’m Cool! by Kate and Jim McMullan.  This one is about a zamboni, of course, but it’s identical in spirit to their other must-reads:  I’m Mighty!, I’m Brave!etc.  I can’t imagine a child, especially a boy, not enjoying these books.  The fact that the DLM tried to read this one surreptitiously at the dinner table last night is testimony to just how much fun it is.  :-)

Benny is just along for the ride with whatever we’re reading.   He’s a mostly mellow, go-with-the-flow kind of fellow, and that’s a good thing.

Well, that’s the bookish scene here at the House of Hope these days.  What does it look like at your house?  Please, link up your posts in the comments, or just tell us all about it!


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Leroy Ninker Saddles Up by Kate DiCamillo

Kate DiCamillo is a very prolific and well-loved children’s author, and her stories vary in genre, style, and age-appeal.  Her latest offering is a brand new book in her “Tales from Deckawoo Drive” collection.  Leroy Ninker Saddles Up is about a character familiar to those who already love the Mercy Watson series.  He is a diminuitive cowboy wanna-be who works at the Bijou Drive-In, parceling out popcorn and filling drink cups.  In this story he gets a start on his life-long dream of becoming a real cowboy by acquiring a real horse.  He dreams of a valiant steed he will name Tornado; he gets an elderly nag named Maybelline.  Still, there are gags and gaffes, and yes, even adventure, to be had in this book as Leroy figures out how to be a horse owner when he lives in a tiny apartment in town.  The story very appropriately ends with the two of them on Deckawoo Drive, enjoying a breakfast with none other than that “porcine wonder,” Mercy Watson and her family.

Like the Mercy Watson books, this makes a delightful read-aloud for the younger set.  The chapters are short and the Chris Van Dusen’s illustrations are both entertaining and plentiful. The DLM fell in love with our one copy of Mercy Watson early this month, so when I saw this title on the new books shelf at the library, I knew it had to come home.  We’re on our first re-reading now.  :-)    This book is not overly simplistic; in fact, I would wager a guess that the DLM doesn’t “get” any of the nuance or most of the vocabulary.  Still, he is carried along by the sheer improbability (and thus, hilarity) of the story, and the illustrations.  My only two caveats to offer about this book are these:  it is chock-full of “fake cussing”– first, Leroy almost constantly says things like “gol dangit” and the like; and second, several of the characters use both grammar and vocabulary that are wrong.  This makes for GREAT reading aloud, as the characters are easy to “read,” but if you’re concerned about reading that aloud to your younger children, you might want to give this one a pass. (I’m not of this opinion, by the way.)  Otherwise, definitely check out Leroy Ninker.  We look forward to many more volumes in the Deckawoo Drive collection!  (Candlewick, 2014)

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Red Sails to Capri by Ann Weil

I picked up Red Sails to Capri by Anne Weil for this month’s Newbery Through the Decades challenge because I remembered reading favorite reviews of it in the past, likely on homeschooling blogs or message boards.   I cannot recall now who said what about it, but it was enough to make me want to read it.  It’s a simple story about a fourteen year old boy, Michele, and his parents who are innkeepers on the island of Capri.  Life is predictable, even boring, on the island until a trio of gentlemen show up in the off-season.  The men are an English artist who seeks out beauty; a Danish student in search of quiet solitude; and a Frenchman who longs for adventure.  The Paganos are happy enough to have these three customers in their inn during their slowest season until the Monsieur Jacques’ thirst for adventure results in their extreme curiosity in a cove that excites nothing but fear into the hearts of the Caprians.  After much arguing and persuasion, a contingent of explorers (including Michele and his father) set off to explore this cove and make a wondrous discovery that will change the future of Capri forever.  (If you don’t mind spoilers and you haven’t already figured out what their discovery is, you can go here to learn what it is.)

I enjoyed this little book immensely.  It is the deserving winner of a 1953 Newbery honor.  (Charlotte’s Web also won a Newbery honor–yes, “only” an honor–in 1953, which I think is interesting to note.)  I don’t know why I didn’t make any connections to the resolution of the tale with the mystery of the cove, but I didn’t.  I think this probably made it a little more enjoyable to me.  Believe it or not, this little story contains a good bit of humor, which I found refreshing.  My favorite chapter relates how Michele’s mother, who is quite an accomplished cook, refuses to cook for her family or the inn’s guests because she doesn’t want them to explore the cove.  This leaves Michele and father with the task of preparing breakfast for the three gentleman whom they really want to keep happy.  To say that they have a difficult time preparing the Frenchman’s two requisite softboiled eggs is an understatement:

The table, an old wooden one, had been scraped and scoured for man years.  It was slightly higher in the center, but only an egg would have noticed the gentle slope.  These eggs, the two of them, noticed it immediately; and while Signor Pagano was bent over the fire, they rolled slowly down the incline and fell with a squash onto the floor.  (100)

Weil’s careful unspooling of the story and her attention to detail makes this a delightful read.  It reminds me a little bit of the old Hayley Mills flick The Moon-Spinners, mostly because of the exotic locale in which it is set.  This is also owing, though, to the air of innocence in the story.  A modern story with a fourteen year old male protagonist wouldn’t likely be one I’d be in a hurry to hand off to my nine year old daughter, but I’m planning to do just that with this particular story.  Highly Recommended.  (1952)

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Newbery Through the Decades: 1940s/March link-up

newbery through the decadesIt seems to me that this challenge just gets better and better!   This month I managed three books:  two Moffat books, The Middle Moffat and Rufus M., and Johnny Tremain by Esther Forbes.  I did review The Middle Moffatbut I haven’t had a chance to review Rufus M. or Johnny Tremain.  I’ve gone back and forth about whether or not I want to share my thoughts individually about each of the two March books I haven’t reviewed, but I’ve decided to just share them here in this post.

Rufus M. by Eleanor Estes is the third book of four about the Moffats.  In many ways it’s just a continuation of the story, only obviously this one focuses on the youngest Moffat, Rufus.  I didn’t love this one quite as much as I did The Middle Moffat, but I think this is because I don’t identify quite as much with seven year old Rufus as I do middle child Jane.  (For the record, I’m not a middle child–I’m the older of two daughters–but having four children myself I could easily imagine Jane’s thought processes.)  Still, though, Rufus M. is entertaining, funny, and endearing as only a book about an innocent seven year old boy can be.  Something about this story, set during World War I, is particularly poignant to me:  the ever-present war, their lack because of the war, and Rufus’ childish understanding of things.  These stories are big on heart, especially if you love stories about closeknit families that don’t have any of the angst that seems to characterize many modern stories.  Another thing I loved about this story is the sheer innocence in which Rufus lives:  he learns to read during this story; he learns to write during this story; yet he rides all over town by himself.  Something about all that is so very appealing to me in our day and age of early academics and ultra-sheltered children.   I love my modern conveniences, but sometimes I’d like to live in a bygone era for these reasons alone.  I really could go on and on about the Moffats:  their invidual personalities; how hard Mama works; the interesting historical commentary; etc.  The best thing I can say is this:  read them.  They don’t quite come up to the Melendys for me, but they’re close. Rufus M. won a 1944 Newbery honor, while The Middle Moffat won an honor the year before.  We’ll see tomorrow that Eleanor Estes finally gets her well-deserved Newbery Medal in 1952 with Ginger Pye.  Obviously, Eleanor Estes is a not-to-be-missed author!  I don’t see how I can’t read The Moffat Museum to finish off the quartet.

Johnny Tremain by Esther Forbes, the 1944 Newbery Medal winner, was our read-aloud for the month.  It took us much longer to read it than I expected, mostly because I spent part of the month sick and recuperating.  I’m not sure if it’s because we had a difficult and sort of topsy-turvy month or what, but I didn’t personally enjoy this one quite as much as I thought I would.  It is a very interesting story, yes, and it’s even suspenseful, despite the fact that we know how the big story ends.  I learned a lot about the setting, both the time (American Revolution) and place (Boston).  It made me think through some details about the revolution I hadn’t previously stopped to consider before, like the fact that some of the British soldiers actually sided with the Americans, and the fact that the war was actually a slow burn.  I just didn’t find Johnny Tremain himself very likable, but I’m not sure I was supposed to.  Esther Forbes was a talented author, and the medal is well deserved.  I’m glad to have read this one, even if it isn’t my favorite.

How did you fare with the challenge this month?  Did you love what you read, or were you indifferent?  I’d LOVE to hear about it!  Please link to your blog post or share your thoughts in the comments.

Don’t forget to come back tomorrow to find out what’s on tap for the 1950s!

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