Monday, January 11, 2016

Newbery Winners 2016

Well, the Newbery winner and honor books have been announced this morning.  I am still quite disappointed that the winner was a picture book.  The Newbery is a wonderful chance to highlight middle grade fiction, and while the pendulum can swing between upper and lower grades, it generally represents chapter books with merit.  There is nothing in the award that states it must be a chapter book, but history and precedent play a part in defining the role of the award and by changing the parameters you lessen to opportunity for chapter books to shine.

Let me say that the Newbery winner Last Stop on Market Street is a beautiful book.  The illustrations absolutely blew me away, and the story is both simple and complex, bringing in many topics.   But it in no way can be defined as anything but a picture book.

The Caldecott is there to recognize picture books, and while it may only bestow it's honor on the illustrator, this does not mean that we should now consider the author in the Newbery category.  If you want to give the author more credit, why not look at the confines of the Caldecott award and make changes?

The skills it takes to write a chapter book of distinction are quite different than a picture book.  To somehow lump them in to the same category of comparison takes so much away from both.  What it took to create The War that Saved My Life or Echo cannot be compared to Last Stop on Market Street.  I am not taking anything away from the skills required to craft a compelling picture book, but to put them in the same category is ludicrous.

I also frankly feel that graphic novels should also have an award of their own.  Roller Girl was genius, but the tools required to tell an award winning graphic novel are not the same as a traditional chapter book, and should be judged separately.  I felt the same way last year when This One Summer won a Caldecott honor.  It is almost like saying that a painter, a sculpture and a photographer should all be judged together in the same art competition, despite the fact that their crafts are so entirely different and the training and skills required are subject to the medium in which they work.  Should we simply say they are all art and compare them none the less?

It is a sad day when the awards that are so recognized and heralded skip over chapter books.  Let's be frank about these awards, the general public really only cares about the Caldecot and Newbery winners and even their knowledge is limited when it comes to these.  This was a chance to give a  compelling chapter book it's day in the sun and instead we now have two picture books to contend with.  Again, I love picture books, but what a lost opportunity to both get kids excited about a chapter book and to honor an author who has constructed a vivid and complex narrative with only vocabulary at his or her disposal.

It feels like the judges want to be progressive and inclusive, and I applaud that.  But the judges change every year, and instead of getting a consistent and fair representation of the books which should be recognized, we are getting a hodge podge of changes that reflect how one set of judges feel in one particular year about their particular category.  We loose the overarching inclusiveness of the awards and in this case, to the detriment of the chapter book.  Yes, I am still quite disappointed.

Here is the Newbery winner and the Newbery Honor Books with my reviews:

Newbery Winner

Last Stop on Market Street by Matt De La Peña (Author), Christian Robinson (Illustrator)

Newbery Honor Books

Title: The War that Saved my Life

Author: Kimberly Bradley

Target: Grade 5-8

Series: No

What this book is about: 
Ada is a prisoner in her one room apartment in London.  She was born with a club foot and her mother uses her disability to keep her hidden away from the world.  Her abuse at the hands of her mother is deplorable as she cowers in fear of punishment from the smallest misstep.  When Ada’s brother is sent away to the countryside to escape the bombing of London in WWII, Ada sneaks out to join him and is sent to live with Susan, a woman who would rather not be caring for two young children.  However, behind Susan’s indifference, is a caring woman who grows to love these children, even if they have never learned how to accept unconditional love.  

Why I love this book: 
This book was achingly fabulous.  I say this because at times it is heartbreaking to read about Ada.  She is unable to accept Susan’s generosity, despite needing and wanting acceptance more than anything.  

I could not put this book down.  The whole time the reader is rooting and hoping for Ada, but she continues to sabotage herself and her chances for a better life.  

This book was also an insightful look the children of London during WWII.  I remember reading a book about this period when I was young and I was fascinated about this migration because it involved kids my age.  History as it relates to the kids reading it is far more interesting.

Who this book is for: 
Great for kids who enjoy historical fiction.  While this book deals with some serious issues, it does so in a way that is appropriate for it’s audience, however, kids will have to have a certain maturity to appreciate the bulk of the story.

Final thoughts:
 I think this book will certainly resurface when we start talking Newbery contenders. 

To purchase this book:
Click on the following link to connect to Amazon: The War that Saved My Life  A portion of each purchase will go to support this blog at no cost to you.  Thank you for your support.

Title: Roller Girl

Author: Victoria Jamieson

Target: Grade 5-7

Series: No

What this book is about: 
Twelve year old Astrid and her friend Nicole are trying to decide what to do over the summer before they start middle school.  Nicole loves ballet, but Astrid is dreaming of becoming a roller derby champion.  When Nicole choses ballet camp with Astrid’s arch enemy over roller derby camp, their friendship is seriously threatened.  Perhaps it is time for these two friends to move on and follow their own passions.

Why I love this book: 
I am always looking for strong graphic novels to recommend after kids have read Smile and Sisters.  This book perfectly fits the bill.  The graphics are clean and realistic, reminiscent of Raina Telgemeier.  The story is an honest look at friendship, hurt feelings and following the path that is right for you.

I enjoyed Astrid.  I liked that Roller Derby camp was hard and that she wanted to quit - welcome to the real world.  I liked that she didn’t always get the positions she wanted, despite working hard and that she had to deal with jealousy when her friend got a spot she was coveting.  These show kids that even in stories, characters can have happy endings by adjusting their expectations instead of expecting everything to go their way.  A lovely message that rings true.

Who this book is for: 
Great book for kids who enjoyed Smile and Sisters.

Final thoughts: 
I love that Astrid is a fierce strong girl to be reckoned with.

To purchase this book:
Click on the following link to connect to Amazon: Roller Girl  A portion of each purchase will go to support this blog at no cost to you.  Thank you for your support.

Title: Echo

Author: Pam Munoz Ryan

Target: Grades 5-8

Series: No

What this book is about:  
Three sisters are trapped in the woods by a witch’s spell.  Their only hope of escape is a harmonica which must save a life in order for them to be released,  The reader follows the path of the harmonica from Otto, a boy lost in the woods, to Friedrich, a German boy during World War II.  Just as we find Friedrich about to be taken by the Nazis, the harmonica moves to an orphanage in Philidelphia two years later where Mike and his brother are searching for a family.  Just when it seems that they will never find a new home and peril will befall them, the harmonica moves seven years in time to California with a Hispanic girl whose family is looking for a better life.  As the fate of her brother who is fighting in the war is about to be revealed, we learn how this harmonica has changed the lives of all the people it has touched.

Why I love this book: 
This book requires us to be invested in the lives of four characters whose stories are heartbreaking and hopeful all at the same time.  Each story leaves you on the edge of your seat as a new one begins, only providing resolution in the final few chapters.

I love historical fiction and this one deftly delved into Germany during the war, the US before they were involved in WW II as well as the Japanese internment and the early plight of the Hispanic community in California.  I was wholeheartedly caught up in each story and their beautiful resolution made the journey a satisfying one.

Who this book is for: 
This is a hard one for me.  This book is 587 pages and it looks scary.  However the print inside is large so it reads much faster than it’s girth implies, but I can see kids getting intimidated.  This is one of those books that will require a little intervention to get kids to pick it up but they will be happy they did.  My son is reading it for school literature circles and was quite caught up in the story, so with some encouragement I think kids will take to the story.

Final thoughts:
This one will be talked about come awards season.

To purchase this book:
Click on the following link to connect to Amazon: Echo  A portion of each purchase will go back to support this blog at no cost to you.  Thank you for your support.


  1. I'm never very thrilled with the awards, so this is sort of a medium "meh" year. Liked Roller Girl and War That Saved My Life; haven't seen a Newbery picture books for YEARS. Echo was just... confusing. Like Flora and Ulysses, just not buying!

  2. Thank you for your thoughtful commentary, Freya! I couldn't agree with you more on the question of this year's Newbery Medal winner. My reaction (I was watching the live feed) was one of true disappointment for all the reasons you have given.

    1. Thanks for letting me know. Glad to know I wasn't the only feeling that way!