Tag Archives: Newbery Medal

The Last Cuentista, by Donna Barba Higuera

Petra wanted to be a cuentista, a storyteller, just like her abuelita. When she boards the spacecraft with her scientist parents and her little brother, Javier, she comforts herself that at least she can spend the 380 years of their flight in stasis with all of the world’s mythology and stories being downloaded into her brain. When they arrive at their new planet, she will be the cuentista for a whole new civilization. Then, just as she is being strapped into her pod, she finds out that her parents said no to the storytelling download. She will just have the much more practical botany lessons for the whole flight. Her pod fills with gel, her body functions are stopped, and she is supposed to be asleep. But she realizes that she is still conscious, and there is no way to tell the Caretaker that she is not asleep. She can’t call out, wave her hand, or even move her eyes.

Three spaceships are leaving Earth because a great comet is on a collision course with the planet. The survivors are chosen because of their skills that will be useful for a fresh start on a new Goldilocks planet, but some were selected to live out normal lives—working, caring for the stasis pods, reproducing, and dying—just as they would have on Earth. But 380 years is a long time, and people get ideas, and the isolated culture that lands on the planet may bear little resemblance to the ones who boarded the ship long ago.

The Last Cuentista won both the Newbery Medal and the Pura Belpré Award this past January. From the title and the cover, I was expecting to dive into a traditional South American story with magical realism, but just a few pages in, we were boarding a spacecraft! Somehow, Higuera’s Latina protagonist was able to transport her Hispanic culture into a futuristic setting. The story is filled with the tension of most sci-fi tales dealing with survival in alien landscapes, but the more Orwellian terror of ruthless power structures is what propels our heroine into action.

Higuera uses both the past and the future to show that, although our history is filled with war and tragedy, human beings have also created art, music, and loving traditions that should not be abandoned. The richness of our past is the foundation for building a beautiful and meaningful future.

Highly recommended for young teen to adult.

Disclaimer: I read a library copy of this book. Opinions expressed are solely my own and may not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.

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Watercress, by Andrea Wang, illustrated by Jason Chin

A young girl in Ohio is embarrassed to pick watercress from the side of the road with her immigrant parents. She hopes that no one they know will drive by. Once they are home, sitting at the dinner table, she refuses to eat the watercress, saying that she only wants to eat vegetables from the grocery store. Her parents are flabbergasted that anyone would reject food that is fresh and free. Any parent reading this picture book will recognize the look on the girl’s face: it is the universal refuse-to-eat-vegetables face. Mom goes into the bedroom and retrieves a photo of her family when she was a little girl in China. During the great famine, they ate whatever they could find, but it was not enough. In the picture is a pitifully thin little boy, and the girl realizes that her uncle is not alive today.

Andrea Wang won an Asian / Pacific American Award, Boston Globe / Horn Book Award, and a Newbery honor for Watercress. The mark of a great picture book is the ability to convey great meaning and emotion in a few words while keeping the book appropriate for and appealing to children. Wang does exactly that here, in a story that she confesses in her author’s note is somewhat autobiographical. In just a small amount of text, she brings her first-person narrator from anger to understanding, and her readers will have their eyes opened to the depth of their own older relatives’ experiences. Wang encourages everyone to tell their stories to their children.

Jason Chin won a Caldecott medal for this book. In his note, he says that he used misty, soft blue, green, and ochre tones as if to evoke memories, like the ones the parents have of growing up in the Chinese countryside. With just a stroke or two, he shows the girl’s anger and disgust at living differently from all of her friends and classmates. Later, her face is a picture of shame when she comes to understand her perfectly practical parents. Chin also won awards for his previous book, Grand Canyon, and his work has a distinctive and pleasing style.

Watercress is a lovely picture book for every child that will foster understanding of different cultures as well as encouraging gratitude for their blessings and honor for older people.

Disclaimer: I read a library copy of this book. Opinions expressed are solely my own and may not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.

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The Girl Who Drank the Moon, by Kelly Barnhill

Barnhill_GirlWhoDrankMoon_FINAL_PRNT.inddThe first baby born each year must be taken into the woods and sacrificed to the witch. So say the town elders, just as they have said for hundreds of years. Otherwise, the crops will fail, the volcano will explode, and sickness and sorrow will fall upon all of the townspeople. However, the town is always sorrowful in any case, and even the sky is forever gray.

In the forest, a very busy and bustling witch named Xan hurries to the spot where, she has learned from long experience, she will find a newborn baby on this day each year. Why in the world the townspeople insist on abandoning a child every year she does not know, but she is always there to rescue the baby, feed it with starlight, and find it a new home with loving, happy parents in one of the towns on the other side of the wood. On this particular year, however, the baby girl is especially lovely and sweet, with black hair, black eyes, and skin the color of amber. Xan takes her time walking through the forest, and in a moment when she is distracted by the sweetness of the baby’s coos, she reaches behind herself to fetch starlight, but gathers moonlight instead. Well, everyone knows that feeding on moonlight is enmagicking, so now Xan is in a pickle. She can’t possibly deliver an enmagicked baby to a mortal family, so she decides to raise Luna herself, along with Glerk, the bog monster, and a very tiny dragon named Fyrian.

As Luna tumbles joyfully through her days in Xan’s cottage, her magical abilities grow so rapidly that she becomes a danger to all around her, so Xan casts a spell that will hold in Luna’s magic until she is thirteen, giving Xan time to teach her. However, the spell has consequences that Xan did not anticipate, and as evil darkens all around them, Xan’s magic begins to fade, but Luna is still under the spell and completely unaware of how to save her family from total destruction.

This bewitching novel won the Newbery Medal for 2017. Barnhill has created memorable characters, from Xan’s lovable family—the wise bog monster, childlike dragon, and grandmotherly witch—to the ordinary young man who finds his inner hero, the power-hungry politicians, the pitiable madwoman, and the hideously evil villain. One of my favorite characters was Ethyne, an ordinary, non-magical young woman who was smart, confident, loving, and brave, and who radiated the undervalued power of the traditional woman’s gifts. She chose a husband, loved him so well that she made him better than he could have been without her, wore her baby in a sling with a “come at me” attitude, sweetly offered tea like throwing a gauntlet, held unflinching eye contact with those in power, and generally took charge of the world. She was completely positive, kind, and terrifying. I loved her.

All those who long to see good triumph over evil will enjoy this magical story— part fairy tale, part thrilling adventure. Highly recommended for ages ten to adult.

Disclaimer: I read a library copy of this book. Opinions expressed are solely my own and do not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.

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Musings on the 2015 Youth Media Awards


Since I have been under the weather, I watched the ALA Youth Media Awards presentation at home on my laptop, clapping and exclaiming all by myself, except when my husband wandered into the room occasionally. I did not intentionally read for the awards this year, but as a collection development librarian, I was familiar with all of them and had read a good portion of the contenders, so of course I had some opinions.

CrossoverMy overriding thought is: “Oh, I am so glad I blogged a review of The Crossover just two days before it won the Newbery award!” My friend is the leader of a Mock Newbery Club, and this is one of her favorites, which is the main reason why I would ever read a sports novel in verse at all. Good job, Martha. Crossover also won a Coretta Scott King honor. My second thought on the Newbery Award is that the ALSC needs to have a big conversation on updating the Newbery Committee’s guidelines on the use of illustration, since El Deafo, a graphic novel, won a Newbery honor. I am delighted to see this very worthy book win an award, but I don’t think anyone else considered it seriously because it really is dependent on the illustrations, which conflicts with the Newbery Award definition. An important conversation to have.

RightIn other happy surprises, the Sibert Award went to a picture book! The Right Word was a favorite of mine, partly because it is about the thesaurus. Who wouldn’t love that? It is adorable and extremely informative, which is what the Sibert is all about! On the other hand, I did expect The Family Romanov to win more than just a Sibert honor. No Printz? No Newbery?

The Adventures of Beekle would not have been my choice for Caldecott, but my fellow librarian / blogger, Kerri, and her little daughter beg to differ at www.mlreads.com. Noisy Paint BoxThe Caldecott committee went crazy this year with six honor books! Some of my favorites among them are Sam and Dave Dig a Hole, The Noisy Paint Box (a picture book about the artist Kandinsky), and, again, The Right Word. They even chose a graphic novel for older children called This One Summer! Glad to see graphic novels being celebrated for literary excellence, and the publisher, First Second, is a slam-dunk choice for great graphic titles.

Grasshopper Jungle, the startlingly brilliant book that I mentioned in my Reading Roundup (that we all devoured but hesitated to hand to a child), won a Printz honor, and well deserved, too. This One Summer also won a Printz honor in addition to its Caldecott honor.

TruckI don’t usually wait for the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award for Lifetime Achievement with bated breath, but any mother of boys loves Donald Crews: Truck, Freight Train, and so many others. Mr. Crews has provided us with hours of enjoyment when my son was young, and I can’t even begin to count the number of times I’ve handed his books to library patrons.

Alex Awards are given for adult books that would appeal to teens. There are ten each year, and I am currently reading one: All the Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr (review soon, but I can tell you it’s gorgeous). The other one that I clapped for was The Martian, by Andy Weir, which was fantastic and will soon be a movie!

Ava LavenderMy biggest disappointment was that I felt that The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender did not get enough love. It was a Morris (debut award) finalist, but I thought it should have at least received a Printz honor. Well, there’s always next year for Leslye Walton. Also, although I was glad to see Rain Reign, by Ann Martin, win a Schneider Family Award for books concerning disabilities, I would have liked to have seen more decorations on that cover.

Lastly, though, how are they going to fit all those medals on the cover of Brown Girl Dreaming? Will we still be able to read the title? Congratulations to Jacqueline Woodson on writing such a beautiful memoir. If you haven’t yet, go out and get this one for yourself and your kids.

For all of the winners, go to http://live.webcastinc.com/ala/2015/live/.

Now to 2016! I’ve already started reading!

Disclaimer: Opinions expressed are solely my own and do not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.

Youth Media Award logo from: http://live.webcastinc.com/ala/2015/live/.

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Awards Season Reading

OK, people, it’s time to get serious. No more adult literary novels, romances, or light reading about how your brain or pancreas may work or go on strike. It’s fall, and that means buckling down with the contenders lists and plowing through everything that could possibly win the Newbery or Printz Awards in January. Although I read children’s and teens’ books all year long– I just finished a favorite trilogy– I tend to concentrate on the top titles in the fall, simply because I would be devastated if a book won an award and I had not read it. How else could I support my outrage when the official committees choose the totally wrong books?

ImageFirst, the trilogy I just finished. I’ve reviewed the “Girl of Fire and Thorns” series by Rae Carson earlier in this blog, and I will just tell you that you will not be disappointed in this last volume, The Bitter Kingdom. At first, Elisa and her companions spend a bit too much time tromping around in the woods, but the action picks up and after many nerve-wracking decisions, action-packed battles, and romantic interludes, the series comes to a satisfying and just conclusion. Over the course of the three books, we see Elisa move from a confused and demoralized teenage girl to a confident and powerful queen. If you love a book with a strong heroine or want a great role model for your teenage daughter, you can’t do much better than Elisa.

Now on to the contender lists. I build up my lists from personal reading, reviews and purchases for the library system, our library system’s Mock Newbery and Printz Clubs, phenomenal friends, and the various blogs out there tracking the best of the best. So far, I’d say that I’ve read four titles this year that are contenders, probably for the Printz:

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Eleanor and Park, by Rainbow Rowell

Fangirl, by Rainbow Rowell

Out of the Easy, by Ruta Sepetys

All the Truth That’s in Me, by Julie Berry

Of these, my top pick might be Eleanor and Park, followed by Out of the Easy. Of course, that may change as I read along and follow blog discussions. I will also be visiting the Newbery and Printz clubs later this fall, and the teen readers there can be very persuasive—not to mention the brilliant club leaders, who have been doing this for years.

On my nighttable to read next are the following titles, all of which are considered worthy by one or more of the above sources:

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Rose Under Fire

 Counting by 7s, by Holly Goldberg Sloan

The Sin-Eater’s Confession, by Isa J. Bick

Rapture Practice, by Aaron Hartzler

The Lord of Opium, by Nancy Farmer

                                                      All Our Pretty Songs, by Sarah McCarry

                                                    Rose Under Fire, by Elizabeth Wein

Also on hold for me at the library, but not yet published (and no advance reader copies!) are:

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Flora and Ulysses, by Kate DiCamillo

Boxers & Saints (two graphic novels), by Gene Luen Yang

Fortunately, the Milk, by Neil Gaiman

Zombie Baseball Beatdown, by Paolo Bacigalupi

I wish I could read them all at once! As you can see, I have my work cut out for me. Although I may sneak in a random adult title or non-literary teen novel at some point, these books will comprise most of my reading list for the next few months. Won’t you come read with me, so that we can cheer or razz together this January?

Disclaimer: I read a library copy of The Bitter Kingdom. My opinions are solely my own and do not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.

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