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Monday, January 17, 2011

Newbery Winners 2011 A Big Surprise!

Who even thought that a new author would snag the Newbery this Year? It's a little bit of a let down, not only because Jennifer Holm once again took Honor, but because this was a book no one had heard about. When the winners were announced, I asked several of my fellow Children Librarian's friends if they had heard of the book, Moon over Manifest. Not one could even remember reading a review of the book. Of course, this does not mean that the title is not worthy, it just means that now we will all be placing the book on hold and reading it as soon as we can. The last few years, the choices for the Newbery has been interesting to say the least. If one observation could be made of the recent winners, and three top winners this year is that the main characters are orphaned, more or less. One can argue that children's literature has a rich history of abandoned children (Boxcar Children, for example) and that this observation is a moot point. That may be true but still I wonder if children's literature could use a new twist and shake up just to make things interesting.

Three of Newbery and honor winners all shared a common thread which is the main character were all female, and all had a mother who either abandoned them, could not care for them properly or a mixture of both. All female characters were resilient despite their circumstances. In Holm's book, Turtle in Paradise, tells the story of a young girl whose mother is always looking for a better life that will happen just like it does on the silver screen. Turtle knows better. Happy endings rarely happen in real life and if they did, well more than likely it wouldn't happen for her and her mother. Holm does a wonderful job of painting a vivid picture of life in the Keys, and how Turtle adjusts to her new surroundings with strength and wit she never knew she had.

One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Carlos, was sure to be the top winner this year. The buzz about the book last January was enough for some to think that it was a done deal. Apparently not. This story is set in 1968 with Delphine, along with her twin sisters, travel from Brooklyn to Oakland,California to visit Cecile, the mother who had abandoned them years before. So many problems with this scenario that where to begin is very difficult to determine. The book itself was written well, but while reading the book the question that kept needing to be asked was how could a mother feel that a movement is more important than her children. Granted Civil Rights movement was an important time in our Nation's history and children should understand the frustrations, struggles and obstacles that African Americans faced daily. However, having said that, there is something worrisome about a mother choosing to make a movement more important than her children. Call me crazy. Would have loved to learn more about Big Ma, meeting her was too brief and something tells me that she would have been the warm, nurturing, no nonsensce grandmother everyone would invite into their homes.

Moon Over Manifest by new comer Clare Vanderpool, is similar to Turtle in Paradise since they both take place during the Depression years. This story of an eleven year old girl named Abelene is sent to live with her father's old friend, in Manifest, Kansas. As stated previously, I have not read the book yet. Yet, it seems startling to me that the top three books all have children who were abandoned in one way or another. Heartwarming to know that all the characters have strength within themselves to get through their situation. Yet at the same time, it is hard not to feel some sadness that these girls do not have a warm stable home life. For once it would be nice to see a Newbery book winner where the main characters have both parents around. A little outdated? No, because two parent families still exist.

Marquie Perus' Heart of a Samuri also won Newbery Honor. If this were Sesame Street, everyone would be singing which one of these is not like the others. The setting is radically different from the other three and the main character is a 14 year old boy and set in the 19th century. I have not read this one either. However, this book sounds like it would be perfect for Summer Reading Programs, "One World, One Story". With this in mind, stay tuned for a part two of Newbery 2011 award discussions.
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