Archive for February, 2019

Review of The Book of Boy, by Catherine Gilbert Murdock

Friday, February 8th, 2019

The Book of Boy

by Catherine Gilbert Murdock
illustrations by Ian Schoenherr

Greenwillow Books, 2018. 278 pages.
Starred Review
2019 Newbery Honor Book
Review written March 7, 2018, from a book sent by the publisher.

[Disclaimer: This review was written before I ever discussed the book with the Newbery committee and after only my first reading. The opinions expressed are only mine, and only my first impression.]

After reading the first few chapters of this book, I thought I’d stumbled on a book that had the same basic story as The Journey of Little Charlie, by Christopher Paul Curtis – except in Little Charlie the young innocent was forced to journey with and help a slave catcher, and in The Book of Boy the young innocent was forced to journey with and help a relic thief.

But I was quite wrong. Although The Book of Boy started out this way, the story that followed was completely different from anything I’d read before.

Yes, Boy is young and innocent. He’s a hunchback and doesn’t like the way people are afraid of him and call him a monster. The book is set in medieval Europe, just after a Pestilence has gone through the land. A pilgrim demands his aid in carrying a pack. Boy thinks they are going to protect a relic of Saint Peter, but it turns out the pilgrim will use Boy to steal more relics.

We learn some interesting things about Boy and about the pilgrim along the way. The pilgrim can’t touch any relics of St. Peter, but for Boy, the relic already in the pack warms him and makes it so people don’t notice his hump. Every morning when Boy wakes up, no matter where they have camped, animals curl up and sleep with him. What’s more, after a while we realize all the talking Boy does to animals isn’t just rhetorical. Animals understand Boy and talk to him as well.

Secundus the pilgrim wants to gather seven relics of St. Peter, and he has a compelling reason. And although he is indeed a thief, he grows under our skin as their journey continues.

But Secundus the pilgrim doesn’t win us over as fully as Boy does. He is indeed a young innocent forced to help with thievery – but he learns things along the way about his own true nature which are most surprising.

This is ultimately an uplifting book, full of details about life in medieval times. You’ll enjoy the company of the good-hearted Boy, who can talk with animals and is very surprising.

Here’s what the Newbery committee had to say about this book: “From Murdock’s first line, readers are swept into an epic quest across Europe in 1350 with Boy and a mysterious pilgrim, adventuring to recover seven relics of St. Peter. Layered characters from goats to nuns, lyrical language, and multiple reveals combine to create this powerful story of redemption.”

catherinemurdock.com
epicreads.com

Buy from Amazon.com

Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Childrens_Fiction/book_of_boy.html

Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

What did you think of this book?

Newbery Notes – Choosing the Winner!

Thursday, February 7th, 2019

I’m back from ALA 2019 Midwinter Meeting in Seattle – and the culmination of more than a year of work on the Newbery committee! So it’s time to give some last notes about the process.

The content of our discussions is top secret, and I can never reveal what was said. But an outline of how things went is fine.

I arrived on Thursday, January 24. That evening, those of us who were there met for dinner. We learned that we were down one person, so only 14 of us would be deliberating. But we did learn that the member who’d had a baby the previous Saturday was still going to make it! She left her baby with her husband and mother and was coming only the minimum possible time, leaving Sunday before the announcement.

Friday morning, we met in a locked room beginning at 8:00 am. ALSC sent a copy of all the nominated books in a locked trunk. Only our chair, Ellen Riordan, had the key.

The rest of us were assigned some books to bring a second copy of. Only books nominated by the committee were discussed. But we each had 7 nominations. That was a lot of books! (But I won’t say how many. Minimum possible was 7 and maximum 98. We were somewhere in the middle.)

We put all the books on the table. Our mission that first day was to reduce the number. We did discuss all the books. Then we decided which ones to eliminate.

I wasn’t actually well-prepared for that step. It is in the manual — but the procedure isn’t as defined ahead of time, so I had overlooked it. It was hard to let some of the books go, though we made clear that we honored all of the books and appreciated what wonderful books they were. In fact, some of us channeled Marie Kondo and thanked the books as we put them back in the trunk.

Fortunately, we had a Deliberation Giraffe on hand to hug when we were mourning the departure of a loved book.

The next day, we had far fewer books to discuss. Again, I can’t say how many. But discuss them we did! In much greater detail than the day before.

And eventually, we made our choice. It was not easy, and we were there from 8:00 am to 9:00 pm. We ordered lunch in and only had a short break for dinner. But before the day was done — we had chosen a winner and two honor books.

The next day, we wrote our press releases. We put stickers on the winning books and took them to the ALA Press Office, heavily wrapped up. I loved the “Ooooo” that came out of the woman who received the books.

We got a picture of the full committee including Emily, who was going home to her baby that evening.

Then Monday was the day of celebration, the reward for all our labor. We arrived at 5:50 am to call the winning authors. I was very glad to still be on east coast time!

They first put us in a tiny closet, but the phone there didn’t work, so they moved us to a beautiful conference room. We called all the authors and got to hear the moment when their lives changed. (We didn’t consider this, but I loved it that all three are first-time honorees.) It took three tries to reach Meg Medina, the Medal winner, and she was heart-touchingly eloquent, so thankful, realizing that there’s not much separating all the books, and so happy that we loved Merci, and excited for what this would mean to Latino girls and boys.

The wonderful thing about the conference room was that we stayed there after the phone calls were done. Many times during the process, Ellen had gone around the room and asked us how we were feeling. We did that one more time — and it was especially meaningful, talking about the journey we’d been on all year. Some members of the committee had an especially challenging year, and we were so glad they made it through. (We were missing the two who started the journey but weren’t able to finish, even though the person who stepped into the gap had done a fine job.) Ellen expressed appreciation to each one of us, and we were all feeling so thankful to be part of this distinguished group of people.

Then came the Youth Media Awards, beginning at 8:00, when all the awards were announced, Newbery last.

Remember how I was sad to see books go earlier? Well, the Youth Media Awards really mitigated that sadness. Remember that we read lots and lots of children’s and young adult books this year. That meant that a huge percentage of books that won awards — for both children’s and young adult — were books we had read and loved. And also a very high percentage were ones we had seriously considered for the Newbery. And, yes, some were ones I was personally a bit sad had not been chosen by us — and seeing them win other awards mitigated that sadness. Yay! Just because they weren’t in our committee’s top three didn’t mean they weren’t magnificent books.

This year there weren’t a lot of books that got multiple awards. And that made me happy. It shows that there were many wonderful books published this year and lots and lots of book love to spread around. In fact, our winners didn’t get any other awards — which makes me all the more glad they were chosen by us.

And finally came the moment we’d been waiting for — the announcement of the winner of the 2019 John Newbery Medal and two honor books.

After the announcement, I went to the publishers’ booths in the exhibit hall and got pictures with “our” winners.

I am so happy about our choices! And looking forward to the banquet in June in Washington, D.C., when the awards will be presented and we’ll get to meet the authors.

Review of The Night Diary, by Veera Hiranandani

Thursday, February 7th, 2019

The Night Diary

by Veera Hiranandani

Dial Books for Young Readers, March 2018. 267 pages.
Starred Review
Review written December 3, 2017 from an Advance Reader Copy.
2019 Newbery Honor Book

[Disclaimer: This review was written before I ever discussed the book with the Newbery committee and after only my first reading. The opinions expressed are only mine, and only my first impression.]

The Night Diary is set in a time I knew nothing about: 1947 India, the part that became Pakistan.

Nisha and her twin brother Amil live with her Papa and his mother Dadi and their beloved Kazi, the cook. Their mother died when giving birth to the twins. They are twelve now, and Nisha is writing letters to her Mama in a diary that Kazi gave her.

Nisha’s Mama was a Muslim, but her Papa is Hindu and they live as Hindu, but Kazi is Muslim. Many didn’t want her parents to get married, but they moved to a place where all religions lived together peaceably. That is about to change.

When the British left India, it was decided that they should partition India into two countries – Pakistan for Muslims and India for the remaining religions, particularly Hindus. So Nisha and her family need to move.

Nisha’s father is a doctor and he listens to the ideas promoted by Gandhi. He lingers in their town probably longer than they should. Eventually, their journey to cross the border into India is fraught with danger. They have many brushes with death.

On top of this, Nisha has trouble speaking to anyone who is not family. This will add to her challenges on the road.

This book is based on the author’s father’s family’s experiences at the same time. It adds power that this story of refugees is based in truth.

Sadly, refugee stories are always timely. As are stories about conflict between religions. I like the way Gandhi’s ideas of religions living peacefully together are included – though still showing the nonsensical side of hatred based only on religion.

This is a powerful story, including brushes with death, but it’s all told from a child’s eyes and in a way a child can understand.

Here’s what the Newbery committee said about the book: “Following introspective Nisha and her family as they flee their homeland for an uncertain future, Hiranandani illuminates the 1947 partition of India with unprecedented balance and sensitivity. Through spare evocative diary entries addressed to her late mother, Nisha discovers the complex beauty of her Hindu-Muslim identity.”

veerahiranandani.com
penguin.com/middle-grade

Buy from Amazon.com

Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Childrens_Fiction/night_diary.html

Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

What did you think of this book?

Review of Shout, by Laurie Halse Anderson

Saturday, February 2nd, 2019

Shout

The True Story of a Survivor Who Refused to Be Silenced

by Laurie Halse Anderson

Viking Children’s Books, March 12, 2019. 290 pages.
Starred Review
Review written February 1, 2019, from an advance reader copy picked up at ALA Midwinter Meeting.

[I do need to make a category for teen nonfiction. That’s what this is, but it certainly is appropriate for adults, so I’m going to list it on my nonfiction for grown-ups page.]

I read Laurie Halse Anderson’s novel Speak during library school, when I was taking a class on young adult literature (but wasn’t posting reviews because I was too busy). The novel, written twenty years ago, is already a classic. It features a girl who doesn’t speak because she’s traumatized by what happened to her at a party just before she began high school.

Now Laurie Halse Anderson is telling the true story of what happened to her.

This memoir is written in verse, and the poems are hard-hitting. She gives an outline of her background and the incident that happened to her that was later reflected in the book Speak. But more than that, she includes in the book many stories that were told to her after she wrote Speak. Stories from teens both female and male, and stories from women and men.

Here’s a bit from the poem “tsunami,” which is about the reaction from teens after Speak was published.

tens of thousands speak
words ruffling the surface of the sea
into whitecaps, they whisper
to the shoulder of my sweater
they mail
tweet, cry
direct-message
hand me notes
folded into shards
when no one is watching

sharing memories and befuddlement
broken dreams and sorrow
they struggle in the middle
of the ocean, storms battering
grabbing for sliced life jackets
driftwood
flotsam and jetsam from downed
unfound planes, sunken ships
and other disasters

She also writes about how much resistance there is to her books from teachers and principals, hoping if they keep her from talking about bad things, bad things won’t happen at their school.

the false innocence
you render for them
by censoring truth
protects only you

It’s not all sadness and tragedy, though. There are many sweet moments. I loved the part when, as a bewildered new author, she was a Finalist for the National Book Award. A student journalist commented on how friendly the five finalists, including Walter Dean Myers, were with each other and asked “Aren’t you supposed to be competitors?”

Walter took the mic and smiled
“No,” he said. “Not competitors.
We’re coconspirators, and we like it that way.”

I also love the part where she describes the year she spent studying in a student exchange program with a family on a pig farm in Denmark. That was a time when it was good to be on a new continent.

And I love the poem “yes, please” about how lovely it is to get a Yes.

the taste of someone who has proven
worthy
of your yes
is worth the questing, slow beckoning
interrogating, interesting, conversating
adventuring yes is ongoing
yes enthusiastic
yes informed
yes free-given
yes the truest test
of sex
the consent of yes is necessary

But the overall story is that the time to simply speak is done. Now it’s time to shout.

As she says in the final poem, “my why”:

stories activate, motivate,
celebrate, cerebrate,
snare our fates
and share our great
incarnations of hope

This is a wonderful book. I’m passing on my advance reader copy, because I know I’ll want to read it again in the finished form. Watch for it in March. The poems stick with you and get into your heart.

madwomanintheforest.com

Buy from Amazon.com

Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Childrens_Nonfiction/shout.html

Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

What did you think of this book?