by Barbara Thompson Book, Indiana University Southeast
Previously, we looked at the 2014 Caldecott Winner Locomotive by Brian Floca. Then winter exacted its continued revenge in the Northeast and I became a victim of a door locked against the cold, a door jam and cement. Meaning, I fell and dislocated my finger, broke ribs and more. So this week we play catch up.
I promised the answer to who are Flora and Ulysses? Flora and Ulysses are the main characters of Kate DiCamillo’s 2014 Newbery award winning novel Flora and Ulysses: The Illuminate Adventures. Flora is a young cynical girl (her own description), who lives mostly in her head acting out her favorite action character Incandesto from the comic book The Illuminated Adventures of the Amazing Incandesto. Flora’s father has recently moved from her house to an apartment. Flora currently lives with her romance fiction writing mother. Ulysses is a squirrel that through no fault of his own is transformed into super-hero, poet writing, squirrel. While illustrated by K. G. Campbell, this novel not a graphic novel, but uses that genre’s feel to give readers an insight to Flora and Ulysses’ thoughts and some of their actions.
Flora thinks in comic book structure and thus readers who enjoy graphic novels will appreciate the nuances of Flora’s thought process. The novel will also serve as a strong introduction to the graphic novel genre. I appreciated the simplicity of plot interwoven with the complex, yet mostly understandable, language. As a language lover, the squirrel poet went to the core of my love of language. This novel offers emerging proficient readers a solid base from which to explore many platforms.
Four books were named honor books. These run the gamut of the Newbery award age range from Kevin Henkes’ The Year of Billy Miller at age 8 to Paperboy by Vince Vawter middle school. Billy Miller is going into second grade when he falls from the Jolly Green Giant lookout in Blue Earth, MN (text to self connection—there’s a really great Dairy Queen right outside of Blue Earth where my mom and aunt would stop with my cousins and me on our yearly journey back to their home town in southern MN. This LA girl would wait all year for that stop as it signaled summer and cousins to a child from the Dairy Queen-less west coast) and lands on the pavement. From there the reader journeys with Billy through the joys and sorrows of 2nd grade. Set in 13 point font, the text is clearly directed to the beginning chapter book reader. With only few iconic illustrations, Billy Miller supports the reader in ways reminiscent of the Beverly Cleary Klickitat Street character books. The text is straightforward, as is the plot and while well-developed, the characters have traits familiar to the 8 or 9 year old reader.
Doll Bones by Holly Black was a frontrunner in the pre-Newbery award discussion board. (For those of you not aware, beginning in around September, children’s literature fans begin to handicap the race with blogs, list-serves etc.). The novel is inhabited by three youngsters who are making the perilous journey from pre-teen to teen and while having played together all their lives, they are finding middle school to be taxing on their make-believe worlds and friendship. In their play, they are ruled over by The Great Queen who curses all who go against her. In reality she is a China doll who lives in a cabinet. The book is one part ghost story and one part coming of age. Rebecca Stead author of When You Reach Me, says “A little bit scary and full of heart, this story grabbed me and wouldn’t let go.” “Nobody does spooky like Holly Black. Doll Bones is a book that will make you sleep with the lights on,” say Jeff Kinney of Diary of a Wimpy Kid fame.
Paperboy by first time novelist Vince Vawter is the story of a young man who stutters. He has assumed the paper route of his best friend Art, known to us as Rat (because the Paperboy can’t pronounce the A in Art when they first meet) because in the last day of school the protagonist hits Rat in the mouth with a fast ball. (Art is his catcher and he has one heck of a fast ball). Art goes off to recuperate on his grandparent’s farm, and our main character assumes his paper route. You might notice I’m not naming him. That’s because it isn’t until the last chapter we learn his name. He avoids it because it begins with a letter he cannot say easily. (Spoiler alert- don’t read the back cover as School Library Journal’s review mentions his name!) Through the month of July the paperboy steadfastly completes his route, dreading Fridays when he must collect his subscriptions. While on his route he learns that some people have challenges, some people need love, some people have explored the world, and some people are bullies. Set in Memphis in 1959, with all that implies; this novel of self-discovery and danger is a stirring insight into the world of a stutterer. In the author’s note at the end Vince Vawter reveals that this novel is autobiographical and gives the reader resources on stuttering. This first novel is a page turner I believe many pre-teens and middle school readers will enjoy for many years.
Finally, One Came Home by Amy Timberlake brings us 13 year old Georgie. Who can resist a novel that’s second sentence is “the date sticks in my mind because it was the day of my sister’s first funeral and I knew it wasn’t her last—which is why I left”? (p. 1) Georgie lives with her mother, grandfather and older sister Agatha in Wisconsin in 1871. Her sister goes missing and when a body is brought back to her home town in her sister’s dress, the family believes Agatha has been murdered. However, Georgie is of the belief that something else has happened to Agatha, and with the help of Agatha’s former love, goes off in search of her. This highly engaging novel provides mystery and excitement for the reader. Who is the “one” who comes back? What happens to the others? And what do wild pigeons have to do with this story?
These five novels, all of which depend on extremely strong characters, will engage readers for years to come.
Next week, and then there are the rest.
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