Saturday, January 11, 2014

Highlights of 2013 Reading - Newbery Medal Selections

I think my blog has been trying to send me a message.  I received 5 emails in the past week that there were anonymous comments on the blog, all of which were about how to get anti-anxiety meds.  Yes, I have been a bit anxious this past year.  No, I am not taking medication for it. And no, I am not going to follow a link from an anonymous comment on a blog to learn how to get alprazolam/zolpidem/any medication in the entire world.  Unfortunately for anonymous commenters, I have now changed the settings to not allow anonymous comments.  Sorry for those of you who liked to comment anonymously, but spam is too annoying. 

Reading: I read 44 books in 2013, the same number of books I read in 2012.  This was not planned and at the beginning of December when I had only 39 on the list, I did not think I would match the previous year.  But the next couple books on the Newbery Medal list were quick ones and I rallied.  Since I didn't do a great job of updating the blog on my reading, here are the highlights.

To recap my Newbery challenge: I plan to read all Newbery Medal winners from the year I was born to the present, in the order they won.  I am not reading runners-up or honorable mentions, just the winners. I am providing a link to the complete list of Newbery Medal winners so you can follow along at home.

I completed 19 Newbery Medal winners, the selections from 1971 to 1989.  Coincidentally, the last one read was from the year I graduated from high school, so I have read through my childhood.  I liked some better than others (no surprise, of course). 

Since one of the winners was the 4th book in a 5 book series, I read the other 4 in the series also (the winner was The Grey King by Susan Cooper, the series was The Dark is Rising) and discovered I do like some fantasy books after all.  It incorporated legends of King Arthur and different mythologies into the classic good versus evil story with some fun time-travelling. 

Another of the books,  Dicey's Song by Cynthia Voigt, was a sequel so I also re-read the first book (Homecoming).  Part of the reason for re-reading was just an excuse to re-experience some books by a favorite author from when I was in high school.  I loved the strong female characters in these books.  Homecoming is the story of 4 siblings whose mother leaves them in the parking lot of a mall in Connecticut.  Dicey, the oldest at 13, realizes her mother is not coming back and leads her siblings to the home of a relative they have never met.  They are walking, have little money and are not sure what awaits them.  It is a very emotional journey as the reader and the siblings encounter many characters along the way and struggle to know whom to trust.  Dicey's Song picks up their story after the journey, as the siblings try to adapt to their new home and still try to understand their mother and why she left them.  Heavy stuff for young adult fiction, but very well written and fully-formed characters.

Some other Newbery winners I liked with similarly heavy subject matter: The Slave Dancer by Paula Fox (13-year old Jessie is kidnapped and sent on a slave ship where his job is to play his fife and "dance" the slaves to keep their bodies strong and therefore profitable) and  Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred Taylor (racism in Mississippi during the Great Depression).

A few of the winners were books I had read one or several times before.  One of my "rules" with this challenge was that I would re-read them, no matter how recently I had last read them.  Re-reads were a chance to fall in love all over again with some of my favorites: Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson (story of 2 outcasts who become friends and create a wonderful imaginary kingdom where they rule.  Made me cry, just like it did the first time I read it.); The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin (wonderfully written mystery with great characters - kept me guessing and trying to figure out who-done-it just like the first time.  Apparently I did not remember the ending...); Sarah, Plain and Tall by Patricia MacLachlan (a slim book about 2 children, their widowed father and a woman who answers a newspaper ad and moves from Maine to the Midwest prairie to become their mother and wife).

Some of the books I expected not to like (because of subject matter, style, or main characters who were rodents) but enjoyed thoroughly: Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert O'Brien (actually found myself cheering for the Frisby family (mice) and the rats as they work together to move the mouse family's home out of danger's way and keep one step ahead of the research lab);  A Visit to William Blake's Inn by Nancy Willard (a collection of magical and fanciful poems inspired by William Blake's Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience); Joyful Noise: Poems for Two Voices by Paul Fleischman (insect-inspired poems written to be read aloud by 2 people - I made E read a few of them with me); and Lincoln: a photobiograpy by Russell Freedman (I didn't really know what to expect and thought I knew everything I needed to know about Abraham Lincoln.  Turns out, I knew next-to-nothing about this fascinating man.  Wonderfully written and great illustrative photos of key points.).

Other books I liked that don't fit into one of the weird random categories I created above: Julie of the Wolves by Jean Craighead George (an Eskimo girl escapes a bad family situation and lives among a pack of wolves - an inadequate description of a book full of cultural commentary and nature lessons); A Gathering of Days: A New England Girl's Journal, 1830-1832 by Joan Blos (historical novel about a 13-year-old girl who experiences loss of a friend and her father's remarriage, and helps an escaped slave.  And I LOVE epistolary books!); Dear Mr. Henshaw by Beverly Cleary (a boy starts writing letters to his favorite author as part of an assignment for school.  His letters soon turn to journal entries as he tries to become a writer himself, and we learn about his struggles with his parent's divorce, his absent father, loneliness in a new school and someone who keeps stealing his lunch.  Did I mention I LOVE epistolary books?); Jacob Have I Loved by Katherine Paterson (which I described in a previous post). 
There you have it. Some of the Newbery Medal winners I enjoyed last year.

Coming (hopefully) soon: other reading highlights from 2013.

Until we read again,

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