Four Honorable Books And A Goat
Three and a half months left to achieve my goal of reading five Newbery and five Printz books this year. I've finished my Printz list and enjoyed two Newbery winners since my last post on the subject. Here are the novels I haven't reviewed:
Where Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley won the 2012 Printz award. Seventeen-year-old Cullen Witter spends a lot of time daydreaming about Ada Taylor (his perfect girl), zombies attacking Ada's current boyfriend and and escaping from Lily, the tiny Arkansas town where nothing ever happens. At least until his brother Gabriel disappears. At the same time, an obsessed ornithologist claims to have spotted an extinct woodpecker in Lily. As Gabriel's disappearance stretches to months and Lily is overrun with birdwatchers, Cullen's family and friendships unravel. Ada, who has a thing for boys with bad luck, finally notices Cullen. He tries, really he does, to be happy but Ada isn't exactly what he imagined and she complicates his life. Meanwhile Cullen struggles to hold onto his belief that his brother will return. But how long can you believe in things coming back?
Skellig by David Almond won the 2000 Printz award. Michael retreats to the crumbling garage at his new home while inside the house, his frail baby sister needs constant medical care. Among the garage's spiders, dust and dead bugs, Michael discovers a dried up, wrinkled old man named Skellig. The man tells him to go away but Michael brings him Chinese food and aspirin. He keeps Skellig secret until he meets his neighbor Mina, a home-schooled girl who quotes William Blake and nests in a tree drawing birds. Micheal brings Mina to see Skellig and shows her the bumps under the man's coat on his back. As Michael's sister is hospitalized, he and Mina move Skellig from the falling down garage to an abandoned house. Then they convince the old man to take his coat off and he unfurls the wings they hoped to find underneath. Mina believes Skellig is a bird-like creature left over from ancient times. But Michael dares to hope he's an angel and if he is, maybe he dares hope his sister will survive.
A Single Shard by Linda Sue Park is the 2002 Newbery winner. Young Tree-ear lives under a bridge in 12th-century Korea with his old friend Crane-man. They are the poorest of the poor, living off garbage scraps and rice that falls from sacks. Tree-ear's greatest joy is peeking from his hiding spot to watch the ancient potter Min create graceful celadon pottery. One day he dares to examine Min's boxes, drying in the sun. The old potter catches him and the boxes smash on the ground. Tree-ear hauls heavy loads of clay in a rickety wheelbarrow to pay Min back while he dreams of making pottery. When he's worked off his debt, he convinces Min to let him continue working for a noon meal. Then the royal ambassador comes to select pottery for the palace. Even though Min has ignored the boy's pleas to teach him the craft, Tree-ear is determined to help his master win the royal commission. But what will it cost him?
Flora and Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo won the 2014 Newbery Medal. DiCamillo makes me never stop trying to write the best book I can. Every book she pens is unique and stunningly beautiful. Flora and Ulysses opens with a squirrel being sucked up by the Ulysses 2000X, a super sonic vacuum cleaner. Ten-year-old Flora Belle Buckman rescues the unfortunate creature and names him Ulysses. Ulysses wakes from his near death experience with super hero powers and a love of poetry. Flora takes him home and the two become instant friends. But Flora's mother, horrified by the germy squirrel, plots to carry it off in a sack and conk it with a shovel. Flora enlists the aid of her father, a boy with hysterical blindness, a neighbor and a wise old woman to help save the squirrel. The book is told in alternating comic book strips and text with Flora's favorite comic book phrases and advice sprinkled throughout. When Flora learns the squirrel can type she thinks: Holy Bagumba. Things are going to change around here. We're going to slay villains left and right. But she never counted on the arch villain being her mother.
So that's seven award-winning books read this year. Three Newbery's to go.
And now a word about today's art. Goat. Don't ask me why. I had a sudden urge. I've never drawn one before. I like goats but I'm not familiar with them like I am with horses and dogs. This creature would probably be insulted by its portrait. I'm sure the proportions are off and I wasn't careful with the markings. But I loved drawing this goat and I can't wait to draw more. If you have a creative urge, don't ignore it. Stop what you're doing. Pick up your pencil or brush or lump of clay, head for the computer or whatever instrument you use to create and go for it!
Please Don't Ignore A. S. King
Next up is a 2011 Printz honoree, Please Ignore Vera Dietz by A. S. King. After I read this book, I immediately read the other two King books in my library: Ask the Passengers and Everybody Sees the Ants. Needless to say, King is a new favorite author. I love her kind of magic realism where the protagonist's world is normal except for one or two teensy things. In Vera Dietz' life, that thing is the thousand transparent, two-dimensional, expandable Charlies who show up at the worst possible moments.
The book opens with this prologue:
Before I died, I hid my secrets in the Master Oak.
This book is about my best friend, Vera Dietz, who eventually found them.
(the pickle on Vera's Big Mac)
To say my friend died is one thing.
To say my friend screwed me over and then died five months later is another.
(high school senior and pizza deliver technician)
Just before Vera's best friend Charlie dies, someone sets fire to the pet store. Charlie is blamed and his thousand ghosts want Vera to clear his name. But in order to do that, she has to face her true feelings for Charlie and the wreck he made of them.
A. S. King unveils this story through multiple points of view, including Charlie, Vera, her recovered alcoholic father who makes flow charts to help him sort out his daughter and an abandoned pagoda that provides witty commentary about the teens who hang out in its parking lot. King has a unique voice and she tells stories that are hard to forget.
I write middle grade and young adult books with a magical twist. I'm represented by the fabulous Leslie Zampetti of Dunham Lit.
Lorin Oberweger - Freelance Editor