In January I challenged myself to read five Newbery and five Printz award books by the end of December. I also began a book log because I had never kept track of how many books I read in a year and I was curious. The total so far is seventy, five of them nonfiction. I didn't note picture books (which I read like candy) or the novels and reference books I started and didn't finish (probably a half dozen). Here's what I learned from the experience:
I will never read as many books as my critique partner, author and former librarian Augusta Scattergood (who reviews children's books for The Christian Science Monitor) or fellow writer and librarian Leslie Zampetti (who gobbles 300 books a year). That's okay. I'm not a librarian and I'm not looking to break any records. But I do get antsy if there isn't a stack of unread novels on my bedside table or lined up in my e-reader. Please God, keep those books a-coming!
Pulling titles from Newbery and Printz awardees was 100% rewarding. First, I chose books I thought I'd like. Then I dipped my toe in genres I didn't often read. That's how I found new favorite authors: John Corey Whaley, A.S. King, David Almond, Sharon Creech and Jack Gantos. Five new authors from reading ten books! Just think of all their titles I haven't yet read and future books they haven't yet written. It's a bottomless treasure. And no lie, there wasn't one Newbery or Printz book I didn't enjoy. So if you're searching for a good read or a great gift for readers, try the award lists.
Now, here are my last three reviews for 2014:
Susan Cooper's The Grey King (book four in The Dark is Rising series) won the 1976 Newbery Medal. Set in England and Wales, the story weaves myth and King Arthur legends. The characters and story are quaint, more Narnia than Harry Potter. But after my twenty-first century brain unwound (Seriously, we expect non-stop action these days! And these books have plenty, just not at Hunger Games speed), I enjoyed every one of the five books. I'll try not to reveal too much of the previous story but if you're a fantasy fan and haven't read the series, it's best you skip this review.
Will Stanton is not really a boy but the youngest of the Old Ones, soldiers of the Light. After recovering from a serious illness, he's sent to Wales to recuperate. When he meets a strange albino boy named Bran and Bran's constant companion, Cafall, a sheepherding dog with uncanny silver eyes he instantly recalls the beginning of a prophecy:
On the day of the dead, when the year too dies,
Must the youngest open the oldest hills
Through the door of the birds, where the breeze breaks.
There fire shall fly from the raven boy,
And the silver eyes that see the wind,
And the Light shall have the harp of gold.
In the Old Ones ongoing battle against the Dark, Will, Bran and Cafall set out to find the magical harp, a key to releasing six Sleepers. But the Dark's mighty Grey King guards the Welsh treasures and he's not about to give them up.
Dead End in Norvelt won the 2012 Newbery award. Author Jack Gantos books are slices from his colorful life. This book opens with Jack (yes, the character is named Jack Gantos) being grounded his entire thirteenth summer for shooting his father's rifle at a drive-in movie screen and digging up his mother's vegetable patch. Never mind his father encouraged him to clear the garden to make way for a runway . . . for his new airplane . . . that he's hiding in the garage. Jack's only escape is helping his arthritic neighbor Miss Volker type obituaries and history spots for the local newspaper. But when the last of the town's senior citizens begin dying at a mysterious rate, Jack and Miss Volker team up to discover why. Gantos's story is full of larger than life characters and hilarious small town adventure. It will also steal your heart.
Holly Black (author of The Spiderwick Chronicles) won the 2014 Newbery for Doll Bones. The book follows twelve-year-olds Zach, Poppy and Alice whose friendship centers around a fantasy world of toys, ruled by an antique china doll, locked in a glass cabinet, never to be touched. When Zach's father claims he's too old for the game and orders him to stop, he retreats from the friendship. Then Poppy swears the doll is made from a dead girls' bones and the girl's ghost demands they bury her in her hometown. After she steals the doll from the cabinet, Zach reluctantly joins her and Alice on a quest that will either save their friendship or ruin it.
So mission accomplished. Ten award books, a book log, oh yeah, and a drawing every month. The last sketch is Usefa, the sleepy reindeer in the photo above. I bought her when I was in art school at the University of South Florida bookstore just before I left on holiday break. She road on my car mirror for awhile, then moved into my apartment and on to future houses. Now, she graces my office every holiday season. Hope you end this year with people you love, good health and good books. Next month, I have a new challenge up my sleeve. See you in 2015!
I write middle grade and young adult books with a magical twist. And creatures, always creatures. I'm represented by the fabulous Leslie Zampetti of Dunham Lit.
Lorin Oberweger - Freelance Editor