Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Mock Newbery 2016: contenders, part 2

This will be my third year conducting a Mock Caldecott at our school but my first with a Mock Newbery! My middle schoolers have already started diving into our picks, and the fifth and sixth graders are going to be sharing their opinions during their library time. Below I'm sharing my review of the books I've read, and I'll start posting student reviews after we come back from break.

Mock Newbery 2016: realistic fiction contenders

I've broken down this realistic fiction post into historical fiction, biography, and contemporary realistic fiction. Read on!

Historical Fiction

The Inquisitor's Tale: or, the Three Magical Children and Their Holy Dog (2016) by Adam Gidwitz and illuminated by Hatem Aly. The ARC for this book was one of the big events at #nErDcampMI this summer, and I devoured the book almost immediately upon getting home. The big downside of the ARC however, was that it was missing most of the incredible illuminations, which pack a powerful punch along with the story.

The Inquisitor's Tale is told as an homage to Chaucer's Canterbury Tales with various narrators picking up the story while sitting around in an Inn. Each narrator brings something different to unfolding tale of three very different children who suddenly find themselves together (and eventually facing off against the King). There are many important lessons about friendship, religious tolerance, and the power of words and books ... plus much hilarity (and a flatulent dragon).

Salt to the Sea (2016) by Ruta Sepetys. This World War II historical fiction novel (based on a true event) may surpass the upper end of the Newbery, and I wouldn't be surprised if it won a Printz Award instead. But it is hugely popular among my middle schoolers, so I am including it for our discussions.

Salt to the Sea is told in four alternating perspectives as different groups of people (mainly children) find themselves together fleeing the advancing armies and faced with their only escape route across the sea. There are so many parallels here to the modern refugee crisis in Europe, which add additional painful layers to this story. For mature readers.

Raymie Nightingale (2016) by Kate DiCamillo. Now, I know Kate is railing against the categorization of this book as historical fiction, since it is set in the 1970s and based on her childhood, but to my post-2000 born tweens, it is a whole 'nother world.

This story goes back to the author's southern roots and the realistic fiction vibe of early favorite, Because of Winn-Dixie. Raymie has taken up baton twirling in an effort to win a major recognition ... and to win back her father's attention, now that he has left her and her mother for another woman. I loved the characters and enjoyed the story, but it didn't grab me quite as hard as Edward or Winn-Dixie. I'll be curious to see how this one fares, especially as it already won the National Book Award Longlist.


Samurai Rising: the epic life of Minamoto Yoshitsune (2016) by Pamela S. Turner with illustrations by Gareth Hinds. Set in 12th-century Japan, this biography reads like a fictional novel, with some modern touches, somewhat reminiscent of the style of Steve Sheinkin. Personally I found a lot of the "palace intrigue" parts hard to follow with several warring houses and the emperor all vying for power in different ways. My students will be studying this period of Japanese history more intensely later in the year, so I look forward to seeing what they get out of this story then too.

Some Writer! The Story of E. B. White (2016) by Melissa Sweet. I love Melissa Sweet's scrapbooky style of artwork, and she did an amazing job incorporating so many actual photographs and ephemera from the White family. This biography seems like an instant classic for anyone who loves and appreciates the stories of E. B. White. As a teacher, one of my favorite insights was the inclusion of multiple (wildly different) drafts of the opening page of Charlotte's Web. A mini-lesson in the making.

Contemporary Realistic Fiction

Ms. Bixby's Last Day (2016) by John David Anderson. I knew I had to grab this one off of my TBR stack after hearing Mr. Schu book talk it. He was so animated about the students and their predicament, after their favorite teacher received a cancer diagnosis and ends up leaving school unexpectedly early. Despite the sad premise, this is a charming - and often hilarious - story, and one that I think both students and teachers will love and appreciate.

Ghost (2016) by Jason Reynolds [National Book Award finalist]. Ghost is the first in a new middle grade series from talented author Jason Reynolds. The main character, who has nicknamed himself Ghost, finds himself perplexed by a track practice in progress and ends up showing off and earning a spot on the team. Ghost is struggling to find out who he is and where he fits, especially as he hides his traumatic secret from others. This is a powerful story (and quick read), and I am looking forward to the rest of the series.

As Brave As You (2016) also by Jason Reynolds. I thoroughly enjoyed this one. Brothers Ernie and Genie are dropped off at their grandparents' house for a month to give their parents time to work on their relationship. They learn interesting things about their grandparents and about each other, while trying to figure out some of the tension between their dad and his dad. I loved Genie's lists of questions and his constant (and honest) curiosity about the world around him. As Brave As You reminded me of other newer "classic-feeling" slice-of-life or summer family and friendship tales.

Counting Thyme (2016) by Melanie Conklin. 11-year old Thyme is frustrated by living in limbo - her parents have just moved the whole family cross-country so that her younger brother can participate in a clinical trial for his neuroblastoma cancer. She is trying to juggle being new and fitting in with the hope that they will be leaving and moving back in a few short months. This is a cute and enjoyable story, and one that does a good job of laying bare the impact a severe illness can have on a family. My middle schoolers had great discussions around this book in our recent book club themed around disabilities and difficulties.

The Best Man (2016) by Richard Peck. This is a great family story narrated by 12-year old Archer. The story is focused around his growing up and is bookended by two weddings, one when he was the ring bearer in first grade, and the second as a sixth grade best man for his beloved uncle and favorite student teacher, Mr. McLeod.

Lily and Dunkin (2016) by Donna Gephart. I thoroughly enjoyed this charming new novel! This story is told through the eyes of eighth graders Lily (neé Timothy) and Dunkin (neé Norbert), who are both trying to figure out who they are and their places in the world, as they work through the special challenges of middle school. Lily is looking for the confidence (and parental support) to publically embrace her transgender identity, while Dunkin is worried about fitting in at a new school and balancing the demands of his bipolar disorder and medications. This is an important book for so many reasons, but even more important, it's a great read and an engaging story.

Maybe a Fox (2016) by Kathi Appelt and Alison McGhee. Maybe a Fox is a tug-at-the-heartstrings kind of novel but in a soft and gentle kind of way. While I miss the lyricism and unconventional structure of The Underneath, Maybe a Fox is likely to be more approachable for its intended audience. Could also be a great book for a child that has experienced loss or death, as different characters experience and express their grief in different ways. A keeper.

Summerlost (2016) by Ally Condie. I really loved this new middle grade offering from Ally Condie. This very sweet story occurs against a background of loss and grief, as the main character's father and brother were killed in a car accident the year before. Cedar, her mom, and younger brother Miles are adjusting to their new life, and Cedar finds a strong friend in Leo, an aspiring entrepreneur and employee at the local Shakespearean summer theater, Summerlost. There's a lot to love in this book!

Contemporary Realistic Fiction Novels-in-Verse

Garvey's Choice (2016) by Nikki Grimes. This novel-in-verse told in tanka form makes for a very quick read, but that doesn't stop it from dealing with important themes and big ideas. Garvey is an overweight middle schooler trying to figure out who he wants to be while navigating the pressure of his father who wants him to be a football star. An important story of bullying and acceptance.

Moo (2016) by Sharon Creech. Twelve-year-old Reena may have been the one to suggest moving to Maine, but that doesn't mean she really knows what she's in for. Told in imaginative free verse, Moo is a story about changes: moving to a new home and a new state, leaving behind the big city for the oceanside countryside, and learning to get past first impressions. This is an amusing, enjoyable, and heartwarming story wrapped up in the memorable voice of the protagonist. Whether you like cows and countrysides or just want an excuse to visit for awhile by book, Moo is a story that will appeal to a wide range of readers and poetry-lovers. (Read a longer review here.)

Booked (2016) by Kwame Alexander. I had been eagerly anticipating Booked after finished The Crossover, a recent Newbery winner, and it did not disappoint. Booked is another novel-in-verse, this time told from the perspective of twelve-year old Nick Hall, an up-and-coming soccer star, plagued by his wordsmith father's book, Weird and Wonderful Words. The story touches many important issues and difficulties in tween/teenage life but without getting too heavy into more grownup content. I am excited to add both of these to my middle school classroom library!

Any of your favorite historical or realistic pics not make the list? (Check out the fantasy contenders here.)

(It's not just me, right? Blue is this year's color for historical and realistic fiction ... )

1 comment:

  1. Salt to the Sea, Moo, Ms. Bixby's and Ghost all made it on my list in 2016. They are all wonderful books! I love this series of posts.


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