Saturday, December 17, 2016

Mock Newbery 2016: contenders, part 1

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: fantasy contenders

The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill is an incredibly well-crafted tale set in a familiar fantasy setting - the small town, the downtrodden inhabitants, the problematic ancient traditions. But as soon as the perspective shifts from the villagers to the feared witch in the woods, the reader realizes that there is quite a bit more going on within this story.

The characters are delightful, and there were so many lines that made me laugh out loud. Expectations are overturned, and the more of a background you have in fairy tales and folktales, the more there is to appreciate. The book is being marketed to the upper half of middle grade, and I think that it will find readers and fans among a wide-range of ages and grade levels.

Pax by Sara Pennypacker with illustrations by Jon Klassen. This charming story is told in alternating chapters by Pax, a young fox, and his former owner, a boy named Peter. Having raised Pax from a kit, Peter is forced by his father to abandon Pax and send him back in the wild. 

Pax's chapters explore the fox's attempts to reintegrate into a wild life, trying to relearn survival skills and interact with his own kind. Told with a naturalistic style, this is not a "talking animal" fantasy story but rather uses the foxes' movements and reactions to each other to communicate.

Peter's side of the story follows his efforts to find Pax again, as he immediately regrets letting him go. This kicks into gear the other adventure and survival side of the story. 

This is a book that will appeal to many readers and is being advertised for grades 3-7. Younger readers will fall in love with Pax and his earnest and adorable personality. Older readers will cheer on Peter as he sets off on a dangerous mission to find Pax and as he grapples with the larger context of encroaching war, family difficulties, and reintegrating into life after war. 

Once Was a Time is the first middle grade offering from popular YA author Leila Sales, and she knocks it out of the park. The story revolves around two best friends, Lottie and Kitty, who are growing up in Bristol, England in 1940 under the ever-expanding shadow of Hilter. Lottie's father studies time travel, and his investigations have drawn interest from many sides. A dangerous situation forces Lottie to make a choice - does she trust her father and his research? (Read the full review here.)

The Seventh Wish by Kate Messner. 12-year-old Charlie feels overshadowed by all of the changes around her, especially her older sister's departure for college. She would rather focus on own wants and needs, like her chance to finally earn her solo dress in Irish dancing. But when a wish-granting fish comes into the picture, Charlie's read enough stories to know that she needs to think through her wishes carefully. But, despite her best intentions, wishes are not always what they seem.

This is an important book. Well-written, engaging, and even humorous at times, The Seventh Wish deals with this unfortunately-relevant issue (heroin addiction) in a sensitive way. Readers will gain a better understanding and empathy for those suffering addiction as well as the toll it takes on families. I highly recommend this book. (Click here for a longer review.)

When the Sea Turned to Silver (2016) by Grace Lin [National Book Award longlist]. Like the previous two books in this companion series, this one is a story with many stories within it that draw on ancient Chinese folktales (some explicitly and some implicitly). I was far more familiar with many of the tales incorporated into this book, as several have been turned into picture books by illustrator Demi or are included in Favorite Folktales from Around the World, edited by Jane Yolen. This one provides a satisfying resolution to the trilogy (which I think is all is will be?), but I think that Starry River of the Sky might actually be my favorite of the three ...

Hour of the Bees (2016) by Lindsay Eager. I thoroughly enjoyed this wonderful debut novel. Carolina (Carol) has to spend the summer with her family, getting her grandfather's ranch ready to be sold so that he can be moved into an assisted living home, now that his dementia is progressing. She is curious about this grandpa she has never met, and his dementia serves as a gateway between the realism of much of the novel as it contrasts with the story he tells her about the ranch and its history.

Stay tuned for the next two segments of our Mock Newbery: realistic stories and my TBR list.

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