I Heart Newbery Medals

Several years ago, I taught at a parent cooperative (read: hippie) school where I was responsible for a class of 2nd-4th graders.  My second year, I took my class of then 3rd-5th graders to join up with the middle schoolers in the afternoon.  That year, I assigned a big project where each student had to read and respond to one Caldecott Medal winner and one Newbery Medal winner.  Though I had read many of these wonderful books over the years, I certainly had not exhausted the list, and of course, many of my students chose books I hadn't yet read.  So, I spent my spring reading their choices.  Though I did not love every one I encountered, I was consistently pleased with the quality and thoughtfulness of the selections.  These lists contain many wonderful, tremendous books, including some of my (and probably your) all-time favorites: Bridge to Terabithia, Dear Mr. Henshaw, Jacob Have I Loved, The Witch of Blackbird Pond, Sarah, Plain and Tall, and of course A Wrinkle in Time.  Raise your hand if you didn't love A Wrinkle in Time.  Now, run and hide because the rest of us are coming after you. 

A Wrinkle in Time is one of the most magical, transformative books of our time.  I earnestly believe that.  And if you've read anything else by L'Engle, you'll know that everything she touches positively shimmers.  I am a fan, to say the least.  So, imagine my delight when I learned that this year's Newbery Medal Winner, Rebecca Stead's When You Reach Me, was centered loosely around and definitely inspired by L'Engle's classic work.  Here is an interview where she (sort of) explains the connection. 

So, last night, after finishing the Baldwin behemoth, I picked up When You Reach Me just to read the first chapter.  To get a taste, if you will.  Imagine my thrill to find myself still dressed and sitting in the relatively uncomfortable office chair some 50 pages later.  I finished this afternoon, and I am once again happily crowing about the Newbery committee and their impeccable taste.  This novel is suspenseful, creative, thoughtful, intelligent, and compelling.  I (the one who got The Sixth Sense almost immediately) couldn't explain it all until the very end.  Truth told, I had only the mildest inkling about most of the suspenseful elements.  I was so wrapped up in the whole story that only a tiny portion of my brain was concerning itself with "figuring it out."  It just didn't matter if I knew.  The story was taking me there, and I knew I could trust it.  So, where was this story taking me?  Well, I can't (or won't) tell you much.  The basic frame is that Miranda, a 6th grader in New York City, lives with her mom and goes to school.  One day, her best friend Sal gets hit in the face by a boy neither of them knows.  For reasons she can't understand, Sal stops being friends with Miranda after that day.  She then has to deal with making new friends, missing Sal, helping her mom prep for the $20,000 Pyramid, and the mysterious notes that someone is leaving for her.  Someone needs her help, but she doesn't know how to give it.  That's all I'm going to give you; you're just going to have to take my word for it.

Funny side note:  at some point last night, I flipped to the back and saw a publisher's synopsis.  I didn't read the top of the page, assuming it was a summary of this book's plot.  It refers to the book as "an intriguing look at how global warming is affecting the arctic regions, deftly woven into a coming-of-age story."  I was momentarily puzzled because in the 70 pages I had read to that point, there was nothing about global warming or the arctic.  I essentially shrugged and assumed we'd get to that.  Then, later it started really bugging me.  How in the heck could this be about global warming?  And then: did they put the wrong synopsis on the back of this book?  This went on for some time, but I was too engrossed in the story to read the back cover.  When I finally looked again, I had to laugh at myself.  Of course they did not put the wrong synopsis on this book; the top of the page says "Praise for First Light," which is apparently Stead's first novel.  Nice one there, super sleuth.  Kudos to your incredible powers of discernment.

Anyhow, this book was a remarkable breath of fresh air after the slogfest that was Tell Me How Long the Train's Been Gone.  Beyond that, it was seriously solid literature.  Thanks again, Newbery.  What about you?  Have a favorite Newbery winner?

No comments:

Post a Comment