Reviews of the 2013 Newbery winners

one and only ivan 213x300 Reviews of the 2013 Newbery winnersWinner: The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate (HarperCollins)
“I am Ivan. I am a gorilla. / It’s not as easy as it looks.” In short chapters that have the look and feel of prose poems, Applegate has captured the voice of Ivan, a captive gorilla who lives at the “Exit 8 Big Top Mall and Video Arcade.” When a new baby elephant, Ruby, arrives, he promises the old elephant, Stella, that he will take care of her. When Stella passes away, he realizes that their years of captivity in such a restrictive environment are not what Ruby deserves. He hatches a daring plan that involves his own original artwork, a stray dog, the daughter of the custodian, and a zoo thousands of miles away. Ultimately, his plan is successful and the captive animals are relocated to the much-more-humane habitat of the zoo as the pensive, melancholy tone gives way to hope and joy. The choice to tell this story in the first person and to personify the gorilla with an entire range of human thoughts, feelings, and emotions poses important questions to the reader, not only about what it means to be human but also about what it means to be a living creature, and what kind of kinship we all share. An author’s note describes the true incident that inspired this story and includes more information about the real Ivan. JONATHAN HUNT

fanfare schlitz Reviews of the 2013 Newbery winnersHonor: Splendors and Glooms by Laura Amy Schlitz (Candlewick)
Lizzie Rose and Parsefall, two Victorian waifs living under the guardianship of Grisini, a Fagin-like crook, magician, and puppeteer, cross paths with Clara, the cosseted only child of a London doctor. This meeting results in a kidnapping, the magical imprisonment of Clara in puppet form, and encounters with an aging witch, Cassandra; the whole plot hinging on the curse of a fire opal. In this not-quite-parody novel Schlitz takes the conventions of melodrama and fleshes them out with toothsome scene setting (she’s especially good on smells, gothic architectural touches, and the minutiae of Victorian death conventions) and surprising, original character details. The two heroes are fine foils for each other, the Victorian-good Lizzie Rose versus the street-pragmatic Parsefall. Grisini, with his backstory in Venice, is pure moustache-twirling evil, and Cassandra is an intriguing portrait of bitter, regretful old age and bone-deep malevolence. The language is rich and lively, and Schlitz, exhibiting the delicate control of a puppeteer of words, even pulls off comic cockney: “But with your daughter, sir, there isn’t any homnibus, and when there’s no homnibus, there’s ’ope.” SARAH ELLIS

sheinkin bomb 243x300 Reviews of the 2013 Newbery winners Honor: star2 Reviews of the 2013 Newbery winnersBomb: The Race to Build — and Steal — the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon by Steve Sheinkin (Flash Point/Roaring Brook)
While comprehensive in his synthesis of the political, historical, and scientific aspects of the creation of the first nuclear weapon, Sheinkin focuses his account with an extremely alluring angle: the spies. The book opens in 1950 with the confession of Harry Gold—but to what? And thus we flash back to Robert Oppenheimer in the dark 1930s, as he and readers are handed another question by the author: “But how was a theoretical physicist supposed to save the world?” Oppenheimer’s realization that an atomic bomb could be created to use against Nazi Germany is coupled with the knowledge that the Germans must be working from the same premise, and the Soviets are close behind. We periodically return to Gold’s ever-deepening betrayals as well as other acts of espionage, most excitingly the two stealth attacks on occupied Norway’s Vemork power plant, where the Germans were manufacturing heavy water to use in their own nuclear program. As he did in the Boston Globe–Horn Book Award winner The Notorious Benedict Arnold (rev. 1/11), Sheinkin here maintains the pace of a thriller without betraying history (source notes and an annotated bibliography are exemplary) or skipping over the science; photo galleries introducing each section help readers organize the events and players. Writing with journalistic immediacy, the author eschews editorializing up through the chilling last lines: “It’s a story with no end in sight. And, like it or not, you’re in it.” Index. ROGER SUTTON

turnage threetimeslucky 198x300 Reviews of the 2013 Newbery winnersHonor: Three Times Lucky by Sheila Turnage (Dial/Penguin)
All too often, books set in the rural South feature quirky characters who grow like kudzu and completely strangle the plot. Here, Turnage comes close to letting that happen but never steps over the literary vine; her strong story emerges through, rather than around, the individuals who reside in Tupelo Landing, North Carolina. The town’s center is a café run by the Colonel, an amnesiac who rescued and informally adopted Moses (a.k.a. Mo) LoBeau, who washed up during a hurricane when just a baby. The Colonel knows three things: he loves Mo, hates lawyers, and can run a café. Completing their unconventional family is Miss Lana, the café’s hostess, who effortlessly changes the menu and theme (from Parisian to Hollywood) at will. And then a stranger comes to town. Mo knows what that means: “Trouble had come to Tupelo Landing for good.” Turnage takes her time with the plot, dropping hints, such as a death and a strange inheritance, that indicate something big is about to happen. The end result is a dandy mystery that reaches back into the Colonel and Miss Lana’s past and involves the entire community, including Mo’s best friend, Dale; his dreamy brother; and the Azalea Women (a.k.a. the Uptown Garden Club). Humor sweetens the mix, making Tupelo Landing a pleasant place to stay for a spell. BETTY CARTER

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