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Reviews of the 2017 Newbery Award winners

Winner:

barnhill_girl who drank the moonThe Girl Who Drank the Moon
by Kelly Barnhill
Intermediate, Middle School Algonquin 388 pp.
8/16 978-1-61620-567-6 $16.95

Every year, the people of the Protectorate steel themselves for the Day of Sacrifice, when the elders take the city’s youngest baby and leave it in the woods to appease the witch — a witch no one has seen, but whose reputation has become a means to control the populace. In fact, a witch does live in the forest, and she rescues and finds homes for the babies; she even adopts one, the particularly magical Luna, whom she brings home to live with her own family that already includes a beloved bog monster and a dragon. Meanwhile, the true and malevolent Witch of Sacrifice Day, hiding behind the identity of a respected person in the city, secretly feeds off the grief of the bereaved parents until, thanks to adolescent Luna’s emerging magic, the sorrow-burdened Protectorate begins to rebel. Barnhill’s fantasy has a slightly ungainly plot, with backstory, coincidence, insight-dumps, and shifting points of view maneuvering its hinges of logic into place. But in theme and emotion, it is focused: love — familial, maternal, 
filial, and friendly — is its engine and moral, with Luna’s connections with her adoptive grandmother and unknown birth mother a poignant force. With all story elements and characters interrelated through “infinite love” (the story’s theology), there’s plenty for readers to puzzle out here. DEIRDRE BAKER

From the September/October 2016 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

 

Honor Books:

bryan_freedom-over-mestar2 Freedom Over Me: Eleven Slaves, Their Lives and Dreams Brought to Life
by Ashley Bryan; illus. by the author
Primary, Intermediate, Middle School Dlouhy/Atheneum 56 pp.
9/16 978-1-4814-5690-6 $17.99
e-book ed. 978-1-4814-5691-3 $10.99

A historical document dated July 5, 1828, lists the property to be sold from the Fairchilds’ estate. Hogs. Cattle. A handmill. Men. Women. Children. While no information beyond the gender and name — and price — of each of the eleven enslaved people is noted in the appraisal of the estate, Bryan lovingly restores their humanity and dignity, giving them ages, true African names, relationships, talents, hopes, and dreams. Here is the account of eleven human beings, all of whom are aware of what they contribute to the Fairchilds plantation and, more importantly, what they would like to contribute to the world. Each slave is afforded two double-page spreads of poetry: the first spread serves as his or her introduction; the second is devoted to his or her dreams. We meet Peggy, the Fairchilds’ cook, who is praised by the Fairchilds for the spices she adds to meals at the Big House. In “Peggy Dreams,” she remembers her life in Africa and reveals that she’s proud of her ability to heal injured fellow slaves through her work with roots and herbs. Bacus is known for his metalwork in fencing the Big House, but his dream admits that the pounding of the metal is “an outlet for anger, for rage…a blow for justice…a cry for respect.” Bryan’s art is just as intentional. Facsimiles of the historical document serve as background for each slave’s introduction page, portraits of their faces taking precedence as they gaze out at the reader. The portraits are etched in a manner similar to wood carvings, suggesting the mask each slave wears for day-to-day life on the plantation. In contrast to the dry, parchment-like tones of the introductions, the dream spreads are in gloriously brilliant colors, as bold as the aspirations of the individuals themselves. EBONI NJOKU

From the November/December 2016 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

gidwitz_inquisitors-talestar2 The Inquisitor’s Tale: Or, The Three Magical Children and Their Holy Dog
by Adam Gidwitz; illus. by Hatem Aly
Middle School, High School Dutton 365 pp.
9/16 978-0-525-42616-5 $17.99 g

An ambitious mash-up of medieval saints’ lives, the Joan of Arc legend, thirteenth-century French history, and elements of The Canterbury Tales, Gidwitz’s hopeful story of interreligious understanding is more fantasy than historical fiction. Three children with marvelous abilities band together and draw the ire of King Louis IX. Peasant Jeanne has visions of the future; William, illegitimate son of a crusader knight and an African “Saracen,” has supernatural strength; Jacob, a learned Jewish boy, has healing powers. Together they try to thwart King Louis’s plan to burn all the Jewish texts in France, and thus the trio becomes the object of a countrywide hunt. Drinking together at an inn, an inquisitor, nun, Jewish butcher, jongleur, and several others relate the bits of the children’s adventure they know — a series of “tales” that make a single narrative. The historical improbabilities of the story are many (and seemingly intentional), but its qualities as miracle tale tip readers to its fantastical nature (witness the episode of “the dragon with deadly farts”). Gidwitz presents moral issues that are currently relevant, and gives several theological arguments about good and evil a brisk, accessible airing. Scatological humor, serious matter, colloquial present-day language, the ideal of diversity and mutual understanding — this has it all. DEIRDRE BAKER

From the November/December 2016 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

wolk_wolf hollowstar2 Wolf Hollow
by Lauren Wolk
Intermediate, Middle School Dutton 294 pp.
4/16 978-1-101-99482-5 $16.99 g

Two story lines wind around each other in this novel set in rural Pennsylvania in the 1940s. The narrator, twelve-year-old Annabelle, is one of the objects of vicious attacks by new girl Betty, who has inexplicably but relentlessly taken against her. In a supporting strand, a vagabond wanderer, Toby, a WWI vet suffering from what we would now identify as PTSD, is the victim of small-town prejudice as he is falsely accused of attacks that were in fact carried out by Betty. The plot proceeds with crime fiction logic and plausibility as Annabelle seeks out information, but then conceals what she knows, because who is going to believe a child’s testimony? The adults, too, keep their secrets and maintain their masks. As the crimes become more serious — and in one case, fatal — Annabelle’s role in protecting Toby becomes more and more difficult; the tension builds and never lets up. The storytelling here is dignified and the tone is memoir-ish, because Annabelle is remembering the story in the past. At points she seems a bit too wise and philosophical, but the portrait of Betty, an unredeemed sociopath, pulls no punches, and Toby is a nuanced and poignant character, an unlikely hero. SARAH ELLIS

From the July/August 2016 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

For more, click on the tag ALA Midwinter 2017.

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