Reviews of the 2014 Newbery Award winners

diCamillo_FloraWinner: Flora & Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures by Kate DiCamillo; illus. by K. G. Campbell
Ten-year-old Flora Belle Buckman’s life changes when she resuscitates a squirrel after his near-death experience with her neighbor’s Ulysses 2000X vacuum. Flora discovers that the incident has caused the squirrel, whom she also names Ulysses, to acquire superpowers. Despite being a “natural-born cynic,” Flora’s lively imagination and love of comics such as The Illuminated Adventures of the Amazing Incandesto! help her believe that Ulysses is bound for superhero greatness. There’s only one problem: Ulysses’s archnemesis, Flora’s self-absorbed, romance novel–writing, squirrel-hating mother. Beneath the basic superhero-squirrel-friend plot, DiCamillo imbues this novel with emotion by focusing on larger life issues such as loss and abandonment, acceptance of difference, loneliness, love, overcoming fears, and the complexity of relationships. She also adds plenty of warmth and humor throughout: Flora enjoys using catch phrases and big words (“holy bagumba!”; malfeasance; capacious); Ulysses loves to eat…just about anything; and there is a quirky supporting cast, including Flora’s absent-minded father, her eleven-year-old neighbor William Spiver, and his great-aunt, Tootie Tickham. Campbell’s full-page and spot pencil illustrations accentuate the mood, while interspersed comic-book pages “illuminate” Ulysses’s superhero adventures and serve as a nice visual complement to Flora’s love of comics. This little girl and squirrel and their heartwarming tale could melt even the most hardened archnemesis’s heart. CYNTHIA K. RITTER

black_doll bonesHonor: Doll Bones by Holly Black; illus. by Eliza Wheeler
Twelve-year-old Zach and his longtime friends Poppy and Alice have created an elaborate, ongoing imaginative game they act out with their dolls and action figures. When his dad throws away Zach’s figurines (“it’s time you grew up”), the distraught boy abandons the game with little explanation to the others (“you can’t play pretend forever”). Poppy attempts to lure him back with the game’s all-powerful Great Queen, a bone-china doll so precious that Poppy’s mother keeps it in a locked cabinet. Poppy takes the queen, only to be haunted in her dreams by the ghost of a girl whose ashes are inside the doll. The ghost won’t rest until she has been properly buried, so Poppy persuades Alice and Zach to journey with her to the girl’s gravesite. The impromptu trip includes a scary bus ride, eerie supernatural encounters, and an action-packed sailboat voyage, all of which provide ample thrills for readers, with Wheeler’s pencil illustrations softening spooky aspects of the adventure. The narrative is uneven: while the doll is believably creepy, the horror elements and the ghost story remain underdeveloped, as do Poppy and Alice’s characters, and the resolution is rather abrupt. But through Zach’s complex perspective, author Black poignantly and realistically captures how adolescence inherently brings change; how growing up affects the ways children play; and the inevitable tests friendships face. CYNTHIA K. RITTER

year of billy millerstar2  Honor: The Year of Billy Miller by Kevin Henkes; illus. by the author
Billy Miller is having a momentous year, beginning with a tumble over a guardrail (resulting in a minor bump and major worry) and proceeding with a stream of second-grade Sturm und Drang. He gets off on the wrong foot with Ms. Silver; his seat isn’t next to his best friend, Ned; and he worries he may not be smart enough for school. Henkes divides the novel into four parts, each with a focus on someone in Billy’s life: Teacher, Father, Sister, Mother. Individual episodes shine an intimate light on the special relationships they consider, and taken together they offer a vivid yet secure portrait of a boy coming into his confidence. Henkes peppers the goings-on with early-elementary details—little sister Sal “helps” Billy with his bat diorama, bedecking it with glitter—giving both problems and solutions a familiar resonance. And he threads the symmetrical structure with an abundance of pattern, in small ways (“It was the first day of second grade…”) and large, adding hallmarks of the changing seasons to the four sections, creating a comfortable rhythm perfectly suited to young readers. The large typeface, open layout, generous white space, and frequent spot illustrations add to the book’s accessibility. Nuanced and human, this quiet novel takes aim squarely at the everyday difficulties of a specific segment of growing up and finds its mark with tender precision. THOM BARTHELMESS

One Came Homestar2  Honor: One Came Home by Amy Timberlake
Thirteen-year-old Georgie Burkhardt is content with her life in Placid, Wisconsin, where she helps Ma and Grandfather Bolte run the general store and is known as the best shot in the area. Her older sister, Agatha, dreams of higher education, even though few colleges in 1871 accept female students; she has repeatedly turned down marriage proposals from a local boy, Billy McCabe, and has set her sights instead on bookish Mr. Olmstead, whom she admires mostly for his personal library. When Agatha runs away and is later found dead at the side of the road outside a nearby town, Georgie is certain that there has been a mistake and her sister is still alive (the body, left to the elements and wild animals, is in such bad condition that only the dress and auburn hair identify it as Agatha). Georgie sets off on an uncooperative borrowed mule, with Billy McCabe as an unwelcome companion, to try to find her sister, or, at least, to find out how she died. The adversarial relationship between Georgie and Billy provides superb comic relief in a gripping, gritty story that unwinds as a mystery involving passenger pigeons, counterfeiters, and more than one guilty secret. But it’s Georgie’s voice that really brings the story to life, with its original, folksy turns of phrase and self-deprecating humor that make it as entertaining to read as a Christopher Paul Curtis novel. KATHLEEN T. HORNING

vawter_paperboyHonor: Paperboy by Vince Vawter
In this debut novel based on the author’s childhood and set in 1959 Memphis, readers meet an eleven-year-old narrator who has a substantial vocabulary and can consider many sides of an issue but who, because of his stuttering, seldom speaks. When he takes over his best friend’s paper route for the summer, the task is Herculean. He can withstand the July heat, fold the papers extra tight, and throw them with precision. But he must collect payment every week, compelling him to talk to strangers. He writes the way he speaks, using plenty of ands but few commas, creating a near stream-of-consciousness narrative. With heartbreaking detail, he describes his difficulties, how he uses the “Gentle Air” method of blowing out a few breaths before certain consonants, or shouts certain words, or tosses an object in the air before uttering a sound. The only name readers know him by is Little Man, the one given him by Mam, his family’s black maid. Her presence accurately reflects the times, and, to some extent, Vawter sidesteps the stereotype by combining Mam’s need for personal justice with her protection of Little Man. Still, it is the paper route that Little Man must conquer on his own, and the people he meets during his journey he must understand. In a compelling climax, he, still stuttering, proudly announces his real name; the moment is as eloquent as his story. BETTY CARTER
Horn Book
Horn Book
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i read all of them, they were great!!

Posted : Apr 02, 2015 12:49


I love these books!!!! They are awesome!!!

Posted : May 31, 2014 10:00



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