Being that I am a lifelong bookworm, I get pretty excited when the Newbery awards are announced each January. This year I had read all but one of the winners before they were revealed. One of the five has already become a favorite read-aloud for my 6-year-old son and 4-year-old daughter, so I’m thrilled to be able to share them with you today.
The Newbery Award for 2010 went to Rebecca Stead’s When You Reach Me. This was an early favorite for a lot of readers as it is a truly unusual children’s book. This book is a mystery, though not in your typical sense, and a big part of the fun is in figuring it out.
The book begins in the late 1970s after Miranda’s best friend Sal has been punched in the stomach while walking home and now he isn’t speaking to her anymore. That’s all I’ll tell you about the book because to tell you more would spoil your fun.
However, I will share how Stead said she got the idea for this book:
“The “big idea” behind the book was sparked by a newspaper article about a man who walked up to a policeman and said that he had no idea who he was or why he was there. All he could remember was that his wife, Penny, and their two daughters had been in a terrible accident and needed help. But the police could find no evidence of any kind of accident. They circulated his photo around the country and eventually he was claimed by Penny, who did exist, who was in perfect health, but who was his fiancée, not his wife. No kids, no accident. I thought to myself, what if he knows something we don’t? That’s the kind of thing that gives me chills.”
Me, too! But don’t click through to read the rest of Stead’s interview until after you read the book!
Besides the Newbery Award, there were 4 Newbery Honors this year.
Claudette Colvin: Twice Towards Justice
One of the honor awards went to Claudette Colvin: Twice Towards Justice by Philip Hoose, a non-fiction title. If you thought Rosa Parks was the first to be celebrated for refusing to give up her seat on a Montgomery, Alabama bus, you’ll be surprised and inspired by the story of 15-year-old Claudette Colvin. Not only was she arrested in spite of breaking no laws, she became one of the four plaintiffs in the case that eventually ended the citywide boycott of Montgomery’s buses. Her story is made all the more fascinating for the way in which Hoose weaves in Colvin’s own words as her story is finally shared.
The Mostly True Adventures of Homer P. Figg
A Newbery Honor was also awarded to The Mostly True Adventures of Homer P. Figg by Rodman Philbrick. In this novel set during the Civil War, Homer’s brother has been illegally sold to the Union Army and Homer takes it upon himself to run away from home to rescue his brother. There is both exaggeration and tragedy, making the whole adventure reminiscent of Mark Twain. Because the whole tale felt so familiar, I don’t know that I would have called it Newbery-worthy, but it is both a fun and educational read.
The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate
The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly was my early pick for the Newbery as it was a thoroughly satisfying book that I finished with a smile on my face. Set in 1899 in a quiet Texas town, 11-year-old Callie is the only girl in the family and is left out of the daily life of her 6 brothers. As her eccentric grandfather generally ignores everyone, Callie is surprised when he begins to take an interest in her and encourage her skills as a naturalist. As Grandfather teaches her about evolution through her discovery of a new plant species, Callie must come to terms with what society expects of her as a young female at the turn of the century. The tension between her intellectual pursuits and her mother’s determination to turn her into a proper lady put this book onto my “must-buy” list.
Where the Mountain Meets the Moon
The final Newbery Honor went to Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin, my personal favorite of the 5 books recognized this year and the one that I predict that will be remembered as a classic. As I’m writing this article, my kids are clamoring, “Read us another chapter of Minli, Mama!” Blending in traditional Chinese folktales, Lin tells of Minli, a young daughter of poor rice farmers who leaves home (and her father’s nightly storytelling) to seek the Old Man in the Moon to learn how she may change her family’s fortune. Along the way, she is helped by talking goldfish, a dragon, and other friends. As Booklist called it an “accessible, timeless story about the evil of greed and the joy of gratitude” there is plenty to discuss when Minli’s tale is shared as a read-aloud.
Newbery winners of the last decade or so often tackle heavy themes more suitable for older children, so to have a winner suitable for younger readers is refreshing. This year’s Newbery winners truly had something for every reader.
Do you have a favorite past Newbery Award winning book? There are so many great ones!