Book Links: April/May 2002 (v.11, no.5)
Now that I've gotten your attention, I'd just like to say that the point of this article isn't to argue that certain titles shouldn't have won a Newbery Medal or Honor Book designation. Rather, the Book Links advisory board, editors, and Booklist's Books for Youth editor wanted to spotlight favorite children's books that they feel are worthy of the honor and backlist longevity that goes with the Newbery but for whatever reason did not win. As you might imagine, it was very difficult to choose just one title, so in the end some of us picked two. The wide range of subjects ensures that there's something here for every reader. If you haven't become acquainted with these titles, get ready for some wonderful reading. --Ed.
Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt
Death is a difficult concept, even for adults. We are quickly saddened at the thought of ceasing to exist, or of losing loved ones, but the alternative-living forever-presents its own problems. In Tuck Everlasting, Natalie Babbitt eloquently describes this paradox. Ten-year-old Winnie Foster discovers the Tucks at the magic spring that has given them eternal life. They whisk her away in order to make her understand the importance of keeping the spring's existence a secret and to convince her that living forever is not as good as it first sounds. Readers witness Winnie struggle with her knowledge of the spring and the temptation it presents. The fascinating questions raised by this novel have engaged a generation of readers, and Babbitt's masterful writing is a joy to experience. --Beth Warrell, assistant editor
The Folk Keeper by Franny Billingsley
Corinna Stonewall is stubborn, cunning, and fiercely territorial in her situation as Folk Keeper, protecting the household from the fearsome Folk who live in the darkness below ground. But when she takes a new station on a wealthy estate by the sea, the Folk there prove to be more dangerous than she's ever known before, despite Corinna's gradual realization that she possesses powers she barely fathoms. Will she be able to decipher the mysterious connection she has to her new surroundings before the dangers of the manor overwhelm her? This atmospheric mystery-fantasy based on selkie folklore is loaded with suspense and forceful characterization, as well as a masterfully constructed plot. --Laura Tillotson, editor
Frindle by Andrew Clements
Can you imagine finding the word frindle in one of this century's newest dictionaries? I think that might have happened if Andrew Clements' book Frindle had won a Newbery award five years ago. Few young readers can resist identifying with fifth-grader Nicholas Allen, who coined a new word for pen--frindle--and managed to give his dictionary-loving teacher, Mrs. Granger, a new challenge. Like countless readers who have honored this book with numerous tate awards, I am amused by Nick's efforts to pursue getting this "new" word included in the dictionary. The author manages to tell a tale in which students respect their language arts teacher but are willing to assume consequences for minor acts of defiance. Eventually Mrs. Granger and Nick come to an understanding that has positive lifelong mutual benefits for the class as well as for readers who realize the power of language. This book makes a great read-aloud. In addition, it is an easy sell to elementary-school children, who readily recommend it to their friends. They always ask if there are more books like Frindle. --Judy Moburg, advisory board member
The Goats by Brock Cole
This title has gotten plenty of attention over the years. It was a Booklist Editors' Choice, an ALA Best Book for Young Adults, and an ALA Notable Children's Book. But it would have also been a great Newbery choice, though, granted, it's not a book to cavalierly pass on to fourth-graders. The metaphorical rebirth of social misfits; the explorations of friendship and sexuality; the tragic effects of ineffectual adults; and children discovering power for the first time are universal themes, seamlessly handled in artful language that not only draws readers into the story with humor and truth but also makes them think carefully about themselves: haven't we all felt abused, forgotten, or impotent at some time in our lives? Haven't we all longed for undisputed power? Cole makes it plain that we have. -Stephanie Zvirin, Booklist Books for Youth editor
Stone Fox by John Reynolds Gardiner
It's just Willie and Grampa, but when Grampa falls ill, Willie must bring in the potato crop alone. The harvest isn't enough to pay all the back taxes they owe, and Willie's only hope is to enter and win the annual dogsled race. To do this he must beat Stone Fox. What chance does a young boy have against this unbeaten, seasoned Indian champion? --Judy Nelson, advisory board member
The Endless Steppe: Growing Up in Siberia by Esther Hautzig
First published in 1968 and now a classic, The Endless Steppe is a gripping personal narrative that draws the reader into 1941 Poland as 11-year-old Esther and her family are ripped from their comfortable existence and sent into exile in Siberia. Although life in Siberia is brutal for Esther's family and their survival is often in question, Esther manages to overcome her somewhat pampered background and thrive in spite of the harsh conditions. She learns to appreciate the unique beauty of the steppe and surprises everyone with the mixed emotions she feels at the news that she and her family will be returning to Poland. At first glance, the text seems merely straightforward, but the deep emotion below the surface is what makes this book so distinguished and what has caused readers young and old to embrace it through the years. The Endless Steppe was a nominee for the National Book Award and an ALA Notable Children's Book. It received the Jane Addams Children's Book Award, the Lewis Carroll Shelf Award, and the first Sydney Taylor Award. It is usually included in various lists of best books for children and young adults. --Randall Enos, advisory board member
Tree in the Trail by Holling Clancy Holling
I am always surprised that librarians and teachers do not know Tree in the Trail by Holling Clancy Holling, as it can easily be used to expand a study of U.S. history. Tree in the Trail tells the history of the Great Plains and the Santa Fe Trail through the life and times of a lone cottonwood tree. I remember boys in my grade-school class being fascinated by the details of what it took to build a yoke for oxen in Tree in the Trail. Holling uses a full-color illustration on the right page, with text on the left, surrounded with detailed drawings of tools and other items described in the text. My fifth-grade teacher used this book many years ago, and as I look at it today I still see information that is accurate, written in language that young people can understand, and a text expanded with beautiful illlustrations. --Mary D. Lankford, advisory board member
When Zachary Beaver Came to Town by Kimberly Willis Holt
When Zachary Beaver Came to Town tells what happens in the small town of Antler, Texas, after the arrival of Zachary Beaver, a 600-pound teenage sideshow act who is subsequently abandoned by his manager. Best friends Cal and Toby spend the summer riding bikes, worrying about Cal's brother, Wayne, who's serving in Vietnam, and gawking along with everybody else when Zachary parks his trailer across from the Bowl-a-Rama. Zachary isn't likable-he's rude, uncommunicative, and a braggart. But Cal and Toby eventually get to know him as a real person-not a freakshow star-who feels pain, sadness, and vulnerability like anyone else. Through it all, Toby must come to terms with his parents' separation, and both Cal and Toby cope with their mostly unspoken fears about Wayne's safety. The writing is subtle and sophisticated, and the characters are eccentric but real and flawed--just like in life. --Beth Warrell, assistant editor
Autumn Street by Lois Lowry
In Autumn Street, the first sentence, "It was a long time ago," sweeps the reader back to an era of disturbing times for both children and a nation. Perhaps my identification with the story comes from the fact that Lowry describes the childhoods of many people like myself, who had their "safe" world shattered by the events of World War II. Young people of that era didn't understand the events, the geography and politics of war, or the changes brought to their families. The sense of place where the events of the story occur creates an understanding of a time that is considered ancient history by young people today. How do you judge a book that remains in memory long after you have closed the cover? Through plot, characters, language, theme? Yes, but think of the books that didn't allow you to escape from the first sentence until the last page. A book that you wanted to know the end of, but didn't want the book to end. I can still tell you where I was sitting when I opened the book, and how that first sentence compelled me to move back in time to 1940. --Mary D. Lankford, advisory board member
Jip by Katherine Paterson
The cast of characters in Jip may remind readers of a Dickens novel: Jip, an orphan of unknown parentage who lives on the poor farm; Put, the kind "lunatic" who acts as a father figure when he's not raving in his cage; a hard-working widow and her children; an inspiring teacher who insists that Jip keep attending school; and a mysterious, menacing stranger. Jip is good-hearted to the core, and when his identity is finally discovered, his tortured struggle to accept his new circumstances brings his character fully to life. Winner of the Scott O'Dell Award and named an ALA Notable Children's Book, an ALA Best Book for Young Adults, and a Booklist Editors' Choice, Jip is a compelling mystery with excellent characterization and an authentic depiction of 1850s rural America. --Laura Tillotson, editor
My Fellow Americans by Alice Provensen
The current interest in all things patriotic invites one to look at My Fellow Americans as an award-winning title. It is a visual book of information that respects the natural curiosity many young readers have for people who lived in earlier times. I appreciate Provensen's personal choices of men and women who made significant contributions (both good and otherwise) to U.S. history and culture. With its subtitle, A Family Album, we learn that she includes among her themes those who were rebels, free spirits, warriors, patriots, writers, reformers, humanitarians, poets, entertainers, scoundrels, inventors, architects, historians, and visionaries. Children of all ages enjoy browsing through this treasury of Americans no longer living and might also be stimulated to come up with their own "Fellow Americans." Who would be in your "Family Album" in 2002? --Judy Moburg, advisory board member
Scooter by Vera B. Williams
Scooter is an evocative love letter to an urban childhood delivered by Elena Rose Rosen, a young girl who makes a summer move to an apartment complex with her unattached mother. An early accident involving her beloved scooter earns Elena a badge of honor in the form of stitches, and her diverse cadre of friends includes Eduard, Siobhan, Beryl, and Vinh. While the book's strengths, including a detail-laden narrative, are numerous, it is Elena's exuberant, honest, utterly convincing voice that reaches the pinnacle. If the book seems a little old-fashioned despite the contemporary issue of divorce, then that's our loss. Elena's is a close-knit community with a loving, elderly baby-sitter, Mrs.Greiner (who strings beads for people when their necklaces break), payday feasts at the local Blue Tile Diner, and energetic outside play characterized by relentless movement. If you're looking for a reassuring read, give this book to kids. Better yet, read it with them. It's filled with joy. --Julie Corsaro, advisory board chair
Make Lemonade by Virginia Euwer Wolff
If life gives you lemons, well, make lemonade, and this is just what Virginia Euwer Wolff did by taking a trite statement and weaving it into Make Lemonade, her astounding blank-verse novel. To escape the grip of poverty, 14-year-old LaVaughn sets her sights on college. She is almost thrown off track when she becomes enmeshed with 17-year-old and mother of two, Jolly, who is at the opposite end of the "take charge" pole and is on the verge of being crushed by the poverty that defines their lives. Wolff has created a powerful story charged with images so vivid they permeate all of the readers' senses. The voice that she uses, that of LaVaughn, remains authentic throughout each part of the story. Make Lemonade was an ALA Notable Children's Book, an ALA Best Book for Young Adults, and a Booklist Top of the List winner. True Believer, the second book in the trilogy about LaVaughn, received an honor citation from the Printz Award Committee and won the National Book Award. Legions of devoted readers who are awaiting the final book in the trilogy will be cheering for LaVaughn as she continues to find her way. --Randall Enos, advisory board member
Babbitt, Natalie. Tuck Everlasting. 1975. 144p. Farrar, $16 (0-374-37848-7); Sunburst, paper, $4.95 (0-374-48012-5). Gr. 5-8.
Billingsley, Franny. The Folk Keeper. 1999. 176p. Simon & Schuster/Atheneum, $16 (0-689-82876-4); Aladdin, paper, $4.99 (0-689-84461-1). Gr. 5-8.
Clements, Andrew. Frindle. Illus. by Brian Selznick. 1996. 112p. Simon & Schuster, $15 (0-689-80669-8); Aladdin, paper, $4.99 (0-689-81876-9). Gr. 3-6.
Cole, Brock. The Goats. 1987. 192p. Sunburst, paper, $5.95 (0-374-42575-2). Gr. 6-9.
Gardiner, John Reynolds. Stone Fox. Illus. by Marcia Sewall. 1980. 96p. HarperCollins, $15.95 (0-690-03983-2); HarperTrophy, paper, $4.95 (0-06-440132-4). Gr. 3-5.
Hautzig, Esther. T he Endless Steppe: Growing Up in Siberia. 1968. 256p. HarperTrophy, paper, $5.95 (0-06-440577-X). Gr. 5-9.
Holling, Holling Clancy. Tree in the Trail. 1942. 64p. Houghton, $20 (0-395-18228-X); paper, $11.95 (0-395-54534-X). Gr. 3-5.
Holt, Kimberly Willis. When Zachary Beaver Came to Town. 1999. 240p. Holt, $16.95 (0-8050-6116-9); Yearling, paper, $5.50 (0-440-22904-9). Gr. 6-9.
Lowry, Lois. Autumn Street. 1980. 192p. Houghton/Walter Lorraine, $16 (0-395-27812-0); Yearling, paper, $4.99 (0-440-40344-8). Gr. 5-7.
Paterson, Katherine. Jip: His Story. 1996. 208p. Dutton, $15.99 (0-525-67543-4); Puffin, paper, $5.99 (0-14-038674-2). Gr. 5-9.
Provensen, Alice. My Fellow Americans: A Family Album. 1995. 64p. Harcourt, $19.95 (0-15-276642-1). Gr. 4-6.
Williams, Vera B. Scooter. 1993. 160p. HarperCollins/Greenwillow, $17.95 (0-688-09376-0); HarperTrophy, paper, $10.95 (0-06-440968-6). Gr. 4-6.
Wolff, Virginia Euwer. Make Lemonade. 1993. 208p. Holt, $17.95 (0-8050-2228-7); Scholastic/Point Signature, paper, $4.99 (0-590-48141-X). Gr. 7-12.