March 1, 2018

2015 Newberry Award Winners

This is one of the years I had read 2 of the 3 already, which made this list easy to put together!

What stands out to me about this year's winners is the strong voice. Each unique in its own way, yet the child or teen narrating carries you right into the story.

For a book with a beat, brothers, and some mad ball skills:

The Crossover, by Kwame Alexander
2015 Newberry Award

5 stars: It deserved to win! This was unexpectedly great.

Josh and Jordan Bell are twin basketball stars. They own the court, following in the footsteps of their famous basketball playing Dad. Along with their mom, they've been a close family all along, until somehow this year--7th grade--things seem to be loosening up between them. Things are changing and these boys will have to learn to navigate the new reality. Don't take my word for it, though! The book says it better and more powerfully.

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How in the world did a book of poetry about basketball, of all things, win the Newberry? Well my friends, read it and you will understand. I loved it! The honesty. The rhythm. The basketball. The relationship of the brothers. The whole thing! Get it and read it, and step inside somebody else's head for awhile.         

(Originally reviewed on Goodreads, Sept 2015)

Honor Books:

For a graphic novel with an unlikely heroine: 

El Deafo, by Cece Bell
2015 Newberry Honor

3 stars: Life is full of ups and downs for Cece, many of which revolve around her hearing loss.

Cece loses her hearing after an illness, when she is little. After her kindergarten year, which was in a school for the deaf, she enters 1st grade in a mainstream elementary school. Even with a super-powerful hearing aid called "The Phonic Ear", she still has some trouble at school. A lot of her understanding depends on lip reading, which can be tricky.

Her other problems are with finding friends. Her first "best friend" Laura is okay, though mean and bossy at times. At least she doesn't seem to mind Cece's deafness. When Ginny comes along, Cece is relieved that she doesn't seem pushy. Cece has had about enough of Laura's brand of friendship by that point. Unfortunately, Ginny always makes a big deal out of Cece's deafness. She talks very slowly and loudly, even after Cece tells her to stop. That one doesn't last either. Then there's Martha. She's super nice, not at all bossy, and doesn't make a big deal out of Cece's deafness. They have a ton of fun together, until an accident happens while playing tag, and Martha gets a little freaked out by it, thinking Cece's injury was all her fault.

Through it all, Cece has to deal with being different than almost everyone else she knows--for better or worse.
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I haven't read very many graphic novels; this was a good one. The use of speech bubbles really added to the story. For instance, when Cece found out she couldn't hear, all the speech bubbles were blank. Or, if someone talked softly, or her hearing aid batteries were running down, the typeface in the speech bubbles got lighter. A lot of nonsense words in speech bubbles were used throughout the book, to show what it might sound like for a deaf person in a hearing world, trying to make out what other people are saying.

The characters were all depicted as rabbits. Maybe this was because they have big ears, so it would be easy to see the hearing aids? :)

There was a lot that kids of all backgrounds could relate to. Who hasn't had friendship issues or been picked on for being different? Or worried that everyone is staring at you? With that common basis to start from, perhaps some greater empathy for those who don't fit in will follow.

I really liked how through Cece's narrative, kids can gain some understanding of how a deaf person may want to be treated. Or, at least, gain a better understanding what the potential barriers might be--to friendship, or other pursuits. I also liked how she added in teaching moments: signs that talked about how to read lips, or what made it hard to read lips, etc.

As far as it winning a Newberry goes, I think at times the award is given to books that highlight a particular problem, or give a unique perspective, that could benefit from greater exposure. I would guess that the committee members strive to be inclusive in their choices, which may mean paying particular attention to books written by or about minorities. I didn't think this was an amazing book. However, I can see why it won an Newberry Honor: it was an appealing, well-written account of what it feels like to grow up deaf in a hearing world. I would imagine there aren't many of those that come along. Winning a Newberry Honor probably gave it the push it needed to get into many more kids' hands.

I think it would appeal to elementary school aged kids, though I've had it checked out from the library now for a couple of weeks, and I haven't seen either of my older two pick it up yet. Maybe if I give them a little nudge...

Content: One mention of a swear word; Cece mishears something her boy crush says, and thinks "Did you say 'breast?'


For a moving story in verse, full of hope, you can't go wrong with:

Brown Girl Dreaming, by Jacqueline Woodson
2015 Newberry Honor
2014 National Book Award Winner

5 stars

Woodson's childhood, in poems. Growing up in the south, then moving to New York City. Summers back in the south. Trying to belong and not forget the other place. Changing family dynamics. Finding her own place in the world, finding what she was really good at. Overcoming struggles in school. Civil rights and segregation.

So good. So real. It seems strange at times to give stars to a memoir, as if to say "Your life is worthy of 5 stars," but I rate books for my own reading experience with them, along with the power of the writing. Well this one is powerfully written and I thoroughly enjoyed it. So there you go.

(Originally reviewed on Goodreads, April 2015)

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