February 12, 2018

2013 Newberry Award Winners

This group of Newberry books were all very different in theme and mood. Although the winner wasn't my favorite, it may be just the thing for the mood you're in. There are some great reads here!

For a tender story about an intelligent gorilla:

The One and Only Ivan, by Katherine Applegate
2013 Newberry Award

3 stars: Liked it; didn't love it.

Ivan the gorilla lives in a mall right off the freeway, where folks come and see him. There's also an old circus elephant named Stella who does a few tricks, and a few other animals. Bob the dog is a stray, but sleeps on Ivan's stomach most nights.

Ivan is not the fearsome animal his billboard makes him out to be. In fact, he is an artist. His owner, Mack, sells his paintings for $20 in the gift shop ($25 framed). Ivan is resigned to his life, with the short beginning and endless middle, until baby elephant Ruby joins the menagerie. Stella makes Ivan promise to protect Ruby and take care of her, once she is gone, and Ivan agrees.

As time goes on, things go badly for Mack. Numbers are dwindling, and Mack is getting desperate. None of the animals are being treated right, but especially baby Ruby is suffering. Ivan must figure out how to keep his promise and get Ruby out of there. If only the humans could understand his art. One special little girl named Julia may be just the person to make the connection.

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I didn't love this as much as most other people. I don't know if I could even tell you why. It has some good messages in it, and the characters are each distinct and well-written. I guess I was having a hard time suspending my disbelief. It's strange, because that's usually not a problem for me. I read books with talking, thinking animals in them quite often, but for some reason, I didn't really get into it this time.

I just found out that it was based on a real gorilla named Ivan who lived in a mall, then eventually got moved to the Atlanta Zoo. (Yes, if you've read it, you probably already knew that.) That makes me like it a little more.

(Finished reading Aug. 21, 2017)

Grab a blanket and settle in for an atmospheric, redemptive tale:

Splendors and Glooms, by Laura Amy Schlitz
2013 Newberry Honor

5 stars: This was great! Historical fiction with a hint of mystery and a dash of magic.

Grisini is a puppet master with a shadowy past, who works his trade on the streets of London, circa 1860. He has two foundlings that work with him and for him: Lizzie Rose, an orphan whose father was an actor; and Parsefall, a boy he "rescued" from the workhouse. The puppets are not the English Punch and Judy shows, but rather marionettes--or fantocinni, as Grisini calls them. Lizzie Rose plays the music and Parsefall has worked up to maneuvering some of the puppets. He also steals for Grisini from those watching the show.

When Clara, a girl from a wealthy family, sees the puppet show in the park one day, she is enthralled. She decides this is all she wants for her birthday--though of course it will not be all she gets. After much begging and even some tears, her father relents. Clara's other siblings all died of cholera some years back, and her parents still mourn their loss heavily. To Clara, they have become the Others, and she is sick of visiting the cemetery on every holiday (including her birthday) and constantly being reminded that they are gone while she is not. She is certain her 12th birthday will be the best ever.

One other player in this drama becomes increasingly important as time goes on: the old witch Cassandra. She has a fire opal which has given her magical strength over the years and allowed her to control those around her. Now in her old age, however, the opal is consuming her. She had a terrible argument with Grisini years ago concerning the opal. He had mentioned some way to get rid of it, but she had never let him finish before cruelly injuring him. (She thought she had killed him, but then her second sight tells her otherwise.) The unfinished sentence haunts her now. She must summon him to her bedside and learn what she can.

When Clara goes missing the night after the birthday party, police think she was kidnapped. They suspect Grisini, but can't find any evidence. Lizzie Rose and Parsefall also suspect Grisini; even more so as they begin to hear rumors and stories of other missing children over the years. They had gotten along quite well with the Clara, in the limited time before the puppet show started, and are determined to help her if they can. Then they make a terrible discovery.

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This was great! Schlitz evokes the foggy, shadowy underworld of London quite well. I could picture every part of it, from the rope handrail on the stairs at the cheap boardinghouse where Grisini and children lived, to the cold mysterious tower that was Cassandra's home in Strachan Gyll.

The point of view switched every so often between characters, which added richness and depth to the story. There was a couple magical threads that wound their way through the narrative, but magic wasn't necessarily the focus of it. The puppets were what tied everything together.

Due to content and length, I would give this to older middle graders/younger teens on up--so probably 12+. I actually think this would be a great one for adult book clubs. There would be some interesting things to discuss. Including this one I've been thinking about since finishing it: who was the real puppet master and who were the puppets?

Content: Physical violence--some of it toward children, drinking mentioned many times, pickpocketing, a handful of swear words, intense scenes, deaths of a couple of the main characters.

(Read 02-01-18)

To lighten up a rainy day:

Three Times Lucky (Tupelo Landing #1), by Sheila Turnage
2013 Newberry Honor

4 stars: Funny and poignant, with a murder mystery to boot.

Mo LeBeau doesn't know who her real, "upstream" mother might be. All she knows is that she washed ashore in Tupelo Landing as a baby, same day as the Colonel. He can't remember his past, either. Luckily for them both, Miss Lana took them in and they have made a family of their own ever since.

But now there's a murder investigation going on, and their sleepy little town is getting all shook up over it. Mo is determined to help the investigators get to the bottom of it, dragging her best friend Dale right along with her.

Very enjoyable.

(Reviewed on Goodreads, Nov. 2013)

My review of the sequel to this book, The Ghosts of Tupelo Landing, can be found here. It's the 3rd review down.

For an on-the-edge-of-your-seat TRUE story:

Bomb: The Race to Build--and Steal--the World's Most Dangerous Weapon, by Steve Sheinkin
2013 Newberry Honor
2013 Sibert Medal

5 stars: I loved it!

This was actually the 2nd time I checked this one out of the library. It had a lot of potential, but I just wasn't ready to do [what I thought would be] the work of reading it. Then I actually opened it and started reading. I was immediately sucked in, and couldn't put it down!

The first-person viewpoints, the photographs, the story itself; all of it was excellent and well-researched.

Awesome non-fiction for teens!

(Reviewed on Goodreads, June 2014)

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Happy reading! 


  1. Checked out "Bomb" last week thanks to your review. Austin loves all things world War II. He read it in two days, which didn't surprise me. Then I picked it up and was fascinated! One angle of the history I found particularly interesting was the Norwegian special ops missions. That ended up being a really important mission to slow down the German scientists. They were really tough men.

    There would be some interesting things to discuss about this book, like Oppenheimer's ending, and was the 18yr old scientist spy right or wrong about thinking another world power needed the technology to balance the power? I was kind of miffed that he got away with everything without any consequence, but have been trying to determine what I think about that perspective.
    As miffed as I was about what he did and what he got away with, I'm willing to take the time to wonder if his perspective was right. I'm still not sure...

    1. I'm so glad you did! There was so much I didn't know about the bomb and that part of the WWII story. I agree, the Norwegian mission was riveting.

      One of the parts that stood out to me was after the tested the bomb--and it worked--everyone's first reaction was to cheer! And then, they all fell silent as they realized what they had done and what it meant for the world. Very sobering moment.

      What I think was missing from the "balance the power" idea was factoring the intentions of the countries or leaders involved. Not that USA is squeaky clean here, but at least we want to avoid using it if possible, or use it "responsibly" (whatever that may mean) if we must.

      I think the balance gets all thrown out of whack when you have ruthless dictators with no regard for human life get their hands on the same power. I think we can all agree it would be better for the world at large if North Korea did not have nuclear weapons, for example. And who is he--the spy--to decide that anyway?

      Anyway, lots to think about here!

  2. Yes, that's what I think too, that not all nations have the same intent. It just made me think that it's been over 70 years since the bombs dropped on Japan, and a nuclear bomb has never been used again. I wonder if that's because there's always a fear of retaliation. Maybe that fear of retaliation is what has kept the human race from using them this whole time? I wonder if we would have dropped them on Japan if we knew that they could do the same right back to us? But I definitely worry that we're dealing with a different animal with some dictators or or terrorist groups. I'm not sure they have a respect for fear of retaliation.