This is one in a series of periodic reviews written by four area teachers of children's literature. Today's are by Dr. Alexa Sandmann, associate professor in the University of Toledo's college of education.
The multiple winners of this year's Newbery award make apparent the richness of last year's offerings in children's literature. While there is only ever one actual winner, the number of Honor books varies. This year, the Newbery committee of the American Library Association named five books as Honor books. The committee clearly realized that several books competed for the coveted spot of the “most distinguished American children's book published the previous year” and being named an Honor book means that each was also considered “truly distinguished” as well.
CRISPIN: THE CROSS OF LEAD. Written by Avi. Hyperion. Ages 10-14. $15.99.
In 1377, 13-year-old Crispin, who up to that time was called only “Asta's son” the only name he's ever known, finds his life turned up-side down upon the death of his mother. Although he does not understand why, he is forced to run for his life. He is unprepared for life beyond the estate, as he knows only a life of servitude for his master, but good fortune prevails when he meets a juggler named Bear and they become a team. Bear helps the young man discover his real name and grow into it. A coming-of-age story for all time.
NEWBERY HONOR BOOKS
THE HOUSE OF THE SCORPION. Written by Nancy Farmer. Richard Jackson/Atheneum. &tab;Ages 12 and up. $17.95
A previous winner of the National Book Award, The House of the Scorpion was simultaneously named a Prinz Honor book and a Newbery Honor book. This story, set in some imprecise future time, centers on Matt Alacran, a clone of the 140-year-old drug lord who is his current protector and mentor. When the patriarch dies, Matt's life is in danger, so he escapes into a world he has only heard described. This world, too, undervalues him, but Matt fights to do what he believes is right, especially when it is someone else who needs his help. Matt is a character with spirit and heart, an unlikely hero but one all the same.
PICTURES OF HOLLIS WOODS. Written by Patricia Reilly Giff. Wendy Lamb/Random House. &tab;Ages 8-13. $15.95.
At 12, Hollis Woods has seen a lot of foster homes and rarely been happy, except with her current placement - a retired teacher named Josie who clearly cares for Hollis but is increasingly forgetful - and the placement with the Regans. Like so many other times, she ran away from the Regans, but this time it was different, she ran for reasons beyond herself . . . and she ran back to them as well. It's truly a heartwarming story about family and how family creates a home.
HOOT. Written by Carl Hiaasen. Knopf/Random House. Ages 8-13. $15.95.
A Miami Herald columnist and writer of adult novels, Hiassen's first novel for younger readers is compelling. Roy, new to the state of Florida, is missing the mountains of Montana, until he notices a boy running away from the school bus. Don't kids normally run toward it, he thinks? He discovers the boy's secret and joins his cause, but it's hardly an easy journey. Full of fascinating characters, it's definitely a book to give a “hoot” about.
A CORNER OF THE UNIVERSE. Written by Ann B. Martin. Scholastic. Ages 12+. $15.95.
Twelve-year-old Hattie Owen doesn't even know she has an uncle until he is forced to return home to her small town because his boarding “school,” actually an institution for the mentally challenged, is closed. Hattie, nevertheless, comes to love Adam; he fits in well with Hattie's eclectic group of friends, various adults throughout the town. Her grandparents still find their son's limitations troubling, and Hattie doesn't understand their restrictions for his life, just as she resents their intrusions into her own. The ending is dramatic and real. The book speaks to the reader's heart and changes it forever.
SURVIVING THE APPLEWHITES. Written by Stephanie Tolan. HarperCollins. Ages 10 and up. $15.99.
To describe Jake Semple as a scary kid would be accurate: “scarlet spiked hair, a silver ring through one dark brown eyebrow, and too many earrings to count. He was dressed entirely in black . . . and the look in his eyes was pure mean.” But with the Applewhites, his appearance and behavior, such as unacceptable language and smoking, hardly cause a ripple. Jake finds himself enrolled in the Creative Academy, a North Carolina home school created by the Applewhites. Jake decides to see if he can survive the academy, despite the Applewhites and what he considers their whacky, artistic outlook on life; he comes to realize their perspective is his saving grace.