Tag Archives: Coming of Age

Hattie Big Sky, by Kirby Larson – The Newbery Project

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hattie-big-skyIf Hattie wasn’t Irish, she should have been been. What else could possibly explain Murphy’s Law apparently being the theme for this entire book?

There were many, oh so many, possible ways this book could have ended with at least a tiny ray of hope. But none, oh none of them, actually occurred.

  • Hattie could have borrowed just enough money to save her claim.
  • Traft Martin could have had at least one redeeming quality, making Hattie’s  in-and-out relationship with him feel like it had a purpose.
  • Hattie could have married her friend Charlie (why else did they write each other constantly?).
  • Some small portion of the crop she slaved over could have been saved.
  • The children she loved so much could have gotten really sick, but by a miracle, come through the Spanish Flu alive.

Or, if you’re really into being totally bummed out while reading for pleasure:

  • Traft Martin. our handsome anti-hero, could be completely and hopelessly irredeemable.
  • Hattie could end up, after a year of back-breaking work with less than she started out  and going off to be a chamber maid in a boarding house — the very job she traveled to Montana to avoid.
  • Her favorite little girl could die painfully, while lying in Hattie’s arms.
  • Hattie’s best friends could move away and desert her to fend for herself.

You tell me — which version of this story would you prefer to read?

When just over half way through Hattie Big Sky I bragged to my brother about how much I was enjoying reading the Newbery books. How the one I was reading right then was so good that I couldn’t decide which of my nieces to give a copy to — or whether I should just give one to each of them. “It is that good,” I said.

Then I read the final chapters, in which literally, it seemed, everything that could go wrong did go wrong, in every possible way. Everything. I have still not gotten over the disappointment. I still complain about it every time this book comes up in conversation (which is surprisingly often, probably due more to my state of frustration than to anyone’s actual interest in hearing my complaints).

I understand that the Newbery judges like a good tragedy. They like death. They like poverty. They like orphans. They like parents who desert their children, or who don’t like them much. But personally, I can’t believe that we need to tell our kids that life is quite that hard — at least not all in one book. Surely children need a tiny ray of hope to go on. Just a smidgen. Anything.

Hattie Big Sky, by Kirby Larson

Newbery Honor Book – 2007

A.R Level: 4.4; Middle Grades +

Lexile: 700L

After Tupac and D Foster, by Jacqueline Woodson – The Newbery Project

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After Tupac and D Foster, by Jacqueline Woodson

I was beginning to think that the Newbery awards were only given to middle grade books. Some, like The Tale of Despereaux (and possibly, The Higher Power of Lucky), have felt like they were more appropriate to lower grades , but none have seemed like anything a high schooler would listen too. Even though, I have to admit, I felt a little bit uncomfortable about the language in After Tupac and D Foster. In fact, I’m still wondering about the AR Bookfinder categorizing this UG. Although the plot (and some language) may seem more appropriate for teens, the main characters are 12-year old girls — which usually lands a book smack in the middle of the MG category.

But, back to the story…

I remember when Tupac died. And I remember thinking it was really sad because I thought he was kind of interesting, and I liked his music — which is saying something, considering that rap never was my favorite musical genre. But ultimately I was too old, and maybe a little too white and comfortably situated, to really get it.

One thing I really liked about this book was that D’s current foster mother was actually portrayed in a (mostly) positive light. As a former foster parent myself, I can be a little sensitive to negative portrayals of foster parents. I know there are bad people out there — we get to read about them in the news, after all — but there are also plenty of folks who get into foster care simply because they love children. Although we never meet her, we learn that D’s foster mom is one of the few people who have provided any stability in her life.

Oh way, you want to know something about the plot? Hmmm…there’s not really much to say in that regard. It’s a coming of age story that follows the lives of the narrator (who is never named), Neeka, and D from shortly before Tupac was shot the first time, until he was finally killed. The girls relate to Tupac, even though the narrator’s and Neeka’s lives seem pretty stable by comparison.

A couple of scenes that stuck with me:

– The bus trip out to visit Neeka’s brother, Tash, in jail. There’s something so loving, and so sad about the way Neeka’s mom has packed up all the kids and a huge lunch for the half-day trip to the jail.

– J Jones bragging about how many baskets he’d shot one day. And yet, despite his  hard work and college goals, being harassed by the police, pretty much just for walking own the street.

– The retelling of how Tash was taken in by a guy he cared about and ended up hurting his true friend and getting jail time to boot. That story hurt. And it didn’t matter that Tash was gay. His heartache was the same as anyone else’s would be. I also liked the way Neeka’s family both accepted Tash and tried to convince to be less gay. It was real to me.

So did I like the book? Yeah. I did want it to have a little more direction sometimes, but having said that, it was one of those audiobooks that made me actually look forward to my commute (and trust me, there is nothing else good about my commute).

After Tupac and D Foster, by Jacqueline Woodson

Newbery Honor Book – 2009

A.R. Level: 4.7; Upper Grades