Tag Archives: Newberry winners

The Tale of Despereaux, by Kate DiCamillo – The Newbery Project

The Tale of Desperaux, by Kate DiCamillo

The Tale of Desperaux, by Kate DiCamillo

It was a cute book, but I wouldn’t label it “middle grades” (as the AR folks do). I’d put in the category of good books for advanced Lower Grades readers. In fact, I think I like the title as much as I liked the book. It’s clever. “The Tale of Desperaux – Being the Story of a Mouse, a Princess, Some Soup, and a Spool of Thread.”  How can you beat that?

From Kate DiCamillo’s Webpage:

Welcome to the story of Despereaux Tilling, a mouse who is in love with music, stories, and a princess named Pea. It is also the story of a rat called Roscuro, who lives in the darkness and covets a world filled with light. And it is the story of Miggery Sow, a slow-witted serving girl who harbors a simple, impossible wish. These three characters are about to embark on a journey that will lead them down into a horrible dungeon, up into a glittering castle, and, ultimately, into each other’s lives. And what happens then? As Kate DiCamillo would say: “Reader, it is your destiny to find out.”

The Tale of Desperaux actually reminds me a bit of  The Princess Bride (which is a huge compliment, by the way), with its general fairy tale kookiness. You can’t help but wonder where does she come up with these things? as you’re reading.

My only gripe — it it even is one — is that I couldn’t figure out which of the kids in my life I would recommend this to. Clearly T, at 12, would consider himself too grown up to read a book about a mouse. Meanwhile, R, though not-quite-ten, reminds me of myself at her age. She’s a very advanced reader for her age and quite proud of that fact. I’m afraid she would also reject a fairytale story as being too “baby.” This is a shame. My only remaining option is S. She’s already 10, but is also the proud owner of a couple of rats. Of course, she thinks rats are the good guys. (I think rats are disgusting.) Maybe I’ll package this book up and send it to her with a copy of Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, and see whether she ends up preferring rats as the good guys or rats as the villains.

Has anyone else come across this dilemma? Good book, but trouble placing the audience?

The Tale of Despereaux: Being the Story of a Mouse, a Princess, Some Soup, and a Spool of Thread,
by Kate DiCamillo; Audiobook narrated by Graeme Malcolm

Newbery Winner – 2004

AR Level: 4.7; Middle Grades


Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, by Grace Lin – The Newbery Project

Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, by Grace Lin - Newberry Project

Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, by Grace Lin

Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, by Grace Lin

Newbery Honor Book – 2010

AR Level: 5.5; Middle Grades

I’m a few books in on a new project to “read” the Newbery Award medal and honor books. I put the “read” in quotes not because I’m one of those people who like to overuse quotes (that’s one of my pet-peeves, actually), but because I’m doing most of my “reading” by audiobook. As I’ve mentioned on this blog previously, I have a painfully long and gas-wasting commute. The only thing I’ve found that can make my 2 hours of driving per day less excruciatingly painful is the company of a good book.

Happily, Where the Mountain Meets the Moon met the “good book” criteria and then some.

NOTE TO SELF: The above post is what you get when you start a post, schedule it for posting a few days later, get busy, then have a family emergency the afternoon before the post was scheduled to be published.

I’m sure I had so much more to say about Where the Mountain Meets the Moon. It was such a good book, and the audio version, narrated by Janet Song, was so entrancing that even my 12-year old didn’t want to get out of the car when we arrived at our destination. We ended up about an hour later crowded around a laptop just…listening.

Book Review: The Willoughbys, The Giver, Number the Stars, and Gooney Bird Greene, all amazingly by Lois Lowry


The Willoughbys, The Giver, Number the Stars, and Gooney Bird Greene, all amazingly by Lois Lowry

AR Levels:
The Willoughbys – 5.2
The Giver – 5.7 (Newbery  Medal -1994)
Number the Stars – 4.5 (Newbery Medal – 1990)
Gooney Bird Greene – 3.9

Recommended for middle grades, except Gooney Bird Greene (elementary)

The Willoughbys, by Lois Lowry

The Willoughbys

Lois Lowry is one of those authors who makes me wish I had been born a little later – like about 25 years later – so I could have enjoyed her books as a child. I was first introduced to her work about a year ago when our local library happened to have a copy of The Willoughbys displayed in a staff recommendations collection in the children’s department. I thought it had a cool-looking cover, and I was still on my seemingly never-ending quest to find books that T. would actually want to read (thank you, Captain Underpants for finally ending that quest for me), so I checked it out. Truly, it was one of the funniest books I had read in a long, long time. When I finished it, I thought, Hey, anyone who can write a story this funny about four kids who want to be orphans must have a whole collection of funny books. I should look for more! And so I went back to the children’s department and picked up a copy of The Giver.

The Giver, by Lois Lowry

The Giver

Those of you who are familiar with Lois Lowry are laughing right about now. Those of you who aren’t… well… The Giver turned out to be the story of a dystopian society (look it up – I did) in which all knowledge is controlled by a single person – the Giver. All access to books, to information about life outside their community, all held in a single hand. In a once-in-a-lifetime moment, a boy is chosen to succeed the Giver. At first, he’s flattered and overwhelmed. But the more he realizes how much his society is missing, the more discontent he becomes. It’s a moving and disturbing view of what our future could be if we aren’t vigilant about protecting our freedoms.

Number the Stars, by Lois Lowry

Number the Stars

Naturally, once I read The Giver I was amazed that the person who’d written this very serious book could have been the same as the writer of the slapstick Willoughbys. I looked up more of her writings and found Lowry had also won a Newberry for Number the Stars, the story, as told through the eyes of a young Danish girl, of her people’s efforts to save their country’s Jewish population from certain slaughter by the Nazis during World War II. Frankly, I was still feeling a little morose from thinking about everything The Giver gives you to think about and wasn’t quite ready for a Holocaust novel. Since then I’ve read The Gendarme and Sarah’s Key, which just goes to show that you shouldn’t avoid reading difficult things, or something even harder might just come your way.

Gooney Bird Greene, by Lois Lowry

Gooney Bird Greene

After reading The Giver and reading about Number the Stars, you can imagine my surprise when I discovered recently that Lois Lowry was also the author of the Gooney Bird Greene Series! These aren’t just different types of books – they are in completely different ballparks, on opposite sides of the country, possibly on different continents. Ready now to continue my Lois Lowry journey, I checked out a copy of Gooney Bird Greene. I was not disappointed. Gooney Bird is a hoot. She is entirely an individual, and full of great stories. You should check her out even if it’s been many, many years since you were in second grade.

I’m looking forward to discovering more of Lowry’s work and I hope you will too.

Book Review: Ella Enchanted, by Gail Carson Levine – The Newbery Project

Gail Carson Levine

Ella Enchanted

Ella Enchanted, by Gail Carson Levine

Newbery Honor Book – 1998

AR Level: 4.6

Recommended for: Anyone who loves tough girls and a good fairy tale.

Themes: Fairy tales; coming of age

If you’ve only seen the movie, YOU ARE MISSING OUT! You must read the book. A good friend suggested this book a while back — her daughter had enjoyed it. I thought “well, the movie was nice, but so simple — why would I bother reading the book?” It was a good movie, but Ella Enchanted is an excellent book. Even though I knew perfectly well that it was all going to end Happily Ever After, each time I left the story, I couldn’t wait to get back to find out what would happen next. The story is a variation on Cinderella, but in this version, Ella has real personality and wins over the prince, not due to her great beauty, but because he just likes her. She’s smart, tough, funny, independent, honest, and so determined to do right, even when it could cause her to lose everything important to her, that you can hardly wait for the Happily Ever After to finally come. And when it does…you laugh out loud with happiness for this girl you know doesn’t even really exist, and your own world of Just-Another-Day-of-Drafting-Boring-Contracts becomes just a little bit brighter.