Tag Archives: Newbery Honor

Turtle in Paradise, by Jennifer L. Holm – The Newbery Project


Turtle in Paradise, by Jennifer L. Holm

Praise be to all that is sunny in Florida. I was not wrong. I did remember correctly that Turtle in Paradise  was a great book. Funny, even. Okay, yes, there is a sad part in the end. But this sadness is nowhere near as overwhelming as the heart-crushing grief caused by Our Only May Amelia (Just last night I got teary-eyed trying to describe that book to my husband. In fact, it’s making me a little melancholy AGAIN just thinking about it.)

I listened to Turtle on audiobook in 2011 and LOVED it. But after reading Our Only May Amelia and listening to Penny From Heaven, I wondered if my memory deceived me. Amelia, of course, plunged me into a mini-depression. Parts of it were just that sad. Penny wasn’t quite as mournful, but it certainly didn’t live up to my memories of Turtle. Turtle is just funny.

Favorite lines:

“We got babies today.”

“I don’t like babies. They’re like Shirley Temple. Everybody thinks they’re cute, but all they do is scream and make messy diapers.” —  I’ve been trying to remember for two years where I got this line from. Have to admit, I thought our own clever E. had said it, but then I kept wondering how she knew about Shirley Temple. Of course E. didn’t say it — Turtle did.

And yes, I LOVED the diaper gang.

Plot Summary from Jennifer L. Holm’s website:

Life isn’t like the movies, and eleven-year-old Turtle is no Shirley Temple. She’s smart and tough and has seen enough of the world not to expect a Hollywood ending. After all, it’s 1935, and jobs and money and sometimes even dreams are scarce. So when Turtle’s mama gets a job housekeeping for a lady who doesn’t like kids, Turtle says goodbye without a tear and heads off to Key West, Florida, to stay with relatives she’s never met.

Florida’s like nothing Turtle has ever seen. It’s hot and strange, full of wild green peeping out between houses, ragtag boy cousins, and secret treasure. Before she knows what’s happened, Turtle finds herself coming out of the shell she has spent her life building, and as she does, her world opens up in the most unexpected ways.

Turtle in Paradise, by Jennifer L. Holm, Audiobook narrated by Becca Battoe

Newbery Honor: 2011

A.R Level/Points:  3.7/4.0; Middle Grades

The Surrender Tree: Poems of Cuba’s Struggle for Freedom, by Margarita Engle – The Newbery Project


The Surrender Tree

The Surrender Tree sucked me in. I know, you’re wondering how a tree can suck anything. Well, I ask you, haven’t you ever put a dry plant into a pot of water and watched the water just disappear? Plants are like that. And so are great books.

One minute, I was opening to the first page and thinking Oh no, more poetry! and the next minute — or really about two hours later — I was putting the book down. I had finished it all in one sitting. Last night I picked it up to refresh my memory for this review, and if it hadn’t been for my husband saying “Uh, you know it’s a work day tomorrow, right?” I probably would have read the whole thing in one sitting again.

The poems are short, and they cover a long span of Cuban history, that, I have to admit, I knew virtually nothing about. You would think, living in Florida as I do, that we’d get a little bit of Cuban history here and there. Apparently, we don’t.

For instance, I had no idea that the first concentration camps (long before Hitler came up with his horrendous plans) were actually created in Cuba in 1896.  I didn’t know that the Spanish-American War, which barely registers at all in most Americans’ historical knowledge,  is called Le Disastre  in Spain. I didn’t know that some Cuban property owners freed their slaves voluntarily in 1868, and that this act of humanity (and rebellion), began a civil war that lasted for decades. I didn’t know that a peasant woman named Rosa Castellanos (known in Cuba as Rosa la Bayamesa) became famous for the folk hospitals she established in the countryside during all this strife.


Monument to Rosa la Bayamesa in Parque Bayamo

The Surrender Tree made me glad I took on the project to read all the Newberys because I know it’s just the type of book I would never have thought to read otherwise…but it would have been a shame to miss it. Yes, this book may be outside your comfort zone . The plot sort of wanders along, and the whole book is written in verse. You should try it anyway. You may learn something too.

The Surrender Tree: Poems of Cuba’s Struggle for Freedom, by Margarita Engle

Newbery Honor: 2009

A.R. Book Level: 6.1; Middle Grades

Other Awards:

The Surrender Tree, winner of Oh-So-Many Awards

The Surrender Tree, winner of Oh-So-Many Awards

  • Newbery Honor
  • Pura Belpré Award
  • Américas Award
  • Jane Addams Award
  • Claudia Lewis Poetry Award
  • Lee Bennett Hopkins Honor
  • ALA Best Books for Young Adults
  • ALA Notable Book
  • NCSS-CBC Notable Social Studies Book
  • Amelia Bloomer Book
  • Booklist Editor’s Choice
  • Kansas State Reading Circle
  • Michigan Great Lakes Great Books Award Master List
  • Junior Library Guild Selection
  • Finalist – Once Upon a Word Children’s Book Award, Museum of Tolerance, Simon Wiesenthal Library
  • Bank Street College of Education Selection List of Reading Aloud With Children Twelve and Older

One Crazy Summer, by Rita Williams-Garcia — The Newbery Project

One Crazy Summer, by Rita Williams-Garcia

One Crazy Summer, by Rita Williams-Garcia

The Black Panthers. Finding the mother who abandoned you. One Crazy Summer isn’t exactly Captain Underpants. It’s serious stuff. And yet, it was moving, and touching, and very recommendable.

Although there was no Disney happily-ever-after ending here, One Crazy Summer broke with what was beginning to seem like a Newbery tradition — the heart-wrenching tragic event. (And thank goodness for that. It’s really not my goal when reading for pleasure to sob miserably at any point. I mean, it’s one thing for a book to be meaningful, and another thing altogether for it to make me depressed for weeks. But for that rant see my discussion of  Hattie Big Sky.)

Delphine, and her younger sisters, Vonetta and Fern, are sent to spend the summer with Cecile, the mother who abandoned them years earlier. From their travel to their mother’s home in California to their interactions with her Black Panther friends, the girls provide a fresh, and often painfully honest, look at the turmoil of the 1960s.

Give it a try. I know it may not be your usual read, but One Crazy Summer will give you a lot to think about. And that’s not a bad thing.

One Crazy Summer, by Rita Williams-Garcia

Newbery Honor – 2011

A.R. Level: 4.6; Middle Grades

Lexile: 750L

Dark Emperor and Other Poems of the Night, By Joyce Sidman – The Newbery Project


Dark Emperor

For it’s wild and it’s windy

way out in the woods,

where the moss grows like candy

and the hunting is good,

where the rain falls from heaven

and mud’s underfoot.

It’s wild and it’s windy

way out in the woods.

Beautiful poetry. Gorgeous illustrations. I wonder that it didn’t win a Caldecott too.

So many mysterious words surrounding and being surrounded by the brilliantly colored, yet eerie illustrations of Rick Allen. (Can you find the salamander on every page?)

I’ve admitted before that I’m not much of a poetry buff, but it’s hard not to appreciate the alliteration in “It’s wild and it’s windy way out in the woods.” I suspect I’ll be repeating that line to myself for the rest of the day.

Dark Emperor and Other Poems of the Night, By Joyce Sidman; Illustrated by Rick Allen

Newbery Honor – 2011

AR Level: 6.1; Lower Grades

Rules, by Cynthia Lord – The Newbery Project

Rules, by Cynthia Lord

Rules, by Cynthia Lord

No toys in the fishtank!
A boy takes off his shirt to swim, but not his shorts.

So many of my fears for Owen actually happen to David in this book.

My fear that other kids will make fun of him, and  he’ll think they’re his friends.

My fear that his big sister, who currently thinks he is the most awesome baby ever, will one day be embarrassed by him.

My fear that he won’t have any friends and will drive his brother and sister crazy by tagging along with them all the time (okay, my own little brother did that, and he didn’t have a disability).

My fear that our lives will sometimes feel like they revolve around his disability instead of around our family as a whole.

Rules is the story of 12-year old Catherine’s constant frustration with her brother David’s autism, even as she loves and protects him. We see how embarrassed she is by him, while at the same time stoutly defending him. Catherine isn’t a perfect sister, and I’m grateful for that. I think sometimes we work so hard in the disability world to emphasize the positive that we make it feel abnormal to have feelings of regret, sadness, and fear.

Cynthia Lord has a son with autism, and you can tell her writing comes from a real place. The real experience — not what we wish it could be. And she does this with a great deal of humor, mixed with enough Arnold Lobel quotes to send me to B&N and Amazon looking for the complete Frog and Toad collection.

I laughed a lot, and I cringed more times than I can count, and I knew deep down that I was no better than Catherine.

And, I suppose, no worse.

Rules, by Cynthia Lord; Audiobook Narrated by: Jessica Almasy

Newbery Honor – 2007

A.R Level: 3.9; Middle Grades

The Underneath, by Kathi Appelt – The Newbery Project

The Underneath, by Kathi Appelt

The Underneath, by Kathi Appelt

“There is nothing lonelier than a cat who has been loved, at least for a while, and then abandoned on the side of the road.”

It’s a beautiful start to a deeply poetic book.

Poetic, yes. Enthralling, no. To be honest, I almost didn’t finish it. Unlike many of the Newbery books, I not only didn’t read it all in one sitting, but it took me a couple of weeks to get through. The poeticism was just a bit much for me.  Of course, I was also unable to get through WaldenA Tale of Two Cities, and every philosophy book that I have ever bothered to pick up. So there may be a precedent for this that has nothing to do with the actual quality of the book.

However, I still have to admit that The Underneath just dragged a bit. There’s a lot more waiting than action.  The cat in question is abandoned on the edge of the bayou, where she hears the also lonely bay of an old hound dog who has been chained underneath the house by his abusive owner. When the cat has kittens, and the kittens start wondering about the world outside the underneath, well, as they say, “curiosity killed the cat.” The kittens and the hound dog have to figure out how to find the ones they love, and how to survive in a tough world where nothing comes easy.

Louis Sachar blurbed The Underneath and his description is terribly complimentary. He describes it as: “A mysterious and magical story, poetic yet loaded with suspense.” All of these adjectives are true. And yet I didn’t love it.

For the sake of those who DO read poetry well, I’ve noted below some of the other awards this book won in addition to the Newbery Honor.  If that’s your style, you should try this book. If you’re a sadly shallow reader (as I apparently am), you might as well just admit that to yourself and go read The Hunger GamesYou’ll love it.

The Underneath, by Kathi Appelt

Newbery Honor – 2009; National Book Award Finalist; Pen USA Award

A.R. Level: 5.2; Middle Grades

Penny From Heaven, by Jennifer Holm – The Newbery Project


Penny from Heaven, by Jennifer L. Holm

I now know what an Iron Lung looks like. (Thank you, Jennifer L. Holm for making me wonder and thank you Google for making pictures of EVERYTHING so easy to find.) The most horrible part about the Iron Lung is that some people who contracted polio ended up using an Iron Lung for life. I mean, look at these things:


I worry every day that O will catch yet another virus from one of the other babies in his daycare and we’ll end up, yet again, hunkered down for the long haul at Wolfson Children’s Hospital. Doing a little research on polio makes me feel a little paranoid. These days, there’s almost no chance that your typical immunized kid will come down with a deadly casually transmitted disease. (Thank you, Dr. Salk!) And the next time I get all pitiful about O being hooked up to oxygen for almost three weeks:

2013-03-27 In the hospital...again

Next time, I’m going to remind myself of the iron lung, and the fact that he’ll never get polio. And I’m going to remember to be grateful.

From Jennifer Holm’s website:

It’s 1953 and 11-year-old Penny dreams of a summer of butter pecan ice cream, swimming, and baseball. But nothing’s that easy in Penny’s family. For starters, she can’t go swimming because her mother’s afraid she’ll catch polio at the pool. To make matters worse, her favorite uncle is living in a car. Her Nonny cries every time her father’s name is mentioned. And the two sides of her family aren’t speaking to each other!

Penny From Heaven was an enjoyable flashback to a bygone era, but Turtle in Paradise is still my favorite of Holm’s three Newbery honored books. I listened to Turtle long before I started The Newbery Project. I’ll be reading (or listening to) it again when I’ve finished the rest of the Newbery books from the 2000s. A little piece of me wonders — will I love it as much the second time, now that I’ve read so many other wonderful books for kids?

Stay tuned to find out.

Penny from Heaven, by Jennifer L. Holm; Narrated by Amber Rose Sealey

Newbery Honor – 2007

A.R. Level: 4.0; Middle Grades

Heart of a Samurai, by Margi Preus – The Newbery Project


Heart of a Samurai, by Margi Preus

The whole time I was reading Heart of a Samurai, I felt like it was the kind of book my sixth grade teacher would have assigned, claiming that I was going to LOVE it. In fact, it was just a little…stiff. More like an assignment than a novel. Maybe I was biased from having just read the magical Where the Mountain Meets the MoonThat book is a hard act to follow!

I wondered if the Newbery judges picked it for its cultural significance (as opposed to literary beauty?). The general story line is that Manjiro, a boy from a small fishing village in Japan, is shipwrecked and eventually rescued by a ship captained by an American. The captain takes Manjiro home with him and treats Manjiro as a son, but Manjiro nevertheless faces discrimination. Eventually, Manjiro succeeds in returning to his native Japan (after about 10 years, I think), where is he imprisoned as a suspected spy. Manjiro convinces his captors that he is not a spy and that Japan needs to become more open to interaction with foreigners.

It’s based on a true story, which may be the cause of the “assignment” vibe. I think it can be a very difficult task to follow a story line that has already been set out for you, and maintain the creativity and flexibility necessary to write a really compelling book.

I feel a little big crazy complaining about this book — I mean, out of all the books published in 2011, only 5 were honored by the Newbery committee. But it wasn’t my favorite. There. I said it.

Heart of a Samurai, by Margi Preus

Newbery Honor – 2011

A.R Level – 5.4; Middle Grades

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


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