You may have heard that Erin Entrada Kelly’s middle grade novel, Hello, Universe, won the Newbery Medal last week for the most outstanding contribution to children’s literature. Although I had read glowing reviews and the book was on the school library shelves, I had not yet read it. Of course, I regretted that it was not at the top of my list, but no time for looking back – I had a book to read! Hello, Universe centers on four middle school students, each of them a little lonely and different from most of the other kids at school. As you can probably guess, the fates bring them together – but not in a way that you see coming. It’s a horrible act by the bully of the bunch that sets things in motion, resulting in a fast-paced, well plotted novel.
One thing I particularly enjoyed about the book is the relationship between the main character, Virgil Salinas, a quiet Filipino-American boy, and his grandmother who tells him Filipino folk tales. When things go badly for Virgil, he recalls his grandmother’s stories, and they lead him out of a dark place (literally) and help him become more confident.
As much as I enjoyed Hello, Universe, I have mixed feelings about the the three Newbery Honor books: Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut written by Derrick Barnes, Long Way Down, written by Jason Reynolds, and Piecing Me Together, written by Renée Watson. Crown is a fabulous picture book about the central role the barber shop plays in the lives of young black boys. Long Way Down and Piecing Me Together are young adult novels. Jason Reynolds, the author of Long Way Down, is one of the most important and honored writers for young people today. His books deservedly win awards and appear on countless “best of the year” lists. I wrote School Library Journal’s starred review for his middle grade novel, Patina, and was hopeful that book would be honored by the Newbery committee.
My disappointment is not about recognizing Long Way Down, Crown, or Piecing Me Together, but the Newbery Award gives school librarians an opportunity to highlight books for our middle grade readers. As the calendar drew closer to the Newbery announcement, I anticipated displaying three or four middle grade novels that I could encourage kids to read. The shiny sticker really helps! My fingers were crossed for Patina, Orphan Island, See You in the Cosmos, Beyond the Bright Sea, The War I Finally Won, or even one of the many outstanding nonfiction books published this year.
Although I can’t recommend Long Way Down or Piecing Me Together to 4th and 5th grade readers, I will definitely recommend them to our middle school students. On to next year….
The middle school students are currently reading To Kill a Mockingbird and, as part of their work, they also read an article about cities and towns that participate in “one town, one book” programs, many of which select Harper Lee’s classic to spark civic conversations. I assigned short papers to my students asking them to make a case for either To Kill a Mockingbird – or another title – to be their town’s book.
If you’re looking for recommendations for yourself – or for your town read – here are excerpts from their suggestions:
El Deafo by Cece Bell, would be the perfect town read for Scituate, Massachusetts. The fascinating story of a young girl who tries to balance her childhood and early teen years with her deafness, touches on topics people all ages in the Scituate society need to learn or further understand. For example some of the things this book include real first world problems, people with disabilities and how they are treated. The book is additionally in graphic novel form so it will be accessible for younger citizens to stay interested while learning, and an interesting shift for older citizens who are already reading regular novels in school and on their own.
Everyone knows that when you read, your vocabulary and language grows. A perfect book to nurture that growth is The Thickety. The Thickety, a fantasy by the author J. A. White, is a tale fraught with magic and adventure. The Thickety would be a great book for the adolescent and adult readers of Scituate and the book would be the new town buzz because of the amazing text that dances gracefully off the page. White uses rich language and descriptions to fabricate the fantasy of The Thickety into an emulation of reality. Furthermore, the characters are relatable and they overcome obstacles, especially the main character Kara and her brother Taff. The book also addresses many events in life such as family loss and grappling with the concept of identity….the book´s magic is so powerful that the tale of The Thickety fills up three superb books that weave the story of Kara and Taff.
In today’s political, social, and academic climate, many people of diverse backgrounds and age believe that knowledge is power. I think that The Giver by Lois Lowry should be Hingham’s all town reading book. Because Hingham is mostly a wealthy, white, suburban town, The Giver would be a perfect book to demonstrate the breaking of conformity. Throughout The Giver, individuality, conformity, and deception are important themes. This book will definitely draw in teenage readers, specifically for the “breaking the system” aspect of the plot. The Giver also appeals to adults who are thinking about the future of our world. In addition to how interesting and entertaining the plot of The Giver is, this novel in particular makes people realize the importance of diversity and individuality. When we think about all of the injustices and catastrophes in world, this novel makes us think about if we how far we would go for peace. For example, would we sacrifice our freedom of appearance, hobbies, and language for the chance to possibly eliminate bullying? Would we sacrifice the joy of love or family to never have to experience heartbreak or divorce?
And a picture….
I was in Woods Hole yesterday, and we parked near the town library. It looks like a library out of a storybook…