Category Archives: Reading the Newbery

Reflections on ALSC’s on-line course “Newbery: Past, Present & Future,” taught by KT Horning. Taken Winter 2011.

My guest post on 826michigan’s The Staple

You can check out my abbreviated, 500 words or less, list of favorites for the Caldecott, Newbery, and Printz over at 826michigan‘s blog, The Staple.

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December 11, 2012 · 2:30 PM

Listening to the Newbery, Part 2

Today, as part of my personal Newbery project, I present two medalists that were enhanced by the audiobook format.

Good Masters! Sweet Ladies!: Voices from a Medieval Village (2008 Medal)
by Laura Amy Schlitz
Narrated by Christina Moore & full cast

Recorded Books
ISBN 9781436119634

Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! is a collection of monologues originally written for students at the Park School in Baltimore, where Schlitz works as a librarian. Schlitz started the collection as a way of bringing the students’ study of the Middle Ages to life. In her introduction Schlitz reveals that as a child she didn’t much care for history until she discovered historical fiction. She wrote her monologues hoping to prove to the students how accessible the past can be. Schlitz chose the monologue format – instead of a single play – because she wanted to give each child an equal part. I appreciated that, although Schlitz was striving for equality, she still allowed for shorter, less demanding monologues, designed for children who want to participate but don’t necessarily want to soak up the spotlight. I was never one of those children but I’ve been told they exist?

I would have been a prime audience for this book as a child. I never really thought much of the Middle Ages. The only time I remember getting remotely excited about the period is when I toured a reconstructed Viking village in York, England. The claim to fame there was that the creators had painstakingly re-created all the myriad Middle Age smells for your olfactory pleasure. Yeah, fun times. Reading Schlitz’s book is a similar experience, only heavier on the social history, lighter on the sniffs. Had I read this book as a kid or been asked to perform one of the monologues, I have no doubt I’d have been more interested in the period as a whole.

This was excellent material for an audiobook. Monologues are meant to be read aloud and, since school plays don’t often visit my living room, this was a good substitute. But it was a little disconcerting hearing adult voices perform material clearly meant for children. Come to think of it, I’ve never heard a child actor on an audiobook. I guess it’s just easier to use adults.

Given the format, I can’t imagine reading this, as opposed to listening to it. But of course that’s how most people experience this book. Those of you who did read the book, what did you think? Did you read silently or read the speeches aloud? I am sad that I missed Byrd’s illustrations. Did they add to the experience?

The View from Saturday (1968 Medal)
by E. L. Konigsburg
Narrated by full cast
Simon & Schuster Audio
ISBN: 9780743597135

Since Saturday is narrated by four first person narrators, along with one third person limited narrator, it too was a great audiobook. While listening, it occurred to me that, like Good Masters!, this too is a collection of monologues and therefore perfect for the audio format. The full cast recording made this classic even more poignant. A highly recommended recording.

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Listening to the Newbery, Part 1

As I’ve mentioned, I’m currently enrolled in a course on the Newbery. Each student is asked to read at least one medalist from each decade. Obviously, that’s a lot of books, especially because when I hear the words “at least” I multiply the requirement by five in my head, automatically. So, to achieve my lofty goals, and to keep myself entertained while watching endless muted news broadcasts and basketball games at the gym, I’ve begun borrowing audiobook versions of Newbery medalists from the library. My thoughts on the books themselves and the audiobook version in particular are recorded below.

The Witch of Blackbird Pond, Elizabeth George Speare (1959 Medal)
Narrated by Mary Beth Hurt
Listening Library
ISBN: 9780739359693

First off, not my favorite Newbery. My main issue is that Kit is just too defiant to be either believable or sympathetic. Far be it from me to criticize a sassy heroine but Kit felt more like a transplant from the twentieth century than Barbados. And really? A long suffering, saint-like cripple character? Ack. But, on the positive side, I enjoyed Kit’s unconventional contributions to the dame school. And this book did teach me the significance of the name Horn Book so I thank it for that.

Mary Beth Hurt does a fine job handling the diverse cast of characters’ voices. I was going to quibble with her performance of Kit because she came off as a total priss but then I realized, she is a total priss, so well played, Madam.

The Graveyard Book, Neil Gaiman (2009 Medal)
Narrated by the author
Harper Children’s Audio
ISBN: 9780061551895

The Graveyard Book is notable for being heavily decorated. Along with winning the 2009 Newbery Medal,  it also won the 2009 Hugo Award for Best Novel, the 2010 Carnegie Medal (a British equivalent of the Newbery), and a Locus Award for Best YA Novel. That The Graveyard Book won awards for three different age ranges (children’s, young adult, adult), hints at its broad appeal. Although, just to give all of the above a sprinkling of salt, I would point out that Gaiman has an especially rabid fanbase and just maybe they were waiting in the wings to reward him? I mean, was anyone else at ALA Midwinter this year? Hoo boy. Talk about mania! I hid out at an awards discussion to avoid being drooled on or trampled.

This is an excellent audiobook; one of the best I’ve listened to in a long time. Gaiman’s text begs to be read out loud and the fact that Neil himself (pun intended) is such a fabulous narrator is a huge bonus. I realize the guy wrote the book and therefore knew what dialects the characters would use but he does all the voices! He even does convincing women without resorting to falsetto. Phrases like “scraggly grass” come to life in their rightful British accent. It’s awesome. I recommend you give it a listen.

The story itself, I’m afraid, sputters out after an excellent first chapter. Oh, it’s still interesting but it doesn’t have the same pow! it starts with. It revives for the final act though. Oh, does it ever. I apologize to my neighbors for my shouting quite a bit while listening to the second to last chapter.

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Newbery Winner Hugh Lofting on Voice in Children’s Literature

“Children do not want us to come down patronizing to their level. They would much sooner be pulled up to ours in both ideas and vocabulary.”
- Hugh Lofting, winner of the 1923 Newbery Medal for The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle

Isn’t it interesting that we still argue over this concept, all these years later? But wouldn’t you agree that Newbery winners tend to be books that are in line with Lofting’s beliefs?

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Which Newbery Winners Should I Read?

I need your advice.

I’m currently enrolled in ALSC’s on-line course on the Newbery Medal. Each week we’re asked to read at least one winning book from each decade. I’m having a hard time choosing my selections so I open the floor to you, dear readers.

Which Newbery awarded books do you recommend? Please share your suggestions in the comments.

If you need a reminder, check the (nearly) complete list of winners. I’d especially love advice for the period of 1922 – 1970, as I’m not as familiar with those titles. Advice regarding honor books is also welcome, since we’re choosing from those the last week.

Being an over-achiever I’m going to try to read as many new titles as possible. We’ll see how far I get. Is this when I finally read Julie of the Wolves (for obvious reasons)?

I’ll go first. Some of favorite Newberys are: When You Reach Me, One Crazy Summer, Caddie Woodlawn, Indian Captive, Sarah, Plain & Tall, Missing May, Ramona & Her Father, A Gathering of Days, Homesick: My Own Story, Number The Stars, An American Plague, True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle, Maniac Magee, Walk Two Moons, Ella Enchanted, and, in the interest of not rambling on, we’ll just say “all the Katherine Patterson titles.”

Random fact: Completely by accident (I just liked the spooky cover) the first chapter book I read was a Newbery honoree: The Headless Cupid.

Tag! You’re it.

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