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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3 Comments

Filed under Book Reviews, Reading the Newbery

3 responses to “Listening to the Newbery, Part 1

  1. Pingback: Listening to the Newbery, Part 2 | Klickitat

  2. I read The Graveyard Book to my son over the winter holidays, and it was wonderful to read aloud. I find Gaiman a bit too self-consciously performative in interviews I’ve seen. He never quite seems genuine. Did you get that sense from the audiobook reading?

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