Monday, November 22, 2010

Book Review: Walls Within Walls

As a homeschooler, many of our organized homeschooling activities are already starting to wind down, since many classes and coops end either before or shortly after Thanksgiving.  However, one activity that my son does, the Mock Newbery Club, is really heating up.

In the Mock Newbery Club, run by one of our local libraries, the students read as many new books published this year that are eligible for the Newbery award (must be American or living in America, must be a book that does not require reading a previous book in order to understand, must be published that yeara).  While the Club began in June, as its get closer to the end of the year when the competition closes, it  seems to be more and more important to read the leading contenders (in order to weigh in on their value) as well as to read through as many books as possible to make sure some dark horse hasn't been missed.

My son has read about 30 books for this Club; I've probably only read about 10. But I'm trying to catch up with some of the front-runners.

The Newbery-eligible book I've read most recently is Walls Within Walls by Maureen Sherry.  This book is kind of like a mash-up of Chasing Vermeer by Blue Balliett, The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin, and From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E. L. Konigsburg (which is not meant as a slur--I really enjoyed all those books).  It is a mystery involving a lost inheritance (Westing Game) being investigated by extraordinary children unencumbered by pesky adults (Chasing Vermeer) that involves visiting old buildings in New York (Mixed-Up Files).  Of the three, I thought it was most like Chasing Vermeer, except that the subject matter was 20th century architecture in New York City rather than 17t century art in Chicago, and the clues involved poetry rather than math (or pentominos).

Since it reminds me of three other books (albeit Newbery or other award-winning books), I don't think it is original enough to win the Newbery. But I thoroughly enjoyed the book.  It captures the attention through a search for lost treature--always a great hook.  But it interweaves lots of good information about some beautiful old NYC buildings, and analyzing poetry is key to solving the mystery.  So it is a good way to get students interested in other subjects as they pursue the mystery.

More appropriate for the younger end of middle school than the older, I think, but a fun read that conveys some interesting factual information along the way of pursuing the fictional mystery that involves some actual historical figures.  I can't speak for my son, who hasn't read it yet (it's one of his stack to read within the next week), but I recommend it.

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