My son's Mock Newbery Book Club made their decisions on Friday, and the official awards come out tomorrow, so I guess it's time for me to announce my Newbery Award choices for 2012 (although it covers the books from 2011). This isn't a prediction, because I don't know enough about the Newbery politics and such to know what goes into their decisions. But after having read a BUNCH of great, good, and pretty good books written for the early adolescent crowd (10-14) over the past year, I've finally narrowed it down to my favorites.
So if it were up to me, the Newbery Award for 2012 would go to......
Okay For Now by Gary Schmidt
They say in interviews that you either want to be the first candidate or the last candidate. Okay For Now was the first Newbery contender I read (based on the recommendation of our local children's librarian), and somehow, none of the other books I read after that quite measured up to that one. I even read it again a couple of months ago to make sure I wasn't over-romaticizing my memories of it, and I still favored it as much as ever.
I loved The Wednesday Wars, which introduces the protagonist of this book and which won a Newbery Honor in 2008, but I think Okay For Now is even better. So maybe Schmidt will go all the way this time.
However, I do have this reservation about Okay For Now; like 2010's National Book Award winner, Mockingbird, I think that this is a children's book that adults like more than children do. Which is not to say that children's don't like it and don't recognize its quality; my favorite middle schooler book blogger, Laura's Life, chose it as her Newbery Gold winner as well. But many of the major themes of the book, such as the possibility of redemption, the power of forgiveness, and the difference that one caring teacher or librarian can make in the life of a child, speaks more to adult values and life experiences than the typical 9-13 year old. I'm not sure that early adolescents will be touched by this book the way that adults may be.
The Newbery Awards are, of course, given by adults. But I don't know how they considered the perspectives of the actual age group compared to the additional insight that reading it as an adult brings. However, with themes like that, particularly Schmidt's depiction of how schools and libraries can transform a person's life, I can't help but give Okay For Now my Gold medal for the year.
(Note: If you are a teacher, check out this passage from the book featured in my post, What Education Is Supposed to Be About, for some inspiration about your work.)
Then I have four Newbery Honor Awards, because that is what my son's book club does. It's hard, because there are so many really good books that are so close to this level. But I finally decided that my four Honor books would be:
Words in the Dust by Trent Reedy
If Okay For Now was my first, Words in the Dust was one of my last, particularly in actually writing a review, since I only finished writing about it yesterday. But it is a phenomenal novel by a first-time author. If there was one novel from 2011 that I wished every middle schooler would read, it is probably this book, both for the contents and the great job Reedy did in immersing us in a completely different world--one that we should know a lot more about than most of us do.
The Aviary by Kathleen O'Dell
I loved the writing in this book. Maybe it was just me, but it seemed more poetic than the norm. It is such a great mixture of genres and tones. It starts out reminding me of more old-fashioned books, like The Secret Garden, but then morphs to a much more modern sensibility by the end (I don't want to be more specific because I don't want to give it away). It was familiar and yet unpredictable, and I really enjoyed reading it.
Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai
This is another wonderful book in bringing us inside a completely foreign experience, except that much of it takes place in the US. So I think this is another important read for our middle schoolers. It is also a story told in verse, so that gives it a different twist.
The last slot was really hard to fill. And when I finally decided, I was ashamed to discover that I never wrote a review of it in my blog! I was sure that I had. But, like Okay For Now, it was one that I read early in my Newbery reading year but that stuck with me. I guess I thought I would get around to writing a review until the point where I assumed I already had....
Anyway, my last choice would be The Absolute Value of Mike by Katherine Erskine. I chose this one over many that I like pretty much the same because I like some variety to my Newbery choices. I mean, they can't all be historical fictions and/or dealing with war, disabilities, or other weighty subjects! This book had a lot of humor, with lots of whacky characters and situations. But it had also had some great messages about family and being a leader and figuring out what really matters. I also think that it might appeal a bit more to boys, which I wouldn't necessarily say about any of the others (only Okay For Now has a boy as the main protagonist, and even so, I'm not sure it doesn't appeal more to girls and/or women).
Two other special awards I would give outside the Newbery parameters:
Best Sequel: Without a doubt, that honor goes to Darth Paper Strikes Back by Tom Angleberger. I was so charmed by Angleberger's highly original The Strange Case of Origami Yoda (one of my Newbery honor choices for last year) that I was worried that he wouldn't be able to capture the same magic in the sequel. Half way through the book, I was thinking that I liked it, but it wasn't on par with the first one. But by the end of the book, I took it all back. It was as new and unique as the original, but Angleberger found a way to keep things fresh and surprising. So kudos to him for avoiding the sophomore slump!
Best Movie Potential: Another book that I really enjoyed, but apparently never wrote a review for, was Aliens on Vacation by Clete Smith. This was a cute, sweet, and really funny book. It's not one of what I consider the most important books of the year among the ones I read, but it was one of the most entertaining. But mostly, I kept visualizing the scenes in my head, which is something because I don't typically do that when I read since I'm not a real visual person. I kept thinking as I read it, "I don't really see this as Newbery, but I think it would make a great movie." I found out a month or so later that some producers associated with Disney had take an option about turning it into a movie. So I don't know what that means, except that someone besides me could imagine it being a great film!
As long as we're in Newbery mode, let me share my son's Mock Newbery Award Book Club choices, along with those of a neighboring library, complete with my comments:
My son's book club:
A Monster Calls (Alas, this book didn't get on my radar until too late, and although I requested it from our library several weeks ago, it is so popular that I haven't gotten a copy to read so far. My son really liked it, though)
The Apothecary (I liked it a lot; it was on my top 10, but not my top 5)
Words in the Dust (My #2 choice)
Small Acts of Amazing Courage (A really good book with an unsatisfactory ending; read my full review here)
Inside Out and Back Again (My #4 choice)
Hidden (Unfortunately, I haven't read it)
Second Fiddle (Read my review here)
Dogtag Summer (Read my review here)
The Aviary (My #3 choice)
And here is the neighboring library club's choices:
2012 Eva Perry Mock Newbery Award:
Between Shades of Gray, by Ruta Sepetys (I thought this was a really powerful book, but wasn't sure it isn't more appropriate for a teen audience than the Newbery 9-13 age range)
2012 Eva Perry Mock Newbery Honor Books:
A Monster Calls, by Patrick Ness (Obviously I need to read it....)
Bird in a Box, by Andrea Davis Pinkney (Didn't read this one either)
Michael Vey: the Prisoner of Cell 25, by Richard Paul Evans (Neither my son nor I had even heard of this one, which meant that nobody in his club read it....it is funny how clubs at two libraries only 15 miles from each other can have such different reading lists)
Words in the Dust, by Trent Reedy (One of my faves)
So there you have it--the favorite choices for the Newbery Awards from our neck of the woods. The official announcement comes tomorrow, so let's see what the experts have to say about the premier books for our early adolescent students!