Thursday, January 24, 2013

Chapter Book Roundup

So, I did a picture book post and talked about my Caldecott predictions.  Now I'm going to talk Newbery, but I have to confess, first, that I did not read much nonfiction at all last year.  So, while blogs like Heavy Medal and For Those About to Mock are throwing in some great nonfiction predictions, I'm going to stick to the most common Newbery fare: the middle-grade chapter book.

Here's the thing with chapter books this year: I don't have a clear favorite.  I read a lot of really enjoyable books, including several that are getting some buzz around the internet.  I'm going to toss out my top five predictions, and then some bonus outliers that I enjoyed but that might have less of a chance at the actual award.

Splendors and Glooms by Laura Amy Schlitz (my review)
This is one of those books that could go either way.  I've talked to people who love it, and people who couldn't even get through it.  I think that, if the committee can get past the Victorian pacing (this book has an almost Dickensian feel, to me), there's a lot of good at the heart of this book -- good writing, good characters, good story.

Liar & Spy by Rebecca Stead (my review)
I think that the main thing people have against this book is that it's not When You Reach Me.  Once I got over that particular mindset, I discovered that I really loved this book's flawed and slightly unreliable main character.  His feelings and reactions are just so spot-on.  It's a quieter book than most of the ones I've read this year, but I think it has a great deal of substance.

The Lions of Little Rock by Kristin Levine (my review)
This is the most traditional Newbery choice: historical fiction with a female protagonist who experiences a coming-of-age moment.  That sounds like I'm talking this book down, but I'm not: there's a reason for the enduring popularity (if you will) of this kind of story.  It's a great vehicle for exploring a specific period or event in history, the main character undergoes significant character development, there are interesting relationships to explore between the chracters, there's some humor and some gripping, exciting moments -- and all of that is as true about this book as it is about other books like it.  While this isn't my first choice for the award, I'd call it a solid contender.

Mr. and Mrs. Bunny -- Detectives Extraordinaire! by Polly Horvath (my review)
This is a quirky book, to be sure, but quirky in a good way.  I've read at least one outraged review by a grown-up who did not get the tongue-in-cheek tone and took the entire book at surface value.  Don't do that.  There are definitely layers to this book, and they don't interfere with the flow of the story, either.  Plus, it's quite hilarious, and funny Newbery books are hard to come by.  I have my fingers crossed for this one.

Starry River of the Sky by Grace Lin (my review)
Here's another type of traditional Newbery book, the hero's quest, with roots planted in the fertile ground of mythology and folklore.  This is one of those books that invites the use of metaphor in describing it (as I have already done) -- there are threads woven together, there's flowing water and growing and branching . . . I'm trying to restrain myself, but if the similie fits. . . . At any rate, I think this is another book that has all of the necessary elements for excellence: characters, plot, writing, etc.  It's also one that I think it would be easy to build consensus around. 

So, those are my top five.  I like them all, but can see at least one or two little flaws in each, and I have not given them multiple careful readings the way the members of the Newbery Committee will have read the books they are seriously considering.  I'll be interested to see whether any of them are recognized, but only my pride will be hurt if none of them are.  There are plenty of other books, and I want to mention a few more before I go:

The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate (my review) -- I liked this one enough that it's pretty much interchangable with the last three listed above; on a different day, in a different mood, I might have chosen it for one of my top five.  It's an animal book that doesn't feel too manipulative (well, at least most of the time) and a verse novel that doesn't feel like chopped-up prose.

See You at Harry's by Jo Knowles (my review) -- I cried buckets over this one, but in retrospect I don't find it quite as memorable as some of the other books I've read this year.  It tugged at my emotions, but didn't stick in my mind.

Wonder by R.J. Palacio (my review) -- This is a good book and an important book, and it's certainly a popular book (and it's got the Schneider Family Book Award in the bag, I feel confident in saying) . . . but I think it has a few shortcomings that will keep it from winning the Newbery.

The False Prince by Jennifer Nielsen (my review) -- I liked this book and had a lot of fun reading it, and I always want to champion fantasy boks for the major awards, but I found enough weak spots in this one that I'd be surprised to see it win out over the other strong contenders I've mentioned.

Enchanted by Alethea Kontis (my review) -- This is my dark horse prediction, the book that I really love but that I've heard almost nothing about in the blogs I follow.  I'd be thrilled to see it win something, but also very surprised.

Okay, readers . . . what are your favorite 2012 chapter books?  Do you want to make any bold Newbery predictions?

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