Friday, January 23, 2009

2009 Newbery Predictions

ALA awards will be announced Monday morning, starting at 6:45 am Pacific time. (I'm relieved to discover that my jury duty shouldn't interfere with either finding out what the awards are the minute they're announced, or with blogging about it afterward, because the courthouse is wifi-enabled for bored jurors.)

I started out trying to read as many Newbery possibilities as possible; then started working on the Printz; and at the eleventh hour, became interested in the Caldecott.

I'm more invested in the outcome of this award than any of the others, and I've read more of the possibilities, too. I'm not sure how many, but I'd say it's probably around 40. I've read 27 of the 38 suggestions on the Goodreads "2009 Newbery Contenders" poll. My preferences first:

The Porcupine Year (Louise Erdrich). I was relieved and happy when I read this book, because it was the first possibility I'd read that I could really get behind. This is distinguished, sophisticated writing, but highly readable. I actually enjoyed it all the way through, even the very sad parts, which left me with a feeling of strength instead of despair. At the mock Newbery I attended, this was chosen as the winner, and hardly anyone had any criticism to speak of. Nina pointed out that the voice in this book isn't as strong as in some of the other offerings, which I think is true; but this has more to offer than a terrific voice. There's a clear plot arc, character development, delineation of a setting--all the elements of a solid award winner.

Brooklyn Bridge (Karen Hesse). This one hasn't been getting much attention, which is sort of surprising since the author already won a Newbery, for Out of the Dust. This is a coming-of-age story about a Jewish boy in early-20th-century Brooklyn, but it never has the ponderous feel that many coming-of-age stories do; it has humor and movement and a plot that's interesting. The setting is well-realized. Not everyone likes the vignettes between chapters that tell something about the life of Brooklyn street children, but I thought they added a lot to the book, and deepened the picture of what life was like in that time and place.

Masterpiece (Elise Broach). This is getting a last-minute swell of support, but as of now I'm the only one who's voted for it on Goodreads; when I added it to the list I did so hesitantly, sort of afraid that people would laugh. This isn't a particularly deep book, and some of it is derivative (this is about beetles, but it has similarities to The Borrowers and Stuart Little). But it has all the elements of a really good book for middle-grade readers. It's clear and easy to understand; it has jokes that aren't too hard to get, but are still actually funny; it will make kids think without frustrating them. If it weren't for a completely superfluous section (the infamous turtle tank chapters), I'd probably support this even more.

The Underneath (Kathi Appelt). I think the writing, the actual poetry of the words on the page, is terrific. I'm less convinced on the plot, and I thought it got manipulative toward the end--I thought "this author is trying to make me feel as bad as possible", which wasn't pleasant. I didn't buy the ending at all. Yet I can't ignore the power of the words, and would be happy if this got an Honor.

Greetings From Nowhere (Barbara O'Connor). This is the first book I heard any buzz about, early in the year, but it seemed to die out after awhile. I found this very well-written, and it felt more true-to-life and honest than many problem novels; it was also more optimistic. This is an enjoyable book, real but a little gentle.

It's hard, frankly, to imagine anything other than The Porcupine Year winning, because I think so strongly that it's the best of the lot. And so I think it has a shot. But it sounds like Chains (Laurie Halse Anderson) is a big favorite; I didn't think it was particularly strong. Leaving behind issues related to race, I thought it had one of the flattest voices of any of the books, and a plot that took a really long time to get anywhere. I won't be pleased if Chains takes the gold, but I think it might.

Medal: Chains or Porcupine Year
Honors: The Underneath, Masterpiece, maybe Savvy (Ingrid Law) and Alvin Ho (Lenore Look).

The only book that I will really scream about, if it should win, is Diamond Willow (Helen Frost). Wait, and The Willoughbys (Lois Lowry).

And, of course, there's the distinct possibility that the winner will be something I haven't given serious consideration (Shooting the Moon? Keeping Score?) or even SOMETHING I HAVEN'T READ.

Printz and Caldecott speculation is forthcoming.

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